Death doesn't end a relationship: It's OK to grieve on Mother's Day, experts say

Posted at 9:08 AM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 09:08:21-04

(WXYZ) — There’s something about a mother’s love that transcends.

"She was just a great caregiver, an amazing woman to me," said Donetta Woods of Detroit.

Donetta says her mother Eardel Timmons was her best friend. A cancer survivor and fierce family supporter, Eardel’s love for caregiving made an impact on Donetta, inspiring her to become a registered nurse for Beaumont Health.

"I really enjoy taking care of other people, especially when they're feeling bad. I'm very empathetic. I always try to remember it could be me or my loved one, and that's how I stay focused and patient and compassionate towards others," she said.

Last March, Eardel fell ill. They thought it was just a sinus issue, but it was COVID-19 and her health started to quickly deteriorate.

"We got to spend an hour with her and about an hour after we left, she passed away. So I believe she was truly waiting for us to give her the OK," she said.

As we approach Mother's Day, the sad reality of the pandemic is amplified, there are many people who will be missing a mom this year, maybe even for the first time.

"I think, every child that loses a parent feels a little bit ... like an orphan on those days, those big holidays. What you need to remember is it's OK, you need to feel this pain," said Debbie Vallandingham, bereavement manager with Angela Hospice.

Through losing her own mother when she was 19 years old and later her other close family members, Debbie said she found her calling.

"We don't talk about this in our society and it's cloaked and veiled. And we have all these misconceptions about time frames and how you should grieve. You know, 'you should be further along.' You grieve. How you grieve," she said.

And losing a mother or parent is complicated.

"They're our first anchors in this world. You could have had a great relationship with your mom or a bad relationship with your mom, it still represents an important key of who you are in your identity," Debbie said.

Debbie encourages those who are dealing with loss to do what she calls "grief work."

"The biggest thing that we want to do with all of these feelings that come up is resist the urge to just stuff them back down, because what happens with emotions, if you don't look them square in the eye and deal with them, what's going to happen is they're going to come back later and usually they come back worse," she said.

This Mother's Day, she recommends continuing to build that connection.

"Maybe journal, write mom a letter if you didn't get to say goodbye or ... one of my favorites, get a Mother's Day card and wish her a happy Mother's Day in that card. You know, really be with those feelings and and you will see a difference in how you process them."

Dr. Sam Ajluni, a psychiatrist with Beaumont Health, said everyone grieves differently and that’s OK.

"Bereavement is a normal process. This is not a pathological disorder, even if it gets to the extent where you are having difficulty functioning in your everyday life, not sleeping, panic attacks, anxiety, even if that occurs, that does not make you mentally ill," he said.

Both Dr. Ajluni and Debbie agree that group settings can help, reaching out to family, friends, loved ones – and other people who may also be experiencing loss.

And there’s healing in strengthening that bond that’s still in your heart.

"Death ends a life. It does not end that relationship. Your mom is always going to be your mom, and I bet if you think ... 'well, mom, what should I do?' You're going to hear her in the back of your mind. You're going to hear that voice," said Debbie.

For Donetta, she says keeping a journal and her faith have really helped her. She said she will be paying a visit to her mother’s grave ahead of the holiday and bringing her flowers.

On Mother's Day, Donetta said she will be at work, giving back and caring for others, just like her mom always did.

"I just want to continue to carry on her legacy as a caregiver," said Donetta. "That's what she would have wanted me to do."

Anyone grieving a loss can find free support and resources at Angela Hospice.

Their free programs include:

One-on-one counseling: Grief support, education, and counseling are offered to assist in coping with the death of a loved one.

Grief Support Groups: Support groups allow individuals the opportunity to learn about the grief process while benefiting from talking with or hearing from others who are facing a similar journey.

Virtual Grief by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

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