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Miners’ families say their anguished good-byes

Families of the West Virginia miners killed in last week’s explosion have begun saying goodbye at their funerals.
Family and friends of Jerry Lee Groves, 56, bow their heads and join hands in prayer Sunday during a funeral service in Cleveland, W.Va.
Family and friends of Jerry Lee Groves, 56, bow their heads and join hands in prayer Sunday during a funeral service in Cleveland, W.Va. Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

When her husband kissed her goodbye a week ago and left for work at the coal mine, Debbie Groves never thought he wouldn’t come home.

Jerry Groves was among the 13 men trapped underground last week when an explosion thundered through the Sago Mine, and among the six remembered Sunday during the first day of funerals for the 12 miners who didn’t return to the surface alive.

“I know I’ll see him again,” Debbie Groves said, surrounded by friends and family at the Cleveland Independent Baptist Church for his funeral. “Eternity is forever. Our time here is just a vapor.”

As the community grieves, the work of uncovering why the miners died resumes in earnest Monday. Federal investigators were at Sago Mine over the weekend, which will remain closed until carbon monoxide and other deadly gases are vented.

Gov. Joe Manchin also planned a news conference Monday to provide an update on the state’s effort in the wake of the disaster.

Three funerals scheduled for Monday
But Sunday was a day for funerals in West Virginia’s coal mining towns, and three more were scheduled Monday. Like most of those held Sunday, Monday’s memorials for the fallen miners were to be private gatherings, with the media asked not to intrude after the heartbreak of the miners’ deaths played out last week on live television.

The Groves family invited The Associated Press inside his memorial service, because his family wanted the whole world to “see our tears and our smiles,” said Mike Rose, Groves’ son-in-law.

“We’ve got people all over the world praying for us, and that’s how I’m getting by,” he said, sparking a chorus of “Amens” from the crowd, which listened to stories about the 56-year-old who spent half his life working in the coal mines.

Groves’ niece, Teresa Cogar, said her Uncle Jerry was “always sitting on his porch in his flip-flops, drinking an iced tea.”

A survivor clings to life
The surviving miner, 26-year-old Randal McCloy Jr., remained hospitalized in Morgantown. He had been in a medically induced coma to allow his brain time to heal, and while hospital officials said in a statement Sunday that his sedation had been stopped, they said it would take awhile for the medication to clear his system.

Then testing can begin to determine the extent of the damage McCloy suffered in the mine.

Dr. Larry Roberts, the head of McCloy’s treatment team at West Virginia University’s Ruby Memorial Hospital, said McCloy had shown signs of improvement since Saturday but remained in critical condition.

McCloy’s wife, Anna, asked that attention focus on those whose lives were to be remembered.

“We are thinking of them today and throughout this difficult time and we ask you to please keep all the families in your thoughts and prayers,” she said.

Near the end of Groves’ service, Rose asked all the coal miners in the crowd to stand and be recognized. To the 10 who stood, Rose said, “You are the backbone of this state and this country. Always hold your head high and tell everyone you’re a coal miner.”

He then ended the service with the same words Jerry always used to bid his family farewell.

“I’ll see you in a little bit.”