Top row left to right: Cheryl Flint and Adrian Riley; Janet and Krista McRea; Rozina and Razeena Tharani; Berhan Tedla and Hilena Haileselassie; Ann and Tim Williams. Center row: Suzanne and Savannah McGinnis. Botton row left to right: Emily Johnson and Cindy Kellerman; Mitzi Waronker, Mary Lou Lazarus, Jody Feldman and Robin Lazarus; Bianca and Bina Desai; Stephanie George and Lynda Thomas.
Photo: Contributed
Photo: Contributed

How metro Atlantans are dealing with Mother’s Day as pandemic splits families

As the coronavirus continues to spread, many Georgians remain separated from their mothers. We reached out to several folks across the state ahead of Mother’s Day to learn more about the emotional toll the current pandemic is taking on families — and how they plan to celebrate in lieu of traditional outings and get-togethers.

Some said they’ll be able to manage a socially distant drive-by, while others plan to set up a family video call. Some are separated by just a few miles, but others are states apart. Their stories will make you giggle and grieve. We hope they’ll also remind you just how much we need each other during this especially trying time.

Bianca and Bina Desai (Powder Springs)

This Mother’s Day, Bianca Desai (right) will celebrate her mother Bina during a family Zoom call. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: For the AJC

Growing up in Powder Springs with Bina Desai as a mom meant growing up with a built-in best friend, says daughter Bianca. She’s the kind of mom who cheered at every dance recital and never missed a parent-teacher conference.

After losing her father to cancer as a child and immigrating from London to the United States as a young adult, Bina had experienced her share of tribulations. She was determined to give her children a better, happier life.

“I can say with complete certainty that she has exceeded that goal,” says 27-year-old Bianca, who fondly recalls the strong, stable relationship the two have fostered over the years.

In March, after returning from a trip to India, Bianca’s parents chose to self-quarantine for three weeks while she stayed in her Buckhead apartment, close to work.

As news of the virus grew more serious and citywide restrictions became more stringent, she and her family decided it would be best to continue keeping a distance.

Nowadays, Bianca and her mom are often glued to the phone, chatting on FaceTime. Every now and then, they’ll swap Netflix shows to watch on their own and discuss later on in the week.

Twice since March, Bianca has swung by the house just to have a quick, distanced driveway chat with her face-mask-donning mom and dad, plus her grandmother — a “second mom” who lives with the family in their Cobb County home.

“I know my situation is much better than many others’,” Bianca says, “but I haven’t been able to hug them in months.”

This Mother’s Day, in lieu of their traditional family dinner and surprise streamers strewn throughout the den, Bianca has pre-ordered flowers and chocolates set to arrive ahead of a scheduled family Zoom call and, if all goes well, perhaps she’ll swing by for a socially distant wave hello just to see Bina’s face light up.

“I want to tell my mom that this too shall pass,” says Bianca. “And once this is all over, I’m whisking her away on a girls weekend trip.”

» RELATED:  Is it safe to send flowers this Mother’s Day?

Jody Feldman and Mary Lou Lazarus (Buckhead/Atlanta)

Daughters Mitzi Waronker (left) and Jody Feldman (third from left) worry about their mother Mary Lou Lazarus (second from left), who is living alone in Atlanta during the coronavirus pandemic. 
Photo: Contributed

For as long as Jody Feldman and her sister Mitzi can remember, mother Mary Lou Lazarus has been a desperate worrier. If you miss her call or neglect to immediately call back, the assumption isn’t that someone’s busy, says Jody. “It’s that everyone’s most certainly been in some tragic accident,” she jokes. “There’s just no in-between.”

Naturally, the sisters weren’t sure just how their mother would take news of the virus back in March, when it first began concerning the masses in Atlanta.

“She sounded so happy on the phone,” Jody says, admittedly suspicious.

“I know exactly where you guys are. I call you. You answer. I can get to you,” Mary Lou told Jody with a laugh.

But that was nearly two months ago.

These days, Jody’s noticed the isolation wearing on her mother, who’s been living alone in her condo off Lenox Road without any physical contact.

