“It felt like she was in jail,” said her daughter, Rani Harrison, who lives in Adams Morgan. Aside from one other socially distant visit on a porch at the facility, she did not see her mother again, because the visits were too hard on Washington, who has dementia. “She’d get upset because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t leave and everybody else did,” she said.
This Mother’s Day, over half of eligible adults have gotten at least one vaccine dose. For many, that has freed them to finally spend the holiday with Mom.
For Harrison and her two sisters, who are vaccinated, that meant renting a hotel and swooping in on Saturday to whisk their also-vaccinated mother away for the Mother’s Day weekend. When Washington stepped out of the facility Saturday morning, she was exuberant.
“She saw me and she just gave me a really big hug,” Harrison said.
There was so much her mother wanted to do this weekend, her first excursion in over a year: go shopping, visit a friend, get a pedicure, Harrison said. “She was like, ‘Oh, it’s so good to be out, thank you so much, this is a really nice treat.’”
Across the country, countless families have endured their own versions of a lost year. While some mothers were able to pod with their adult children, others lived too far away, or felt it was too risky, or were constrained by rules imposed by living facilities or international borders. For them, holidays such as birthdays and Mother’s Day served as painful reminders of what they were missing — and, perhaps, in danger of losing.
“Every day,” is how often Lise Ragbir, 47, of Austin, worried she might never again see her 80-year-old mother, who lives in Montreal. “We’ve had so many losses in our orbit over the last 18 months, to covid, to age, to a range of things. I feel like I’ve been writing condolence letters and sympathy cards weekly, and I don’t think that my family is above that loss.”
Ragbir, a writer and art curator, is vaccinated and has been looking for ways to visit her mother, but Canadian restrictions on visitors have made it impossible so far, and her mother has yet to get her second vaccine dose.
Her mother, who is originally from Trinidad, has an immigrant’s practicality about separations — “you make do and you stay strong” — Ragbir said. But for her, Zoom has not been able to replace a mother’s hug. “I miss seeing her, her body moving ... her little stature moving about the house, clipping the plants in the living room — these sound like little things, but I don’t have that.”
Lynette Craig, who lives on Capitol Hill, was so excited to see her mother, Kathie Darby, 68, for the first time in 14 months that when her plane landed in Salt Lake City in late April, she impulsively handed her phone to a stranger and asked him to film the reunion.
The women fell into each other’s arms and wept, the mother’s hands repeatedly kneading the daughter’s back as if to reassure them both that this was real. They were still hugging when the video ended, 30 seconds in.
“It’s the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing her,” said Craig, 44. They normally get together three or four times a year.
Instead of in-person time together, the two developed a habit of watching Chinese dramas together, exchanging voice recordings via WhatsApp as they watched. But it wasn’t until Darby and her husband, who has underlying medical issues, got fully vaccinated that Craig felt comfortable booking a flight.
“I just needed to see her,” said Craig, who was also vaccinated in time for the trip. “I needed that hug. … It just felt like I was home. Mom’s here. She’s going to take care of me, as she always has.”
Gail Kotel, 50, of Philadelphia, and her mother, Lois Dunner, 75, who has spent the pandemic traveling through the South and West with her husband in a motor home, also created new rituals during their time apart.
“Lots of texting,” Kotel said. Dunner is a serious cook, her daughter said, and many meal photos were sent. Technology sometimes failed. “She’s not great at Zoom,” Kotel said. “Sometimes I’m like: ‘Where’s your camera?’”
But this weekend they didn’t need technology. At Union Station, Kotel stepped off an Amtrak train from Philadelphia and found her mother in front of the station. It was “hugs and kisses all around,” Dunner said.
The ability to meet in person is a relief to many mothers as well as to their children, said Michelle Janning, a professor of sociology at Whitman College in Washington state. “The keeping of kinship, of family connections, is something that moms are more likely to do,” she said. “Moms are more likely to feel guilty [if they] can’t organize things the way they used to.”
Debbie Lee, an artist in Thousand Oaks, Calif., said the separation prompted her and her mother in Woodbridge, Va., to stay in closer touch electronically than they were used to doing. It also brought out a more sentimental side of her 81-year-old mother, who is Korean and “not super-demonstrative in love and affection,” Lee said.
“There’s a lot more ‘I love you’ and ‘I miss you’” compared with before, she said. “That’s normal for a lot of people, but not for us. So that’s changed, that’s a good thing.”
For Lee, the difficulties of the past year also underlined her mother’s vulnerabilities. “It’s been my biggest worry, that something’s going to happen when we’re separated,” she said. “With all of the Asian hate that’s been a huge weight, it’s been scary ... and not being able to see her, it just drove it home that, ‘Wow, she’s not going to live forever.’ ... [It] makes me want to show her how much she means to me.”
When vaccines became available, Lee signed up as soon as she could, then booked a flight for the moment her second shot would be fully effective: May 14. Thinking about hugging her mom, she said, “I can’t think of anything in my adult life that I’ve ever wanted more. ... I will probably cry for an uncomfortably long time.”
Alexandra Edwards, of Oklahoma City, was used to seeing her mother in Wayne, Pa., every six to eight weeks, but the pandemic cut off those visits. Edwards got vaccinated as soon as she could, and her immunity kicked in just before Mother’s Day. On April 29, her mother, who was already vaccinated, flew to Oklahoma City to see her and her husband and daughters, ages 6 and 3.
Driving to the airport, Edwards was already in tears. When they met curbside, they hugged and cried for a long time.
“I probably can’t identify all the emotions I was feeling. Gratitude, love, relief, excitement, all wrapped up in a moment,” she said, adding that it reminded her of “the feeling of the nurse putting my girls in my arms after they were born.”
But for some, vaccinations in time for Mother’s Day did not bring long-awaited reunions, especially with international borders in play. Ragbir decided to wait on a visit until restrictions ease up in Canada. And Anup Mahurkar, 55, a genomics researcher and engineer at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who lives in Chevy Chase, D.C., shelved a plan to fly to Hyderabad, India, to visit his 82-year-old mother, who has Parkinson’s disease and other ailments.
As infection rates there surged, he changed his ticket from April 22 to May 22, but finally canceled, because of the deadly spread.
The two have been talking every day since, he said, “for emotional support.” But he knows, as he watches the skyrocketing death rate in India, that they are lucky. He knows multiple people his age who have lost parents in recent weeks. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s okay. But I just want to make sure she’s feeling okay,” he said.
Prabha Mahoorker, who uses a different spelling for the family name, wiped her eyes Saturday as talked about her need for her eldest son, “my adviser,” who is a source of strength for her, the 82-year-old said from India via FaceTime.
Anticipating his visit, she’d made his favorite special yogurt and sweet bread but had to freeze them. She passes time doing puja — a ritual offering in Hinduism — praying, watching TV and playing Sudoku.
“I’m feeling sad because I’m waiting and waiting,” she said. “But it’s not in my hands, it’s not in his hands. It’s God’s wishes, and will; you can’t push against it.”