Losing a parent is usually twice-a-life experience and, is in that sense, unique. Having lost both my genitors for more than a decade and a half now, and myself sailing through the middle age, I find myself suitably placed to write on the loss.
What happens when you lose a parent? How do you react, cope, and reach a closure (or do you)?
People’s relationship with their parents differs across and within families. Mine was turbulent with one parent and passive with the other. Having gained some experience and perspective with age and time, I can confidently say that neither was a ‘normal’ parent-child relationship.
As children, we siblings showed extreme resilience, withstanding the externalities of our parents’ stormy relationship. With our sense of discrimination and reasoning numbed by daily violence, we – the children, placed a larger share of blame at the doorstep of the aggressive one, and absolved the quieter, passive one of all guilt (including that of abandonment of parental responsibilities). Did that make both of their passing different for me? Yes and No.
The sense of loss was profound in both the cases. But I felt a greater shock when the one whose corporal punishments and incessant frenzies used to hold entire household to perpetual ransom, passed away. It was as if an opposition you spent so much attention, energy and resources fortifying yourself against, all these years, suddenly self-destructs. Despite having degenerated my feelings for my parent to the nadir of indifference, I held to the loss like a splinter under the skin, long before I got an opportunity to resolve it. As for the demise of the passive parent, senility made things predictable. That I could not get either parent’s last glimpse further delayed the sense of closure, in my case.
A number of my friends and peers have since been bereaved, and I have come to vicariously relive my loss, every time. I have also observed that the nature of set back those left behind feel, varies with the bereaved person’s age. When you lose a parent in your youth, the feelings are more of “why me” and “what ahead”? It is like the loss of your only shelter, the roof that kept you safe from the trials and tribulations, the accusations and sneers, the heat and dust, of the bad bad world. You want to go back in time and change the plot; you feel like an email that has lost its key attachment.
When you are yourself a parent or in that age group and then you lose a parent, you do not question the loss – you question your inability to prevent that loss. The misplaced headiness of having life under your complete control receives a rude shock. The loss of a senior, a mentor, and a keystone figure you took for granted and yet wanted to ‘fence and protect’, bewilders you. You become an email whose entire text disappeared, just as you pressed ‘sent’.
Irrespective of how our stunted childhood convulsed, I repent not having the accommodation, intermediation capabilities, and early-maturity that could have enabled joyful living for our beautiful family, when my parents were alive. I regret not having created greater number of fond memories while they were around (even though our most cherished moments as siblings were when our squabbling parents were away). I do sometimes feel guilty for not having made life comfortable and peaceful for my parents (even when they could no do the same for us, their kids), not seeing them age gracefully and pass away in peace and with fulfilment. We could have been better children and bigger human beings; I could have been a better daughter.
As you grow, you accept and move on. You learn to work on yourself and heal your mind. You make an effort to be human. You plunge into sadness and despair with the bereaved. But you do not stop experiencing your own loss. The loss is permanent, the repentance perpetual.
It is important to be grateful for what you have, when you have it. Do not wait for a magical garden of a life unfold before you; learn to savor the sight and smell of the lone rose life has handed to you, even as you brush and bleed against its thorns.