Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Adult Orphans, Please Comment

As many of you know, my father died in December of 2005. My mother's death preceded his by almost 10 years.I find that one of the unexpected parts of my grief process is that I am deeply cognizant of being suddenly un-parented,even though my father and I had a relationship that was very complex and full of difficulties. I am shocked that at age 56 I should feel like an "Adult Orphan", but I do. It is a feeling not unlike being unmoored from a dock -- unhinged from a frame. I feel uneasy in my own skin in some basic way. I struggle to even find a phrase that fits, as I have not plumbed the depths of this yet, but I know that the depths are there.

I do not hear this talked about -- the grief that an adult feels when the last surviving parent dies. It amplifies the grief of losing my father -- but not in ways I can understand yet. I turned to the net and found this helpful article, but in truth there is not a lot out there. Here is quotation from that article that I found helpful in describing this reality:

“What we’re talking about here is disenfranchised grief,” says Chris Hall, director of the Centre for Grief Education at Monash Medical Centre. “It’s not a grief that tends to be appreciated,” he says. “The first question people ask is `How old were they?’ And because people can say the older parent had a good innings that grief can be disqualified by others.

“Parents are like repositories of memory. They’re the only ones who hold certain memories of you as a child. It’s like a mirror — we define ourselves in terms of our relationships so our parents’ deaths challenge us to define who we are.”

If any of you who are reading this have lost both parents and care to share with me what you have learned/are learning from the experience, I would be very thankful.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"unmoored from a dock -- unhinged from a frame" - poignant stuff.
My mother passed 10yrs ago and my father about 2yrs. I trivialize my feelings at the local Irish pub with friends and joke that I am "nobodys child" an old Irish song or poem or something I remember some old Irish guy talking about. I have no children, have had long term girlfriends, but no real "family" left. At first I felt that being a free-spirit and avoiding responsibilities other than my own happiness I was "set free" from worrying about pleasing my parents; doing the right thing, reactions to decisions I make etc. But there is a certain disconnect, and I don't know the words and haven't "plumbed" the depths. but I know they are there. I laugh, joke about being "nobody's child" to mask this "disenfranchised" feeling. funny thing, I'm 45 and was cleaning out old photos that my mother had of me. grammer school,high school, college, prom , the usual "mother stuff" cards I sent her etc. What to do with the "stuff" don't want to display them in my house. vain collection of... ME? So. dumped most of it. Who would want it... girlfriends say "you look cute" but to collect all this "stuff"., that's only for parents or children. I have no children; and I'm 'nobodys child'. I Try to get my girlfriends children to realize how important it is to be good to there mother while she is around. but they don't get it. And I never really thought about this/or spoke about this feeling of being "unmorred" by that's what it is.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Yes, there is a "disconnect" as you say. I found your description of what you did with the family photos very moving, touching. I have a box of them here that just puzzle me. I am not ready to pitch them, but it feels empty in a way to have them. There isn't anyone in the whole world to look at them with and say "remember when" ...it is just so damned ODD. I feel like I am looking out of the same window I always do, but the landscape has changed in ways I cannot yet isolate.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Abby said...

I was orphaned in my early 30s; lost my mother after a very short time as her caregiver in my home (she passed away 21 days after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer) ..sadly my father then passed away a few years later after a much longer battle. Although I am the youngest of 6 children with a couple dozen nieces and nephews I still feel such a huge hole in our family. Especially now that I am getting married. I am crying just thinking about going through it all without my mother to help me plant seeds for bouquets, design the menu and test recipes, pick out my dress... and my father not there to walk me down the aisle. Don't know how I am going to truly enjoy my wedding day without them. I know that all the people I love and adore will be there plus I am so happy to be creating a new family with Jeff and his kids. My parents would love them all. I just wish there was a way I could insure that I could be strong and not ball my eyes out during my vows. Any pointers?

3:36 AM  
Blogger Mata H said...

Well, m'dear there may be tears. And that is OK. One thing you might want to do as you go through your planning is to share the planning with someone who also loved your mother and with whom you can talk openly about your mother. It is fine to shop and talk about whether or not your Mom would've liked that gown or those flowers. You may even want to write a journal during this time, as though you were writing letters to your Mom and Dad. For the "something old" section of your bridal wear, make sure you have something of hers to carry. You may also want to have pictures of your family in the entryway to the church. I know a couple who did that -- and they included pictures of almost every family member of theirs -- the bride's family on one side, the grooms on another -- generations of pictures..it was a lovely image. Choose someone who was close to your Dad as your person to walk you down the aisle.

You may want whomever is officiating at your wedding to mention your folks -- maybe in a prayer.

On the deepest spiritual level I believe that your parents are with you now and will be with you on that day. Watch for signs, for little odd ways their souls may be letting you know that they are around, watching and loving you. Love is so strong that even death cannot destroy it.

I'll say a prayer that all goes well for you -- big hugs, Mata

4:34 PM  
Blogger anastacia said...

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5:27 PM  
Anonymous lots in Costa Rica said...

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3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I came on here looking for people who have been alone most of their life; in so much as I was born as a Bastard in to a family that didn't want me and went on to have children of their own who so obviously did belong. What I have found is not only did they not want me they tried to turn every situation around to put the blame for any thing and every thing on me, like; I was being punished for being born. I told my Doctor when I eventually had a nervous breakdown, I feel like I am always in bat, defending myself from the troubles they have caused me all my life.

