Tasha Turner learned how to change her mom's wound dressings and give her medication when she was in second grade.
Turner's parents divorced when she was 2 years old, and a year later, her mom, Tannette Hunter, got sick. Doctors diagnosed her with cardiomyopathy and other heart afflictions.
Turner was an only child and stepped up as a caregiver. By the age of 7, she could cook a full meal, clean the house and take care of her mom's daily needs.
Hunter, knowing her time was limited, tried to make as many memories with her daughter as possible. "She loved to laugh," Turner said. "She loved to dance, when she could."
When Hunter was too sick to get out of bed, Turner would lie next to her and play with her hair to help her fall asleep.
Hunter died when she was 29 and Turner was 11.
"I remember her being very loving. She was an all-around fun mom," she said.
There's no official count of how many children in America lose a parent before the age of 18. A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry estimated that about 4% of U.S. kids under age 18 -- roughly 2.9 million children -- had already experienced the death of a parent or sibling, and projected that about 1 out of 14 would lose a parent or sibling by the time they turned 18. The COVID-19 pandemic escalated child bereavement, with more than 200,000 children losing a parent or primary caregiver to the virus.
Turner, now 35, says she didn't allow herself to really grieve after her mom died. She was sent from her home of Overland, Missouri, to California to live with her father and his family. She struggled to adjust. Halfway through her junior year of high school, she came back to live with her mom's sister in St. Ann, Missouri. Her aunt nurtured her during those turbulent teenage years.
Experts say that having a strong support system is critical to helping children heal from the loss of a parent. Having a ritual or memorial to honor the deceased parent also can be helpful for healing. Turner made a point to visit her mother's gravesite every Mother's Day and lay roses on her grave.
Turner graduated from high school, and a year later, met the man who would become her husband. Richard Turner, then 25, saw her in a car when she was stopped at a light near her church. He followed her to the church and asked if she wanted to hang out. They met up with some friends later and went on a few dates.
"It was almost like a 'love at first sight' type of thing," she said. He was working as a carpenter at the time. A few weeks after they met, he was in a serious accident that nearly severed four of his fingers. Turner moved in with him to help take care of him.
"It's always been a natural role for me," she said. In fact, she went on to become a nurse, until the COVID-19 pandemic burned her out.
She and Richard have now been together 16 years and are raising three daughters. Back when she first moved in, she met her future mother-in-law, Debbie Grafeman.
"I don't know what to call you," Turner said to her.
"You can just call me Mom," Grafeman said. From that point on, Grafeman treated her like a daughter. Turner describes her as "funny and wild and amazing at everything."
Grafeman was in a car accident in September 2018. While she was in the hospital and then in rehab, Turner helped take care of her.
"She didn't trust anyone else to dye her hair but me," Turner said. Grafeman had been recovering, but suddenly passed away in April 2019 from a blood clot.
"Losing her was like losing my own mother all over again," Turner said.
Over the years, she's come to terms with grieving. Despite losing her mom at a young age, she focuses on being grateful for all the love she gave her.
But holidays, especially Mother's Day, are still tough.
That day, she visits two cemeteries. First, she goes to talk to her mom. She tells her about her daughters, how much she misses her and that she loves her. Whenever she can, she takes her daughters with her because she wants them to know about their grandmother.
Turner's eldest, Tiffany McMahon, 17, said she loves the tradition.
"I never met my grandma, but it still makes me emotional," she said.
Turner tells her mom that she can't wait to see her again, and then she drives 10 minutes to where her mother-in-law is buried.
She remembers the first Mother's Day without Grafeman. She cried while she spoke to her.
"Thank you for loving me like a daughter," she said. "I miss you. I'll take care of everyone the best I can."
Then, she heads back home to tend to her family.