POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — On Friday afternoon, without the normal fanfare that typically attracts a holiday crowd, the official Christmas tree for the City of Point Pleasant was quietly lit and a memorial wreath placed in memory of those lost to, and those affected by, the COVID-19 pandemic which has touched everyone to some degree, though some irrevocably so.
As part of his duties as mayor, Brian Billings has always been a part of lighting the city’s Christmas tree, though understandably, this year feels different as it does for many.
When Billings talks about his mother, the late Eva Armantrout, he has many fond members and stories. He can recall sitting shotgun alongside her as a child, as she drove he and his two siblings from their home in West Virginia to Anaheim, California in 1965 for an employment opportunity. Billings said it was his job to read the maps and freely admits to taking some wrong turns on that road trip.
2020 is a year which has taken many “turns,” including, for Billings and his family, the unexpected loss of his mother to COVID-19 on Nov 18.
Though his personal loss is uniquely his own, Billings stressed his loss is not singular and there are many others out there in that same, sudden, unwanted club of empty chairs at the dinner table.
“We have decided to dedicate the city Christmas tree ‘in memory’ of all who have passed away from this terrible COVID-19 virus,” Billings said. “After the passing of my mother and then a dear, family friend two days later, Denise Scarberry, I wanted to do something to keep the memories of those we have lost in the city alive. There are others in the county who have lost their lives to this terrible virus as well and we will not forget them either. But let’s also remember those who are suffering at this time with this virus. I praise God for those who have had this terrible virus and have recovered. Those who have lost loved ones are hurting and need our support, this is one way to remember those who have left us.”
Billings shared his story with Ohio Valley Publishing, saying his mother was admitted to a hospital on a Sunday, transported to another facility and then flown to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va. on Tuesday. By Wednesday, she had passed away. Billings remarked, he’s still stunned at how quickly it all happened.
Like so many others who have lost a loved one to COVID-19, once his mother went into the hospital, due to safety protocols, no one could visit her. The night she was flown to Morgantown, Billings and his wife Shirley, sat in the parking lot of the hospital, waiting for the helicopter. Billings said he wanted to get a “glimpse” of his mother and wanted her to know she wasn’t alone.
“I tried everything in my power to let her know she was not alone,” Billings said.
The couple never saw the helicopter land but once in Morgantown, Billings said the staff stopped in to tell his mother, by that time unconscious, he had called. Then, on the last day of her life, staff made sure to lay the phone receiver by his mother’s ear while he talked to her and he believes, though he has no proof, only faith, that she heard him. An hour later, she was gone.
“They’re not a number, they’re human beings, there’s emotions tied to this…you can’t tie yourself to a number but you can tie yourself to a loved one or close friend that passed,” Billings said about those who have died from COVID-19 and those left behind. “In my opinion, we’ve got to get away from this (just looking at statistics) because that’s all I see anymore…the numbers change and change but there’s more to this than totaling up numbers each day and sometimes we forgot that these people are loved ones we’ve lost. ”
The memorial wreath, which sits at the base of the city’s Christmas tree, has a message attached to it which reads, “This tree will be in memory of those who have lost their lives or have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Remembering those we care about during the coronavirus pandemic and those loved ones we lost. We will never forget.”
The city tree, as well as the trees which are part of the Light of Christmas project to benefit Mason County Toys for Kids, are currently illuminating all of Gunn Park on 4th Street.
The trees are easily viewed from a vehicle but if walking in the park, follow the posted safety guidelines which include wearing a face covering at all times, avoid touching surfaces, social distancing and stay home if you are ill.
The memorial wreath was made by Girlfriends and Sister Chics from Lavalette, W.Va. The live Christmas tree was donated by Mason County Circuit Clerk, and former councilwoman, Elizabeth Jones. Street department employees helped retrieve and decorate the tree. The mayor and city officials recognized them all for their efforts.
© 2020 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.