My Life as an Adult Orphan :: Parenting Without Parents
2014 will go down as my most formative year. It’s the year I became a mother … and an orphan.
My mom passed in 2008. The burden then was almost too much to carry. Avoidance worked best. I focused on my upcoming marriage, my growing relationship with my father, anything but the loss. And it worked. My father and friends were a decent substitute to my mom for wedding dress shopping, house hunting, and everything in between.
When I found out I was pregnant in 2013, it stopped working quite as well. You might be surprised by how many baby related tasks involve your mother. On my first trip to the maternity clothing store, I was surrounded by other expectant mamas… and their mamas. Most books and apps suggested talking to my mother about family history, traditions, baby shower planning, and on and on. The baby message boards are full of people sharing drama about their mothers, whether it was their suffocating advice or their battle over who’d be in the delivery room.
That’s when it really hit me. I didn’t have a mom to buy out Motherhood Maternity for me. Or talk to about our history or my plans. Or cause drama and overwhelm me with advice. There was no battle over who’d be in the delivery room with me. Even as I write this post, feeling mostly healed from this loss, I’ve just started crying thinking about sitting in that dressing room, tears streaming down my face, while the expectant mother next to me sassed her mom about trying on another pair of maternity jeans. I would have done just about anything in that moment to have someone lunge more stretch panels in my face.
My dad tried … and he really did a better job than most fathers could have. He pretended to have an opinion on the centerpieces for my baby shower and took pride in buying my daughter’s nursery furniture. He offered to come sit in the waiting room while I labored and made sure to be the first to hold his grand baby. He showered her with mountains of presents and unending adoration. He was the most perfect and beautiful grandfather I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. My daughter was resoundingly blessed to have known him, no matter how short of a time he was with us.
After my daughter’s birth, it became more clear that he was struggling with his various health problems, the most vicious of which was Parkinson’s Disease. A lifetime of being in service to others, as a police officer, father, and friend, had caught up to him. We lost him in 2014, just after my daughter turned seven months old.
This time, the loss was too much to carry, there was no “almost.” It’s hard to adequately explain the loss of both parents, as there is no comparison, no equality of loss. I’m sure my other orphans are nodding along in agreement, especially my fellow “only child orphans.” For me, it was the donning that, suddenly, my entire immediate family has gone. I was an island. There was no one obligated to look after me anymore. My daughter had no grandparents, no one to learn our family history from, no one to spoil her rotten or come visit us for the holidays. I was now an adult without elders. At 28, I was my family elder.
There’s a surprising upside to this kind of deep and dark loss though. Yes, no one is obligated to be there for me. But that means that the people who are here? They’ve chosen to be. My husband? Chose me. My friends? Chose me. My extended family that’s become my adoptive immediate family? Again, chose me. They let me in when they could have kept me out. They attend my daughter’s dance recitals, send me silly text messages, participate in my holiday traditions, and read my blog posts not out of obligation, but choice. Because they choose to be my family. As I prepare to welcome my second daughter into the world, we are surrounded by friends and family who have lifted me up through the darkest times in my life. When you weather the kind of storm they’ve seen me through, there’s a bond, though not blood, that connects you for life.
For that, I’ll be eternally grateful and joyful. And that’s a beautiful way to start to fill a void, even one that can never be filled.