Parentless Parents

Jill Feldman

I am a parentless parent. Every day, every decision, every milestone, I feel the absence of my parents. I long for their guidance, support and especially for their influence and presence in my children’s lives. The day my first child was born was very bittersweet for me. I had an induction date set for November 21st, so I was totally caught off guard when the doctor’s office called on November 18th to tell me that my induction was changed to the following day, November 19th. I calmly told the nurse that I wasn’t sure it would work and I would call her back. November 19th was my dad’s birthday. At first I thought my husband was playing a joke on me, because that’s what we do in my family (use humor in difficult situations), but after he convinced me it wasn’t him and cautiously expressed his excitement I called my mom in tears. Knowing I struggled with losing my dad at a young age and after not having him for important milestones in my life, my mom simply said that it was ‘bashert’, a Yiddish word for ‘meant to be.’ She said that this was my dad’s way of telling me that he will be there for the birth of my baby. So, when I heard the doctor say, “It’s a boy,” I was grateful that my son was born on what would have been his grandfather’s 55th birthday. My ‘grown up life’ was just beginning when my mom died. We had always been close, but I was beginning to develop and enjoy an adult relationship with her. I was in my 20’s and traditionally considered an adult but I still went to her for EVERYTHING ~ l needed my mom! She was my role model, my biological and emotional blueprint, my best friend. I needed her to guide me through the phase of being a woman, a wife and a mother. I was nine weeks pregnant with my second child when my mom died, but felt like a child myself. How was I going to be a mother without my mom? This time when I heard the doctor say, “It’s a girl,” the pain I felt was almost unbearable. I was orphaned! I felt such fear and anxiety, like I was a child lost in the middle of nowhere and feeling completely alone. We live in a world filled with parents and children of all ages. Parenting is hard; physically when they are younger and emotionally as they get older. It’s even harder when you don’t have your own parents. Most people my age have at least one parent alive that they see and talk to frequently, spend a lot of time with and depend on for help, advice and babysitting. I’m not going to lie, it’s painful to watch. I have a lump in my throat and my heart aches with envy when I see my husband, friends and even strangers spending time with their parents. I’m especially sad for my children when I see my contemporary’s parents enjoying, building relationships and creating memories with their grandchildren. One of the hardest parts about being a parentless parent is not being able to ask my mom or dad what I was like as a child or whether I was similar to any of my children. I don’t have anyone who could recall every minute of my life or share the cute stories of my childhood with my children. On the flip side, I can tell stories and share pictures about my parents with my children, but it will never have the same influence in their lives and they can never create the same relationship with my children that my in-laws have developed. That puts a lot of responsibility on me for sharing instead of passing down family history and traditions. My parents will never get to know and enjoy their grandchildren, and my children, except Jack who was a year when my mom died, will never meet my parents. It’s not easy, but it’s important to me that my children know who my parents were as individual people and the special qualities. Being my own advocate and being proactive with my health is certainly a result of being parentless at a young age. Once I had kids it wasn’t about me anymore. It was about my children ~ I am their mom. Their lives would drastically change if their mom died. Knowing how it feels, I don’t ever want my children to suffer the way I have. Of course there are all sorts of other issues that come with being diagnosed with the same disease that took both of my parents, their grandparents, lives, but I’ll skip that part for now…………to be continued! The grief and challenges of being a parentless parent are completely underestimated. It’s assumed that we’re adults and society expects us to accept death as part of life, get over the loss and move on. But, really we are just becoming adults, just becoming parents. It’s like playing a sport without a coach; the ability may there, but it is the coach that supports you, encourages you, gives you confidence and is the person to whom you owe much of your success. I’m looking forward to reading a book that journalist and parentless parent Allison Gilbert has written. It’s called, Parentless Parents: How the Loss of our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children. The book explores how the way we parent is shaped by the loss of our own mothers and fathers. The idea came from responses to a part in Allison’s previous book, Always Too Soon: Voices of Support for Those Who Have Lost Both Parents that talked about her first parentless Thanksgiving. As I did in Always Too Soon, I expect to find comfort in knowing I am not alone and in being able to connect with other parentless parents. Check out the trailer on you tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0vYt8L7qNg Parentless Parents will be available in stores today, but you can also purchase a copy on Amazon.com

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