Coping with the Loss of Elderly Parents

‘How will I cope when my elderly parents die?’  This question or some variant of it is one of the commonest that brings people to the front door of  my blog and I know that it was a question that was never far from my mind when my own parents became frail.  I always wonder about the people and situations that are behind these internet searches and very often sense real apprehension, anxiety, fear, worry, desperation and angst from the way the questions are posed.

Apprehension

I have shied away from trying to respond as I am more than aware that each grown-up child has a unique relationship with his/her mother and father and it is impossible to predict with any certainty how individuals will cope, even if one knows the whole background and context. 

I have found myself thinking a lot about this whole question over the last few days during which I have been faciliating my son to play in a tennis tournament, in other words driving him there, feeding him healthily, offering words of encouragement and consolation and generally waiting in the wings while he does his thing. 

Yes, you’ve guessed! This is precisely what my parents did when I was playing competitive tennis back in the day.  Yesterday, while I was visiting the stunning, historic Kells Priory which is  near Kilkenny where this week’s tournament is on,  the extent to which parents live on through their children hit me like a screaming backhand down the line. 

Kells Priory, Co. Kilkenny

I thought back to all the days when I was immersed in tournaments and hadn’t a clue where Mother and Father were for the hours I was locked in battle on the court. They would re-appear to pick me up and I would be full of talk about the tennis ~ never even asked where they had spent the day and if they told me I certainly didn’t take it in.

This isn’t a matter of  ‘ Oh, I’m getting more and more like my parents everyday.’ Rather, it’s realising that my fears that their deaths would leave me in a sad, lonely parentless place were just that  – fears – and not in keeping with the reality that has unfolded.  That reality can best be defined by a sense of ongoing and energising connectedness and presence  that shows up in the most unexpected  places and moments.

Flow of Life: Kings River, Co. Kilkenny

About socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.
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6 Responses to Coping with the Loss of Elderly Parents

  1. Nancy says:

    I love this Jean!

    • socialbridge says:

      Nancy, I’m glad it resonated with you. Little did I imagine when my parents were reaching the end that I would ever write such a piece. I just hope that it helps others to see that their parents never die in the sense that their presence can live on to such a strong degree.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Mum was recently cremated and I want to remember her how she used to be not how she was towards the end – her death was more dignified than the last few weeks of her life. I’m more like my dad who died many years ago. I’m not religious but I like to think of them reunited.

  3. socialbridge says:

    My deepest sympathy on your mother’s death. I can more than understand you wanting to remember her when she was in happier, healthier times and hope that time will help in this regard. I have to say that one thing that helped me to move towards that sort of remembrance was to write about my mother’s earlier life rather than her later years. Perhaps this might work for you too, though everyone is different. Best wishes and take care.

  4. Nayomin says:

    My father just passed away – I can’t begin to tell how much I am missing him. I was his only child, the daughter he loved so much but his last years were not the best. He was eighty and died of a heart attack – I feel guilty that in the midst of my busy career, two kids and a busy husband, I could have found the time to take him to a doctor but didn’t. I keep rewinding his last days in my head and wish I could have him back for one more day, one last time. It has also made me take better care of my mother. What you say is true, our parents will always be there in little ways. You know, I want others to know that you will never ever realize just how much you miss a parent, even though you are an adult yourself. Sometimes I think we are not gentle enough with them in their last days. Thank you.

    • socialbridge says:

      Nayomin, first may I offer you my heartfelt sympathy on your father’s death. The extent to which you are hurting and missing him comes across so much and I hope that you will find ways to move away from that re-winding of his last days which can be so desperately painful and which only give a tiny part of your overall relationship with him.

      I thank you very much for sharing your regrets here and highlighting how much the deaths of parents can affect ‘grown-up’ children. You are so kind to open up to the world about this when you have such sadness about your own father.

      With very best wishes,

      jean

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