“She called me and said she’s starting to get a little depressed,” Jody says.

After that phone call, Jody and her three sons hopped in the car for a socially distant drive-by, where Mary Lou left the boys an “Egg McMuffin” breakfast sandwich maker she found somewhere on the internet on the driveway. That made everyone smile.

“My mom once said to me that she worried God was angry with her because all she cared about were her children and her grandchildren and their well-being,” Jody says. “She felt God might have wanted her to concern herself with other things in life.”

Where Mary Lou saw a weakness, her family saw a gift.

“If every parent cared for their children the way she does, the world truly would be a better place,” Jody says.

This Mother’s Day, Jody and the family hope to re-create their recent virtual Seder hangout with a virtual Mother’s Day brunch and much-needed driveway greeting.

» RELATED: Here’s where to order Mother’s Day takeout this year

Stephanie George and Lynda Thomas (Sandy Springs)

Stephanie George (left) calls her mother Lynda Thomas (right), who suffered a traumatic brain injury nearly four years ago, one of the strongest people she knows. 
Photo: Contributed

For Stephanie George, Mother’s Day serves as a reminder of her mother’s recovery and resilience.

Lynda Thomas suffered from a traumatic brain injury nearly four years ago that convinced doctors to prepare the family for the worst.

At 26, Stephanie, Lynda’s only child, stepped in to help and moved into their Alabama home. For three years, she was committed to full-time caretaking, to reteaching her mother how to walk again, how to dress herself.

She remembers keeping a baby monitor nearby just in case Lynda needed to go to the restroom in the middle of the night. She remembers collecting building blocks and coloring books to help her mother pass the time. Back then, Lynda was functioning with the mental capacity of a 3-year-old. She couldn’t even tell you who this 20-something caretaker was.

During rehabilitation, Lynda, who was born in England and only moved to America in adulthood, constantly struggled with generic exercises that challenged her understanding of American language and culture.

“For example,” Stephanie says, “a speech pathologist would show her a picture of broccoli and ask her to identify the vegetable.” But where she grew up, they don’t call it broccoli. They just call it Calabrese — short for Calabrese broccoli, the most commonly grown variety in the world.

She also struggled to explain the number of bases in baseball and name the first president of the United States.

“The fact that people were constantly telling her she’s wrong was very discouraging and disheartening,” says Stephanie, who often became her mother’s advocate in rehab. “When someone suffers a stroke, it’s common for them to revert back to childhood. But it also just hurts to hear that what you grew up in, what you know to be true, it’s all somehow wrong.”

Lynda has since made a remarkable recovery. She’s walking, talking and driving. Sometimes, she has to be careful while cooking because she’s lost feeling in her hands, but in general, she’s surprised everyone.

“It all made me grow up very, very fast,” says Stephanie, “but it also made me very appreciative. I feel like, even today, I know her on a much more intimate level.”

It was actually over Mother’s Day weekend in 2017 when Lynda was first released from hospital rehabilitation services and able to return home to her husband of 20 years and to Stephanie.

“Mother’s Day just takes on another meaning for me with that,” says Stephanie, who had grown used to visiting her parents every weekend before weaning off to monthly visits from Atlanta once her mom began feeling better.

But she hasn’t been home since January, and the anxiety is building.

“I ordered flowers, but even delivery makes me a little nervous,” Stephanie only half-jokes. “I don’t want her to panic, but I keep thinking, what if January was the last time I’ll see her? I don’t think I’ve ever told her this, but I want her to know that I love her and I’m so proud of her. She’s one of the strongest people I know.”

» RELATED: Celebrate Mother’s Day with these 8 great gifts

Hilena Haileselassie and Berhan Tedla (East Atlanta, Stone Mountain)

Berhan Tedla (left) fled Ethiopia in the midst of a severe famine in the 1980s before eventually bringing her daughters Hilena (right) and her sister with her to America. 
Photo: Contributed

Back home in Ethiopia, 39-year-old Hilena Haileselassie’s mother Berhan Tedla was a well-known, beloved print and radio journalist for over 15 years.

