Adult Orphans


These past few months have been a time for loss of parents among many of my friends. Today, another friend of mine lost the second of her two parents.
I recall when I lost my last surviving parent a little over a year ago. I felt like an orphan; an adult orphan. While I do not deny that it is the natural order of things, nor do I deny the tragedy of losing parents as a small child, the fact remains that however “adult” we are when both our parents die, we feel like an orphan.
We all know that we will lose our parents someday. And we all know that in the natural order of life we expect to outlive our parents. Yet that knowledge provides little comfort to the pain we experience and the void that we feel when we finally lose them. Nothing prepares us for how we feel when it happens: abandoned, orphaned, lost, and like a child, silently crying for our mama and baba. We grieve. But our grief stems from the sorrow of longing for the place and people we called home. A people who were the guardians of our childhood memories; the ones who recorded our every first move. A people who were the chain that linked us to the past of family histories. After all, no one else could name and identify the faces in faded photos stacked in boxes like they could. They marked our journey to adulthood. A people who provided us with the first and last layer of protection when we let down our guard. A people whose legacy is now passed on to us, their surviving offspring.
When the death of parents comes at the end of a life long and well lived, we use the example of their longevity as a means to comfort. “He had a good life,” we say. “She was fortunate to have seen her grandchild’s wedding,” we say. “We all should pray to live as he did,” “Good health to the young and next of kin!” “May you inherit his light,” we say. It’s as though we excuse ourselves from grieving because we are adults, and with so much else going on in the world around us we do not allow ourselves much space and time to grieve. Even the ailing or aging parent who lives long, justifies his/her approaching departure from this world of human warmth with similar reasoning. I recall my father-in-law who, towards the end of his life would whisper to those near and dear to him “I’ve lived well, I’ve lived long.” My mother also would confirm that her life was well lived with love and that we too should be content with her years on this earth.
Whether we are the caregivers to our parents or revelers of their independence, the reality is that the death of both parents becomes a profound, life changing experience. We grieve for the passing of our own childhood and youth. We grieve as though their death somehow wipes away proof or acknowledgment of our own life through them. Truth be told, we find ourselves reassessing our lives, and we become fully responsible for our everyday living with a heightened sense of mortality. We are no longer someone’s child, and we subconsciously realize that we are now the elders to whom the children and grandchildren will look toward for all their vices and virtues, distinguishing family qualities and inherited characteristics. We become the matriarchs and patriarchs of our families. And with that responsibility on our shoulders, we come to the realization long after they have died, that we carry them with us each day and that it is their voice that reverberates within us telling us we are still their daughter, their son, and always will be.
In honor of all whose parents are no longer of this world.

Shifting the Sun by Diana Der-Hovanessian

When your father dies, say the Irish,
you lose your umbrella against bad weather.
May his sun be your light, say the Armenians

When your father dies, say the Welsh,
you sink a foot deeper into the earth.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Canadians,
you run out of excuses.
May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the French,
you become your own father.
May you stand up in his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Indians,
he comes back as the thunder.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Russians,
he takes your childhood with him.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the English,
you join his club you vowed you wouldn’t.
May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Armenians,
your sun shifts forever.
And you walk in his light.

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4 Responses to Adult Orphans

  1. Lucy says:

    So true.thank you Sylva for sharing this,that touches us ,TΗΕ ORPHANS

    • Lucy, you and I we have shared some lovely memories of our parents, and ’til today their special phrases and words reverberate in us. Sometimes they give us a good laugh and sometimes they prod us to go on to the next step. Thanks for always reading.

  2. yeran says:

    You brought tears to my eyes. No matter how old or how ill, when they leave this world, we do feel their loss while we cherish every moment we shared with them.
    And what a beautiful poem!

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