My parents died a number of years ago. My dad died first then a few years later mom died. Her death made me an adult orphan. You may have heard of the term “adult orphan.” I belong to this group. I’m an adult orphan. What does this term mean to you? The fact our parents eventually die may not be an experience people want to confront. Not confronting this fact of life doesn’t change anything. If you have had a longstanding estrangement from your parents it makes reconciliation more challenging.
I realize not all my readers may resonate with this post. It may stir up memories you wish you could forget. Perhaps you didn’t have a close relationship with your parents. Perhaps you were estranged from them. It may be you look at the death of your parents as a rite of passage anddon’t think twice about consequences of this loss
The grief one experiences after the death of parents may be of a profound nature. It may also be a complicated form of grief due to the ongoing disagreement you had with your parents. Not all adult orphans look back on their relationship with their parents with fondness.
Those adult orphans who didn’t resolve disagreements with their parents may have blown it. This may not go down well with you but at least give it thought. At a point in your relationship you had an opportunity to resolve things and you didn’t take advantage of it. The opportunity passed you by. Now with the death of your parents it’s too late.
Even when it is too late to make amends with your parents you can make peace with yourself. You can own up to your part in the distance you and your parent(s) caused between each other. Most times it is something either of you could have remedied but you just didn’t. You let things go on because of pride or stubbornness or lack of true love. No one made thefirst move toward reconciliation. So sad. Time continued on and your parents passed from the scene.
Reflecting on your dysfunctional relationship with the people who brought you into this world may be a teaching moment for you. You may learn something about yourself. The energy you used in keeping a distance between your parents may now be used to look at yourself. Who do you see? By chance do you see a reflection of your parents as you look at yourself?
Who or what do you see as you reflect on yourself? A few thoughts may be going through your head as you gaze at yourself. “I see a stubborn person.” “I feel a deep sense of loneliness now my parents are gone.”“I recognize times in life where I wanted to make amends but didn’t.” “I’m happy I reconciled with my parents before it was too late. I just wish I had done this sooner. I miss them.”
Dear reader, if your parents are still alive how is your relationship with them going? If time is a healer as some say, have you taken time to resolve disagreements? The clock is ticking. Time waits for no one. Now is the time. Don’t worry about being right, reconcile, as much as you can with your parents. Things may not be perfect but at least be civil and honouring to them.
A famous actor and his son had a falling out that lasted for years. After the father’s death the son was asked if the slate was wiped clean before his father’s death. The son replied, “What slate?” Enough said.
Coming soon: When Parents Die: Part Two—An expression of love and grief.
5 thoughts on “When Parents Die: Part One: Estrangement”
What an important post! Having a falling out with family members is such a common problem. There was a time when I had little to no contact with my parents and it lasted several years. Healthy boundaries may need to be created or reinforced, but I think it’s best to maintain some degree of contact and expressions of love at the same time…if at all possible. You just never know when a person’s time will come.
I now enjoy a relationship with my parents that has become better because of the struggle. However, I made mistakes in the process that I now regret – like not involving them in the first few years of my first child’s life. If I could turn back the clock, I’d do things differently.
Nonetheless I am so very thankful to still have them both, and pray we will have many good years ahead.
Thank you for your thoughtful and personal comments. I really appreciate your input. It’s amazing how quick years seem to pass. I’m glad you have reconciled with your parents. Yes, regrets can leave their mark on our hearts. I pray too you will have many more great years with your parents.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It’s certainly true that we should do all within our power to stay close to our family members, so that our regrets after their death can be minimized. But now that I’m Orthodox I understand that death does not completely separate us. Soon after my husband died I was blessed to find this article by Donald Sheehan about death and broken relationships being healed, about Memory Eternal:
Sheehan is writing about his abusive father and what transpired after his death. This kind of healing may not happen very often, but as “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” our relationship with those who have fallen asleep is not ended, only changed. When we pray, the possibility of entering into kairos or eternal time is always there. It is never too late to ask for or to offer forgiveness.
On the subject of grief generally, I found the blog posts of Fr. Alexis Trader to be supremely helpful in sorting out the painful questions that have surfaced during my own bereavement: http://ancientchristianwisdom.com/?s=grief
As you must be experiencing, writing is very helpful in dealing with grief! God bless you, and your blog.
Hi Gretchen! Thank you for the helpful comments. Yes, I see more hope now my wife and I are Orthodox. I look forward to seeing my parents again. Thank you also for the articles you mentioned as well. Bless you, and I hope you read more of my blog.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Ooops, it seems that that link for Donald Sheehan’s article is broken. Here is, I hope, a better one: