Who knew we would have this many deaths?
Walker County, like the nation, is mourning as more than 500,000 have died in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Walker County has also passed 200 people in terms of deaths resulting from the virus. Both are moments where we should pause.
A year ago, we were astounded at the idea that perhaps 100,000 people might even die from this in the United States, with one of the great health systems in the world. Here in Alabama, we had the nationally-recognized UAB Hospital and the resources of that university.
Some people even mocked the whole idea about the virus and all the precautions being discussed. It was likely fake news, and some said it was all hysteria meant to create political attacks in an election year. They laughed at the idea of wearing masks and distancing. Other countries could get this virus, but it won't be bad in the United States of America, and it certainly won't reach Walker County.
And then the death toll rose. Reports came from hospitals of people who had scorned the whole notion of a pandemic had suddenly fought for their lives, and were begging others to take it seriously.
Former Alabama state Sen. Larry Dixon, a respected figure in political circles, died from complications of COVID-19 in December. “Sweetheart, we messed up. We just dropped our guard,” Dr. David Thrasher, a pulmonologist and friend of Dixon’s, recalled him saying to Dixon's wife.
Dixon met with friends at a local restaurant to catch up and smoke cigars, a social gathering the friends referred to as “prayer meeting.” Three people at the gathering became ill, Thrasher told the Associated Press.
“The last thing he told her was, ’Gaynell, I love you. We’ve got to tell people this is real,'” Thrasher said.
The death toll has been great in Alabama and Walker County, whether it was a councilman in Eldridge, a fireman in Sumiton, a teacher, several health care professionals - the list is too long to recount, of course. The obituary pages across the state have ballooned. Moreover, the virus has led to other conditions resulting in death, and it will take years possible to know the true effects.
Even the survivors of COVID-19 have had lingering illness effects, and have been out for weeks on end. Staff members at the Daily Mountain Eagle have come down with COVID-19, and have noted it to be one of the worst things they have ever encountered. (One staff member, a relatively healthy person, saw his oxygen levels go to the 40 percent level before being taken away by an ambulance, although he was able to recover.)
Business and social consequences have also been rough, starting with lockdowns and closures that forced us into Zoom meetings and distance learning. Attendances at churches has fallen at times. Restaurants had to depend on call-ins and drive-throughs. Businesses closed forever. Events that have been going on for years, even decades, ranging from Christmas parades to the Foothills Festival, had to be cancelled. Even Walmart has special hours, and we found elections changing to avoid spreading the virus.
So much sadness and grief has taken place, even to the point that mental health has declined and suicides have taken place. We in Walker County are worn and weary from fighting the virus, and many of us are eager to take a vaccine that exists but is still in rare supply. The responsible know we will have to wear our masks, social distance and wash our hands longer into this year, as it is becoming a two-year worldwide epidemic. Those who are not responsible may face an even darker fate than some who did not do their best to prepare us for this tragedy, and history will record the latter group in the legions.
We want to get back to normal. But for many grieving for those who are lost to death, that normal will never really return. We think of an old Irving Berlin song that talks of a love song ending too soon: "The moon descended, and then at the break of dawn - you and the song were gone - but the melody lingers on."
If you are sitting at home with this grief, 500,000 deaths are really focused on the one whose melody lingers on. That is the one we mourn with you. As we learn from this death, it will not be in vain. We pray God's blessings on you, and hope for that reunion that comes with faith in Christ.
- The Daily Mountain Eagle