Becoming an adult orphan

ID-100135811.supakitmodAn adult orphan is one who loses their last parent when they themselves are an adult. The first time I heard the expression was at the funeral of my mother. Someone described their own transition to that state as the worst time of their life. One would think one should be grateful for having had their parent into their adult years, rather than deeply mourning that loss. Not so. The more you have, the more you have to lose, the greater you feel that loss. So it follows the older the parent (my mother was 88), the older the adult child (I was 61) and the deeper the bond, the harder it is. In my case, here is why:

My mother was my constant

My mother was the one person who had been there for me all my life, who knew me completely, and who loved me anyway.

My mother was the reason for our frequent family celebrations

My mother was the reason for celebrations with my siblings. Now my siblings and I are having separate celebrations such as Christmas, proud to be the centrepiece of our own ‘new generation’. We will of course still see each other. However, it will not be the same as coming together for Christmas and birthdays and Mother’s day and having her there. This is more raw as the year before she died, we saw each other more often than previously. We will have new happy times. But it will not be the same. What we had is now lost.

My mother was the draw-card for extended family gatherings

At some family gatherings, my siblings and I would have members of our own families there. While each niece, nephew and children could not come to all gatherings, over the course of the last decade, there has been frequent contact with all of them. Now that my mother is gone, there is not the focal point for the next generation to meet as often. That frequent contact is now lost.

My mother was the glue that kept her own family in contact

My mother was one of nine children. In the last decade of her life, she was the oldest survivor and became the family matriarch. Everyone looked to her for words of wisdom and comfort. She kept in contact with her siblings, their children and grandchildren; and kept us informed of marriages, births, illnesses, crises. She arranged family gatherings for the descendants of my grandparents. During her illness, the extended family rallied behind her. We saw a lot of my uncle, aunt and many cousins. That contact is now lost.

My mother was the bridge to my ancestors

My grandfather passed away when I was seven, my grandmother when I was seventeen. My father when I was twenty. They have been kept alive by stories from my mother. Moreover, there were stories of her grandparents (my great-grand parents) that were so vivid, I almost thought I knew them. With Mum passing away, I feel I have lost three generations: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. The link to my heritage is gone.

My mother was the road to a bygone era

Mum was born in 1927. She lived through the depression, World War 2 and the post-war boom. She knew life without hot-water, electricity, refrigerators, cars and telephones. She knew the value of friends, neighbours and family was worth more than any of those. With my mother gone, it is as if all life started in 1954. History has vanished.

My mother was the older generation

With my mother gone, I am now one of the older generation. I always felt safe and stable knowing there was someone there who was older and wiser. With my mother gone, I have no-one to lean on. In fact with my mother gone, others in the family are starting to lean on me. I only hope that I can be half as wise and empathetic as my mother was.

Mother, I miss you every day. I am grateful for the happy memories of family times and for all the extended family who remain and love me still. I draw strength from the values you instilled in me and am comforted by the fact that you live on within me.




32 thoughts on “Becoming an adult orphan

  1. Thanks for sharing your story with your mother. It was very touching. I pray you make many connections to her in Spirit so you know that you can still lean on her in a different way.

  2. Ah Elizabeth, I read this with tears while nodding, ‘yes, yes, yes’…yes our moms are with us, yes their glue has lost some of its stickiness, yes we are the older generation. And yes, there is still a child within us who needs care…you got it, it’s up to us.

  3. What a lovely tribute to your mother! Similarly to you, I first heard the term “adult orphan” at my father’s funeral when someone told me that I was now an adult orphan. I also realize that I’m now the family matriarch.

  4. This was such a beautiful tribute. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother. And you’re right, I had never thought of the loss of a parent like that. I only had my father for 25 years. He died at 54. I always think that those who have their parents for many more years couldn’t possibly have lost as much as I did because I had so few years. This certainly put a lot into perspective. Your mother sounds like she was an exceptional person.

    • I lost my father when young (I was 20) and I know that grief, the double whammy – mourning him and also the years with him that would never be. Yes, my mother was exceptional. She became strong after Dad died and when she became a single parent, raising my two younger siblings on her own. It was wonderful having her into my sixties. Thank you for your kind words.

    • The worry some people have (of retirement, getting older and rushing to get things done before its too late) never hit home until Mum passed away. Now that is suddenly staring me in the face – although her good innings gives me a lengthy time frame to look forward to! 🙂

  5. I became an adult orphan at age 29. My daughter was two months old. I am glad you had the time you did, and I know what you mean by losing the centerpiece. I think I was too young to fill those shoes, so the connections now are more one to one. Strangely I was able to connect with one half sibling that was undeservedly the black sheep…so contact was discouraged and I never knew her….until the senior generation was long gone. Death closes and opens doors. Blessings to you in her memory.

    • You are correct that doors can open. Since my mother died, two cousins have contacted and seen me one on one, when previously we would have only met up at a family gathering with lots of people around. So the bonds have deepened … and life goes on. Thanks for your kind comment.

  6. This has its sad moments but I do know how you are a warm, maybe introvert, but you will find what direction you wish to proceed. It has been lovely to have your sweet comments, Elizabeth. Upcoming post will concentrate on the Beth’s in my life who act as sisters to me. Hugs, Robin xo

  7. Such true words, and so universal in many ways. I tell my friends who have lost parents that I get that orphaned feeling. No matter how old you are when you lose them, you feel about five years old and completely alone.

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