When we lose a parent in our adult years we are facing a changing of the guard so to speak. The older generation is leaving which leaves us without a buffer to our own eventual demise. We may have just lost our last surviving parent, or we may be facing our first loss which means we will have a surviving parent to look after.
I lost my mother in 1999. She was 75 years old and had a heart condition. She was facing her third heart surgery since turning age 50. This one was aimed at solving heart valve malfunctions that affected her energy and breathing. During surgery she had a heart attack and went into a coma. She was put on life support while we were being notified and asked to consider some possible options. We all concluded that there was no point in prolonging her suffering through extraordinary measures that could only extend her life by days.
Most of our family was present when the medical staff took her off life support. There were 20 of us in the room. My dad, my wife, my five siblings and their partners, and an assortment of grandchildren were all present. We watched as she took her last few breaths and then waited until her body became still. There were tears of course, but there was also relief. My mother's suffering was over and she was at peace.
These moments are lived with great intensity. You feel everything that is going on in the room. Everyone present is in a state of heightened sensitivity. We cried, we laughed and we cried some more. Each of us kissed her and said goodbye. It was beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time. My mother was a well loved woman. She had a unique connection with all of us - her children, our spouses and her grandchildren. She was the family matriarch and her death left a big hole in our social structure because mum was the hub of the wheel around which we all circulated.
My family and I grieved openly during the funeral services. We cried when feeling overwhelmed and we laughed remembering her kooky style of relating to us. My mother's first language was French, so her English suffered from some weird and unique adaptations that generated smiles whenever you heard them. I cried readily for her. She was easy to love. I had seen her grow since my childhood and young adult years and I was genuinely proud of how she stood up to her church's rigid stance on birth control. She put herself on the pill in her mid thirties and told the priest that she would do her confessions directly with God from that point forward. This was quite a stance for a woman of her generation having been raised in rural Quebec.
My father is till with us but fading fast. We moved him into a care facility this year and he'll soon be turning 85. Memory problems, mobility problems and general lack of awareness are ready reminders that his time is coming soon.
Parents shape our lives from the day we first arrive. As children they are like gods to us. They have the power to hurt us and to help us heal from our emotional bruises. They teach us what they know, by word and by deed, good, bad or indifferent. We absorb much of our personality style from them and exhibit certain traits later in adulthood. Some of us are flattered when reminded of this. Others become defensive having decided long ago to be nothing like them.
We carry them in our hearts, long after they have passed. Like it or not, they were the main influences that shaped our lives. We absorbed some of their habits and a good portion of their world view long before we knew how to shape our own. If we have put our parental demons to bed then it is easier to let go when they pass on. If we haven't, then we may feel stuck because we can no longer confront them on matters that deeply affected us during childhood.
I've worked with a lot of individuals who were grieving a parent They displayed a number of similarities and some major differences as described above. Those who held on to their simple childhood beliefs about their parents' godlike nature are typically left shattered. Those had worked through their childhood resentments had an easier time and their grief proved to be more amenable to treatment.
This is what happens when we lose a parent. Unresolved issues leap to the surface and can no longer be avoided. These become topics brought to the therapist's office or addressed in their grief support group. These are the issues at the heart of your healing journey. Repressing them keeps them alive and percolating away in your subconscious. Addressing them, with the right kind of help, will move your grief recovery process along. If you want to move forward you must reach out for help. In so doing, you will heal and learn something important about yourself in the process. Win Win!