The Death of each Parent is a Life Experience

A good friend of mine recently lost her mother and is grieving deeply.  As a mutual friend and I were talking about her loss, we starting talking about losing our own parents.  I told her about my experience of losing my parents.

When my mother died suddenly, I flew to Winnipeg for the funeral.  The morning after the funeral my father had a mild stroke.  I was the one who took him to the hospital. He was in a wheelchair and I was leaning over, helping him as he was being sick.  Suddenly, I felt my brain move! I stood up straight quickly.  I looked around to see if anyone notice what had gone on in my brain (which of course no one could have).  It did not hurt and it only lasted a second or two.  I felt different.  I felt like an adult for the first time in my life.  I also felt two feet taller. I was 38 years old.

I had just lost my mother and, in a way, my father too.  My father had always been the Rock of Gibraltar in my life.  He had always been big and strong.  Now, he was the weak one and I was the caretaker, he was the child and I was the parent.

I am the youngest in a family of 4 kids and was always the ‘little one’.  At least I felt little because everyone was bigger than I was.  My father and brothers were over 6 feet tall.  My mother was 5’8″ and large.  I was the same size as my sister, but because she is seven years older than I am, she always seem bigger to me.

I don’t know what happened inside my head.  I know brains don’t move.  But it felt like it moved . You know when you have an ‘ah ha’ experience, you sort of feel it in your head – the light bulb moment.  Perhaps it was a massive insight – a large reorganization of my brain, updating my perception of self to match my chronological age.

I had just suddenly lost both my parents, albeit, in different ways.  For a while after that I would stand beside other adults and feel how tall I was, especially when I was wearing heels.  I was no longer the ‘little one’. I had matured emotionally into an adult, yet the experience was so physical. Obviously I was ready to come into my own as an adult or it would not have happened.  I’d certainly had enough therapy to help me get there.

My children and I stayed with my father for about 10 days after that.  My father and I talked a lot about our lives, especially his and my mother’s .  He lived for another 13 years.  When he died, I felt sad, but felt no loss.  We had said all we needed to say to each other 13 years earlier. It was as if I’d lost him and grieved for him then.

The changes I felt that day have been permanent.  It was a remarkable experience.  I’ve benefitted so much from it.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

One Response to “The Death of each Parent is a Life Experience”

  1. Janyse says:

    That is so true about connecting with your parents before they die. I recently decided to visit my parents and take the time to stay longer than I usually do because of work. My father is 93 and my mother is 87. I always felt closer to my father and in these last years because my grandfather died at 92 and (I was close to him) I could feel this anticipatory grief happening.
    In the past couple of years I didn’t want to go to any celebrations, because I thought if I go then he will go and die and although it was irrational I realized I was fearing his death and feeling alone again.
    So I took the time to spend a couple of weeks caretaking my parents fully. I have 6 siblings and for the first time I was alone with my parents. It was tiring work as my mother had a stroke, all on her left side, and there was much care to do. But as we settled into being with each other I began to see them just as two individuals. My father made a lot of jokes and made my mother laugh and my mother still told stories of how my father wasn’t living up to her expectations.Of course I would still oint out how he is now caretaking and he is now planting flowers tec. which he never did before. We laughed together and cried together. My dad and I cleaned the garage out and he told me how he always wanted the boys to help him , and here I was doing this with him. We went to Macdonalds and had french fries and coffee everyday after we went for groceries and spent time together, sometimes talking and sometimes just being quiet like being with my grandpa. My mom and I watched all the old romance shows on TV and cried together when someones heart was broken. And I cooked everything I could think of for them to make it good. We even went out for lunch in the handy dart and I took her and her wheel chair to Iga because she had not seen it for 14 years..And we went through all her cards she got from everyone, she had so many friends ( who of course have died) and she told stories about them.They all said what a great friend she was and she told me how great they were. And when it was time to go I didn’t want to leave them and they thanked me and said it was the best visit and I told them it meant the most to me to have them alone and be with them( even though I was tired.)I felt a new kind of connection
    sort of like the connection I had when I was very little (safe) only now I was older and I could be able to help them and support them emotionally whereas when I was little I couldn’t.

    I came back the next month for a few weeks and once again we resumed our visit and we all had a good time. and now I am back here and they are waiting for me to come back again. There is so much I learned about them and I realized so many things about life, getting older making things good, and realizing how important your parents are and that they are just plain people with limited tools, who have needs to be recognized and to be remembered for doing the best they could.