Lessons Learned

It’s been five months now since my Dad passed away. I of course still miss him daily. I find myself unable to see elderly men out alone, it reminds me of his loneliness, and that is difficult for me. I recently had to leave the produce section at the grocery store because there was a man of a similar age shopping alone. It moved me to tears. I found myself wondering if he had family, or if he was alone in this world. In Sunday’s New York Times there was an extensive article about a man named George Bell. He had died alone at home, discovered only because of the odor that began to escape his apartment. The article told of the procedures involved when the police discover situations such as George’s, but it also shed a little light on George and his life. George may not have had anyone in his last moments, but his story will stay with me, and in that he won’t be forgotten.

When you lose both of your parents issues of your own mortality come to the surface. You become the oldest generation in your family. It’s an odd feeling. Many years ago someone (who shall remain nameless since she seems to go out of her way to say not nice things) told me I was a bad mother. Why? Because I was too close to my children, and that in the end that would hurt them. I hadn’t yet lost a parent at the time. I sort of get it now, but I don’t agree. When you’re a parent the hardest thing in the world is to see your child hurt or in pain. It’s intolerable. Knowing the pain that my Mom’s death caused, and the recent loss of my Dad (more about that below), what troubles me most isn’t that I’ll die, but its knowing that my own children will suffer at my loss. The one pain in their lives I cannot heal. When I saw Titanic I wasn’t moved by the love story of Rose and Jack (they quite frankly could have gone down with the ship and I wouldn’t have cared…no offense Leo and Kate), what did move me, and resonate with me, was the scene of the Irish woman in steerage putting her children to bed knowing that they were going to drown and that there was nothing she could do about it. I can’t imagine her pain. Where I disagree with what my anonymous critic said is that as much pain as I felt eight years ago (and still do) and am currently feeling about my Dad, I wouldn’t trade my relationships with them for anything. My Mom knew I loved her more than anything, My Dad knew I loved him, and worried about him, and I knew that they loved me. Were they perfect parents? No, none of us are. They were human, but they both had a tremendous capacity for love and gave it to their four daughters. Would my pain be less if they were absent parents, or abusive parents? I don’t necessarily think so. I think that it actually might be more painful to lose someone and spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what you did that they treated you as such. I have spent nearly thirty-one years as a mom. I have spent all of those thirty-one years trying to show as much love to my daughter as possible, and twenty-five years with my son. I am not a perfect parent, and like all families we have had our moments, but I know without a single ounce of doubt that my children will always know how much I love them, and that means I’ve done my job.

When my mother died eight years ago it sent me into a tailspin of grief. It was like being at the bottom of a well without a ladder or rope to climb. Long periods of sobbing, and of questioning myself with all the “what ifs”. Eventually I sought counseling, probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. My Mom’s death served as a catalyst for much needed changes in me. I guess you could look at it as her final gift to me. I came out of that mourning as a stronger, more open, and determined woman.

My Dad’s final gift to me? I tend to be a loner. I always have been. I am not someone with a large circle of friends.  I mentioned here before how much I talked to him on the phone. I have come to realize that I wasn’t just filling his time so that he wasn’t lonely, but my own as well. I need to put myself out there in the world a little more. Twenty years from now I don’t want my children to feel the need to call me incessantly because they don’t want me to be lonely, or God forbid because they are lonely. I want them to learn from this and keep friends in their lives. I also hope they will learn from me to find the strength within them that my Mom’s death gave me, but to find it now when they are younger.

Finally, reading the story of George Bell on Sunday gave me pause for thought. Instead of running from the produce aisle in tears, I think next time I see what appears to be an elderly person alone, I will engage them in conversation. I’ve done it before, and maybe mentioned it before, but I had an elderly friend. Someone with family, but family that was disinterested at best. Her name was Hattie Klipp, she died at 104. My kids remember her from when they were much, much younger. Hattie was very dear to me, a substitute grandmother in many ways. I met her when I worked in a grocery store. Lesson three, this one comes from me. You never know what gift you will find when you reach out to someone else. I highly recommend it.

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