My mother passed away at the end of June: not unexpectedly, but not less painful. After almost 10 years living after a massive stroke, battling fibrosis and old age, her body just let go. She died in her sleep, we should all be that lucky.
In November, my sisters and I made the incredibly difficult decision to put her in a home. We had battled this for years. She stayed at her home, looked after by nurses, by the woman who had been her faithful companion for many years. My sisters and I visited several times a year, everything was perfectly planned, executed. Slowly it became obvious that it was impossible to care for her without an expert staff, but getting anyone to work at a private home became a big challenge. Finally, we realized, she wasn’t getting the care she needed and deserved. This was not done lightly, it was not done with anyone in mind, but her……her well-being, her health, her comfort. That was always our goal.
Now, you would tell me that orphans are generally young children that need their mother’s care. I don’t think anyone our age would think of themselves as orphans, but we are. My mother maintained that an orphan is one who has lost their mother. It is ingrained in me, I believe it with all my heart and because of that, I am officially an orphan.
First things first, her passing also made me the eldest in our family. Have no idea how that works, but it feels sort of strange. My sisters and I are the oldest generation. We are those women who not long ago we used to consider: old!!! What does that mean? What has changed? It is definitely more than just that I have become the eldest. I have, but there is more to that statement.
As long as my mother was alive, I was still a daughter. There was someone higher than me in the hierarchy of life. There was someone before me when it came to longevity, someone ahead of me in the pecking order and that kept me happy. Why? because children are always children as long as our parents are alive. We can convince ourselves that there is still time to do what we want, to change and enjoy new things, don’t we? This might sound strange, but I am sure we all have felt this way, at one point or another.
Jeanne Safer, a psychotherapist and author of Death Benefits, wrote: “The death of a parent — any parent — can set us free. It offers us our last, best chance to become our truest, deepest selves. Nothing else in adult life has so much unrecognized potential to help us become more fulfilled human beings — wiser, more mature, more open, less afraid.” A very interesting thought, but one that I find I can completely understand now.
Didn’t we always look up to our parents? didn’t we listen to their opinions and tried, as we grew older, not to have arguments because we disagreed with them? didn’t we learn to avoid certain topics because it would just take too much time to explain we have changed, that our opinions were so different? or wasn’t it easier to just let them pretend they were in charge or that we took their opinions into consideration? I don’t know about you, but I am guilty of doing most, if not all, of the above.
I have expected the sadness and the sense of emptiness that would follow my mother’s death. I have gone through her things with my sisters and relived so many happy moments and so many sad ones as well. I cherish the visits over the last 9 years, the gifts I received from her, the interactions and the sharp comments she was capable of until her last weeks. I can feel my heart contract when I remember her smile, but I also remember when she rolled her eyes in disagreement with whatever we were saying!!!
What did not expect and surprised me is the sense of relief. Yes, relief. The sense that she is at rest is part of that. Her last years were not easy. She was very much aware of her limitations and didn’t like that at all. Deep in my heart, I think that she just let go, said enough, that’s it. On the other hand, there is the fact that now I have more freedom to do things I had put on hold for all these years: vacations with my husband, time to spend with my children, visits to dear friends. I can plan, never miss another important date, go to bed without fear that I can receive a call in the middle of the night. What does that make me?
I think it makes me human, period. If I have learned something these past years is that we must be kind to ourselves. We do all we can and it should be enough. We should never over think or doubt our decisions. What is there to gain by that? and can we do it? I am not sure yet, but I am willing to explore the possibilities. Right now, I am an orphan trying to adjust to my new role. I am myself, without parental boundaries……will see where this takes me and will share my findings.