An adult orphan is one who loses their last parent when they themselves are an adult. The first time I heard the expression was at the funeral of my mother. Someone described their own transition to that state as the worst time of their life. One would think one should be grateful for having had their parent into their adult years, rather than deeply mourning that loss. Not so. The more you have, the more you have to lose, the greater you feel that loss. So it follows the older the parent (my mother was 88), the older the adult child (I was 61) and the deeper the bond, the harder it is. In my case, here is why:
My mother was my constant
My mother was the one person who had been there for me all my life, who knew me completely, and who loved me anyway.
My mother was the reason for our frequent family celebrations
My mother was the reason for celebrations with my siblings. Now my siblings and I are having separate celebrations such as Christmas, proud to be the centrepiece of our own ‘new generation’. We will of course still see each other. However, it will not be the same as coming together for Christmas and birthdays and Mother’s day and having her there. This is more raw as the year before she died, we saw each other more often than previously. We will have new happy times. But it will not be the same. What we had is now lost.
My mother was the draw-card for extended family gatherings
At some family gatherings, my siblings and I would have members of our own families there. While each niece, nephew and children could not come to all gatherings, over the course of the last decade, there has been frequent contact with all of them. Now that my mother is gone, there is not the focal point for the next generation to meet as often. That frequent contact is now lost.
My mother was the glue that kept her own family in contact
My mother was one of nine children. In the last decade of her life, she was the oldest survivor and became the family matriarch. Everyone looked to her for words of wisdom and comfort. She kept in contact with her siblings, their children and grandchildren; and kept us informed of marriages, births, illnesses, crises. She arranged family gatherings for the descendants of my grandparents. During her illness, the extended family rallied behind her. We saw a lot of my uncle, aunt and many cousins. That contact is now lost.
My mother was the bridge to my ancestors
My grandfather passed away when I was seven, my grandmother when I was seventeen. My father when I was twenty. They have been kept alive by stories from my mother. Moreover, there were stories of her grandparents (my great-grand parents) that were so vivid, I almost thought I knew them. With Mum passing away, I feel I have lost three generations: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. The link to my heritage is gone.
My mother was the road to a bygone era
Mum was born in 1927. She lived through the depression, World War 2 and the post-war boom. She knew life without hot-water, electricity, refrigerators, cars and telephones. She knew the value of friends, neighbours and family was worth more than any of those. With my mother gone, it is as if all life started in 1954. History has vanished.
My mother was the older generation
With my mother gone, I am now one of the older generation. I always felt safe and stable knowing there was someone there who was older and wiser. With my mother gone, I have no-one to lean on. In fact with my mother gone, others in the family are starting to lean on me. I only hope that I can be half as wise and empathetic as my mother was.
Mother, I miss you every day. I am grateful for the happy memories of family times and for all the extended family who remain and love me still. I draw strength from the values you instilled in me and am comforted by the fact that you live on within me.