Thanks to Jangelina for today’s Guest Blog!
“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
“A dad is a son’s first hero, a daughter’s first love.”
– Author unknown
I am an adult orphan. My father passed away about 16 years ago and I lost my mom just a year ago. I believe that they are still with me and I feel their presence and their influence in my life now every day. But I was never aware of how much that I would miss their physical presence. I was probably closer to my dad than my mom because we were so much alike but my mom was a very special person and I miss her every day.
I am working through my grief still although it is so difficult with so many reminders of the loss of their physical presence.
I see the gardens that my mother worked in and loved so much growing and flourishing without her. I see my father’s face in his grandchildren and great grandchildren that he never got to meet. I feel the loss that my children feel in losing their grandparents who loved them so much. And I mourn the fact that my father never got to meet some of his grandchildren or any of his great-grandchildren. My mother was able to meet them and spend time with them, but in the last years of her life, she did not recognize any of us. Yet, for some reason, the Alzheimer’s that she suffered made her happier and more affectionate in the last years of her life. This brought great joy to all of us – particularly the grandchildren who relished the love and affection that she showered upon them. Her children appreciated the happiness that she showed and experienced in the last years of her life, even though when she was enjoying our presence, she didn’t know who she was or who we were. But it didn’t matter because she was so happy.
Life goes on for those of us who have experienced such a loss but it’s not easy. I never realized the role that my parents played in the reassurance and advice and constant support that they provided sometimes merely by being there. As an adult, a mother, a grandmother, I should be that person now to my family and I do try. But I am still trying to learn how to go on without that generation who made me a child again, the adult that I am now, and the person who was loved unconditionally.
So what do I do with my feeling of being an adult orphan, I feeling that I never anticipated would come to me at my age? Of course I turn to Google, the Almighty source of all information and advice. At least since my parents are no longer here. 🙂
This is the information that I found that gave me the most peace:
Here are four things to do when faced with this kind of loss:
1. Acknowledge that it is a big deal.
Grief is grief, even if your parent is 100, even if you are 75. For most people, the death of their final parent hits them hardest. When your first parent dies, you are often focused on taking care of your living parent. When your final parent dies, there are less distractions and responsibilities. You have easier access to your own feelings. Give yourself the time that you need to grieve. Try not to minimize the loss.
2. Recognize that you have lost more than your relationship with your parent.
You have not only lost the role of child, but also that of caretaker. Remember when your kids left home and you were no longer responsible and involved in their day-to-day lives? Remember the soccer parents and your kid’s friends that you missed when the kids left? Well, you may miss the caretakers that you spoke to regularly. You will no longer hear about their families. What about the other residents at your parent’s apartment building/assisted living or nursing home? These people were a part of your life and losing them can be tough.
3. Reach out to others in the same situation.
There is nothing more powerful than the sense of being part of a community where we feel understood. Reach out to others who have recently lost a second parent. Tell them why you are reaching out and ask to meet for coffee. Those already in “the club” are usually happy to connect with you. The person you reach out to does not have to be a close friend or confidante. In fact, casual friends can often be more understanding and helpful in these situations.
4. Use the tools you used when you became an empty nester.
How did you handle your transition to the empty nest? What worked for you? Did you take time to let the dust settle or did you jump into making new connections? Some new orphans (there must be a better word for this) feel a greater need to get involved in something more meaningful. Some redeploy the skills they developed caring for their parents to become patient care advocates, drive the elderly to medical appointments or volunteer at eldercare communities. Others enjoy the freedom to take care of themselves and enjoy spending more time with friends and having fun.
Whatever you do, make sure that it is right for you.
As I read this advice what I seem to click with the most is time. And of course time is historically what gets us through grief and into that place where the anger and the resentment and the emptiness go away or at least fade. And the peace slowly comes to me as I look back and I laugh and I cry and I find myself smiling more than crying. An enormously cathartic practice has been distributing memorabilia of my parents to the grandchildren who never knew their grandfather and the great grandchildren who never knew my Dad and those of them who knew their grandmother or their great-grandmother when my Mom was well or only, unfortunately, when she was not.
I share stories of my parents and family and the funny things that happened growing up and even sometimes the tragic things that happened in the histories of my parents so that they will live on forever in the lives of the generations that they produced and that were produced from them. I am finding that my children and my grandchildren enjoy the stories and we laugh and cry together and somehow my parents are there with me and that they know that I am keeping their memories alive and that they will never be forgotten because they will live on in the lives of the future generations.