After what they have been through, Covid-19 reminds them of springtime tornadoes indiscriminately sweeping across the Texas landscape — the type of storms that slash through small towns, wiping out some families and homes while leaving others unscathed.
Vearline and Raymond Rougely live twenty miles outside Carthage, Texas, — a little place with a population just over 6,500 that calls itself the “Best Small Town in Texas.”
If the virus could find the Rougely family this far out in the country, they’re convinced it can find anyone.
On April 14, the coronavirus stormed into their lives in ways that left them forever scarred.
“We’ve seen some very dark times,” said Shenna Rougely, one of Vearline’s and Raymond’s three children. “It’s an invisible killer. You don’t know where it’s coming from.”
On that April day, three members of the Rougely family were diagnosed with Covid-19.
‘The worst day of my entire life’
It’s believed Raymond, 84, was infected while receiving treatment at a nursing facility for a stroke he suffered in December. Vearline picked him up from the facility to take him to another medical appointment and became infected. And it’s likely they passed it on to their daughter Hazel.
“It was the worst day of my entire life,” Shenna told CNN. “I was in a state of shock.”
Less than a week later, the elder Rougleys were sent to the same hospital.
Vearline, 80, was placed on a ventilator. Raymond was in another hall of the hospital, unaware that his wife of 60 years was in such a dire condition.
Shenna recorded one of their last video chats. She didn’t want to believe it was a chance to say a final goodbye, but her father was nearing the end of his fight. A nurse held the phone up for him so he could see his daughter.
“I’m so thankful you’re my dad,” Shenna said while holding back tears in the 5-minute phone call. “I thank you for everything.”
At one point, Raymond looks at the camera and says, “Alright, bye bye.”
Raymond Rougely died on May 15.
Raymond’s children organized a small graveside memorial service while their mother remained on a ventilator. For Shenna, the idea of losing three family members was becoming too real.
“One night, I prayed and I cried all night long,” Shenna said. “I said, ‘God, please do not let me lose all my family.’ I felt like I had no control over anything. I actually felt like I was watching somebody else’s life.”
‘God just wasn’t ready for me’
There was some good news. Hazel was starting to recover and her prognosis was looking better. Doctors, however, were now telling Vearline’s children that their mother might not live.
But Vearline soon started recovering, getting stronger. And to everyone’s surprise, she started breathing on her own about two months after she was placed on a ventilator. Shenna said her doctor was amazed by the recovery.
“He (the doctor) looked at my mom in awe,” said Shenna. “The doctor said she kicked Covid’s booty.”
Vearline returned home at the end of July to a car parade, with family and friends driving past her front porch. She says she still feels weak and needs to use a walker to move around, but each day she feels a little stronger.
Vearline knows not many people survive after spending roughly 60 days on a ventilator. She doesn’t remember being in the hospital — it’s a blur.
“I didn’t know I was in the world,” Vearline told CNN as she sat on her front porch. “It’s a wonder by God.”
Now Vearline dreams of returning to her small church, where you can often find her passionately strumming the guitar alongside the choir. She’s determined to get back to church and to live another 20 years.
“God just wasn’t ready for me,” she said.
When Vearline returned home her children delivered the news that her husband had not survived. They let her watch the graveside burial ceremony that was held while she was on a ventilator.
It breaks Vearline’s heart that in her husband’s last moments she wasn’t there to hold his hand and whisper in his ear.
“I would have told him I was just glad that he was the only man that I would want in this world,” Vearline said. “If I had to do it over again, I would do it with him.”
Raymond grew up in East Texas, picked cotton as a young man and spent most of his time chopping and hauling pulp wood that gets turned into paper. He didn’t finish 9th grade and prided himself on making sure his three children graduated from college.
Vearline emerged from the hospital in awe of her family — the pain they endured in the pandemic’s storm. Coronavirus might have claimed a beloved father and husband, but it also revealed a family’s profound perseverance.
“I’m more than proud,” Vearline said as her children listened. “If there was another word beyond proud that’s better…I’m just proud.”
Ashley Killough contributed to this story.