Then came the 1984 mass exodus, where 400,000 Ethiopians fled the country during a widespread famine worsened by drought and civil war. The disaster left at least 1 million dead between 1983 and 1985.

“With my 1-year-old sister on her back and me, a 4-year-old in tow, my mom made her way to a Sudanese refugee camp on foot,” Hilena says.

Berhan Tedla fled Ethiopia in the midst of a severe famine in the 1980s before eventually bringing her daughters with her to America. 
Photo: Contributed

After three years in the camp, they dreamed of seeking political asylum in America. In 1990, the family would begin a new life in Clarkston.

“I still see the same go-getter,” says Hilena. “A single mom who held down three jobs at times to become an American citizen, buy her own house and make sure her girls wanted for nothing.”

During this pandemic, Hilena, who lives close to Berhan in East Atlanta but has been keeping her distance, is also trying to navigate being a first-time mom without her own mother by her side.

“I send a lot of pictures of the little one and she gets a kick out of that,” says Hilena. “But it’s really hard to be a first-time grandma and not be able to hold him. Nothing can replace the face to face.”

This Mother’s Day, Hilena wants her mother to know just how much she appreciates and loves her—that all of her sacrifices are not lost on her.

“Our mother is the woman who gave us life and then uprooted herself from all that she’d built to save our lives,” she says.

Hilena plans to send some flowers and schedule a drive-by to Berhan’s home in Stone Mountain with her new son in tow.

“We’ll stay far, far away but at least she’ll know we wanted to look at her beautiful face.”

Emily Johnson and Cindy Kellerman (Decatur)

During the pandemic this year, Emily Johnson (left) says the best Mother’s Day celebration is insisting her mother Cindy Kellerman (right) stays safe and doesn’t come for a visit. 
Photo: Contributed

Emily Johnson of Decatur never imagined she’d live to see 30.

Homebound for nearly three years with multiple disabilities, including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, mitochondrial disease and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, Emily is dependent on her mom, Cindy Kellerman, who pays for her health insurance.

This Mother’s Day, Cindy had planned to fly to Atlanta and accompany Emily to a critical biogenetic follow-up appointment to discuss potential surgeries.

But as a nurse in rural California, she’s considered an essential and at-risk worker under the current pandemic.

“I realized at the beginning of February, as I saw COVID-19 spreading, that being disabled and immunocompromised meant I couldn’t fly to see her,” says Emily. “Flying makes me unsafe to others via transmission. But as a health care worker, my mom would pose the same threats to me.”

Frustrated with the careless actions of the able-bodied individuals out and about here in Georgia, Emily worries if and when people will start committing to more stringent shelter-in-place and social distancing measures to keep disabled, chronically ill individuals like her and health care workers like her mother and sister safe.

“It feels surreal to watch people get bored and angry with living in ways they expected and made disabled people like me to survive for years,” says Emily. “Most people can drive or go for walks. Not me.”

Not having Cindy around this Mother’s Day will certainly be emotionally draining for Emily. It’s a tough situation to be in where “the kindest and best thing you can do for your mom is to insist they not come see you,” she says.

Savannah and Suzanne McGinnis (Atlanta)

Suzanne McGinnis (left) is in Spain, while her daughter Savannah is under quarantine at Suzanne’s home in Atlanta. 
Photo: Contributed

Savannah McGinnis, 24, was only six days from finishing her first year with the Peace Corps in rural Zambia when she and her fellow volunteers were ordered to pack their belongings and prepare to evacuate due to the pandemic.

“We had no idea whether we’d be allowed to come back,” says Savannah, who is now under quarantine inside her mom’s vacant property in Atlanta.

Her mom, Suzanne, is still in Barcelona, Spain, where she’d been teaching English and taking notes from her adventurous daughter’s playbook.

“We have that mutual ‘I look up to her, she looks up to me’ type of relationship,” says Savannah.

When she was still in Zambia, both mother and daughter were in the same time zone, which made communication that much easier. They’d often share cultural experiences and stories of adventure, and the conversations kept them on their toes.

