My father passed away in February 2012, the day after his 90th birthday. Until his latter years when his health failed, Dad lived well and never failed to be grateful for it. Mum died recently, the day after Mother’s Day on March 16th 2015. My parents’ deaths, after important and memorable dates, have and always will be milestones. I could never have imagined the intense pain I have been feeling and the tears that have flowed since my Mother’s death, often coming out of the blue with no obvious trigger. I felt orphaned, abandoned and totally bereft.
I just never anticipated how much my second parent’s death would bring extra baggage or the strength of loss I would feel for the unconditional love that I was lucky enough to be given by my parents. It feels as though I have lost my family — the family that I grew up in. Although they haven’t done so for years, they will no longer be around to share their wisdom when I have a problem and I feel propelled into a new level of adulthood.
Mum’s demise has triggered grief for other losses, reactivating my husband’s death and more recently, my fathers. There was so much to do after Dad died, including selling their property (Mum had moved into a care home) and preoccupation with Mum’s needs and at times challenging, behaviour. Her death has plummeted me into what feels like a bottomless pit of emotion as I struggle with grief that I had not previously fully acknowledged. It seems grief comes when we least expect it.
Despite the fact that my parents declining health had reversed the adult parent relationship years ago, I feel a horrible emptiness, like all my back-up has gone. I feel very alone and more vulnerable than before. Gone is the shield that seemed to separate me from my own old age and death, along with any illusion that I will always matter and be able to overcome adversity. Now I am next in line and through no effort of my own, I have stepped up.
The realisation that I will never play the role of daughter again makes me instantly feel older.
Before my parents died I didn’t really feel grown-up and often speculated that this was perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of life, that nobody ever really feels grown-up. Now as the eldest of three siblings and a mother and grandparent, I have to face the reality that there is no one between myself and death. Losing the last generation forces us to re-examine our own mortality. When a grandparent dies, there’s still a whole generation between us and death. With a parent’s death, our own eventual demise feels uncomfortably closer.
The loss of our parents severs a fundamental tie. A generation disappears. A hierarchy ends. The pieces of the jigsaw are rearranged. Our parents are the keepers of our wisdom. We spend a lifetime looking to them for answers. They have been the archive of knowledge about our history, our upbringing, family traditions and the names of all those faces in old photos. With their passing, so to goes the information and insight that hasn’t already been communicated.
Because they were such wonderful people as well as parents, losing them has been especially hard. However I am aware it must be so much harder for an only child without the love and support I have experienced from my brother and sister. I am lucky to have had such wonderful role models in my parents and the support of a loving family following their demise. I am aware that not everyone is so lucky in this respect and I am truly grateful.
My parents were wonderful role models. Their strength of spirit, integrity, sense of justice and values are a fantastic legacy. They ignited my passion for holidays abroad, reinforced my strengths and overlooked my weaknesses. I only hope I can do half as well with my own children.
It is so hard sometimes to walk this life day after day, letting go one by one of the people we love… the people that provided the foundation for our being….the people who loved us unconditionally.
Now I must summon the strength my parents applauded, for its time to move on, to take the first tentative steps on my transformative journey and put my parent’s legacy into practice, just as they had to do when they lost their own parents and my own children will have to do with me.
“Treat your parents with loving care…
For you will only know their value
when you see their empty chair…” (unknown)