Mother’s Day tragic for those grieving moms lost to COVID-19

They all cry, naked in their grief.

A woman cannot speak without crying. Another said she didn’t expect to get emotional, but when she starts talking about her mother, she asks for a moment to recover from the unsteady weight of the loss. Another remembers the last time she saw her mother, who was separated by glass and was afraid of braiding the breath trapped in her throat.

For people who have lost their mothers to COVID-19, this Mother’s Day is a reminder of a freshly gaping void. Some won’t celebrate the day at all. Others will quietly mark it.

“Before that year, I used to joke with my kids and say Mother’s Day was the most important day of the year,” said Ashlyn Fox, whose mother and grandmother died of COVID-19 six days apart. “This year I don’t want it to exist at all. I want to pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Since the pandemic started just over a year ago, it has killed more than half a million Americans. More than 250,000 women have died from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of them were mothers.

“The void is incredible”

Every day at 4:30 p.m. Fox called her mother. They talked as she drove home from the hospital outside of Atlanta, where she worked as a nurse. They talked about Fox’s day and their children. Her mother asked about the grandchildren – their grades, how her granddaughter was doing in dancing and her grandson was doing in basketball. Fox would ask if her mother needed food, if she had enough medicine.

At the end of every conversation, her mother said to her, “I love you with all my heart.”

On January 1, as the New Year approached, Fox’s mother, Anna Rebecca Matthews, died in a hospital in Augusta, Georgia. Days earlier, Matthews’ own mother, Jeannine Cadle, died in the same hospital from the same virus.

“They were amazing, strong women who were so much a part of our lives,” Fox said of her ‘mom’ and ‘memes’ who lived together and presumably infected each other. “This situation was devastating.”

Every time Fox’s mother or grandmother looked at you it felt like the first time. They would be waiting eagerly on their porch to greet the expected visitors – whether one of their three daughters or eight grandchildren. When you arrived they would kiss you and hug you, reminding you that no home was found, but the bodies of the people we love.

“We would have nights, even as grown-ups, nights at their home with us and our children,” Fox said. “It wasn’t uncommon to just say, ‘OK, we’re all going to be at Meme for the night on a Friday afternoon.’ We were so close. “

On a mild day in mid-December, Matthews was getting sick. Fox encouraged them to get tested. She was hospitalized with COVID-19 a few days later, around the time Cadle started developing symptoms. Cadle would go to the hospital shortly afterwards. Cadle died the day after Christmas. Just a week later, Matthews did too.

Matthew and Cadle’s life was one of family togetherness. But they died alone, and for Fox that dissonance is hard to take.

“One thing that gets me and my sisters through the day is knowing that they are together,” she said solemnly. “This is how we survive.”

On Mother’s Day, Fox and her sisters, as well as their husbands and children, will drive to a cabin in the mountains. Being together feels right, even when partying seems impossible.

When Fox leaves work, it isn’t her mother’s voice that carries her home. It’s the voices of her sisters Amy and Lori. They talk about their days, their children and always the loss.

“The void is incredible. We’re trying to fill it in every possible way,” said Fox. “Every conversation goes back to COVID. It just consumed so much of our lives. I’ll be happy if there is a day we don’t have to talk about it. I wonder if it will ever come.”

“I lost my world”

Yolanda Brook’s mother was more than a parent. Dorothy Babino-Dixon was a confidante, co-worker, and friend.

Brooks and her mother worked together in a private nursing agency in Houston, where Brooks was the office manager and her mother was an administrative assistant. Whenever there was a local event, they attended as mutual appointments. Brooks said they did everything together, said everything together. There was no space between them.

“I often dial her number to say ‘tea’ to her. Then I cry,” Brooks said. “I feel so lost.”

Yolanda Brooks, left, seen here with her mother and

Babino-Dixon commanded a room, a “cracker” who was the regent of her Catholic daughter’s organization and who never let anything keep her from the crowd. When Brooks saw in early July that her mother was not doing well, she asked if she was doing well enough to drive to the hospital herself. Her mother disagreed with the suggestion and told her daughter that she was perfectly capable. Always has been. Neither of them knew that it would be their last trip.

At the hospital, Babino-Dixon tested positive for COVID-19. A week after diagnosis and 24 hours after a Zoom call with her family, Babino-Dixon died.

The grief remains overwhelming. At night, Brooks’ husband shakes her out of her nightmares. Brooks has no plans to celebrate Mother’s Day. She wants to lie in bed, watch TV and distract herself from what feels like dissolving.

“I’ve lost my world,” she said.

“Always Appreciated”

The last time Rosie Davis saw her mother Mary Castro was through the window of a nursing home on Mother’s Day 2020. Nursing homes were closed so as not to expose the residents. Davis recalls that even through the window, she could tell that her mother was weak and disoriented. She couldn’t hold her presents. Castro, who usually dressed up for visitors, wore her pajamas. Usually enthusiastic and attentive, she seemed subdued and distracted.

“I said goodbye to her without knowing that this would be the last day I would see my mother alive,” said Davis.

Castro was a single mother who found herself in a supermarket in nursing school during the cemetery shift. She was involved in community service and did prison work for imprisoned women. She was involved in her church. She was omnipresent in her family’s life.

“She was just always valued as a person, a sister, a mother, a grandmother,” said Davis. “She was someone I looked up to, you know, just her strength and her knowledge and her beliefs and everything that she stood for.”

A few days after Mother’s Day, Castro was rushed to the hospital, where she tested negative for COVID-19 three times before a positive fourth test. A chest x-ray showed pneumonia in one of the lungs. She received oxygen, but the deterioration was rapid. Castro died on May 17th.

To channel her grief, Davis created the Yellow heart memorialwho honors people who have died of COVID-19.

Davis said unlike previous years, this Mother’s Day will be small and intimate. Lunch or dinner with her husband and three grown children.

As the day of her mother’s death approaches, Davis says she is repeating her mother’s last days. Right before she died, Davis spoke to her mother on the phone and asked if she would like to be put on a ventilator. Castro said no, she didn’t want to suffer. Then she asked Davis if she wanted to say something.

“Thank you for being who you are,” said Davis.

“I love you,” she said to her daughter. “When you get to heaven, we will look for each other.”


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