‘He had a good innings’. That’s so often the phrase we hear when someone dies at a ‘good’ age. While it’s true at one level, I always wonder if it’s a bit thoughtless?
When we’re middle-aged and lose our parents, we might know that they were lucky to get to their age and we were blessed to have that much time with them, but it doesn’t make the shocking sense of loss, of being rudderless in a world that’s always been consistent, any easier to bear.
Two years ago, I lost my mother unexpectedly and earlier this month, my beloved father followed her. He was not ill, there was no warning and we lost him after a day in the hospital. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or prepared, it is nothing less than devastating.
Losing now both parents is overwhelming and I’m grieving for my dad, but also my mum all over again, the life and Home they built and gave us; it feels like it’s all gone.
They’ve lived in the same house for 47 years; it’s always been my ’haven’ and goes with them.
Suddenly I feel like an ‘orphan’, albeit an adult one and I wonder how I’ll find myself again.
Society believes that as we age we become slightly inured to grief. Death is a part of life after all and the older we get the bigger the likelihood of facing it regularly.
But in my experience, grief is one of the few things that practise doesn’t make you better at. Many of us become carers for our parents later in life or watch them suffer from ill health.
For those, whilst passing may bring some sense of relief, it’s still hugely painful and needs proper time to process. It’s that time that seems to be the one thing society doesn’t allow us.
Lose a parent as a young person and you will get endless amounts of support, but as an older person, there’s still such a ‘that’s life’ mentality.
We’re not good as a society about acknowledging the enormous transformations losing a parent brings – we’re not good at death at all – and yet it’s the common experience that truly binds us all.
With both mum and dad, it was sudden, and I never got to say goodbye and always assumed I’d have more time to say how much they truly meant to me.
There is no need for a special occasion or an orchestrated moment to prompt us to take time from our busy daily lives, to reflect on those around us and tell them that we truly love them.
Death has a way of stripping us clean – of removing the distractions of life and focusing us on what’s important – sadly though, this often comes too late for us to have the chance to act on our thoughts.
I ended up writing a letter to my dad (and mum) which we read out at the funeral; it was my way of telling them (although I hope that they knew, deep down).
They were my guiding light, the lighthouse at the edge of the seashore, calling me home for my whole life. Without that, I feel lost and even with wonderful family and friends, alone.
My roots, sense of history and the bedrock of my existence ended when they did – there’s no age that can make that easier to bear. My parents loved me unconditionally, their support was limitless, and they were my greatest advocates.
I was accepted completely, without judgement or stipulation and they were always, always there for me. This love was an invisible security blanket to carry through the world with me. Now my blanket has gone, and even sunny days feel that bit chillier for its loss.
They have taught me so much - from the simplest life skills to the more complicated ones.
Dad; the value of hard work, the importance of integrity and courage. How to stand tall with my head up high - even when I’ve made mistakes and failed. How moving forwards sometimes takes a little shift in perspective and is often a ‘state of mind’.
From my mum, I learned real compassion and empathy, how to forgive when I’ve been unimaginably hurt or let down. And those who know me well, won’t be surprised to hear, passion!
These are lessons I will keep with me for the rest of my life. They always knew I'd be an independent woman who’d to take on the world on her own. Dad taught me how to be fearless and unafraid, mum showed me that it’s ok to be vulnerable when you need to be and that it’s not a sign of weakness or failure.
Now they are together and never to be separated again. It’s where they both belong and for that I am happy.
But for me, I have lost the greatest loves of my life. I will always need them, I will always love them. And I will forever be their little girl.