We all know that our parents are not going to be with us forever, yet, I was bewildered by my degree of loss when they passed away. The sheer inevitability of it all was no cushion for the pain and the soul-searching that it brought on in me, and the strong feelings of rudderlessness that followed. I suppose that I was one of the lucky ones as my father lived till the ripe old age of 88 and although he got a bit mixed up at times and forgot things, he did not need too much help.
My mother was a dynamic woman who walked every day, swam every morning until the age of 92, was interested in everything and always had a smile on her face. She might have taken a few pills at one stage of her life, but from the age of 88, she did not even take a sleeping tablet.
My father passed away first and some years later, my mother died. It amazed me how many people did not ask how she died, rather; “How old was she?” They asked the same question when my father passed away. I think this meant that the older a parent when they die, the less grieving there would be. But, this was not so at all. amongst other things, my parents were actually the repositories of my memory. Who else held memories of my childhood?
So, my parents’ deaths challenged me to define who I was. I was now the eldest in my immediate family which brought with it the chilling knowledge that there was no one between me and death. But that’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?” I was now the next in line to die. It also hit me like a ton of bricks that in mid-life, I had become an orphan, which made me smile and cry at the same time.
When my mother died, I think it strengthened my ties with my younger brothers. My thoughts were rather jumbled and suddenly I realized that the only remaining holder of my family history was no longer around. Suddenly there was a huge void. Our children no longer had any grandparents and my two brothers and I had no parents. The family dynamics had changed. Maybe I was being silly as I had a husband and three children but I had lost an important part of my family – the people I’d grown up with, relied on, laughed and cried with.
Because I was a ‘midlife orphan,’ I somehow felt compelled to examine the past and dredge up both pleasant and unpleasant memories and the pleasant ones outweighed the others which were the loss of family pets mainly. But then I realized that it was time to move on, yet I had to make a conscious decision to do so. Moving on did not mean letting go of my memories. It meant getting on with my life and spending a bit less time thinking of the past.
What I learnt was that parental death is a compulsory subject, one we all expect at some stage or other. I can compare it to school. I was enrolled in there, paid tuition in the form of grief and learned something valuable from it.