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.
Wow. This post is the most honest, well written and cohesive account of what becoming an orphan feels like and I thank you for sharing it. I also appreciate you acknowledging ALL orphans, validating the only child orphan scenario as one you can relate to, but not demeaning the rest of us who are fortunate to have siblings to share our grief. I commend you, I can’t comprehend not having my siblings through all of this (Mum died 2 months ago, Dad 5 years, both cancer, I’m 31yrs, brother is 25).
Well done from the bottom of my heart. I’ve read and read and read to find ANYTHING to help me find clarity or perspective to no avail. Your words finally found my heart.
Please share more of these posts and get more followers – many people are struggling with their loss, I’m working through mine and my spirit is weak but not broken. I know I’ll be okay. Others, however, are really not coping and I can’t see the help being offered online because it’s such an under researched area. People care, but don’t know how to help. Thank you for this post, keep going – you write beautifully and with intent.
And with intent, is what an orphan learns is the first lesson in dealing with putting one foot forward to keep moving and learning to let go. I’ve learnt this much in 2 months since “I joined the orphan club”.
Breaks my heart people can’t work through it on their own and they suffer for years. It shouldn’t be that way, life as an orphan is crappy enough without picking up your life pieces by yourself…. my heart aches in compassion.
Well done on ur blog xx
Amy, I live in NOLA, and am also a mom. I am also an only child and I have lost my dad and am about to lose my mom. Im in my 30s. I’m out of town caring for her, but when I come back, is there any way to chat? Are there any only child orphan groups in NOLA? Should there be? I know this is going to be hard and I was thinking of trying to meet some people who would understand. Thanks