Co-editor Jessica Smock writes about what it means to live without your parents at midlife.
Thank you so much, Jessica, for sharing this. It hasn't been quite two years yet since I lost both my parents just 13 days apart. My mom's passing was after a long illness, but my dad's was a shock. I can relate to so much of what you're saying. I kept a running list of things I wanted to tell my parents, too. (I was lucky to be close with them both.) I told my son (who was 17 at the time) that I never really felt like an adult until my parents died. But the quixotic flipside to that is it hit me so hard that I'm now an orphan. Like you, I felt like I'd lost my backup, my North Star. Please know you're not alone, and thanks again so much for sharing your story!
I understand the grief, but I have to say we reserve the word orphan for children because it is a completely and profoundly different experience for a child not to have parents. Children are fully dependent on parents, for their very survival, and adults using the word diminish the reality of what orphaned children experience--profound trauma, often foster care, economic uncertainty. I lost my father as a child, and my life changed in ways that were far different than when I lost my mother as an adult. Not having either parent is a terrifying idea. I miss my mother every minute of every day, but I am capable of putting food on the table without her. I think of all the children losing parents in war right now, and my heart breaks. I appreciate your grief and the strange rudderlessness (new word!) of not having parents in the world anymore, but would choose not to use that word.
I can relate so much to this. My mom died from lung cancer at the age of 64 in 2020, and my dad is Stage 4, on his last attempt at chemo for the same disease, so I know I will feel the same. I do feel lost without my mom as we would text and talk everyday.
Beautifully written, Jessica. I was just talking to my own mother about this; she is an only child and her parents were on the older side when she was born (37 and 43). Both died in their 80s, but my mom was still young both times; 39 and 50 when they passed. She's nearly 81 now and there are times, this is true, that she feels that untethered sense. And I pre-feel it! I am vastly fortunate to have, at 57, both my parents (my dad is nearing 87) and even though the world is tilting more toward me-helping-them, I still look to them for that center, holder-of-memories thing. I know I'm on borrowed time. I know I'll never be ready.
Excellent narrative, Jessica.
I remember being called an “orphan” after my last parent died, and like with you,children like Annie and friends appeared in my mind’s eye, but I was already 34. Life without parents is a tightrope walk without a safety net. Don’t look down! I’m 55 now and have done fine, but my second husband, age 56, still has four parents (divorce), and sometimes I envy him that - it’s like he hasn’t had to fully grow up yet - and he doesn’t really know what a blessing he’s had to have them for so long. Great post!
Beautifully written. I hear you.
Dear Jessica, thanks so much for sharing your story here. Much of what you wrote hit home. I lost my dad about a year and a half ago, which seems like forever and no time at all. I especially appreciated your words: "...there is no adult in charge for you to call when you need to be rescued or even just reminded of your simple inner goodness." I felt this so powerfully after my dad died, as if I didn't know myself anymore without him here to tell me, that I was never as good as he believed me to be. So who was I? You describe your connection to your mother so lovingly, and I am so sorry for your loss — of both your parents. I've found that it helps me to write letters to my dad, and to continue conversations that I miss deeply. Again, thank you for writing so movingly about your experience.
Beautifully expressed, Jessica.
Thanks for sharing this Jessica. I remember my dad saying "I'm an orphan" when his dad died in 1996 - he (my dad) was in his mid 40's.
Jessica I'm so glad you got up to write this. Thank you for sharing this intimate point of view.