Dancing with Grief: A Year Ago my Mother Went To The Hospital & Never Came Home
This is my story of the loss of my mother Regina Dix-Parsons to COVID-19
My mother would sing the gospel song, “Safe In His Arms”, and that song randomly comes to me whenever I think about my mother. One because she would sing it in church and because it is true. My mother held my hand through everything and she had to take her last breath alone because my mother was one of the first 100,000 American victims of COVID-19. A year later, there is still so much unknown about the virus forcing families to say their goodbyes to loved-ones via Zoom. This is not the new normal; I refuse to believe it. For the past year, Black families have foregone conducting homegoing services which is an integral piece to our healing process and finding closure that most of the time never comes.
This pandemic has shown us that no one is safe from its reach. The virus knows no race, color, creed, or status; each and every one of us can be touched by it. We all have a story, and this mine. This is the story of how I lost my rock, my mother.
When March 2020 began, like many people, I believed everything was normal. I went to work, visited my family, dropped my mother’s new cell phone off at the beginning of the month. Things were good. COVID was in the news, but what was it? No one really knew.
It was vague.
It wasn’t clear.
We were in Schenectady.
She sang at someone’s funeral, like she had done countless times before. My mother’s voice was so angelic and could soften the hardest hearts. Regina Dix-Parsons was the voice that you wanted to sing to you and your family no matter the circumstances. I am not bragging because she was my mother; it is just facts.
Before we knew what 2020 had in store for us, my mother and I planned to travel to Ethiopia in 2021. It was all in the works. I got her passport application. I had the itinerary set. We were good. Now it’s March, And March in New York is long. I got new cell phones for my mom and I. I reflected on being able to provide my mother with these luxuries; a small repayment for all that she had given me. We were happy. She went to church, I worked. She would cook and I would stop by and grab a plate. She made sure to write daily messages tailored to each person. When I was working, she would always check to make sure that I ate throughout my workday. Things were normal. My mother went urgent care on March 17, 2020 and was later admitted to the hospital that day. So, when she was admitted to the hospital I thought that things would continue to be normal. It was just a hospital visit; it’s 2020; modern medicine and medical care are meant to help, not hurt; but this is where the trauma begins.
I am healing in real time, as I type, with every breath. I lost my mother on April 4, 2020. My heart is still numb. I wish I could say I was able to focus my attention on the loss of my mother from that day forward, but the blows didn’t stop that day. In the months following I lost my Aunt Deidre, cousins, and one of my older sisters- Shlonda. These weren’t COVID-19 deaths but they were losses that built upon the pain that I carried. I lost my sister and mother 4 months apart. I am empty and yet I have to still move on, people move on. Two aunts, three cousins, and my sister. The one person I would turn to for guidance was gone and the one thought that went through my mind was that my mother transcended alone. I had nothing in me. I was empty. Nah, I am empty. And the feeling — that feeling that there is no one left to refill me has led to anger, anxiety and loneliness.
My mother was in Ellis Hospital for almost 3 weeks; it felt like a lifetime. She originally went out of precaution. We all thought that she would be back home in no time. Then a week passed; she is still in the hospital. The doctors are trying to figure out how to treat her. Again, no one truly knew what we were battling at this time. Because my mother is a Black woman, we are on high alert to ensure that she receives the services she deserves and needs, but we cannot be at the hospital with her. My mother was always vocal about the institutional racism within the healthcare system and taught us that we should never go or be alone in the hospital because of it. Regina gave her children the tools to fight back against this but this pandemic stripped us from the very tools that she trained us to use. Black people only represent 13 % of the population in this country but accounted for nearly 30% of all COVID-19 cases & 16% of death. The disparities aren’t new to our family but not having contact with our loved ones added another hurdle to the system.
By mid-March, like most of the nation, we were on high-alert, but for my siblings and me the world was put on pause as we tried to figure out how to operate without direct contact to our mother. We were in the dark. I called my best friend in an attempt to find some grounding. It worked, but at the same time I felt like I was drowning. No one knew what we were fighting. There was silence. We were stressed out beyond reprieve. So my siblings and I did the only thing we knew how to do. We stood firm (10 toes down). We thought that we were good… but coronavirus had other plans. One of my mother’s favorite gospels songs was sung by the late great Dr. Mattie Moss Clark, “climbing up the mountain,” where the chorus sang “climbing up the mountain, trying to reach the top. Almost finished my journey, I’ve gone halfway and I just can’t stop.”
