Seven years ago, when my Mom passed away, I stood at her bedside with my Dad, brothers and twin sister, both heartbroken and relieved. The relief came from knowing she would no longer suffer the depravity of cancer. Her last breath released her from its vicious vice.
The heartbreak, well, that’s obvious I’m sure.
Regardless of how old we are when our parents die, (I was thirty-seven years old) I’m here to tell you it hurts. It can hurt- a whole lot…for a long time.
Sadly, our grief as adult children mourning the loss of our Moms and Dads is often disenfranchised.
It seems “natural” for our parents to die when they are elderly- true. Somehow though, natural is considered (by many) as directly proportionate to how long an appropriate mourning period prolongs, or worse, if it’s appropriate at all.
My own father is 95 3/4 years old. Trust me when I tell you, I will mourn his loss for as long as I-that’s I-need to-and it won’t be the standard expected three days I assure you. He is my Dad, (sometimes I still call him Daddy-we’re Italian what can I tell ya) his presence in this world is the bedrock upon which my sense of safety rests (as was my Mom’s).
In my practice and in my work at hospice, I’ve seen many adult children struggle. They have friends and co-workers, etc who remark, “Oh your Mom/Dad lived a good long life. God bless ‘em.”
These same well-intentioned people go on to shrug their shoulders, pat you on the back and move on AND often expect you to do the same in a very short time.
Parental loss for adult children is disenfranchised grief at it’s finest.
Lois Akner, in her book “How to Survive the Loss of a Parent: A Guide for Adults” (William Morrow and Co.), speaks on this idea of disenfranchised grief for adult children whose parents die.
“If you lose a child or a husband, there’s an enormous amount of support. But if you lose a parent, you get two weeks to grieve and then you’re expected to be back to yourself.”
There are many factors that influence the grief and mourning process. One of the most important is the relationship the bereft shared with the deceased. If they were close, then the grieving period will be longer. I’ll be writing a post about each factor in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Dressing my Mom for the funeral director to take her was a gift. Along with my brother we dressed her and kissed her. It was our last tender act as her caregivers.
Notwithstanding the tender side of her death, her dying catapulted me to a place overgrown with unfamiliarity and shrouded by a pervasive dark fog of sheer uncertainty.
What scared me was the sudden realization that everything as I knew it had now changed. This is the theme of my memoir but a few months ago I came across a quote that articulated with precision how I felt that cold, February night. (I’d give credit if I knew to whom it went but I don’t).
There are times in a life
when we come to a trapeze moment….
It’s that moment in time
when what we’ve known
will no longer hold us-
and what awaits us
has not yet appeared.
Losing a loved one, at any age, most certainly can find us suspended in a “trapeze” moment.
Death leaves us with a loss of our former assumptive world. Often people go on spiritual quests, seeking for a way to make sense out of the world again-to restore a sense of safety & security that the death left shattered.
This takes time and in her book, The Five Ways We Grieve, author Susan Berger talks about the five different types of grievers. Indeed, some of us are seekers. (I am a pure seeker).
So, my dear friends who know the pain of losing parents, rest reassured your grief is legitimate. It might very well lead to a trapeze moment and if so, you’re in good company according to me and Susan Berger.
Have you lost a parent? I’d love to hear your experiences.
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Suggested Resources on this topic:
How to Survive the Loss of a Parent: A Guide for Adults, by Lois Akner