At the beginning of January, my 97-year-old father died. It was nine years nearly to the day after my mom passed away. He had hoped to be 100. On the other hand, he missed my mom every day for nine years and I think he just decided it was time
My dad’s pastor in Ohio, who had lost both of his parents recently, recommended this book to my brother and me. At first, I was surprised to think of myself as an orphan. That is a term for young children who lose their parents, not for me. This loss of the second parent reverberates the rest of one’s life. After all, as Levy points out, parents “provide a unique spot on this planet, which is called home, where we can return, if we need to, to be loved and to feel that we belong.”Once both of our parents are dead, we are no longer anyone’s child, something that has been fundamental in our lives and in the formation of our identities. It also means we are next in line for death; there is no more buffer between us and the end, at least within our family of origin.
For many, the loss of the second parent leads to change in self-definition, in behaviors, in religious beliefs, in other relationships. One of the most useful things about this book for me was the inclusion of many anecdotes of how others confronted and coped with this grief. Levy was drawn to write this book by his own experience of the loss, combined with the dearth of resources for those who are orphaned as adults. But more importantly, he is a practicing psychologist and had many coming to him for help with the same challenges. The stories reflect a range of experiences. Despite the famous stages of grief promulgated by Kubler-Ross, we don’t grieve in a straight line. We can feel much better one day and worse the next. But the point is to go through grief, not avoid it. The death of the second parent is a milestone. A transition. When it happens to us, we should expect change. But there is this comfort as well: “Just as each season of a tree’s life creates, and is permanently recorded in the encircling layers of its trunk, the people we have loved and have been loved by are indelibly registered upon our being. Who we are—and for that matter that we are—is a product of and is supported by their continuous presence in our minds.”
Parental death is the single most common cause of bereavement in this country, with nearly five percent of the population losing a parent each year. If you are, as I am, one of that number, you will find help by reading this book.
Diane S. Adkins is a retired library director