COVID again captures the headlines in 2021

Published 11:16 am Thursday, December 23, 2021

Easter Sunday of this year, 156 Carter Countians had died of the coronavirus disease. Since then 86 more persons have died (as of Dec. 22). Some were young, others were old.
Numbers — cases, occupied hospital beds, ventilators, deaths — have been a means of showing the unfathomable human toll of COVID-19, not only in our region, but all across the United States.
Ever since the novel coronavirus took hold in the U.S., health departments, news reports, and government leaders have relied on data to herald the deadly risks and mark the latest grim milestone.
But, we must never lose our COVID dead in the numbers. They were not just a statistic. Every single one of those lives lost was precious to someone.
From tiny flags to empty chairs, different communities in the U.S. have memorialized the victims of the pandemic. But the saddest memorial of all will be an empty chair at this Christmas’ dinner table, or perhaps a trip to the cemetery to place a flower of remembrance on a loved one’s grave.
This pandemic has been unyielding in its scope, in tragedy and loss.
It’s a tragedy that has been told in unimaginable numbers. Almost every day since the middle of March 2020, the numbers statewide have been reported in a grim tally. We watched as the numbers picked up locally — one dead, three, five. Not a local nursing home was spared. Some were able to hold back for months, but, COVID eventually forced its way in the door, and when it did, there was sickness and death.
COVID took its toll on nursing home residents, perhaps, more so than any other segment of the population as residents were locked down for long periods to time. They were unable to have visits, to go out, and to even congregate with each other at the nursing home. No worship services, no eating together. What joy it was when the nursing homes opened earlier this year and families and friends were able to visit again.
Behind every COVID-19 statistic is a person. Someone’s mother, grandfather, a favorite teacher from past years, a co-worker, a nursing home resident, even a nurse. It’s not just the people that make the news that are worth stopping and remembering. It’s the person who had Alzheimer’s disease that died alone in a nursing home. It’s the husband who was forced to die without his wife by his side. They all had people who loved them. Each of them left us much to remember them by. We think of them with wet eyes and a high heart.
The artist and writer Joe Brained notes in his book “I Remember” that not even sorrow is one-dimensional. “There is joy in remembering things that people gave us while they were here,” he wrote. We have no roadmap for this new territory. But we all, at one time or another, have reason to mourn. Maybe, because of this pandemic we can be better at celebrating life even as we’re saddened by its loss.
The number of those lost to COVID belie the depth of our loss, for lives are counted not so much in numbers, but in the passion and joy we bring to each other every day. I remember so many of them — Virginia McQueen, a nursing home resident who enjoyed attending Elizabethton Twins ballgames; Jo Voigt, who moved to Elizabethton with her husband, Pete. Both became involved in community activities. Jo loved her new friends here and she seldom missed an Elizabethton Woman’s Club meeting. Floyd Nave, a devoted Christian, who loved studying the Bible; Mary Lou Wetzel, someone we had known since our elementary school days at Valley Forge; Wilma Colbaugh, a friend since childhood and a devoted mother to her handicapped son; Jerry VanHoy, who often stopped us in church to comment on an article we had written; and Kenneth Jones, who was married to my mother’s cousin and always attended the Glover Reunion. The list goes on and on, but these are just a few of the people I knew who were taken by COVID. You, too, have a list.
There’s the pastor you’ll no longer see at Biltmore Baptist Church; a husband and wife who died within days of each other; the car show fan who never missed a Saturday night show in the downtown during the summer months; a grandfather who saw his first grandchild born and was able to hold it before the disease hit. There were veterans who survived wars, but not an invisible enemy that took away their breath. Many died alone in hospitals or nursing homes — COVID robbing them of the chance to say a final goodbye.
We will never forget.
Our prayer as we enter a new year is that COVID, like smallpox and polio, will meet its end soon, and there will be no more masks, social distancing, vaccines, and deaths from COVID.

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