Advent Hope: Health Care Workers in the Time of Covid-19

Each year our church (Awaken Community in St. Paul) does an Advent Series, focusing on a variety of themes including darkness and hope. My art typically leans more towards the darker side, but in an especially turbulent year I decided to focus instead on hope.

Due to the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic in 2020, masks have been an important part of both battling the infection and keeping healthcare workers safe, while also providing safe care. Working in hospice I've now had a great deal of patients and met a great number of family members who I only know by their eyes and not the rest of their faces - and what I find amazing is how much we can understand and communicate from just using our eyes for facial expressions. 

A typical (and appropriate) image that we've been seeing in the media now is of healthcare workers wearing PPE and looking exhausted, with deep sadness in their eyes.  These are important images, with many reasons for that sadness.  For these portraits however, I decided to do the opposite.  These 10 images are of 10 of my current co-workers wearing some of the different masks and other PPE that we wear, but the twist is that under the masks everyone is smiling - because part of our role as healthcare workers is to give hope.  I opted to not do a self-portrait in PPE for this series as I wanted to focus on those people who I see throughout the day (though I was only able to photograph a handful of my co-workers as I had a short window once I started the project before I needed to complete it). 

Thank you to these friends and to all healthcare workers who are striving to help during these difficult times. 

Jen, Hospice RN Case Manager
Stephanie, Hospice Medical Social Worker

Ashley, Hospice RN Case Manager

Jo, Facility RN

Michael, Hospice Medical Social Worker

Florence, Hospital Medical Social Worker

Sheila, Hospice LPN

Amber, Hospice Medical Social Worker

Penny, Hospice Resource RN

Sue, Hospice Music Therapist

01001001 (8/2020)


The great I

Both Masked and Unmasked Once the Same the Same the 01001001

Cry the Scream the Silence Complicit 01001001 see the I in me and in I

01001001 See you but Pretend not

Flow the See the Time starts now and turn me away to 01001001


Unmasked and Masked I see the Pretend the Face I cannot see

01001001 see so more clearly


The great I

Through Fingers barren the freedom of I The Rights of I the obsession of I

Not the me who you through trust I

but me - recognize Me through your eye


Run the time through Fear of you

Disguised as the glorification of 01001001

Touch from Afar but far from touch

Disconnected through I of 01001001

I walk away from the You that is not Me

Masked yet Unmasked 01001001


The photo is a reflection on how in the time of SARS-CoV-2, though many people are masked both literally and/or metaphorically through being hidden behind a computer, tablet, or phone screen, people have become a lot more vocal about their beliefs.  But without face to face communication much is lost in translation and much misunderstanding is perpetuated (I'm part of this problem just like everyone else).  

The "I" in a negative sense emerges - a disturbing trend of people focusing more on themselves than on others, perpetuated often times through electronic communication which serves to both advocate beliefs that can be harmful, and as a way to rally people to commit harmful acts.  This has been intensified by the murder of George Floyd and other people of color in a time that already has significant social challenge.  This photo is black and white as a reminder of how important discussions of race are right now, and how important it is to be anti-racist to the absolute best of our abilities.

01001001 is the binary code for capital I - in the brief reflection/poem above the number 01001001 should be read as "I."  This is the number stamped on my hands as well, as the electronic communication that can fuel both good and evil is generally entered by hand (or thumbs).  My phone is in my hands as a placeholder for the phones, tablets, and computers we communicate with.

Mask from Diop, a black-owned business based out of Detroit

My Heart is Broken (Photo and Reflection)

I've been working over this piece in my head for about 4-5 months now (this is the second attempt at the photo, my first attempt didn't convey what I was trying to convey), and the idea has intensified with the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic.  This is a lament piece primarily lamenting the current cultural and political climate in the United States.

Though the words of the reflection are all my own I need to give a nod to Evanescence's 2011 song 'My Heart is Broken' written after Amy Lee and her husband got involved in an organization that helps rescue victims of sex trafficking, which is where my titling of my piece came from. Video here.

My Heart Is Broken
By: Gregory A. Gilbert

My heart is broken
For lack of compassion when compassion is preached
For those teaching peace and practicing hate
For those who state life but only for few (which they fervently deny)
My heart is broken, my heart is broken, my heart is broken

My heart is broken
For lack of trust in those most trustworthy
For those who hold onto misunderstanding over humility
For those who value tradition more than honest inquiry (which they fervently deny)
My heart is broken, my heart is broken, my heart is broken

My heart is broken
For lack of mercy to those who are hurting
For those who mock sensitivity while being more sensitive than those they accuse
For those who shatter others who threaten their own fragilities (which they fervently deny)
My heart is broken, my heart is broken, my heart is broken

My heart is broken
For lack of love to those who love most
For those who accuse of what they secretly practice themselves
For those who wash their hands in ignorance of all they have done (which they fervently deny)
My heart is broken, my heart is broken, my heart is broken

My heart is broken
For lack of concern for truth
For those who respect views only matching their own
For those who speak the loudest which they least understand (which they fervently deny)
My heart is broken, my heart is broken, my heart is broken

My heart is broken
For lack of love to those who are other
For those who condemn what they cannot experience
For those who are disgusted by their own misinterpretation (which they fervently deny)
My heart is broken, my heart is broken, my heart is broken

My heart is broken
For lack of acceptance of responsibility
For those who present toxicities as the moral standard for life
For those who claim compassion while inflicting malice (which they fervently deny)
My heart is broken, my heart is broken, my heart is broken.  

Allina Hospice Memorial Trees - aluminum wire and glass leaves, approx. 3.5 feet high each

These trees were commissioned by the Allina Hospice Foundation as a way to memorialize all the patients who pass away in the Allina Hospice program.  The idea was conceived by Chaplain Steven Robertson and approved for funding by the Allina Hospice Foundation.

The trees will memorialize all of the hospice patients who pass away by placing the number of leaves on the tree of each season to match the number of hospice patients who have passed away that season.  The leaves will hang on the tree for a year, then when that season comes again we will send out new leaves to the the families of those patients which match the tree of the season that their loved one passed away during.  The first tree that will contain leaves will be the winter tree, which will have 667 leaves made out of white, blue, and clear glass from patients who passed away during the winter of 2019-2020.  The 'overview' photo with leaves will be updated by season as it will be a full year before all four trees have their first round of leaves on them.

The trees are installed at the Allina Hospice and Home Health office at 1055 Westgate Drive STE 100 in St. Paul, MN.  Due to infection prevention concerns due to SARS-CoV-2 the office is currently closed, but once the state is no longer shut down the area that the trees are installed in will be open to public access.

Each tree contains 600 53" 15 gauge aluminum wires, which is approx. a half mile of wire each tree.  Additionally, the seasons are marked by 7 colored wire bands in the trees - green for summer, gold for fall, blue for winter, and light pink for spring.  Around these colored wire wraps are twists of three 26' foot wires which bind the trunks together  The leaves represent the patients, the branches and wires within the trunks represent the patients' families, and the colored wire bands and wraps around the trunks and into the branches are meant to represent the hospice team doing their best to bind together the hospice families and their patients during difficult times.

The leaves are being created by brilliant hot-glass artist Alli Luhmann (

Overview photos.  These photos will be updated as the leaves are added.

Summer Tree

Fall Tree
(Note - the fall tree was the final tree to be completed.  The red wire is both my signature and indicates the last three wires to be twisted together during the first part of the tree creation - cutting and twisting wires into groups of three.  The small blue wire at the top of the tree indicates the last loop to be made at the end of the branches - loop number 2400.) 

Winter Tree

Spring Tree