Stories: Who We Have Lost

Rage and Resiliency: Posted on 1/16/22, in honor of Earla Dawn's birthday

Who did you lose to Covid 19? Earla Dawn Dimitriadis

It was a cold morning in early December; the start of winter was coming, and the air smelled like snow. I had just come inside from walking my dog and stood in my kitchen debating what task to jump into next when my dad called. We speak daily, so his call was not unusual, but he was not his typical jovial self, “Jenn,” he said, “I just got off the phone with your mother’s husband. Your mother was hospitalized with COVID. She is not going to make it.” My head began to spin. How is this happening? My dad had already fought and survived COVID at home for weeks due to overcrowded hospitals. I fell to the floor sobbing, unsure of what to do next.

My parents had been divorced for more than 20 years. My mom and I had a complex relationship. I had not spoken to her since starting trauma therapy a few years earlier. I placed boundaries before beginning treatment at the advice of my therapist. I thought about my mom every day, but I was angry at the neglect and abuse I experienced throughout my life.

Growing up, my home was unstable. We were a working-class family, which put stress on the household. My dad, a combat veteran with PTSD, drank to cope with his memories of Vietnam. My mom grew up poor in an abusive household. She was forced to leave school and sold into an abusive marriage as a child, which she escaped years before meeting my dad. My parent’s trauma was evident in the house but not spoken about or addressed. Their untreated mental health issues meant there was a lot of unpredictability in my daily life.

But, my mother was a warrior. She went back to school as an adult, earning a master’s degree in psychology in 2012. She was endlessly creative. She painted, made jewelry, did woodworking, wrote a play; she was self-taught in almost all she did. However, her unresolved trauma and mental health issues also seeped into everything she did.

I could not believe the cruelness of the end of her life, given how much she had already endured. I was not allowed to be with her; no one was. My mom was dying alone and in pain. She deserved more. We deserved more.

I called my mother’s cell phone with my sister Amanda on the line. It took multiple calls for her to pick up. When she did pick up, she did not sound like herself. She was depleted, continually struggling and gasping for air — this sound still haunts me.

Shortly after she picked up, I said, “Mom, I have never stopped loving you. I just needed to take space to be safe. You were abusive.”

My mother responded slowly and quietly between gasps for air, “I know. I’m sorry. I love you.”

Instantly, every ounce of hurt and anger towards her vanished. We began to share stories about better times. We laughed. She told us not to cry, and that she was ready to be done with the pain. I thanked her for her role in helping my sister and me break the cycle. There were countless times that I had wanted a parent to protect me, to ease my pain, and in her last moments of life, she gave me that.

The pain that I carried from my trauma was replaced with rage towards the government systems that failed my parents repeatedly, impacting their ability to keep me safe. Less than two days after our brief conversation, my mom died alone from COVID-19. After all my mom had survived, she died at sixty-six years old due to the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. Her death was preventable.

In the coming days, my mom’s life would be boiled down to a fifteen-minute virtual service. My sister, an essential worker living over eight hundred miles away, had her final viewing of our mom in a casket over Facetime. We were forced to mourn separately.

I vowed to fight for accountability and justice in my mother’s name, and her resiliency allows me to fulfill this promise. Yes, I carry intergenerational trauma, but I also possess intergenerational strength. I will keep fighting for COVID justice for my mom, Earla Dawn, and the hundreds of thousands of others who deserved more.

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