Next in Line for Death--Or Life?
Questions & answers on coping with parental loss
BY: Carol Staudacher
Q1. My mother died in June of last year, and my father died two months later. Since their deaths, I've felt older than I ever have before, and I think about dying myself. It's as if I suddenly aged, even though I'm only in my 40s. Is this a feeling I will always have to live with now?
A1. Most adult children feel a heightened sense of mortality after a parent dies, because the generation that "protected" them from death is gone. With both of your parents dying in such a short time span, it is only natural for you to feel more vulnerable, more temporary, to be acutely aware of your own aging process and the end of your life. In truth, though, you are no closer to death--in any significant way--than you were when your parents died. You have only been prodded to think about it more. So what has changed is the way you view your relationship to mortality, not your mortality itself.
You can use your new perspective to enrich your life, rather than diminish it. Consider this an opportunity to reassess your personal history, taking a look at how your actions, goals, ideas, and desires have brought you this far. You may congratulate yourself, or redirect yourself, depending on the degree to which you have been fulfilling your intended legacy. You may find ways to seek renewal when your spirit sags. You may decide to reapportion your time to provide for more built-in rewards. You may add a few new aspirations to your life's plan. You may focus more on certain people and less on others, giving more time to those whose love you treasure most. So think of this time as one during which you can use the three "I's": inventory, invent, and invest. Inventory your personal gains, invent fresh approaches to overcoming any daily challenges you may be facing, and invest your heart where your heart wants and needs to be. Instead of thinking about being the next in line to die, think about being the first in line to enhance each day of your own life.
Q2. I'm a graduate student, and my dad died six months ago. Since then, I have been wearing his clothes once in a while. My mother and sister think I'm being morbid. I don't think I am. When I miss him, it helps me to put on his shirt or his jacket. What can I say to them?
A2. Survivors want to feel close to the person they loved and are now mourning. Wearing the loved one's clothing is just one tangible way to do it. It isn't at all unusual for a survivor to wear a hat, sweater, scarf, or other garment for feelings of comfort or protection. You might say something along this line to your mother and sister: "I don't mean to do anything that would worry you. This is just one of the ways I'm handling my feelings right now. I miss Dad, and this helps me be closer to him. When I wear something that was his, I feel surrounded by him--by his personality, character, and love."