On the eve of the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, the Presidential Inaugural Committee is encouraging communities across the nation to join Washington in lighting up buildings and ringing church bells at 5:30 p.m. (EST) to memorialize American lives lost to COVID-19.
According to the Mississippi Department of Health, 5,524 Mississippians have lost their lives to COVID-19 as of January 18, with more than 400,000 deaths across the U.S. While these people do count as a statistic, they are much more than a number.
Paul Weddle was a father, grandfather, great grandfather, brother, uncle and friend. Moving to Webster County as a young boy, Weddle graduated from Eupora High School in 1948, and spent his life serving his community as a pastor and educator. In 1986, the programs that he implemented at the Webster County Vocational Center were designated as one of the top seven in the nation for superior work. He and his late wife, Laverne, of 68 years, raised two daughters, Lynne and Becky, and if there was ever a gardener with a green thumb, he had it.
“I remember eating popsicles in his backyard and picking flowers. He had the most beautiful flowers and would always win Garden of the Month,” said Kadie Fancher, recalling her childhood days when she would visit the Weddle’s house. “My aunt worked at the bank, and when I went to work with her sometimes, Mrs. Laverne would come in, and I would ride home with her. They always had cake or cookies and would let me play in their backyard.”
Now a registered nurse in the ICU at OCH Regional Medical Center, it was Fancher’s turn to take care of Mr. Weddle. In July, he became another patient admitted to the hospital with COVID. Covered from head-to-toe in personal protective equipment, Fancher had to tell Weddle who she was.
“As soon as I told him who I was, he called me Kadie Carol. All of my mama’s friends called me that,” said Fancher. “We talked about his garden, and he was glad the new owners who moved into his house were taking care of it. It broke my heart to see him so sick, but at the same time, I was grateful that I could be there for him and his family.”
“In our darkest moments, Kadie was a bright light,” said Weddle’s daughter Becky Greenleaf. “As hard as it was not being able to be with him while he was in ICU, we were comforted greatly knowing that he was receiving the same personal and thoughtful care that he extended to so many throughout his years.”
Fancher said the hardest part of the COVID battle has been seeing patients without their family by their sides.
“Each patient is somebody’s somebody,” said Fancher. “I feel like all of us have taken on a role of more than just a caregiver. That means staying in the room a little longer with the patients or Facetiming with their family members. We all do it to give our patients the most amount of comfort they can have.”
After more than two weeks in ICU, Weddle (91) was discharged from the hospital on hospice and was surrounded by family in his last days.
“My heart is full of gratitude and thanks for the personal and individual care that was given to my father while he battled COVID-19,” said Greenleaf. “I know if dad were still with us, he would be walking through the halls at OCH thanking each person. That was just who he was.”