But Suzanne, who has had multiple flights back to Georgia canceled, currently has very limited access to the internet or a cellular network. Coupled with the time difference between Atlanta and Barcelona, lack of reliable communication has really put a strain on their relationship.

Normally, Savannah, her brother and her mom would spend Mother’s Day strolling through the Atlanta Botanical Garden before indulging in a traditional brunch. With the current state of the world, Savannah’s not sure how the family will be able to celebrate, but virtual plans are likely in the cards.

“I know both of us are struggling with feeling so isolated and both of us are worried about future employment and health care,” says Savannah. “But I want her to know I’m so proud of her. I know that she would be there for me whenever she could and it makes it all the more easier to survive during this when I know I can just text my mom and say, ‘Hey, can you listen for a second?’ and know she would listen if she could. Even if the world were falling around her, she would listen.”

Adrian Riley and Cheryl Flint (Decatur)

Adrian Riley says his mother, Cheryl Flint, has always been his role model. 
Photo: Contributed

Emory University researcher Adrian Riley has been thinking about his mom a lot lately.

Cheryl Flint is a former registered nurse working in hospice care just an hour away from her son in Perry. With the current pandemic, she’s been called back into the field to care for patients.

“I’ve always been proud of her,” says Adrian. Growing up, his father wasn’t really in the picture. Instead, he watched Cheryl work multiple jobs, usually in the service industry, to keep food on the table. And she continued to work relentlessly even after marrying again.

By the time Adrian was in middle school, Cheryl found herself in nursing school, where she was at the top of her class.

“She always taught me, if you’re going to do something, do it to the maximum of your capability. Don’t even clean your room halfway. Do it all the way,” Adrian says with a laugh.

Mother’s Day will be especially rough this year, he says. “It’s her first holiday as a grandmother, and no one has been able to visit my older brother and his wife’s new baby.”

Adrian hopes to help make it a bit more meaningful, with a FaceTime chat and flowers, at the very least.

“I just want her to know she’s always been my role model,” he says. “I love her and there’s nothing she could do to make me feel differently.”

Razeena and Rozina Tharani (Buckhead Atlanta)

Razeena Tharani’s plan to celebrate her mother, Rozina (left), with dinner at her favorite restaurant has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 
Photo: Contributed

February may not seem like so long ago, but to 25-year-old Razeena Tharani, who refers to mom Rozina as her “person,” just one day away from home feels like an eternity.

Razeena only recently moved to Buckhead from her hometown of Chicago for a new job in January, but within her first few weeks here, she had three monthly trips home booked in advance.

In March, Rozina, who has a history of family cancers, called her daughter to tell her that she was under quarantine because one of her co-workers at the school where she aids children with disabilities had just returned from a cruise. Instead of quarantining, the co-worker came back to the school campus and interacted with staffers. Multiple individuals at the school have since reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I was just losing it. I told her, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to come see you,’” Razeena says, her panic getting the best of her. “I don’t even have a car, but I thought about driving out. I booked flights and ended up canceling them that same day.”

The frenzy has since died down a bit, but Razeena, who is currently isolating with her boyfriend and his extended family in Gwinnett County, is worried about the situation getting worse before it gets better, especially with Georgia’s decision to start reopening some businesses and restaurants.

“These are the people I would find support and solace in, especially now, but something like this could literally put them in jeopardy,” Razeena says. “I miss them so much, but I don’t miss them enough to kill them.”

While plans to celebrate Mother’s Day at a favorite restaurant with both her parents and her boyfriends’ family have been canceled, Razeena is hoping to have a virtual gathering at the very least.

“I’ve been missing her deeply, but I know I have a lot to be grateful for,” she says. “I have a home, I have food, I have family and I know I’m loved. But I can’t wait to reunite with my mom.”

Tim and Ann Williams (Powder Springs, Cumming)

Tim Williams hasn’t been able to see his mother, Ann, who lives in a Cumming assisted living home, for months due to the coronavirus. 
Photo: Contributed

Tim Williams, 61, didn’t grow up in a real “huggy” family, but he attributes his appreciation for art — and his vocation as an illustrator — to his mother, who professionally taught piano for more than 50 years.

