A note about this post: I talk a lot about death and parents in this one. I try, as always, to marry that with a little bit of comfort and perspective, but if that feels like not the thing you want to read today, no worries. Skip it. See you another time.
My parents are dead.
I say that in a non-sugar-coated way because most days, that reality for me is not very sugar coated. The people who knew how long it took to potty train me, who can tell me the address of the obscure relative, and who have that picture I’m looking for are not on this planet. They are gone. And the safety and security of knowing that someone will hold space for me, will take me in, help me up, and bail me out – in the most primal and unconditional ways – is not available at this time. And it never will be again. Not like it is with your parents.
Now, let me hasten to say that I am very lucky to have an incredibly robust support system, and I know for a fact that I have friends, relatives, and siblings who would all help me with anything I needed. I am also lucky to have had a good relationship with my parents, a thing many people don’t have at all, whether their parents are living or dead. But the truth is, my parents are gone. They are dead. That’s a lot to process on just a practical level – and that doesn’t even touch the amazing existential dread that comes with knowing there is no older generation to stand between you and void.
There’s a great book about this called The Orphaned Adult by Alexander Levy, and I am going to badly summarize it this way: The profound impact of losing your parents as an adult touches every single thing and every single relationship in your life, and it generally sucks. Also, because it is “common” or “expected” by society at a certain point, there are somewhat limited rituals and acknowledgements in place when it happens. However, those of us who have lost both parents do tend to recognize the particular flavor of grief that we share with others who have experienced the same. We can kinda spot each other if you put us in a room. It’s a small club, especially at my age, and what really stinks is that it has some awfully nice members.
What this book makes a point to say is that having rituals to honor your parents is a tool that helps people cope. You make your mom’s casserole every year at Thanksgiving. You toast to your dad on what would have been another of his birthdays. It’s sad and sweet and honors them, and you focus on them in that moment. It’s a nod to them and to the universe. A way to say “I see you, mom and dad. Thanks for having me.”
Today is one of those days for me. It’s what would have been my parents 61st wedding anniversary.
Here’s a picture of my parents when they got married. They were 20.
Here’s a picture of them in what has to be the early 1980s in Colts Neck, New Jersey. They are in their late thirties, I believe. Younger than I am now. I like to think they look like they’d be fun to hang out with.
And that’s exactly the point of the ritual. This dusty, blurry Polaroid lets me know that whether I believe my mother is smoking cigarettes with Elvis right now or whether I think my dad might be getting reincarnated as we speak, I had them. I had them like this, like they were in this picture.
They were mine.
I absolutely, firmly, and happily believe that they are off doing their thing in the universe now, and good on them. But the grief – and joy – of looking at them, thinking about them, is like plucking a particular string in time. My parents are dead. But in these pictures, they were 20 or 40, and they were here, and I was theirs, and they were mine.
And they sure do look like they would be fun to hang out with.
Hi. I'm Amanda Dobbs.