Whenever I have conversations with friends and family about what my grieving process has been like throughout this pandemic and losing my mother, I always pause and ask, “do they really care?” Do I tell them the truth or should I hit ’em with the ‘I’m okay.’ Losing a parent during a pandemic will really show you who your true friends are, but also makes you weary of everyone that was willing to offer a helping hand. Not everyone is your friend. I went into ‘safe mode’ to protect myself and to prevent myself from breaking down publicly because there is no crying at work. This is my motto. I was in ‘safe mode’ because I did not know the fight that my mother was fighting and I could not be there to protect her.
Even in her death, it felt like I had to fight for time with my mother because she was so loved within the community. She watered each person that came into contact with her, never making anyone feel like they were a burden. It is this collective pain that gave me some comfort, but the disconnect occurred when they mistakenly believed that we were all carrying the same load. The majority of the comments I fielded in the weeks following my mother’s passing came with an air of entitlement. Entitlement to our grief. But this was our mother. I want to make clear that the loss of a friend, sister, aunt, or cousin does not and will never equate to the loss that Gina’s kids felt and are feeling. She is our safety. Our home. She held us up. She watered us. And now we are drying up and alone. There are no words to explain the loss of a mother. It is your first home.
My shield is gone.
Regina Dix-Parsons was my first home. I lost my first home. She is gone. My siblings lost their first home. This is what is meant to feel safe. We were protected. Gina always had “Gina’s kids” and now it is gone.
The loss of a mother, father, sibling, cousin during the pandemic is hard especially when you HAD to allow them to take their last breath alone. This is something that over 530,000 Americans have gone through. Closure is something we don’t get. So I remind myself to breathe. Once my mother was intubated, communication ceased. We didn’t hear from her. We just had to trust that the doctors and nurses were doing everything they could. We had to lean into the very thing that allowed our mother to make it through, despite whatever was placed in her way. Faith… and blind trust.
Each day during those weeks, I gathered myself and walked into work. I did not tell anyone that my mother was fighting for her life because that would make it all too real. So I focused on the only thing I had control of at this time which was my career because Gina always pulls through. Days go by and she is on the vent and no change.
My best friend tells me that it would be smart to let my work family know what is going on. I was like nah, I’m good. Because showing signs of weakness is something I do not do. Another couple of days on the vent and no change. I let other friends in my circle know what is happening. Still, my best friend tells me, let your work family know what happens. I don’t and because it will become real. And I know the gravity. I am afraid to speak of it. So I hold it in. I don’t say much. I suck it up, buckle up, and show up just the way my mother taught me. I know that I can’t fold. There were many days in March 2020 when I would sit in my car and get my cry out and wipe my eyes and walk into the office. The only thought in my head is that I can’t fold because my mother needs me. She’ll be okay. I would tell myself to inhale, breathe, and don’t fold because “Gina’s Kids” don’t fold. But COVID-19 had other plans. I know that I’m not alone when I told myself to suck it up, breathe, walk, gather yourself, look up to force the tears back up, and that everything will be okay…
On March 24, 2020 I finally told my office family what was happening, I was at ease because Mom always made sure that I was around people who will support me when needed and my the way my office family supported me was exactly what I needed. They asked questions but didn’t tiptoe around me. They gave me a sense of normalcy and the fact that the most normal place at this time was my office is surprising but after I would inhale and then exhale at my desk, everything felt okay. Days felt like weeks and weeks felt like months.
Thinking back and the idea that I was sitting at my desk in the New York State Capitol trying to hold it together as my mother battled the virus the nation was trying to grasp conceptually, still baffles me. There were times where I couldn’t hold back the tears so I would go for random walks; go to the fourth floor bathroom in the New York State Capitol to cry during the times I would normally get my random daily text from my mother; and cry because I didn’t know if she would make it. Because no one knew what this was. I knew what it was. I took deep breaths at my desk. I gave myself pep talks while sitting in the parking garage; telling myself that today at 11 AM the news would be different… but that didn’t happen. Fourth floor it would be.
