How Great Thou Part

I belong to a Facebook Group called Parentless Parents.

We are a tribe of individuals who navigate parenting after the loss of our mothers and our fathers. This community was started by my friend and author Allison Gilbert. I initially met Allison when she interviewed me for her book Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children.

I bonded with Allison immediately.


After all, we were both absent two parts of the same whole.

The mothers and fathers who make us believe we are invincibly beautiful, talented and wondrous. Our sacred cohorts when the world shrinks with our accomplishments and explodes with our fears. Our safe and happy haven for our deepest comfort, overwhelming woes, and joyfully exuberant highs. 

Many in this group lost their parents far too young. 

They did not have the luxury of caring for their aging parent and experiencing grief. On the contrary, their beings were shaped by loss. It molded them into the people and parents they have become. Life mandated many of them to navigate youth and adulthood with a far greater independence than what is required of the average child.

Today’s post grabs me. 

It is a woman who lost her parents at about the same age I did. Yet, as my inbox floods with additional comments, my heartache deepens. It seems I truly did experience a luxury by having them until I was twenty-eight years old. So very many more lost both of their parents at far younger ages.

Their words all share the same sentiment.

The angst in reconciling the depth of their loss in a world where they constantly witness the majority enjoying their parents into middle-age and beyond.

I remember when Allison interviewed me (and I paraphrase) she told me I was one of just a few who didn’t feel envious of people who still had their parents. On the contrary, I told her it brought me joy to see a mother and daughter together or grandparents cheering their grandchildren on from the sidelines.

She was curious if I had any notion of why?

At the time, I believed it was my mother’s lessons on being raised by a single parent. Rather than focus on the fact my father left and was barely a part of our lives, she never made us feel victimized. Quite the opposite, she made us feel privileged. She told us God had chosen this path for us and our father was a good person who loved us and just couldn’t overcome his drinking. On top of that, she made us feel incredibly loved.

Don’t get me wrong!

Let me tell you the quintessential puddle of victimization I was after losing them both within six months. The grief for my father was definitely different but he was my dad and I loved him. My mom, on the other hand, she had been both parents to us and the thought of a world without her was more than I could bear.

Even now, as these words touch the keyboard my eyes flood with tears. 

And I was angry! After all, everyone I knew had the luxury of being raised by both of their parents and I had never complained I really only had one. I never focused on that because I was so very grateful I had my mother. It was hard for me to reconcile being raised by a single parent and then losing her. And this went on for some time. The first two years were immensely difficult.

But then the healing gradually overcame the hurt.

And I held onto what my mom had taught me my entire life.

God knew this would be my path. 

God does not make mistakes.

All these years later, when the end of my marriage became evident and the brutal pain of divorce ensued I once again felt victimized. Why me? Why more loss in my life? Why another person I love that I don’t want to lose? Why do my children have to experience the same pain I knew as a child?

And on and on and on some more.

I beat the horse, rolled it over, beat it again, and again and again.

I simply felt sorry for myself. And that’s okay. But it wasn’t okay for it to keep extending because I was robbing my children of the joyful mother they deserved.

The time I spent holding onto grief was definitely some of my unhappiest. 

I mourned my marriage for years AND years!

A part of me just couldn’t accept it. I didn’t want it to be my reality, my children’s reality, but it was.

When I finally came to terms with my new path I could let go of the sorrow.

It happened when the marriage counselor looked at me and reminded me I thought everything in my life had happened for a reason. He then said, ‘Colleen, did it occur to you God is also making your children who they are meant to be?’

This is not what any of us would choose.

It is; however, our unique path and every time I sit with a friend who has lost a parent or send cards every month for a year – I know I am using my pain to understand and comfort another.

I’m not perfect in coming to terms with being a parentless parent.

I have my moments.

For instance, if someone says I am fortunate for not having to care for an aging parent and have those worries – I smile and keep my real feelings to myself. Because my response would be I would welcome and consider it a privilege to care for them and you should too. However, I know those are well-intended words. People just don’t really know what to say to someone who has lived pretty much their whole adult life without either parent.

What I do know?

It would break my mother and father’s heart to think I lived half a life because of their loss.

So I hold onto my faith, my family, my friends, and truly loving and caring people like Allison Gilbert and her community of Parentless Parents.

And I continue to search for purpose in all aspects of my pain so I might touch another who experiences something similar.

But just like every other parentless parent…sometimes I dream about and wish for those two parts of my whole…

The mothers and fathers who make us believe we are invincibly beautiful, talented and wondrous. Our sacred cohorts when the world shrinks with our accomplishments and explodes with our fears. Our safe and happy haven for our deepest comfort, overwhelming woes, and joyfully exuberant highs. 

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