The COVID-19 pandemic has left thousands of Americans motherless this year. One model shared in a study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested the number of children who lost a parent due to the pandemic could be as high as 40,000, a staggering amount in just a year’s time span. On the other end of the spectrum, adult children grieve their elder mothers who died during the pandemic, some who must grapple with the extra pain of not being able to properly say goodbye.
Having lost both of my parents, I do find that Mother’s Day is harder for me emotionally than Father’s Day. I believe this is because my mother died in the month of May, just a couple of weeks after the holiday. My last memories of her before she became bedridden was reading her Mother’s Day card and admiring the fresh flowers I bought for her. Even though this year will mark six years since her passing, those bittersweet memories are still the first to surface when I’m reminded of Mother’s Day via the endless online ads and TV commercials.
For those whose mothers are still alive and perhaps will be seeing in-person for the first time in months due to the pandemic restrictions, I am so thrilled for you and I hope you have a wonderful reunion. We know now more than ever that each moment with loved ones is precious.
If you have a friend who may be grieving the loss of their mother, reach out and offer support in whatever way is meaningful to them. It can be a lonely holiday for those whose mothers are no longer alive, and acknowledgment from caring souls can mean so much.
Over a half-million deaths later, Americans may finally be ready to have more frank discussions about death. It is long overdue, and it pains me that it took a deadly pandemic to raise awareness, but perhaps it can be an important legacy of those who we’ve lost over the last year.
I’ve long championed the need to have “the talk” with elder loved ones, and how my parents’ refusal to discuss their end-of-life wishes created unintended but very real consequences. You can read more about my challenges in my collection of personal essays, The Reluctant Caregiver.
The pandemic showed us what many of us don’t want for our deaths: to be alone with no loved ones present, to be hooked up to machines, to die in a hospital instead of at home, to not be given a proper funeral or farewell ceremony. Hopefully we will take time to reflect upon these tragic, lonely deaths and take action now to better articulate what we would like the final phase of our life to look like.
Some may want to consider a death doula. Practically speaking, death doulas are helpers in all aspects of end-of-life care, from the bodily aspects of the dying process to spiritual concerns. They can assist with logistical issues, such as whether a client would prefer to die at home or in a hospice facility, and help coordinate burial and funeral plans. Doulas can serve as a comforting presence for both the dying and their grieving family. While it may seem awkward to bring in a stranger to what is considered a private family affair, having a compassionate, but clear-eyed presence can be a great benefit in an emotionally-charged setting. To learn more about this option, the International End of Life Doula Association offers a Doula Directory.
If you have not done so already, I hope you will take this time to think about how you’d like your end-of-life care to look and document those wishes. Encourage your loved ones to do the same. The coronavirus pandemic denied many the opportunity for a “good” death but by being more open in discussing a previously taboo subject, we can hopefully move towards a better end-of-life experience for all.
It’s the ninth anniversary of my father’s death, and that also means it is time for my annual PSA (public service announcement) about being gentle and non-judgmental with those who choose not to celebrate the holiday season because they’ve lost someone during this time of year.
The coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 300,000 lives in America will put a damper on this year’s festivities. But I also noticed the opposite effect, with neighbors putting their Christmas decorations up well before Thanksgiving. Both are natural reactions and we should respect the way individuals choose to cope.
This year as I reflect upon the anniversary of my father’s death, I remembered a detail I came across in a card he had attempted to write one of his sisters, but no longer had the cognitive function to address and mail. He had written in the card that he had been diagnosed with the swine flu. He had not received such a diagnosis, but the H1N1 pandemic was in the news at the time. Dad had latched on to that to explain what was happening to his body. That memory came back strong this year as the coronavirus pandemic unleashed its fury across the world.
Related to the pandemic and the need to wear masks, I also am reflecting on the fact that Dad would likely have been anti-mask. In 1986, when I was 12, wearing seat belts became mandatory when driving a vehicle in California. I remember many heated arguments in the car because of my father’s stubborn refusal to put on his seat belt. He claimed wearing the belt was constricting and made him feel like he was choking. Sound familiar this year? As an ill-advised compromise, Dad would drape the belt over his torso, but not latch it. Fortunately we never had any serious accidents. According to the Los Angeles Times, my father was part of the majority who at the time did not wear seat belts on a regular basis.
It has been the strangest and most challenging of years and the holiday season is no different. Connect with those you love however you can safely. Offer words of comfort and healing to the many who are grieving.
I’d like to take this moment to express my gratitude to all of the caregivers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to care for their clients during the coronavirus pandemic. If there is anything positive to come out of this difficult period in our history, it is that the duties of care workers are absolutely essential and have been undervalued by society.
As Ai-Jen Poo writes in the article, Bringing Dignity Back to Essential Work, “I think we have a moment where we’re all taking a step back and seeing just how many people are powering our economy that we just never saw before, that we never valued appropriately, and who keep us safe but we haven’t kept them safe.” Think about the essential workers who have made our lives easier during lockdown, including caregivers, grocery store workers, and delivery drivers. These are roles many have taken for granted, but no more. “Once you see the value of what somebody brings to your life, your safety, your community, your economy, it’s hard to unsee that,” Poo writes. I couldn’t agree more.
Immigrants, women and people of color make up a large part of the caregiver workforce, including those who provided care to my parents. As we take stock during these challenging times, we have the opportunity to address past mistakes, such as underpaying care workers and not providing them with the benefits and the community support they need and deserve. This is not an idealistic, but realistic endeavor. As Poo points out, care workers allow the rest of us to go do our jobs, increasing productivity across the board.
I’m donating to Caring Across Generations to support their work in elevating the dignity and rights of caregivers. I encourage you to support your local caregivers in whatever way you can.
A caregiver’s job was stressful enough before the coronavirus pandemic struck the world. But now, social isolation and anxiety, along with financial concerns, may feel overwhelming.
Over the last few years, I’ve spent time looking for ways caregivers can find a bit of respite, even if it’s just for an hour or an afternoon. What I learned from my work on Respite Care Share was that many caregivers aren’t seeking traditional respite care, which involves taking a longer physical break away from their loved one. While they would love a caregiving break, they worry about placing their loved one, especially those with dementia, in the care of a stranger while they’re away.
Based upon that feedback, I started focusing more on self-care, and finding realistic ways a caregiver can find some solace even in the midst of caregiving. It may be a cup of tea in the morning before everyone else is awake; it may be sitting in the garden while your loved one naps. Reading a chapter of a book after your loved one goes to bed. Listening to a favorite song while your loved one is occupied with an activity. It may not seem like much, but it can make a positive difference.
These are all things that can also be done during times of self-isolation. Supplements and herbal remedies may be helpful (but check with your doctor first.) On CBD for Caregivers, I published a post about relaxing beverages which are either non-alcoholic or lower in alcohol. The good news is that there are a variety such beverages available now, and many are quite tasty! One of my new favorites is Hella Cocktail Co.’s Bitters & Soda. It’s a nice beverage to sip while sitting outside in the area of the yard I’ve transformed into my respite corner.
Challenging times like these can find us slipping into bad habits like excessive drinking, smoking, overeating, etc. I hope you have or can find a healthier way to navigate these stressful times while keeping you and your family safe.