“It’s just been like a lifelong gift for me,” he says. “I’ll never be able to thank her enough for that.”

With her assisted living home in Cumming on lockdown due to the global coronavirus outbreak, Tim hasn’t been able to see his 84-year-old mother Ann, who has vascular dementia, in months.

The situation grew unimaginable when suddenly, just last month, Tim’s younger sister unexpectedly died of a heart attack and he couldn’t get into the facility to tell his mother.

“It’s not the kind of thing you say over the phone, via FaceTime or Zoom or anything like that,” Tim says. But that was his only choice. He tried to comfort her over the phone, but it’s just not the same.

“You’ve got this, like, community grief that you share with everyone else — this loss of our lifestyle and normalcy and the sadness over losing people to the virus,” he says. “But then you have this very sudden, very personal, intimate grief of losing someone so close to you at the same time.”

No stranger to depression himself, Tim is trying to keep his head up by remembering that the people he loves — particularly his wife and two young grandsons — still depend on him.

As her only child nearby, Tim has been doing much of the heavy lifting when it comes to taking care of Ann. And he continues to call as often as he can.

“She said to me the other day, ‘You know, I don’t know what I would do without you.’ And I know what she meant,” said Tim. “But I want her to know that I love her and I would do whatever I can to make her life as comfortable and happy as I can.”

Krista and Janet McRea (Marietta and Powder Springs)

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Krista McRea (right) would meet her mother Janet (left) for dinner at least once or twice a week. 
Photo: Contributed

Marietta restaurant marketing manager Krista McRea isn’t used to managing to-go orders, but these days, it’s all hands on deck.

Having to maintain daily contact with customers means she’s constantly at risk for the coronavirus herself, but the most challenging part of it all is not being able to hug her mother.

Janet McRea, who was recently furloughed from her role as a clinical researcher, lives alone in Powder Springs and is herself immunocompromised.

Krista, who stays just miles away, knows the situation has been weighing heavy on her mom. Growing up, it was just Krista, her brother and their mother, and everything the trio went through brought them that much closer.

Before the pandemic, Krista would meet Janet for dinner at least once or twice a week before popping over during the weekend for some gardening time.

“I always used to say that it was us against the world and now we’re just us against the world, but on FaceTime,” Krista says.

Instead of spending the entire day together for Mother’s Day this year, Krista has a porch drop-off planned, complete with fresh flowers, a puzzle and other goodies.

Once this is all over, she has a beach trip in mind.

“I just can’t wait to hug her and brush her hair and love on her again,” says Krista.

Angie Chermanz Monroy and Gloria Monroy (Duluth)

For most of her life, Angie Chermanz Monroy has lived in the United States with her father. To say the decision to leave her mother in Colombia at 13 was difficult is an understatement.

“My mom had to see her only child leave her arms to have a better life,” Angie, now 23, says.

“She’s still the most important person in my life. I miss her every single day.”

Last summer, Angie and her father filed for Gloria’s permanent arrival to the United States. With the current pandemic, and the president’s decision to temporarily suspend the issuance of green cards and new visas, everything is on pause. Previous tourist visas for her mother were denied, causing her to miss Angie’s high school and college graduations. “I don’t know when she’ll be able to come,” Angie says.

The duo text and call every day and video chat once a week. For Mother’s Day, Angie plans to send an online card and set up a virtual hangout.

“But it’s not the same as having her next to me,” she says.

Angie’s noticed the situation has been taking a heavy toll on Gloria, and she doesn’t take for granted the sacrifices her family has made for her well-being.

“I try to keep busy with work, studying, reading, cooking and working out to keep from getting stressed,” Angie says. Knowing her mom is distressed, she often reaches out to make sure Gloria keeps herself distracted, too.

“I want her to know I love her a lot, that life is a roller coaster full of ups and downs,” Angie says, “but sooner or later, we will be together again.”

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