Amid COVID-19, Mother's Day marks loss, love and new life

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Sandy Brown, Chilah Harper and Mallory Pease don’t know each other but have a few things in common.

One thing they share is bathed in celestial light. The other is as black as a plague.

The three women are mothers who have viewed the novel coronavirus from different angles.

Brown experienced what no parent should ever experience. Harper contemplated a life where her daughters would grow up without her. And Pease brought new life into the world, even if the path was ushered by people in spacesuits.

Sandy Brown of Grand Blanc places flowers on the gravesite of her only son Freddie Lee Brown III and husband Freddie Lee Brown Jr. at Sunset Cemetery in Flint on Thursday, May 7, 2020. Father and son died from Covid-19. Browns's husband and son died from Covid-19.

As profound as their emotions have been during the past few months, the feelings will be heightened even further on Sunday, which is Mother’s Day.

But that won’t be the end of it.

During a season of sickness, these rites of passage will resonate long after the day is over.

Heartbreak and faith

A 19-year-old son is supposed to finish college, get a job, move away (but not too far away), have children and allow his parents the unalloyed joy of loving children without having to discipline them.

What a 19-year-old son isn’t supposed to do is die.

Sonny Brown, who began and ended his life in an intensive care unit, violated that pact. He contracted COVID-19 in March and died two days later.

And so his mom will start Mother’s Day with a heavy heart.

Sandy Brown of Grand Blanc will remember a boy who was sweet and shy, who wanted to attend Michigan State University but gave in to his mother’s wishes that he stay close to home for two more years. So he matriculated at Mott Community College.

“I didn’t want him to leave yet,” she said.

Despite her devastation, she’ll remember all the good times, which were a blessing, because she wasn’t supposed to be a mother. After two miscarriages, she had given up hope of having a child when, at age 40, she became pregnant.

And, finally, the devout Brown will remember God and the fact that His plans sometimes differ from our own, she said.

The deaths of her only child and her husband, who also died from COVID-19, tested her faith like it had never been tested before.

“We talk about God, about trusting him, but you don’t really know if you can go the whole mile with him unless you trust him,” she said.

A Mother’s Day that will begin with heartbreak will end with prayer and faith, she said. Fittingly, it falls on a Sunday.

God has helped keep her strong through her twin losses, she said. And she remains strong, in her faith and in her love for two people she misses very much.

'I need to get home'

No one had to convince Harper about the gravity of COVID-19. As a nurse technician, she knew all about the poison coursing through her body.

On top of that, she also had sepsis, pneumonia and respiratory failure, she said. During her nine days at Beaumont Royal Oak in March, she was afraid to go to sleep because she didn’t think she would wake up.

Chilah Harper

But she told God she wasn’t ready to go just yet. She had two reasons to stick around, she said. One was 11 years old and the other 20, her daughters Amaiya and Aricka.

Aricka had been taking care of Amaiya, who has asthma, but then Aricka developed a fever. It turned out not to be virus-related.

“My baby is sick,” Harper told herself. “I need to get home.”

Despite having trouble taking a single breath, she pushed herself to start doing things without the help of the nurses. Eventually, she found her way home.

Harper, 43, of Redford Township is just now, a month after her release from the hospital, beginning to feel like herself, she said.

But she gets emotional when she thinks how much her health had deteriorated. Thinking about her daughters forging a life without her is unbearable.

Mother’s Day isn’t always about the mothers. Sometimes it's about the children.

“I was thinking about my family,” Harper said about her time in the hospital. “I was thinking about my children.”

With Michiganians living under a stay-home order because of the virus, Sunday will be a lot like any other day at the Harper household. Mom and her two girls will be stuck at home. But Harper will be exactly where she wants to be — with them.

Separated after birth

It’s nerve-wracking to have a baby during a pandemic. It’s even worse when the mother-to-be is afflicted with the disease.

The four days Pease spent at Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall in March are a blur, she said. That might be good because the stuff she remembers is excruciating.

She went to have a baby and was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Pease, 27, of Homer Township in Calhoun County, was alone and lonely, she said. She wondered how she was going to survive contractions when she couldn’t even take a breath.

But the worst part happened right after birth.

After she held her newborn Alivia, a healthy 8 pounds and 3 ounces, for five minutes, hospital staff whisked the baby away. It would be four days before she could hold her again.

“I didn’t really know what was ahead,” Pease said. “I didn’t know we were going to be separated for so long.”

Her convalescence also was tricky because she was recovering from both the birth and the disease.

Nowadays her energy has improved and breaths have deepened, she said. She can climb the stairs without stopping.

Being a mom, she worries more about her kids than herself. She has one other child, Emma, who is 19 months old.

Pease had never been away from Emma before, so she fretted how her absence would affect the toddler.

She needn’t have worried.

Mallory Pease gave birth to newborn Alivia Pease while afflicted with COVID-19 on March 23. Here she smiles with her other daughter Emma, 19 months, and husband Mitch.

Emma was pleased to see her mom bring home a new plaything. All she wants to do is hold her little sister.

As for Alivia, she is healthy and happy and easygoing, Pease said. The little one might even be called easy peasy.

What does Mother’s Day mean in the Pease household? It means something harrowing has turned into something beautiful.

“We’re all doing good,” Pease said. “Our story has a happy ending.”

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell