Story Time: The Death of a Parent
Death can happen to anyone and at any time. My own impermanence has come to my own mind over the years. It really started sinking in after collecting myself and thoughts after my father’s passing. His death was a difficult slow burn. Near the end of his life he spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals. Rediscovered his Catholic faith and prayed a lot. He shared some of his regrets. Things he wished he had done differently or better by his family.
He also did his confession to a priest and was struggling but managing to find acceptance of what was coming. He knew what was coming. We all knew it was coming. I read an article called The Death of a Parent Affects Even Grown Children Psychologically and Physically describes a ‘best-case scenario’ being one where the family anticipates the passing. I agree. If it was unexpected it would’ve been more of a shock, especially for my mother.
Though we knew it was eventual it still hurt, but something happened to me I wasn’t expecting. I thought of the last time I’d seen him alive when I saw him for the final time. The last time I had seen him alive he told me he loved me, and I told him I loved him too. That helped me greatly in coping. We were okay and knowing that helped. We weren’t fighting. He wasn’t upset at me for any reason, just simply telling me he loved me and sorry they couldn’t visit longer.
The thoughts that filled my mind were complex. From nice thoughts to anger. I was angry that I didn’t have more time with him. It had taken years, but he and I had finally gotten where we could have almost full conversations and even joke. His last years were the most revealing to me on how he thought of me. I had gotten braver and I would ask him things that in my younger years would’ve never come across my mind. His thoughts and feelings of me mattered more than I had expected them to.
I can’t remember him telling me he loved me when I was growing up but remember the first time, he looked me in the eyes and told me he did. I teared up. I full on cried when he told me how I was always so responsible and how proud he was of me. He had seen me accomplish much and when he saw my reaction to his praise, he did it as much as he could in his own way. Which meant between cups of coffee and being unable to look at me, but him saying the words took a lot.
Seeing him that last time and after the anger faded, a clarity and calmness came over me. I could feel the weight of all the years of thousands of thoughts just lifted and it even physically affected the way I sat. Being hunched over, I found myself sitting more upright. A single thought washed all the other thoughts away. None of it mattered anymore. Any anger from my childhood and teen years just didn’t matter. I had nothing to hang on to anymore because it was nonsense in my eyes as I watched my mother trying to figure out what next steps to take across from me.
I knew she needed me in that moment, like many moments she had needed me before. I was responsible, Dad even said it himself. Again, I would be responsible and strong for her at this time. I called numbers and did my best to arrange things. I let everyone know online that I knew he wanted to be informed. I helped my mother come up with a plan of action giving her pros and cons to help her think clearly. I did everything she asked me to the best of my ability. I am her support and my spouse was my support as I was for him when he had the passing of a parent occur (a month prior in fact).
I won’t go into the full details of everything here. All that I learned about him after he passed or all that has changed so greatly since then either. I will say that his passing was a blow to my son who was close to him. It was life-changing for my mother. It still has rippling effects on my family that only surface around the anniversary that has become a day of remembrance.
On this day a few years ago, I began thinking of my own eventual death. How would my son handle it? This has spurred hard conversations with him. Not as hard as the conversation when I had to inform him about my dad’s passing, but difficult in their own way. I watch my son doing things more or I at least realize I’m doing it more often than before. I hug him more, even if his teenage mentality screams: Warning…Warning…Warning…Mom’s coming in for affection…abort…abort.
It does get easier over time. I wasn’t sure if it would in the beginning, but it does. That doesn’t mean anyone forgets, but it’s part of the cycle. I flipped from sadness to anger and back to sadness for a while, but eventually acceptance took over. I read an article a year or so after he passed that helped explain, in a way, what I was going through. Now the article, Why Losing a Parent Hurts So Much, No Matter Your Age, talks more about self-medicating after losing a parent and the link between grief, addiction, and mental illness. Me, never having been a drug addict, drug-user, or alcoholic at any point in my life, couldn’t relate to it on those levels, but it said some things that helped, and I recommend readers to check it out.