I became an orphan at 52 years old. That is how it feels losing both of my parents in the past year. They were the pillars of our family shelter and they are suddenly gone. It feels like I’ve lost my moorings and am adrift. The curious thing is that I didn’t really lean on them for much, but knowing they were there was all I needed to feel safe. I am a capable person; don’t get me wrong. I know I can take care of myself and my family. I just liked knowing they were always there, in my corner, ready to help. Now I look for them and see the empty space they leave behind and it is huge. It’s more than an empty space; it feels to me like a black hole. A vast, dark place that might consume you.
My parents were exceptional at being parents. They were both committed to creating family, whether through their own children or through other people. They knew how to connect and nurture; how to love and support, and how to set the boundaries that gave enough latitude without letting you run amok. They were, in short, the best. I know I was lucky; I saw other parents and mine always came out ahead in comparison. Of course, I am biased, but I know they were that good. Learning to live in a world without them seems like a daunting task, but it’s one I have to get through if I am to try to do the same for my own family.
I’ve gotten to know a lot more about myself through all of this and I’ve gotten to know my brothers and sisters in a new way. I learned that I can overcome my fears to do the right thing, even when I would rather not. I’ve learned that I’m not afraid to look death in the face and stand firm. I can hold a hand and feel love. I have learned that the words “honor thy father and mother” mean more than I thought.
About my siblings, I’ve learned that each one has a unique gift they bring to bear; Jan is the embodiment of peace and joy. Being in her presence, one can truly relax. Kevin is a bottom line, cut to the chase thinker and communicator. His loyalty and love for mom and dad were apparent both in the times he could be present but also in his absences. He reached across the distance to be sure he was there for them when needed. Shawn is a force to be reckoned with. She doesn’t take no for an answer and she is upbeat and cheerful in the face of some challenging moments. Rob – I can’t say enough good about Rob. What he was able to do for mom in her last days was a true gift for all of us. His depth of compassion and devotion was never more apparent than when he was doing mom’s hair. He was so gentle with her and she looked beautiful when he was done. I never knew my brother had that in him.
I know it hasn’t fully hit me what it means to be a 52 year old orphan. It’s uncharted territory and I just have to make my way through. I do know that I won’t be alone. I have some wonderful companions in the journey, and for that I feel blessed. I don’t think I will ever not miss my parents – that is a constant, I’m sure. I will learn to navigate alone and listen to the lessons that they have incorporated in me. In creating family, mom and dad made sure we would never be alone. And a black hole gives birth, poetically, to a companion star on the other side. I will look for that star to guide my way.