October 24, 2012 // Uncategorized

Parent loss stings at any age

It seems that in the general scheme of things there is a natural order to life and death. At least that’s what we all tend to cling to. Those of us who are parents hope to die before our children, but not before our appointed time. But what of us adult children who experience the loss of our parents?

My dad died while on vacation at the relatively young age of 72. I never got to say all my heartfelt goodbyes to him before he died, though we spoke on the phone briefly before his departure. I was comforted to know my mom was with him when he died.

It was odd to know that my dad was gone and I prayed fervently for the repose of his soul and for my mom in her grief. And all the while I missed my dad, my mom remained a steadfast compass in my own grief. Three years later my mom died as well. I was blessed to be part of the group that cared for her after her stroke and was able to be with her as she drew her last breath.

The three months that she lay paralyzed and unable to speak, though painful for all, were bittersweet gifts to me as I was able to speak to her all that my heart held, something I had thought I would have time to do with my dad. And then one day she was gone. I recall in vivid detail the moments following my mom’s death when my oldest sister, who stood near me with rivulets of tears marking her cheeks, keened, “Oh, gosh, now we’re orphans!”

My five siblings and I were all in our 30s and well established each in our own adult lives. But in a way she was right. It doesn’t matter when we lose our parents. There is a part of us that may feel a bit ungrounded or lost in the world that no longer holds our folks.

My siblings and I tried to honor each of our parents after their deaths with specifically planned visitations and Masses of Christian burial. And we were grateful to receive the loving support of church and community as we buried them those three years apart.

But I must admit the support for parent loss is not as long-lived as for some other losses, such as spousal loss or losing a child. And I believe it has to do with the natural cycle of life and death. All of us expect to lose our parents and our adult lives do go on after they’re gone. But that doesn’t make the loss any less painful.

In the first few months after my mom’s death I found myself overcome on occasion with a deep longing and a little bit of fear — a longing to talk with my mom again about everyday life issues, as we always had, and fear that I would not navigate this life well without my home compass. In my heart of hearts I always assumed that she would be there. After all she was my mom!

I found that as I mourned my mom’s death I had to grieve many associated losses as well. I lost my safe place to fall, my compass, my best friend and mentor. She had always been there to comfort me when I needed it, celebrate my victories, encourage me when I had lost hope and love me through it all.

When we lose our parents, we also lose the person who loves us like no other can.

Parents are, for us, a mirror reflecting the substance from which we identify ourselves first in life. They are our first-line cheerleaders and at their death we must rediscover who we are outside of their all-encompassing love.

Some of us may have unresolved issues concerning our relationship with either of our parents. Of course it’s beneficial to work through any issues with our loved ones face to face. However, it’s never too late to forgive any wrongs you feel burdened by, even after death. I believe my folks did the best they could with what they knew.

My family of origin dynamic changed quite a bit after my folks had died. Our parents’ home was the central gathering place for holidays and special events. The “clan clearinghouse,” my mom would say. Since our parents’ deaths, my siblings and I have tried to make a special effort to host family get-togethers and we’ve found new reasons and places to make memories together now that our parents are gone.

And though we still feel our parents’ absence we have learned to share stories of the past when we can to keep them alive in our hearts. Through the shared tears and laughter we have come to understand that our parents raised us to believe in the beauty of life, both earthly and heavenly. They would want us to be true to family and enjoy life while we can.

As I recall my cherished memories of my parents, I am encouraged by the traits I value in each of them and hope that I, too, will live the legacy of character and virtue they have left in their wake. Their memory will forever be a mainstay in my heart.

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