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Adult Orphan

Someone today asked me about pictures of my young self. Photos from my childhood—the years when I was smallest—are actually missing in action. Even though my garage holds boxes from my mom’s closet full of photos and home movies, the ones representing the early sixties are not there. In fact, I don’t know where they are.

I can’t imagine how they have gotten lost. For when my sisters and I sold our parent’s home and cleaned out all of the closets, every last drawer and bookshelf, I thought we selected the boxes with these albums for saving. And yet, I cannot seem to find them.

And in a way, not being able to lay eyes and hands on these meticulously labeled albums (because that’s how my mother made them), is just another reminder of my life as an adult orphan.

Losing my last parent was something of a mile-marker. As the oldest, I suddenly found myself at the top of some invisible heap. Oh, sure, there are uncles and aunts who are older than me; who represent the generation of my parents. But, now, without my parents at the helm the world is different.

Now I find that there are things I wished I’d asked for instance. In wonder about my parents’ lives as children—I wish I could ask more about things they did, what they liked, who among their school chums were important to them. I wish I could hear again stories of their favorite pets or their favorite music or the process of learning to sail and how they met. I took for granted that this information would somehow always be there.

It turns out, it’s not.

Although other people can reminisce with me about my mom or dad, there is still that insider information I can no longer access. I can’t ask the original source.

Adult orphan-hood means other things too—some freeing, some not so much. For instance, I don’t have a sounding board any more for life’s dilemmas. I can’t consult with someone who has more experience or the wisdom that comes with time and more practice. I can’t ask for a second or third opinion about something. And, even though my sisters are a great resource for remembering there are still times I wish I could ask Mom or Dad.

On the other hand, all of their expectations have washed away. And in some ways that is a beautiful thing. My life without my parents has been a time of self discovery. At first it seemed like a loss of identity… but now it is more of an opportunity. Without the overt or covert pressure of their expectations my messes and successes feel more like my own. I find that I can make more mistakes and not feel the judgment I once might have were they alive to see it. I can also choose more freely from choices I might not have considered with their presence at hand.

Still, there are times in adult orphan-hood when I simply miss them. When I see a hummingbird at the feeder, use two stakes and string to make nice straight rows in my vegetable garden, enjoy an oatmeal or chocolate chip cookie…then and in many other ways I find myself both deeply connected and longing for their presence all at once.

As a friend once said to me after her mother’s death—“I have everything I need except my Mom.” I so get this—because I do have everything I need. Except my Mom and Dad.