Losing a Parent: Are We Ever Prepared?

On March 16th, one day before St. Patrick’s Day, my father-in-law passed away quietly in the middle of the night. He was 87 years old. Yes, he had been ill, but he was on the road to recovery—or so we thought—recovering in a rehab facility. The 2:00 a.m. call informing my husband of the news was a shock to the whole family. No one saw this coming, not yet anyway.

You might be asking, how could you not see this coming? An elderly man, recovering from an illness. Why are you surprised?

I may agree with you if we are talking about someone I never met. I may even confess that I have, at times, thought the same. (Thankfully, I did not ask the questions out loud.) However, logic and reasoning don’t seem to matter when we are faced with the loss of a beloved parent. Losing a parent is a painful experience. It is the first significant relationship in our lives. No matter their age, no matter if the loss is sudden or anticipated, it is a painful experience. We always want more time.

So what can we do? There are some steps that we can take to prepare. We can connect with our parents while they are still around and help them when they need help. We can be their advocates when they need one. We can talk to them about their wishes regarding the care they receive, what matters the most to them at the end, their fears about the dying process, and how best to plan. We can encourage they preplan their final arrangements, in as little or as much detail as they wish. The more they share with us, the more we will be able to honor their choices.

While we know intellectually that our parents are supposed to go before us, as we are supposed to go before our own children, we cannot prevent the feelings of loss and grief when a parent does pass. Emotional preparation is difficult, maybe even impossible. The best we can do is to experience the emotions and find support with other family members and friends. Hopefully, the experience of losing a parent will ultimately make us a more kind and compassionate person so we can do the same for others when they are in need of support.

Norman Lidrbauch and Fedor Rakytiak, my two dads, thank you for the lessons. I hold you in my memory with love and gratefulness for the time we had, no matter how short it was.

Posted in Blog, Older Adults.