Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Mourning the Living

by | May 11, 2021

Mom’s favourite plant

The ache that permeates my body is not that of being an adult orphan. I still have the blessing of holding a warm hand and sharing a smile with each of my folks.

My biological parents, both in their 80s, are here on earth and we live in the same city. I see Mom, with Dad, every Wednesday and I also see Dad every weekend. I also talk to him—many times a day—depending on what’s up.

The insidious impact of the long goodbye

The pain I can name is the ongoing, long-term experience of saying goodbye to who I knew my parents to be. Each of my parents lives with Alzheimer’s disease; Dad’s at home with 24/7 caregivers and Mom’s been in a nursing home for almost eight years. Though I know their essence still exists and I believe they feel my love, they don’t know me, or themselves for that matter. Collectively, I’ve been mourning the loss of my parents for over 10 years. 

My grief, and perhaps your grief if you can relate, is complicated (and exhausting) because my aching heart also absorbs the insidious societal messaging that says I should appreciate the fact that my parents are still alive. On top of that, I’m so busy caregiving, or daughtering as I like to call it, that I rarely pause to connect to my deep sorrow. This constant low-grade sorrow feels like it’s killing me.

Is being alive always better than being dead?

But you see, I want to join The Dead Mom’s Club and the Tribe of Fatherless Daughters. I want my parents to die a natural death and rest in peace. When they die, my daughtering responsibilities will end and I can fully embrace my mourning. 

So in this season of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I honour the parenting we’ve all experienced and given to so many. And, I honour those who are no longer walking at our side, whether or not they are alive or dead. 

With all my love,

Michelle

What about you?

How are you tending to your grieving heart? 

How do you mourn someone who’s still alive?

16 Comments

  • It must be so difficult to mourn the living. My father passed suddenly 20 years ago, my mom in hospice 4 years ago. Very different experiences but it stays with you.

    • Thanks for sharing your very different experiences Donna. I do believe all our experiences are integrating into the fibre of our being. xo

  • I completely relate to everything you said in this post. I recently became an adult orphan, and among the many feelings I’m experiencing is tremendous relief. My father’s last days were terrible, and I’m glad for him — and for me — that he’s at peace. Those visits to him in the last few years brought no pleasure — only a bit of comfort in knowing that my presence was consoling to him.

  • Thank you for your moving message. While I am an adult orphan, I do understand your wish for a peaceful and comfortable death (for all my loved ones, when their time comes). My father’s end was a conscious dying experience, one I hope to emulate someday. I was blessed to be with him. My mother’s was peaceful as far as we can know. She had dementia. I was blessed to experience a few hours of clear connection prior to her passing, and for that I am very grateful.

    • Thanks so much Julie. Your comment highlights to me how important both intention and acceptance are. We must say yes to what is and what unfolds and our intentions support us to manifest our hopes and desires.

  • Thank you so very much for your tribute to The complexities of living With parental grief. I was so touched by your faithful loving daughter reflection.
    Blessings to you and your loved ones.

    • Thanks for your note Frankie. Complexity of living with parental grief is such an apt description. There are so many layers. I appreciate that you get that even though I left much unsaid in my reflection. xo

  • A verse of a song by Bruce Cockburn comes to mind:

    Little round planet in a big universe
    Sometimes it looks blessed, sometimes it looks cursed
    Depends on what you look at obviously
    But even more it depends on the way that you see.

    Is there another way of seeing, of looking, of being? In your musings about your parents you don’t use the words “before and after,” but imply them, right? A time before they had dementia, a time when you were able to relate to them differently. You look forward to the time when “before” will assume a different, a more final meaning. When you can mourn differently. Am I reading you correctly?

    In our relations with others – however close or distant they may be (lover, mate, child, parent, neighbour, stranger) – they are always “other.” Finally, relational distance doesn’t seem to matter; the other is always utterly “other.”

    We experience “before and after” and “otherness” most vividly and acutely in situations like the one you so eloquently and vulnerably relate. However, when you look closely, they are always already there – every day, every moment of every day, every encounter, every relationship, every instance of every relationship; they are part of the fine grain of reality.

    Dementia is only one of many experiences which make us realize this and experience it so painfully and sorrowfully; it may occur between parents and their teenage children (mutual incomprehensibility!) or even in the very act of love-making when suddenly, inexplicably, we may be faced with the abyss that separates, accompanied by the ache and longing for union.

    I’ve been looking at the life and writings of Vita Sackville-West (for a book club) and came across a poem of hers – minutes before reading your post. In the first part of the poem she ponders the nature of love, the ultimate impossibility of it, of saying “I love” and really meaning it. Then she shifts gears and states emphatically that, after all, love is possible; and it is very simple, really. When you care about the well-being of another, when their comfort and happiness and livelihood is your concern – then, yes, you love.

    And that, too, I find in your musings. The care and love for your parents (as for yourself) expressed in your faithfulness and tenderness and simple availability. And this dissolves the before and after and overcomes the self-other separation – always and already. Receive this little bouquet I picked for you with my love.

    • Thank you dear Rudi for your thoughtful musings and sharing. Your bouquet is received with love. The fragrance and beauty is stunning. xo

  • I so relate. My mother had Parkinson for over 10 years. The role change was tough, exhausting and I had those days when I felt it would be better if she was gone. I realized after she passed that I had been grieving the loss of my mother long before her physical passing. After. She passed the guilt that I didn’t feel a overwhelmed feeling grief, but I had already been grieving for years.
    My Dad passed suddenly 10 years later, of a sudden massive heart attack. A totally different grief. Now as an adult orphan. Looking at all the ways we are affect by our losses.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences Helen. ‘Tis awfully to have others confirm they relate. I feel blessed to have know about this long goodbye idea for a good while. I hope it will soften any guilt I might feel about my anticipated relief. I’m clear there will be a bounty of emotions.

  • I just watched The Father with my two daughters. Afterward, we sat around and talked about how their Dad is, since he is nine years older than me. We also talked about the challenges of losing a parent, or loved one, to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. My Mom suffered dementia before she left us, and it was quite alarming to realize this was happening to her, and that the Mom I know was slipping away. Thanks for sharing Michelle. It takes strength and courage to walk this path.

    • Thank you Audrey. I’ll likely watch The Father though not sure. I recall the alarm I felt when I read Still Alice. Reminds me of a sweet convo I had with my Mom in the early days where I was explaining that there would likely be a time when she would know know who I was. She was speechless and then said, “But you’ll still know who I am right?” This still brings tears to my eyes. May there be peace for your daughter’s, their father and you. I’m amazed at the resilience I’ve cultivated via this path. xo

  • Michelle, thanks for your beautiful post, and to everyone who’s commented with such thoughtful conversation.

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