April is nearing. My birthday is coming up. Everyone was thinking Mommy would be good, including me. April 1st — my birthday — comes and goes. And nothing. I didn’t get the call with my mother singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. She is not pulling through. I continue to work because that is what she would want. I woke up each day hearing my mother say “show up, because that is what you’re here for.”
So, I showed up each day waiting for improvements. I am halfway checked out. I know that my mother is transcending. I feel it in every part of my being. Whenever I was asked about her, I would say the good parts of what the doctor said because saying it meant that it would be true. But what was true was that she would be one of the first to pass from the COVID-19. The doctor called and we know what it is. You are preparing to leave us. And the next day, April 4th, my whole world drops. I’m empty and alone. My first home has left me.
I wasn’t alone when I got the call that it was time to say goodbye. My mom always had some way to make sure that I was okay and with someone that would hold me down. I was sitting at my friends, Jessica’s house watching “Wild n Out” and eating tacos. My father calls me to let me know that I have an hour to gather people and set a time to say our goodbyes. I took a deep breath. I went to my younger sister’s house with my brothers and we did FaceTime to say our goodbyes. Three phones with multiple people on the line. We each take our turn. The nurse is suited up and she was super calm and comforting. Allowed us to take our time to let my mother know that it was okay for her to go and that we will be okay. The only thing I remember telling my mother is that “I will be okay and that I got everyone.”
The call ends. And we wait for the next call. There was a part of me that thought once they took her off that she would bounce back. Two of my closest friends, Miriam and Melissa, FaceTime checked in on me- I told you before that my mother always made sure that I had a safety net. We chat; I try to hold it in and we laugh and mid conversation my father comes over to let me know that my mother passed.
When she left, she was alone.
And now we’re alone.
We asked if they could play some gospel music for her so that in her last moments she was with her passion — Music; Song. Gospel Music. The music that she would sing to us whenever we were down and out. We wanted a piece of us with her and a piece of her with her on her journey. We said goodbye on FaceTime. The idea that she transcended alone, that so many other families’ loved-ones transcended alone, didn’t and still does not sit right with me. My younger brother asked, “Nay (this is my family nickname) why isn’t she getting better?”
I normally always have an answer or a solution but I didn’t on April 4, 2020, the day I lost my mother.
And there we were. Gina’s kids. Sitting at a table without legs.
Our mothership has left us. We are here.
We are thankful, but we are alone.
As April creeps up on us in 2021, I think back to where I was last year. From the outside, I looked whole, but I was shattered and broken. I kept moving. I lost two aunts, three cousins & an older sister all while attempting to hold and manage the grief of losing my mother. Many times it felt as if the grief that me and my siblings were feeling didn’t matter and that we should hold it in — for the greater good, And that our pain didn’t matter. But in some odd way I felt my mother pushing me to speak up, call out and speak openly about my pain. “Use your voice Nay, y’all matter,” is what I hear whenever I speak up even when it goes against the grain. Sitting in silence and suppressing the grief doesn’t help. In the end, I know that my siblings & I (Gina’s Kids) are floating. We are not okay but the tools Regina Dix-Parsons gave us allowed us to navigate life without her. She prepared us for this but many times, I just want to look over my shoulder and ask her how I know if my chicken is done?
Not being able to say goodbye to your mother is a different type of pain. I know I am not alone in this pain, but together, we can water each other so that we never feel alone. I am saying this to everyone that lost a loved one to COVID-19 that you are not alone and that pain you feel cuts deep but in time I pray it heals. The number keeps growing and each day more families start to navigate how to move on but you never move on you just learn to dance with the grief. That is what I am doing, I am dancing with this grief and allowing it to come and learn it because it is here to stay.
We are okay today and we miss you, Mommy. Gina’s kids are okay and we are finding our way together. I wish I had a resource number to share with those that lost a loved one to COVID-19 but I don’t but what has helped me was a therapist and saying no. Say no, to whoever, whatever. You and your healing come first and learn to take grief by its hand do a slow two-step with it. Dance with your grief and do it at your pace.