This is a follow on blog from a past post, How Writing A Stranger’s Memoirs Helped Me To Live Fully And Love Unapologetically. A two part blog (though in essence a trilogy) - I had reached out to a couple of friends and for one, her mother had passed away only two months before. Although her mother’s illness was sudden and short, she was grateful that there was time to say goodbye. For the other, living overseas didn’t afford her this time with either parent, and its effects are evident. Thank you to both women for sharing their stories, their vulnerability, and most of all, the lessons.
For their privacy, I have changed their names.
How differently do we feel about and celebrate the ‘firsts’ in our lives?
A baby’s first steps, or their last day of high school? What about our own milestones? When someone we love, more importantly a parent, is sick or passes away, how does it change the way we see those ‘firsts’? The first day, our first birthday, even instinctively picking up the phone to share with them your good news only to realise they wouldn't be picking up on the other end.
Does it change our relationships and how we see the world? I reached out to a few friends who have experienced the loss of one or two parents with intention of giving us a greater understanding of how we can make the most of our relationships in the living years. Even though our loved ones have passed away, could we use that loss to positively impact ourselves and those we love?
Being an orphan is something we associate with young children, yet that’s exactly how Helen felt when she lost both her parents within three months of each other. A Canadian native with an easy smile, I met Helen a few years ago through professional circles and she’s a woman I continue to admire through her community work. She’s unapologetic for her honesty and has learned to walk in her truth, but not before acknowledging the shadow parts of herself. Her emotional layers are complex, and I feel the school of hard knocks has only strengthened her resolve and resilience.
Like Helen, her son is an only child. She says that her son has her nose, hands and feet - all the features that people say she has taken from her own parents. He also has a similar sense of humour. As much as it brings her joy to see herself in him, there’s also a tinge of melancholy because he never had the chance to meet his grandparents.
Making the choice to migrate and begin a new life in another country is never made lightly - in my personal experience, it can also create a disconnect with your extended family. Helen remembers her mum leaving the family when she was four years old. Birthdays or milestones were often organised by a nanny, although her dad did make the effort to celebrate her athletic achievements.
Does she still remember the day she heard the news? “My dad and I did not have a relationship since 1997, so it was just an email from my brother. My mum was on life support for a couple of days and I was desperate to get to her. The last memory I had was the nurse putting the phone up to my mum and me pleading for her to hang on until I could get to her.”
Being on the other side of the world meant she couldn’t get to them, even if it was to be there right after their deaths. There was no funeral for her mum and strangers coming and going while Helen tried to go through her belongings to decide what was important to keep and what to give away was hard to take. Even though she was an adult in her early 40s, and with an older brother, she still felt like she suddenly became an orphan.
“I learned that having family connections is important to me, even though I did not have them myself. I don’t think losing my parents has changed how I look at the world in general, but it has changed how I look at my own world. Concerns about only having one child, not having family here or close friendships for him to rely on, or simply not knowing if there are any heredity health issues that we need to deal with. All of these concerns have intensified since losing that feeling of having a parental figure to go to.”
Her son is now a teenager, and Helen has noticed the biggest change is in him no longer wanting “to be seen” with her, or arguing over chores. What does she want to him to know? “I would reinforce that I love him no matter what, that I am proud of who he is, that he can share any feelings or issues with me. Let him know that things are always changing so never give up. When he gets a bit older I want to share some of my stories to help him see that struggles and challenges can be overcome and make you a stronger and better person.” To use those lessons, help you move on and live your best life.
If Helen had five minutes with her parents, what would she say to them?
“I think I would want to find out why they did the things they did as parents because even though I have created logical reasons to justify their actions, knowing the truth could help me let go of the past. If I had more time, I would be more practical and find out what family health issues might affect me and my son.”
Ronna Grace Funtelar is a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and slam poet currently based in Peru. She is a hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.