Why doesn’t anyone prepare us for the tragedy of losing our parents? I couldn’t believe that no one warned me about how difficult it would be. Now I know that no one can brace us for this life changing loss. Each person’s experience with losing a parent is personal and different. And who prepared us for everything else? Our parents.
The year when I lost both my parents, it was, and sometimes still is, inconceivable to me that I had reached the head of the family line, that I was standing on the top rung on the ladder of life. I became the matriarch by default – older than my siblings, older than my partner and his siblings, and the parent of three kids under the age of 18. It’s lonely all the way at the top of the family tree.
I’ve watched many friends struggle with the loss of a parent, and I’ve seen them walk around with that same forlorn expression, as if they’d been blind-sided by a 2×4 to the head, complete with the requisite halo of circling birds. My parents’ deaths made me feel like I’d woken up in a new world with no rules or instructions. The sound around me temporarily shut down, like the initial deafness you experience after an explosion. I could see everything happening around me, but was disconnected by the silence of mourning.
We spend our lives, from adolescence on, wanting to be in charge, to make the decisions, to hold and dish out the Almighty Wisdom. Now we know the truth. The only way to look seasoned and experienced and run the show is for the people we usually see as the most knowledgeable about life – our parents – to leave us behind.
I was consumed by the same unanswered questions: Who will take care of me? How can I take care of my kids when I don’t have parents to take care of me? How am I going to manage all of my financial responsibility without my parents? There was suddenly no net to catch me if I fell, no one to take the heat if I made a mistake.
After a while, a know-it-all voice showed up in my head and restored my hearing. “You’ve been a grown-up for a while, my dear,” it told me. “You’ll get up each day, go to work, pay your bills, and care for your children, the same way you’ve been doing for the last 15 years.”
Oh, right, I thought. I refrained from saying out loud what I was thinking about the voice. This took me back to my middle school days, when I wanted to be independent and responsible while my parents still took care of everything for me.
But what was I going to do with this lonely emptiness I felt, this void? I thought.
Once more, the all-knowing voice said, “You’re going to fill that space with all that you wish to do. With memories from your own family. With who you are as a parent.”
Stupid smart ass voice. Hey, I’m in charge now, I should be able to say what I want.
Reluctantly, I’ve come to realize that this loss was really a wake up call from
1-800- REALITY . I had been presented with solid proof that life on earth was finite, that I too would run out of time.
“So what are you gonna do about it?” the voice asked.
Crap. I guess I’m in charge of giving out the answers now.