It has been 40 years since my dad died and almost 25 years since my mom breathed her last. My in-laws have been gone close to two decades. As a young woman, I was already navigating life without any hope of a living presence of my parents.
During certain stages of life, this absence has proven more challenging than others. After all these years, I am still uneasy with how this lack haunts me.
These days many of my generation are caring for their aging parents. Frequently, our conversations can land in the areas of nursing care, mental deterioration, and medical procedures that they are navigating with their folks. I remember when topics like these, including hospice and end-of-life decisions, were on my plate. That journey was long ago.
Parental needs and decline are burdens that consume much of my peers’ internal mind-space and energy. This is a heavy load I do not carry. I have freedoms that my comrades do not enjoy, and I go about my days grateful to avoid tours of assisted care facilities and the heart-wrenching pain of being unrecognized by the ones who gave me birth. I do not wake up in the morning wondering if today might be their last. Many friends simultaneously deal with the pain of unresolved harm that their parents have caused while being responsible for offering them supervision.
I do not envy the season they are going through, but if I am honest, I often feel like an outsider. What would my schedule look like if I had a parent to be in relationship with during this season?
I think I might enjoy taking Mom to lunch with my son or showing Dad my daughter’s graduation pictures. I would treasure the chance to plan and celebrate an 80th birthday party. If I had the opportunity, it would be so wonderful to fill in gaps in my family history. What was it like to fall in love during WWll? What was it like to lose an infant child? How did I respond to getting my stomach pumped when I was four?
Sometimes I feel a yearning for my parents’ company.
Even though their attentive care is something that I rarely knew, maybe as they aged it would have been different. Could there have been recovery of some of the broken places in our relationships if we’d had more time? Perhaps we would find a place of connection and understanding in the humanity of our complex bonds. Sadly, there will never be an opportunity to find out. I grieve what I never had and what might have been.
I glance from afar at my peers’ lives with their elderly parents. My notions seem to tease me. While I bypass many difficult moments, I also miss the potential for blessing. There is much that has been lost and much in me that still aches.
Maryhelen Martens has been gathering and connecting with others since she was a young girl growing up in rural Wisconsin. She is a lover of whimsy and play, beauty and depth, all of which she experiences in her relationships. While her emotions and voice were shut down for decades, she is finding them again and using them in healing groups, story coaching, and writing. She’s always been drawn to water and sunsets and more recently to the desert and sunrises. She’s curious about that. Mother to three authentic adults, Maryhelen lives with her steadfast husband Keith on the shore of Lake Michigan.