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My father died last summer at the age of 90. It is the natural order of life that our parents will die before we do and for most, the loss of a parent brings about a profound sense of grief.
Our relationship to our parents evolves over a lifetime together, changing and maturing as we move through the many stages of life, as does our understanding of each other as we mature. Initially, we view our parents though the eyes of a child. We see our parents anew as we take on the challenges and responsibilities of teen and then adult life, and again when we become parents and they become grandparents. They watch us grow from birth, through childhood, the teen years, and into adulthood, when they will no longer see us as ‘children’, yet we know, deep down, we will always be their child.
We witness their aging along with our own, and then we start to see their frailty as they age. We see their humanity, their vulnerability, and have compassion for it. We come to know and truly understand them as we could never have known them when we were children. Then, one day, they are gone.
It is truly one of life’s gifts to be able to experience this evolution together, and because of the lifetime connection, the loss is profound. We lose the comfort of our parents’ presence and that living connection to our past, our family history, and its stories, even though we continue to hold on to the memory of our parent for the rest of our lives. We are never too old to become orphans.
I wonder about the experiences of those who, unlike me, lose their parents prematurely, whose relationship journey is cut short, as is the case when parents die young. I wonder also about how complicated and confusing it could be when the parent/child relationship had negativity, conflict, or reproach that could not be resolved. No matter the nature of the relationship, to lose a person, who, for better or worse, was responsible for your birth and upbringing, is a deep and very personal experience.
As we grieve, we have the opportunity to reflect. I think it valuable to do so because it can be an occasion to cherish memories and to be aware of who we are and where we came from as we embark on the next stage of our lives. Embrace the grief, experience it, and celebrate those for whom you are grieving. If you are struggling with grief, talking with a counsellor can help you find your way back.