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Losing a Parent: Are We Destined to Feel Like Orphans?

 

Are we all destined to be children in the wake of our parents’ deaths?

In light of the passing of a young mother last week, I questioned the label I’d once used for myself – adult orphan. Could I really compare my loss to that of three children under the age of 10?toni2017-2

I don’t want to minimize my sense of loss at the deaths of my father and then my mother, and I don’t advocate comparing griefs. But I don’t think I know what these kids are going through.

I want to know how to help. The kids live on my street. They’ve got a home, which they shared with their mother, under the roof of their grandmother. But no one is a replacement for another.

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Do You Grieve for Grief?

I survived the yard sale without any major kick from grief to my insides. I’m not sure whether to celebrate that fact or bemoan it. The absence of grief is in itself a grief.

I snapped a photo of my father’s fire engine red tool box at the feet of the buyer. I took other photos of the tables of dishes, including the plastic plates our family ate from year after year.DadsToolBox

I didn’t feel the sharp ping that I’d felt during our 2012 yard sale, when things walked out of my driveway and out of my life – pieces of my parents I’d never regain.

In fact, it was around that time, three years after my mother’s death, that I experienced a grief over losing grief. I mourned the loss of the intensity of sorrow.

It still puzzles me why we do that.

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Cleaning Out Parents’ Home Painful, Valuable Process

I should have known better. I’ve been grieving long enough to know. But because I didn’t think ahead, I planned the last grand sale of my parents’ belongings right before Father’s Day.

And right before “death month” – July. Both my parents died in the month of July, three years apart. Every year I march toward the month and replay their lives and my loss. I go over to their home on the anniversaries, go through their things and decide what to keep and what not to keep.

It’s a common ritual for the living, that of deciding to do with what the dead left behind. For some, the task is too painful. They assign the job to a friend, or even hire out the work. Others madly toss stuff in boxes that get put into storage. They put their grief behind lock and key.

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A previous yard sale at our home. Several of my parents’ things sold.

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What Acceptance Stage Means to Me (and How I Didn’t Want to Go There)

I thought I’d never reach the so-called “acceptance” stage of grief, and I didn’t want to. How dare anyone think I’d consent to my parents being ripped from my life?

And yet I find myself in a strange place. After a multi-year strangle-hold on my parents’ belongings – which helped me feel close to them – I’m letting go of items far too easily.GriefAcceptance2 (3)

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Pond Water: Learning to Weather the Storm of Grief

We flushed the toilet using pond water and we took turns in a vigil by the gas stove, our only source of heat. In this way, we survived a power outage one winter during my childhood.

I didn’t imagine my parents were teaching me how to weather a crisis, a physical one. Many years later, I’d need this skill for an emotional crisis, for their deaths. For separation from them.

All my life, my parents placed building blocks in my life on crisis management. The utility outages sort of run together in my mind as though they happened singularly. In truth, we faced a handful of times together as a family, braving the cold after ice storms and utility malfunctions. I learned self-reliance, perseverance and ingenuity.

These incidents came to mind after Memphis experienced high winds last week that knocked out electricity to thousands of homes. We didn’t have power overnight, for more than eight hours. At this writing, about 30,000 customers continue to be sitting in the heat with no power for the a/c.TreeDownCopy (2)

I grew up outside of Memphis. There in the country where trees flourished beside power lines, we experienced electrical outages quite regularly. And so I know just what to do.

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