Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dealing with the Passing of a Parent

When I started the Upbeat Dad blog, I knew I wanted to write on a variety of topics. After all, the issue of fatherhood is all-encompassing and far-reaching. Still, there's a topic that I knew I needed to write about at some point but to be honest, it's one I've intentionally stayed away from. But I knew it was inevitable that I write on it. Based on a conversation I had earlier today - one you'll learn about as you read this post - I've decided to go ahead and write about the issue: the death of a parent.

I'm now in my early 40s. It seems that each of us around my age are now at the stage where our parents are beginning to have health challenges. It's all very normal - as we get older, our bodies begin to experience ailments that seemingly didn't exist when we are younger. And as life takes its natural course, our loving parents eventually pass on from this life. It's not a given that we will outlive them - it's not that unusual for parents to bury their kids. But in the natural progression of life, our parents pass on before us.

In my household, 2010 was a bittersweet year for us. The “sweet” was that in August, our son was born. The “bitter” is that in March, my wife’s mom passed on. Talk about the highs and lows of life, right?

When she passed away, that’s as close as I’ve been to losing parent. She didn’t raise me but still she was my mother. And she wasn’t the stereotypical mother in law – oh no. She and I had a very warm and loving relationship. As my wife’s mother, to me she was my mom too. And for my wife, my parents are her parents as well.

We mourned her passing by thinking of her life in its entirety. Of course in the immediate aftermath there were tears – lots of tears, in fact. But as we planned the service and interacted with friends and loved ones, we were reminded of how truly special a woman she was. A one-time occurrence could not erase a lifetime of precious memories. She lived and loved life and passed on peacefully with loved ones at her side.

This week marks 1 year since her passing. And it’s a time of solemn reflection for us. We think of the good times - the laughter, the fun. We also think of the simple things like picking up the phone and speaking with her about the latest movie that she just watched. Or about what’s going on in our lives. I’m so pleased to know that although she didn’t get to meet our son, she at least knew that he was in the womb and on the way into the world before she made her exit.

Thoughts of her today bring nothing but a smile to my face. She’s a precious soul and is missed. Still we opt to reflect on the greatness of her humble and simple life and that’s why today we’re at peace with the entire transition that took place a year ago.

Over the past few years, I've had quite a few friends who've lost a parent or both parents. And it seems that there is one consistent theme as they speak of their parents' passing - nothing can quite prepare you for it.  My wife and I can certainly attest to that. Just last year a friend of mine lost both parents at the same time - in a traffic accident. How can you prepare for something like that?

There's such a void that's created when you have to bid farewell to any loved one, but particularly so when that loved one is a dad or mom. My mom reminds me every so often that when I was much younger - probably somewhere between 10 and 12 years old - I said to her, "Mommy, what's the use in living when we're all going to die anyway?" Now almost 30 years later, I look back and I think I have a few answers to that question. Yet still, it seems so cruel that no matter what occurs in life, it all concludes with death.

I was led to write this post today because earlier this afternoon I had a conversation with a very good friend who just returned from her father's funeral out of town. We had an extended conversation about life and death. And as I often do when I speak with people who have lost loved ones, I tried to put the passing in perspective.

I'm so glad I had that conversation with her today because it helped me to get a further glimpse into the life of one who's lost a parent. She said, "I wouldn't wish this on anyone. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do. After a while I just had to walk out of the service. It was just too painful."

Then she shared the toll his passing has taken on her in her daily life. Normal tasks such as eating and sleeping are now tedious chores. Every waking moment is painful. And nothing she says or does will bring him back - that's the difficult part.
I said to her that at times we think that the worst part is dealing with the immediate aftermath of the passing - planning and attending the funeral and burial. That's tough, no doubt. But based on my experience, I think the real difficulty is trying to resume life as usual without that special loved one. Simple things such as picking up the phone to call them are no longer an option. Getting together for the holiday season isn't quite the same. There's a perpetual void that really only time can heal.
I said to her that in time, she will think of him and smile, thinking of the good memories. Sure there's pain now - that's natural and very normal. So thinking of him brings tears. But in time - in good time - the wound will heal.
If you're reading this and you've had to deal with the passing of a parent - whether recently or a long time ago - I hope that you've been encouraged. You're not alone - you'll never be alone. I hope that as you think on the memories that you and your parent(s) shared, you'll do so with a smile and be at peace.
If your parents are still alive, do shower them with your love. You still have time to create more memories with them. You never want them to pass on and you're left with regret about not saying or doing something that you really should have.
I hope that everyone who reads this post is touched in a special way. Let's treasure the gift of life. And when our parents or other loved ones pass on, let's recognize that that's a path that everyone must walk at some point. The precious memories we create and the lives that we touch along the way are what really matter.
May peace and prosperity be yours now and always,

The Upbeat Dad

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