A mom’s grief would not cease in a pandemic. Neither did their Attleboro help group. | Coronavirus

The day before Mother’s Day last year, a group of local mothers gathered in Melissa Brastow’s backyard in Attleboro.

They spread out under canopies 6 feet apart, and many wore masks. But even at the height of a new pandemic with so many strangers, they couldn’t imagine being apart on one of the toughest days of their year: Mother’s Day.

Brastow founded a support group for grieving mothers in 2016 after the sudden death of her son Myles six years ago. The group, Myles Above in Heaven, provides a place for compassion, empathy, and understanding among others living through the loss of a child, Brastow said.

That grief never stops, even during a pandemic.

Neither does your group.

Their last “normal” meeting was in March 2020, just a week before the state ordered a shutdown in response to growing coronavirus cases. The library where they met had to close its doors. Just as everyone else navigated a confusing April, Brastow’s group waited through the unknown.

But as May rolled around, several mothers asked Brastow if she would hold an outdoor Mother’s Day meeting.

It’s one of the toughest days for a grieving mother, Brastow said, past her child’s birthday or the “angel anniversary” when they died.

“Some mothers don’t want to recognize this day even if they have other children,” she said. “Others want it to be reserved, or they want to be alone. I have three other children, but sometimes it is difficult not to focus on that one thing is missing. It’s always a tough day for me. I can’t wait for it to be over. “

Last year, the overwhelming stress and sadness of the pandemic added to that grief.

“We needed it,” said Brastow.

They met on the Saturday before Mother’s Day – a day they could only take for themselves. About 15 mothers showed up, nearly half of the 25 to 30 usual members of the group.

And it rejuvenated them to keep going during the pandemic.

The support continued

The pandemic stole a lot of things. Their mutual assistance was never one of them, Brastow said.

After the first meeting in May last year, Brastow continued their outdoor meetings at her home through October. Then, like many other self-help groups, the group switched to Zoom over the winter.

Some members stopped coming – Brastow does not know whether they were overwhelmed by the new platform, burned out from virtual work meetings or simply had no more space for them. But new members continued to join when they heard about the group. Some floated in and out, as usually happens every year, making room for assistance when they need it.

Brastow increased emails and phone calls to check-in with mothers who she knew needed more support. Finding creative ways to continue the tradition of making holiday centerpieces in memory of their children, the group held an outdoor candlelight vigil on the street of Judith Robbins Riverfront Park in Attleboro just before Christmas.

Angel of the Light Vigil (copy)

Melissa Brastow lights the final candle during an Angels of Light vigil held at Judith Robbins Riverfront Park in December to honor her son Myles Brastow, who died in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago. During the vigil, Brastow’s second, parents who lost their children gathered to remember them.

There were a lot of compromises, Brastow said.

“It was hard for them to be physically separated,” Brastow said. “You lose that sense of closeness or intimacy. If you’re sitting next to someone and they get upset or angry, you can put your hand on their knee and say, “I’m here with you.” We couldn’t do that. But you could feel it through the meeting. “

And that’s why the group survived.

“It’s that sense of healing and belonging,” Brastow said. “You want to share that with other people.”

In March, they met in person for the first time at a new location, the Chapel Meeting House, in the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest in Foxboro. Thirty-five mothers showed up.

“It showed in the first physical meeting I had back together,” said Brastow. “They were excited and happy to see everyone. In addition to the grief, we felt isolated and carried this pandemic worry and fear.

“But I never feared that this would be the end of our group in the pandemic. I felt stronger for it. “

In many ways, it showed her how necessary it really is.

And this year, after a year of creative ways to gather together, they’ll be back together in person – perhaps closest to the “normal” they have long been.

It brings hope on a difficult weekend.

“Being together on Saturday helps us on Sunday,” said Brastow.

She plans a special activity that involves planting flowers in pots to commemorate life and rebirth. A fitting subject during a pandemic that threatened the livelihood of everything it touched.

“They will bring life home to them and their families,” Brastow said.

And at least they’ll be together after such a long time.

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