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‘Our grief is so great’: Kane County remembers more than 1,000 lives lost to COVID

Frank Giampoli made a lot of memories during the 46 years he toiled in Kane County’s courtrooms. He spent 18 years as a public defender and many more in private practice at the Third Street Courthouse in Geneva.

On Friday, Giampoli’s wife, Lori, daughter Danielle and 4-year-old grandson Luca stood outside that same building, brushing away tears with gloved hands.

They counted Frank Giampoli as one of 1,000 county residents killed so far by the COVID-19 pandemic. He died in December 2020, but a wreath placed at the entrance to the courthouse Friday stood as a fresh marker. County officials hope area residents will add to the display in the coming week as a communal outlet for remembering lost loved ones.

Kane County Board Chair Corinne Pierog told the 40 people gathered at the ceremony that 2022 will be a year of healing and rebuilding.

“The coronavirus has trampled through our county, afflicting our families, businesses, hospitals, clinics and schools with its unyielding presence,” she said. “Grocery clerks, teachers, small business owners, nurses and doctors became our heroes, risking their health so we could maintain a sense of normalcy. Our grief is so great, but so will be our path forward.”

As of Friday, the county’s official death toll from COVID-19 stood at 1,022. Coroner Rob Russell said it’s important to remember that number represents real people like grandfathers and grandmothers. He urged people to honor those killed by COVID-19 by treating each other with love during debates about the pandemic.

“The best way we can show our love for our community is being kind to one another,” Russell said. “Have your opinions. Have the freedom to disagree. But let’s do it with kindness. Let’s be patient and kind with each other.”

Jonathan Shively’s Fox Valley Hands of Hope has spent two years doing just that with many families depleted by the pandemic. The Geneva nonprofit provides free grief support services. Shively, executive director of the organization, said he was recently supporting a friend who’d lost a loved one to COVID-19.

“The death was unexpected, too soon and such a lonely experience for all the family,” Shively said. “These stories are repeated over and over, 1,000-fold right here in our county. To grieve well is to wrestle with those lost futures and to reopen the possibility of new ones. Sometimes hope looks like asking for help, giving a friend a call, and saying, ‘I need you right now.’ Or being a friend who says, ‘I am here for you whatever you need.’”

The Giampoli family took in those words, applying them to the renewed pain they felt with the memories of what and who they’ve lost. For them, the setting for Friday’s ceremony was “both horrible but perfect at the same time.”

When the words to “Amazing Grace” started, it was too much for Lori Giampoli. She and Danielle drifted down the street to find some privacy and shared a healing embrace.

“For this to be at the courthouse, it’s a sign from him that he’s still with us,” Danielle said. “We needed to come.”