Becoming an orphan at 40, or not
One word, one simple comment, made me stop and think about what I am - and what I’m not - after losing both parents
It was just one word.
One word in the middle of a nice catch-up conversation with a neighbor the other day.
“I’m sorry to hear about your Dad,” she said. “You’re now an orphan and I know from experience that it isn’t easy,” she added.
I’ve heard this word in this context a couple of times now and it always makes me stop and think.
I understand what they’re saying, their hearts go out to me… this daughter, wife and mom of three who lost both parents within two years and all by my 40th year.
“You’re too young to have lost both parents,” others say.
And they’re right.
Mom certainly had more years in her before the cancer took her away... many many more hugs and laughs and babysitting hours left to give. Many more meals to cook. Lunches and dinners to attend. Photos to take and conversations to have. Opinions to share with me (even the few times I really didn’t want to hear them!). She is supposed to still be picking my kids up at school when I can’t. Answering the phone at any minute of any day when I have something to share or ask or vent or laugh or cry about. Walking through my door or the kids and I busting through hers at any time, any day... and always feeling welcome.
He is supposed to still be playing tennis, taking pictures of everything, drinking coffee by day and whiskey by night and rambling on about college football and world problems he hoped would be solved. He should be enjoying a good cigar from time to time, kicking the soccer ball with his grandkids and sitting with me or my husband to watch the boats come in and out of the nearby inlet.
Together, they should be planning post-covid trips with best friends. Reading all of the books on their lists. Soaking in the sunshine and all they can of the children and grandchildren they adore.
But they’re not.
So yes, I guess I am technically now an orphan and I don't like it.
Adult orphans, they call us.
According to an interesting Los Angeles Times article titled Adult orphans: when parents die, one-third of American 50-year-olds have a father still living and two-thirds still have their mother. But by the time they turn 60, two-thirds of Americans will have become adult orphans.
All that said, here are the reasons why I say I am not... an orphan.
It sounds a bit dramatic to me and I feel like the word ‘orphan’ describes those in which we need to help find homes… the children and teenagers we all need to be helping either directly or indirectly through amazing child placement programs and organizations, especially at this time of year, but any time really. My parents gave their all to me and my brother, to our spouses and children for decades - enough to last us a lifetime. Every day wasn’t rosy but overall, it sure filled my cup beyond measure and now I work to fill the cups of my kiddos.
I also refuse to describe myself as an orphan because life has given me bonus moms and dads. You know, the ones that fill the description of the “Like a Mom” or “Like a Dad” card at the store... and provide so much more.
For me, it’s the Debby and Jack, Dory and Lee, Betsy and Bill, Arlene and Lew, and Sharon and Bill kind of couples who, each in their own way, help fill the void. And there are more – there are the longtime friends, mother and father figures, friends of mine and my folks, who offer a kind word, a hug, a hello. It’s all appreciated… and needed.
No one can replace good parents - the first constants in one’s life - but there can be some pretty darn good close seconds. Find them. Love them, and allow them to love you back... while continuing to honor the ones you lost.
“It's hard. It's really, really hard. You think maybe time will go by and that you might forget about her, but you don’t. Not a day goes by. You think about her when anything happens… in the news or anything happens that's happened that you think she’d laugh about,” says Fallon.
“You can feel when your mom is proud of you and you can feel the love. And just know that she doesn’t go away,” adds Fallon.
I'm a huge fan of Jimmy Fallon - he provides to us true laughter and joy and comedy, and in this case, sincere honest truth.
I feel like our loved ones only go away if we let them... and for some, maybe that’s okay.
But not for me.
Celebrate the connections you have with your favorite people in person and in spirit.
Let's toss those ‘adult orphan’ titles or other titles that don't sit well in our hearts to the side and do our best to be thankful for what we once had... and for what we do have right now... even when it's really hard to do.
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