POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — As of the writing of this article, 40 people from Mason County, W.Va., have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
On Thursday, that number revealed faces who knew them, as loved ones gathered to place an American flag in memory of those they lost during a memorial ceremony at Gunn Park in Point Pleasant, organized by the city. For those who could not be at the ceremony to participate, flags were still placed for the deceased by city employees.
“Like many of you, I hurt each and every day, like many of you, I lost my mother, Nov. 18, 2020 of COVID and it’s a hard thing to death with,” Mayor Brian Billings said. “I know throughout our lives, we lose our loved ones but this hit me and I’m sure you, very hard. I feel like they were taken away way too soon. My heart aches. It’s hard to even go over to my parents’ homes sometimes and that’s wrong, I know that, because she’s not there, and I know that you all are going though the same thing.”
The mayor continued: “I don’t want to see another family go through what my family has gone through and your family has gone through.”
City Clerk Amber Tatterson then offered her condolences to those gathered before reading the ages, genders and initials of Mason County’s 40 COVID-19 victims. The list was compiled for the city by the Mason County Health Department.
Also speaking at the event were Pastors Chip Bennett and Bobby Patterson.
Bennett, who closed the memorial observance, spoke on the verse from the Book of John famous for being the shortest verse in the King James Version – simply put, but poignant for the ceremony, “Jesus wept.” Bennett spoke to the families in an attempt to provide comfort as did Patterson who opened the service.
“One of the things that seems just as hard to battle as far as COVID itself, is the fact that when we lose a loved one, that a lot of times, those loved ones have been alone, and that’s especially hard knowing you can’t be there with your family when they take their last breath,” Patterson said. “But, I wanted to assure you of one thing today, their last breath, they were not alone. God was right there with them, he was there when they were born and he was there at their last breath and we have that hope.”
Members of one victim’s family spoke with Ohio Valley Publishing, speaking anonymously — though their loss is singular it’s an unexpected grief shared by many.
They recalled several memories of their loved one and how often they have a question that only “she would know” and how those go unanswered these days.
They spoke about their loved one not feeling well on Monday, even working that day, but by Friday she had passed from COVID-19 complications. Because her spouse had also been exposed to the virus, they were required to quarantine and could not be with her in those final moments in the hospital. Instead, her spouse spoke to her over the phone while her sisters were with her in person, as she passed. As hard, and as unexpected as the moment was, the woman’s family said they were aware not every family was afforded this final goodbye.
The shock of it still lingers for the victim’s loved ones but as they put it, though she is gone, the virus is still here.
“I think people have become lax,” her spouse said concerning mask wearing – pointing out on the day of the remembrance ceremony, someone passing by had reportedly asked why there were so many people wearing them in the park that day.
One of the victim’s sisters spoke of being in a random store shortly before the funeral, how a manager directed an employee (a stranger) to put on a mask who appeared to openly question the request.
Telling that story took her back to that moment. Her voice cracked and the tears came when she recalled telling the employee how the virus was indeed, here, in the community, saying, “I am burying my sister [who died of COVID-19]…”
It’s a scenario the family members encounter more often than they expected and no one felt this would be their story well over a year after the pandemic began. They described a family changed forever and “this,” at least for them, was not something that could be pushed aside as something that only happened to “other people.” As they reminded, with American flags planted behind them, “this” is still happening, here.
Mayor Billings said the city plans to leave the flags in Gunn Park through the summer and replace them as needed.
© 2021 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.