Dear Life Matters,
I recently got news that my father is very ill and I am not handling it well at all. I find myself in complete denial and shock because somehow, even at my age, I am not prepared to lose my parents.
I am single and have no children. I think in some way I am still living as if I am a young person and the “child” of my parents. Suddenly I am realizing my age, how fast time passes and how empty my life is in some ways. I have a great career and I do have a long-time lover, but my life will be really empty without my parents and I feel like I cannot face it. I am already feeling like an orphan.
What is the best way for me to cope with this? I have been advised to visit my father as soon as possible because his condition is terminal. This would be a rather big trip for me and I definitely would have to take time off and make arrangements.
I keep thinking that it can wait, that he might recover, that he doesn’t sound so bad on the phone and, quite frankly, I am terrified of how I will react if I see him. But I want to do what is right, whatever is best for him and for me.
What do you think?
Middle-aged and scared
I am sorry for your dilemma and the imminent loss of your father. Loss is always painful for all of us, no matter who we are or when it occurs.
But there is definitely something to say about the cycle of life and when or why it feels natural at certain times and not at others.
I think you bring up a very important point, whether you know it or not.
You say that you are not married and do not have children. What you are saying is that you have not lived what we have come to know as a conventional family life here in America. I think that this may be part of the reason that you are having such a hard time.
There is a natural cycle of life that, albeit painful to all, is more acceptable and easy to deal with when loss feels natural.
We know, for example, that anyone who has lost a child finds it virtually impossible to get over it. A big part of the reason is clearly that it is so unnatural, so outside the normal cycle of life.
We expect to deal with the death of our parents at some point and this is hard enough, but when loss occurs outside of the normal cycle, it is exceptionally difficult to deal with. You, like a number of folks these days, are without a family and I believe that this makes the cycle seem less natural.
If you had children, and a family of your own, you would feel and see the natural cycle of things. You would also still have a family, even when the elders pass.
But if you do not have this family continuity, the emptiness is not only more obvious, but also more profound. Your loss comes not only as a painful surprise, but it is probably one that has not been anticipated or planned for because you have no family of your own, no continuation of the family.
This is regretful and something many people have to deal with these days because without children, grandchildren and a normal cycle of life, a parent’s passing will probably be more painful.
You cannot change your circumstances, but, to answer your question, the best way for you to deal with it is to face it and deal with it directly. We handle things that we are mentally prepared for better, an advantage that those with families and the expected normal cycle of life have, but you can begin to prepare yourself for what is normal by embracing what is going to happen, whether you feel prepared for it or not.
Your friends or advisors are correct; you should definitely prepare to go visit your father and the sooner the better. You will be very sorry if the unthinkable happens and you have not seen him and said your goodbyes.
The people who deal with loss the best are those who have prepared themselves and have said their goodbyes. Also, if there is any unfinished business, keep in mind that emotional closure is very important as well. Once someone is gone, you can no longer go back and finish things. Do it now, while you still can.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or send your anonymous questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind, let me help you with your life matters, because it does!