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Mother's Day: Coping with Trauma and Grief

Helen Virginia Thomas (RN)

My mother, Helen Thomas was murdered in June of 1975 during an armed robbery in our home in  New York City (Harlem). Even though I was only 7 at the time, I knew that my life would never be quite the same. Since this tragic event, I have been clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although I initially began receiving mental health-related services at an early age, PTSD wasn't recognized as a mental disorder until 1980. Previously, it was considered a psychological condition of combat veterans who were “shocked” (shell-shocked) by and unable to face their experiences on the battlefield. The vast majority of the general public and many mental health professionals doubted whether PTSD was a true disorder. 

After her death, I was raised by my maternal grandmother in Maxton, North Carolina which is a rural town between Charlotte and Wilmington. Although I felt the love from the church we attended, I dreaded Mother's Day because there was the tradition of wearing a red rose if your mother was alive and a white one if deceased.

Since everyone knew what the white rose represented, I dreaded the questions of how my mother died and the "I'm so sorry" comments. Although I never envied any of my friends sitting with their mothers during this day, I can recall the emptiness I felt inside and just considered this day an annual reminder of how my mother died. The last time I saw my mother alive, she was stretched out on the hallway floor in obvious pain from gunshot wounds and coughing up blood.

It seems just like yesterday when my mother and I were in Central Park walking around and all of a sudden it started pouring down rain. After we found a safe haven from the rain, I began crying because my clothes were wet. Being that my mom knew I despised getting wet, she began laughing at me and gave me the warmest hug that I ever received.

Shortly after the rain stopped, the sun reappeared and I began to smile because the rain was finally gone. Whenever I start feeling sad during the holiday season and Mother's Day, I prefer to focus on this special moment with my mother, rather than my loss. I refuse to let this traumatic event steal the joyful moments shared with my mother.

Don't get me wrong, losing a loved one can be very devastating, however, the sun will reappear. Your days will seem brighter and your life will continue, even if it's never quite the same.

If you feel the need to talk to someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor.

Current and former service members, use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.

Also, please remember, if you think you may hurt yourself or others, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

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