Letters to myself: When a parent dies

Letters to myself: When a parent dies

The day after my father died, the world didn’t look any different, but it made no sense. People went about their business, both tedious and critical, as if nothing happened. It was difficult to understand how the earth could rotate on its axis with me on it, but not my father. Life had never been that way.

When a parent dies, friends can tell you what to expect, but you’ll have your own experience regardless. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer several years ago and died ten weeks later. During that time, I was concerned about his pain, his emotions and my mother. I spoke to my siblings regularly and we planned for the inevitable. After he passed away, I was still aware of the effect his death had on others, but I thought mostly in terms of what it meant to me.

My dad had been a part of my life from the moment I was born, as was my mom and siblings. (I’m the youngest of five.) I had always been someone’s daughter and someone’s sister. And while my mother appears to be sticking in there for the long haul, I’m down one parent. If she doesn’t live forever, someday I’ll be an orphan. I know no one would ever think of me in those terms, but an enormous part of who I am is tied up in how I define myself as part of a family.

My father didn’t live long enough to see me become a wife and mother. I often feel, nowadays, as if I am defined in those terms only. When my children ask me about him, I am reminded that they don’t know that part of me. They don’t know who I was as my father’s little girl.

When a parent dies, a part of who we are goes with them. I’m not sure there’s a way to prepare for this. Like so much of life, it’s simply meant to be felt, for better or worse.

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