Saadia Mian, 54, felt lucky to have her parents staying with her in St. Louis for four months during the pandemic last year.
They live in Lahore, Pakistan, where Mian also grew up. Once they were able to travel after getting vaccinated, they came to spend time with their adult children in the U.S. and attend their grandson's wedding.
In January, they headed to Florida to visit another daughter. But within days of arriving, Mian's mother, Talat Ihsan, was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19.
Her symptoms were mild -- a slight fever and some fatigue -- but doctors said they wanted to take precautions due to her surprisingly low blood oxygen levels. Ihsan, 76, and her family figured she would recover quickly.
Two days later, she was on a ventilator. Doctors reassured the family that her prognosis still looked hopeful. During the next few days, however, Ihsan's lung function took a turn for the worse.
A week later, on Jan. 18, she died.
Mian had spent a week at her mom's side in the Florida hospital, taking turns with other family members since only one was allowed in the room at a time. Still, the shock of her mom's sudden, severe illness and death was overwhelming.
"In your worst imagination, you could not have imagined this," Mian said. "Going through the pandemic, we grieved with other friends and relatives who had lost loved ones. But when it hits you in your home ... You don't even have words to explain how it feels."
Nearly 1 million people have died from COVID in America, many of them mothers and fathers. Amid the holidays honoring those relationships -- Mother's Day, then Father's Day -- thousands of people will be grappling with grief and loss.
Mother's Day, especially, has become a very publicly celebrated event, as social media feeds are flooded with tributes and photos. Intense marketing and commercialization have turned it into a $28 billion industry.
Ann Fronek O'Connell is a bereavement coordinator with Mercy Hospice in St. Louis and a longtime facilitator for a grief support group. She says Mother's Day was already a loaded day that can be difficult for many people, such as those who have lost a child or a mother or who have a toxic or estranged relationship with one. And people who suffered a loss during the pandemic were much more limited in the type of support they had.
"Not being able to be by their loved one's side really impacts grieving," Fronek O'Connell said. Others could not hold funeral services or accept condolences in person. They experienced loss in significant isolation.
She suggested that those who are grieving make a plan ahead of time for dealing with the emotions that may arise from Mother's Day and Father's Day. It's OK to take a break, log off social media and find ways to honor the person who has passed, she said. Focus on enjoying the company of those around you.
The person grieving may also be a mother herself, feeling the tension between wanting to enjoy the day with her children and feeling sad about her own loss.
"It's hard to have such extreme emotions at once. It's a lot for one day," Fronek O'Connell said.
Mian anticipates that same inner conflict on this first Mother's Day without her mom. Having close friends show up and share memories is comforting, she said. Still, "I don't think anyone can relate to the pain unless you've gone through it."
It's not necessary to try to "fix" or "heal" a person's pain during these times, Fronek O'Connell said. Well-intentioned phrases like "God has a plan," "Time will heal you" or "She's in a better place" can be deeply hurtful to those grieving. People want to feel supported and have their pain recognized, and these comments can feel invalidating.
Mian notices the flowers in the supermarket and the Mother's Day ads on television, and thinks about how her daily routine and life have changed since her mom died.
She plans to remember her mother for her generous soul, her strength, her compassion and her zest for life, while trying to do good to honor her memory.
She knows the holiday will be tough from now on.
"It's Mother's Day, so obviously the first thing that comes to your mind is your mom," she said, "and she's not there for you to call."