Thursday, August 21, 2008

losing parents: all grown up, but newly alone

It all came back to me the other day.

We arrived at church to discover our minister wasn't there. His mother had died the night before. Only 3 months ago, almost to the day, we were rung at 9.30 with the news that Steve's father had died. It's impossible to forget the night we went to say goodbye.

It doesn't matter if you're all grown up, losing a parent is a terribly sad experience. It's easy to underestimate the significance of losing parents as an adult.

There's the normal sorrow of loss and grief. The empty chair he always sat in. The renewed pain when you see something she created, or planted, or loved. The mornings you wake up and remember, shockingly, again, what you have lost.

But when a parent dies, you lose more than the person you love.

You're losing your childhood. Someone who can answer the question, "What was I like when I was 5 years old?" Someone who remembers your grandma's house. Someone who loves you in the irrational, doting way of a parent, who embarrasses you by boasting of your accomplishments, and who still thinks you are beautiful, wrinkles and all.

You're losing a generation of memories and insights. What was it like when your parents were young? What did it feel like to live through World War II? The way clothes look after they've been through a mangle. Bottles of milk beside the front door, waiting for the milk van. The horse-drawn dunny cart.

You're losing a wealth of wisdom. How do you make Anzacs the traditional way? Pancakes with soured milk? Lancashire Hotpot? How do you change the washer on a tap? What did your mum do when her babies wouldn't sleep? Did she ever worry you wouldn't turn out ok?

You're losing your children's grandparents. Someone who can tell them stories about what you were like as a child. Someone your children can turn to as teenagers, when you just don't get it. Someone who won't have to pretend to be fascinated when you talk endlessly about your child's first steps.

I'm not sure you really grow up until you lose both your parents.

It's not just parents you're losing, but someone older than you, someone ultimately responsible, someone you can depend on. A father who will be there the day you run out of money. A mother who will come and stay when you've just had a baby, and are trying to juggle 3 older children, a home, and mastitis.

You stand on the precipice of a terrifying independence.

There are all kinds of ways to lose parents. We may move far away, so that phonecalls are rare, and regular visits out of the question. We may lose parents to Alzheimer's or cancer, and have to watch them slowly drift away, body and mind. Our relationship with them may be damaged, seemingly beyond repair. Maybe they're still alive, and we've been living without them for a long time.

When we lose our parents, there is one comfort: God has not left us as orphans. He will always be our Father.

There was a wonderful article about adults losing their parents, and the deep impact it has, in the Good Weekend a couple of months ago. I should have kept a copy. Did anyone cut it out and keep it? And if so, can you send me a copy? I would love to read it again!

Image is from stock.xchg


Carolyn said...

I read something similar once (can't remember where of course!) about a lady in her seventies who was in hospital for a serious condition and wanted her mum so much that she cried all night, even though her mum had been gone for some 20 odd years. She said that she missed her as much then as when she first died, and that she needed her as much then as she had when she was a sick child. It broke my heart. I work in the health area and lessons like these are invaluable.

I love the diversity in your topics Jean!

Jean said...

That's so very, very sad, and scary too, isn't it?

I'm glad you're enjoying the "diversity"!

Nicole said...

Hi Jean,

I read the article you are talking about (it was good!), but it was put in the recycling a long time ago...sorry!

mattnbec said...

Yet again, a good observation. Thank you.

I can say that I have found this exact thing to be true. One of my biggest fears in leaving Perth and coming to the UK was leaving the support of two sets of very loving, generous and gracious parents who we really enjoy spending time with (and having help out and babysit our kids!). They are probably the people I miss the most. Our parents still look after our affairs in Perth though, and I talk to my Mum at least once a week, so if I'm honest there's still a lot of growing up to do. But I do think it has helped me grow up a bit and I'm thankful for that. I'm also thankful to have seen how it has helped me trust God a bit more. Likewise I've learned a bit more about how other Christians truly are our family. Having been in a loving church for a year now, there are older ladies who have become sounding-boards, like my Mum. One lady in particular has become like Nanna/Granny to my kids in the UK. So it's been a wonderful blessing to see how my Heavenly Father has held us in his hands and cared for us amidst the difficulties of relocation.

But I do genuinely still fear the day we loose our parents. They are such a blessing that I can't imagine the grief. My Mum lost her own godly, loving Mum when I was only 2 (and she was in her mid-20s). I have always respected my Mum for the way she just got on with motherhood and made sure she invested in my brother and I despite the pain that she must have felt and things she missed because of that.

Think I'd better go and get a tissue before my three year old worries about Mummy crying!


David McKay said...

G'day Jean
Gordon sent me.
Great blog.

My Dad died in 1995 and my mother on 6th Feb this year.

There's so many questions I'd like to ask them!

But I am fortunate that my father wrote a diary for the last 30 years of his life, and my mother wrote the story of the first 30 years of her life.

I think it would be a great gift if people were to write a diary to pass on to their families.

I'm doing it, but mine will be very boring to anyone else, I'm afraid.

Jean said...

I gave my Mum a mother/daughter book last Christmas with sections for her to write her memories in. She's still working on it! It will be a wonderful gift to me: I want to be able to keep her memories and pass them on.

Jean said...

And Bec, thanks for reminding us of how our Father provides when our parents can't be nearby. And that growing up can be a good thing!