The Willamette Queen Sternwheeler lit up with luminaria on Aug. 17. Willamette Valley Hospice is filming the boat for a September event commemorating Oregonians who have died of Covid (Courtesy/Willamette Valley Hospice)

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One night each September, Salem’s Riverfront Park glows with the flickering lights of luminaria - a community tribute to loved ones who have recently died.

Willamette Valley Hospice, a nonprofit end-of-life care provider, started the Reflections on the River event in 2018 to help people process grief and remember their loved ones’ lives.

This year, they’re planning for more lights than ever, turning the celebration into a virtual event commemorating all Oregonians who have died from the coronavirus.

Theresa Hart, the hospice’s community engagement manager, said the virus has robbed many families of the ability to find closure and mourn deaths together as gatherings like memorial services have been cancelled and hospitals have barred visitors.

In response, the hospice will hold their Reflections event Sept. 10 at 7:30 p.m., with a 45-minute livestreamed ceremony on their website and Facebook. The centerpiece of the event is the Willamette Queen Sternwheeler, a riverboat that will be decked out with 375 luminaria to represent the Oregonians who have died from Covid since March.

People can also purchase luminaria, paper lanterns illuminated by small candles, to commemorate a loved one for $10, with proceeds supporting the hospice’s grief counseling and support group programs.

Normally, the luminaria go on display in the park. Hart said people often find solace in spending a moment next to the glowing white lantern bearing their relative or friend’s name.

“They love to go to where their loved one’s luminaria is. It’s a way for them to honor and find closure in the death of their loved one,” she said.

For the virtual event, the lanterns will be lit in the hospice gardens, with a videographer panning over them slowly enough for people to read names.

The event will include words of inspiration and family testimonials.

Hospice staff will be on Facebook and YouTube during the live ceremony to respond to questions and help people process their own grief. The event will also include suggested activities for people to work through at their own pace.

“We know that people need that right now,” Hart said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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The Willamette Queen Sternwheeler at sunset (Courtesy/Willamette Valley Hospice)

The Willamette Queen Sternwheeler lit up with luminaria on Aug. 17. Willamette Valley Hospice is filming the boat for a September event commemorating Oregonians who have died of Covid (Courtesy/Willamette Valley Hospice)

Captain Richard Chesbrough aboard the Willamette Valley Sternwheeler to film the luminaria display for a Willamette Valley Hospice event(Courtesy/Willamette Valley Hospice)