It really hit hard when I heard it.
Not that the words have never occurred to me, mind you.
Just that I’d never put them so concisely before.
Just that I’d never heard so many people saying things I’d been feeling for so long.
The way those of us feel who have lost both parents.
It doesn’t matter how young or how old we were when it happened.
We became orphans.
Without our support systems.
Without the source of unconditional love upon which we’d relied all of our lives until then.
Participants on the talk show related their experiences, speaking about their feelings after
losing the second parent.
It was like listening to an echo. An echo from inside my own head, repeating my own feelings,
putting them into words spoken aloud for the first time.
It was way back in 1972 that my mother died. She was only 56 and I knew I had lost my best
With her death, my sense of belonging disappeared, leaving a deep, dark hole in what had been an
ordinary life in an ordinary American family.
There was one less person to enjoy at holiday time.
There was no mother with whom to share confidences and phone at the drop of a hat just to say hi.
There was none of the sense of security that had always been there when Mom was around.
She took my identity as her daughter with her when she died, leaving me wanting to recapture that
warm wholeness but unable to do it without her.
Being without Mom meant that I tried to spend more time with my father, a man I’d only come to
know a few years earlier.
His intelligence and warmth filled some of the gap, but it was always Mom I’d think of when
there was something that needed to be talked over, to be shared, to be laughed about.
When Dad died at the age of 78, a bright, witty and vital 78, no one would have pointed it out to
me or have been thoughtless enough to verbalize it, but the truth was undeniable.
I felt it overwhelmingly, despite my adult mindset.
I was an orphan.
For the first time in my life, I was nobody’s child.
It is a hard thing to handle, no matter how much preparation we have for the eventuality that
a parent will die.
It is even harder, I suppose, if there is unfinished business.
For me, there was none of that. Throughout my mother’s long illness, we talked, laughed, cried
and wished for many more years together.
Her death was a welcome release from suffering.
My father’s was the result of a much shorter illness and almost entirely unexpected, but we were
with him at the end and knew he was comforted by our presence.
What was left behind by both of them was this abandoned child, deprived of the comfort of
parents, of grownups for whom a problem meant drawing together for a solution.
I was angry at both of them for having left me alone to cope without their love and counsel.
I wanted them to be there while their grandchildren grew up.
I was frightened of the fact that their deaths marked me as the next to go.
I was lonely … profoundly lonely, despite husband, children, friends, a job and enough to keep me
busy 24 hours a day.
It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it.
Even the loss of one parent doesn’t produce the same deep anguish.
But I understood as I listened to the people in the audience relate their sadness and sense of
incompleteness when the second parent died.
These are the kinds of feelings we tend to bury somewhere, to deny and to whisk under a rug.
When they surface, though, they demand recognition.
It is comforting to me to be able to put a tag on the desolation and devastating sense of loss.
I am an adult orphan.
I am nobody’s child.
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