I lost my mother to breast cancer in 2008. In some ways I miss her even more since my cancer diagnosis because I know what an amazing support person she would have been to me. She felt quite a bit of guilt for potentially carrying the BRCA 2 gene mutation on to her children. Mothers like to fix things, not be the source of unsolvable problems. Of course, I feel no resentment toward her for indeed passing this mutation on to me. In fact, in an odd sort of way, I feel even more connected to her; our cancers bind us together even further. Somehow it makes me feel like we get the last laugh over cancer, if that makes any sense. Cancer could not divide and conquer us, in the sense that really matters anyway.
I was supposed to be ready when my mother died. I was supposed to be ready to say goodbye. After all, she was in her seventies. I was not a child or even a young adult. It is assumed that losing your mother at a younger age is more traumatic and detrimental. That’s probably true. At my age I was supposed to be ready. Her cancer had been diagnosed four years earlier, so I was supposed to be ready. Her health had been rapidly declining before my eyes and she was living out her final days in a nursing home, so I was supposed to be ready. I knew the end was coming, so I was supposed to be ready. But I was not.
Society gives few messages and the ones that are given seem mixed about how to “appropriately” grieve for parents. In his book, When Parents Die: A Guide for Adults, Edward Myers states, “Loss of a parent is the single most common form of bereavement in this country. Yet the unstated message is that when a parent is middle-aged or elderly, the death is somehow less of a loss than other losses. The message is that grief for a dead parent isn’t entirely appropriate.”
When we lose a parent, we are supposed to be prepared for this normal life passage, or at least be more ready to accept it when it does happen. We are expected to pick ourselves up, close the wound quickly and move on. We should not require so much time to “get over it.” This loss is expected and in the natural order of things.
However, just because losing a parent is so common place and in the natural order of things, this does not mean a person can or should be expected to simply bounce back. On the contrary, losing a parent is extremely difficult for most adult children if you have had a good relationship with your parent and even if you haven’t. In fact, sometimes the latter makes it even more difficult due to unresolved issues or conflicts.
So, remember that losing a parent can be unexpectedly devastating and cause considerable upheaval in even an adult son or daughter’s life. Maybe that sounds like stating the obvious, but I think it’s worth saying anyway. The magnitude of this loss can take you by surprise and helpful resources are not that plentiful.
HERE ARE A FEW SUGGESTIONS FOR COPING
1. Don’t expect to be ready, you won’t be.
2. Never let anyone belittle this loss or hurry you through your grief. You need to experience all of its intensity.
3. Grieving for a parent, just like all grieving, takes considerable hard work emotionally, physically and spiritually.
4. All of this work takes time, the process must not be hurried.
5. Even as an adult, don’t be surprised by your feelings of abandonment and uncertainty.
6. After they’re gone your parent will continue to be a part of your life, just in a different sense. You are still their son or daughter.
7. Remember once you do emerge on the other side of grief, you will be forever changed, but in some ways stronger.
Have you lost a parent (or do you know someone who has) and how did it affect you (or them)?