By LaShante Keys, Empath Health Community Outreach Specialist
PETERSBURG — Christmas shines a light on faith and hope, family and giving. We cherish our special traditions and memories of those we’ve loved and lost.
Tarra Ofosu is a mother of two young boys and works as a family navigator in St. Petersburg. She remembers her mom Phyllis Savage Woodard’s gifts of friendship, love and togetherness on Christmas mornings. For about 10 years, they hosted a breakfast for 100 or more guests in their home full of Christmas spirit.
“Christmas was her favorite holiday. She would cook a big Christmas breakfast at our house. People from her job, school and the community would come. We had a big tree, our house was decorated and we played music. It was beautiful,” Ofosu shared.
St. Petersburg was home to Woodard. She was a lifelong resident, a member of the Greater Mount Zion AME Church and a longtime Bay Pines VA hospital employee. Her greatest joys included music, dancing and her two daughters, two foster children and extended family and friends.
“My mom was the glue that brought us all together. She was a big caretaker. We always had extra clothes and household items in our garage to give to people who needed them. She was a good person,” said Ofosu, Woodard’s oldest daughter.
In 1995, at the age of 40, Woodard was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, she went in remission. The cancer returned in 1998. It metastasized in other areas and she had additional chemotherapy and radiation. After another surgery in 2003, the doctor called Suncoast Hospice.
“They were able to help me bring her home because I was getting married and she wanted to be there,” Ofosu said.
Ofosu became her mom’s primary caregiver.
She explained, “We were young and my parents were separated. I was her health surrogate. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. She was my best friend. I’m grateful for the time we had and that she was able to come home and die in the comfort of her own bed. That was important to her.”
The care team brought relief to the entire family.
“They prepared us for what she was going through. They were always there to support and lift us up. They helped with medication and self-care. We had a nurse come in and she was really good with my mom. There was a nurse there when she did transition. The team was excellent,” Ofosu said.
And the support continued on to help the family heal.
“We all used the grief counselor, which was needed. She came to the house and the kids also participated in a group at school,” she shared.
Today, Ofosu follows in her mom’s footsteps and keeps her memory alive.
“My kids have never met my mom but they know her spirit. I tell them stories. Sometimes on her birthday, we get a cake and get together. At Christmas, I try to keep it special for my kids because my mom always kept it special for us.”