Needless to say other people tried to treat me the same way and when I stood up to them they would hit me harder or I would find myself isolated and somethime bullied.

I am 60 now and 18 months ago my two daughters who I adore turned around and said they no longer wanted me in their lives. Cast out - can be catching and I guess they didn't want to catch it.

That is my grief more than when my blood mother killed herself in 1989.

Now I have to find my spirit again and try to build a confident life away from all of that.

Some times I feel lonely or a little afraid, but I carry on trying to be me' not who other people wanted me to be.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Ronnie said...

My parents both just recently died. My dad in August 2010 from liver cancer and my mom in march 2011 from lung cancer (that ended up moving to her head,back,on her sternum{very rare} and eventually to her stomach.)
Every day is a new day without "living" parents,people often say it must be hard not having parents anymore but i do have them,theyre just gone from this life is all.Each day (at least up to now) i wake feeling fairly crappy, after all i have known them since i was born (almost 39 years ago) and i will no longer get to talk to them,get advice,comfort.Then i think they wouldnt want me to sit around feeling like this.Hopefully in time it gets easier because some days are really hard to handle..the first mothers day..fathers day..birthdays..christmas...
The Orphaned Adult by Alexander Levy is on my end table right now and it seems to help just knowing it's there when i'm ready to finally read it.
At the end of the day though my memories can't be taken away,my parents are no longer here,but in a way they are. Inside of me i hold them close to get me through each day..1 at a time.

8:56 PM  
Blogger A said...

My Mother died on April 1st 2011-no joke. She was 87, my Father had died 26 years ago. My mum had been ill with heart disease for only the last 3 months of her life and was looked after in the most wonderful way. All in all a good life, good death, very moving funeral, possessions distributed, home now sold. All very smooth you might say. Except that four months on at the age of sixty I feel totally and utterly bereft by her loss. I used to phone her every day,apart from the last year or so she was always there for me and for everyone else. My children and siblings appear to be getting on ok with their lives and I feel lonely, afraid,and lost without her. I have four children, a good job, good friends and even if I had a partner (i told this would help!) I dont think it would, I feel so insecure and at my age you cant say that to people becaue they think you are old enough to deal with all these feelings. I miss her , i just miss her so much, she was part of my world and always there. Its very tough at the moment. A

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Carol said...

My dad died when I was 15 and my Mom when I was 24 and I'm going to be 48 in about a month and I can say even tho I had had a successful life workwise and great children I still deep inside feel alone. There is always that little bit of a disconnect...I hide it and never show it but it is very much present and there inside of me. I don't know, maybe its just an excuse and everyone feels it and just blames it on whatever their issues are. I rarely get depressed, I'm a happy positive person but when I do its always feeling like Ive been left here on earth abandoned. I think when your parents die when you are young that things are so different then you can ever explain to someone else,,,its like you have no back up and no unconditional love so you better get life figured out and do it well becuase no ones going to save you if you don't. I didn't even really have a close loving relationship with either parent, so it amazes me how much it effects me still. Someone posted an article from the Wall Street journal about Adult Orphans and made me think about it and google. I had no idea there were support groups out there. Wish I would have known when I was 25

2:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was orphaned at 40. you describe it beautifully. when my mother died in 1997 at the age of 61, my father lost the house. so my "home" was gone too. there was a complicated period of mourning for my home and my mother woven together in a tangled mess...
i felt ridiculous even silently acknowledging i was a orphan when i father died 3 years ago. to top it off my older brother died 2 years ago... on my birthday.
i felt and sometimes still feel like a lost child... as if my history had vaporized and although i am now 45 i feel like i am 12.
yet the beauty of life surrounds me and sometimes i can invite the memories in as grief and shame shed off like decay... like flakes of rust from an abandoned bicycle...

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

amazing really all the comments
1. feeling of abandonment 2. vaporitzing of the history and 3. feeling vulnerable really have hit me

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Same here..all 3. Father died in a car crash in 1973 when I was 8, mother died 2 years ago. I feel like nothing has meaning..I struggle to find connection. Nights I awaken to foreboding ache and sadness..I feel like my family is gone.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having survived both my parents passing on & also my husband also has had the same situation....we've learned a few things.
1. If you are a couple and you don't have parents, then what you learn to do is 'parent, console' and be good to each other -- in place of your parents in a certain way. Be extra patient and caring at times, in other words.
2. Surround yourself with photos of your parents...on your fridge door, in your wallet, etc....they'll still be with you.
3. Keep talking about the things your parents did/said/like and you know, that way they are a bit still here in memory and remembrance.
4. While remembering your parents in all of these ways, allow yourself room to move on at the same time as keeping them in your heart and close by in memory. For had they been alive they would want you to do things, go on with your dreams, etc. So yes, remembering but also space to be yourself too.
5. Cultivate a few other adult-orphan friends....that way when your other friends who still have parents are blathering away on about dinner at Mom's, well you have a few kindred spirits to talk to who DON'T have parents & understand your situation. The friends with parents, trust me, do NOT want to talk about anything about life without a Mom and Dad...scares them so they avoid it. Quickly you realize that the ones with parents are still 'younger' in attitude and developmentally in a different spot than you are -- your having been through this new stage of orphanhood and surviving that.
6. Be kind to yourself. You're doing the best you can.

5:22 AM  

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