Life Without Our Parents

By JoDee Coulter, MT-BC, CT

As I work tirelessly to refinish an old piece of furniture, I am reminded of my father. He was a man who loved to work on projects of this sort, always building, painting, and helping others. It’s a bittersweet reminder to look around my home and wish he was here so I could ask his advice. On days when I try sewing (not my strength!), I think, “I wish I could call my mother to ask for help.” If I were helpless enough, she might even do the work for me! Today, I have no one to call, no one to give me directions or guidance. I am, as some might say, an orphaned adult.

Our parents are the first voices we know, the first touch we feel, the first relationship we learn from in our lives. It is not surprising to me when I hear how hurt, lonely, and lost adults sometimes become after the death of their parents. In our society, it is expected that we will outlive our parents. As a result, our grief is often disenfranchised or overlooked. But it is a loss like no other. 

When our remaining parent dies, we lose many things, such as the stories of our past, our childhood home, our counselor and trusted advisor, our first protectors and caregivers. We also lose our title of “child” or maybe our own role as a caregiver. We may burden ourselves with guilt for the care we gave. Could I have done more? Did I make the right choices? These are all normal responses to the loss of our parents. We may also find strength and courage to try new things and face our future without them by our side. 

If we had a strained relationship with one or both of our parents, we may struggle with letting go of past hurts and unresolved conflict. If this is the case for you, take some time to write about it or seek support to help you process and heal. 

How can we find peace and start to move forward? In his book, The Orphaned Adult, Understanding and Coping with Grief and Change After the death of Our Parents, author Alexander Levy uses humor and compassion to share how life changes after such significant loss. He encourages the reader to not rush. The death of your second parent may trigger feelings you felt or avoided when your first parent died. Perhaps you were busy supporting or caring for your surviving parent, getting sidetracked from your own grief. When it feels right, consider seeking support, either from friends, a professional, or both. Allow yourself time to rest and to heal, as grief takes a lot of energy. Seek assistance to help with legal matters. This is a time when relationships between siblings can either be strengthened or fractured, and if you’re an only child, you may feel overwhelmed and uncertain. Find a non-involved third party to assist you.

Moving through this world without our parents is different from anything else we will experience. Be patient with yourself and those around you. Remember all that you have learned from your parents and continue their legacy through the stories you tell and the way you live your life. 

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