It’s very rainy and cold here today, so my thoughts turn to a sad topic. If you came to read something funny skip today’s entry please. According to the Internet, the average age of death in the USA is 64. I was quite surprised to see that. For some reason I thought it was 70+ since the average life expectancy was 78.54 years as of 2018. Men can expect to live until 77 and women until 81 by average.
The average age of parents have varied greatly. In 1972 the average age of first time mothers was 21. In 2016 the average age for a mother rose to 26 and currently it has climbed into the early 30s. Women in bigger cities tend to be older when they first become mothers while rural women tend to be younger. I live in a smaller town near the capital of North Carolina and we have a lot of mothers who were in their late 30s and early 40s when they had their first child, including me. Our town has people who have moved from all over America to live near our technology heavy job area so our average is definitely different than other small towns.
My mother died when she was 69 and my father died at age 65 which I thought was terribly young. Now looking at the average I guess they were not rarities. My kids have a great grandmother who is 87 and spry, healthy and active. JoAnne’s mom is in her late 80s and in relatively good health. My “brother’s” mom is in her late 80s in failing health but functioning well. You can see why I thought my parents dying in their 60s was the oddity.
If parents had kids in their 20s then the average age of children at the time of death would be in their 40s. I was 47 when Mama passed away and 52 when Daddy died. One of my best friends is my age and she lost her mom 4 years ago. Several of my younger friends in their early 40s have just lost their parents recently which is why this is on my mind so much.
Some of us are adult orphans now. Doesn’t that term sound strange? When I called myself that someone said, “No you are not!”. I think she was trying to be consoling? It came off as callous and uninformed to me. I’m sure she meant that I had other family and I was not alone. Simply put, an adult orphan is an adult who has lost both her parents to death. We are a group of people that are mostly unacknowledged in grief articles and books. So today, I wanted to shed light on this topic.
The loss of parents is treated as an inevitable life transition. I mean, that is the natural order of things right? It seems we are supposed to suffer through our grief silently and just “get over it”. I was a huge puzzlement to many observers as I was gutted when my father passed away. He meant so much to me and he gave me such support that when he passed away I felt untethered and lost. Tears are falling down my cheeks even while I write this post. It has been over a year so the pain is not as intense but I miss him dearly.
When I was trying to help myself get through the grief I noticed that there was very little information about adult orphans. Most of us are expected to suffer in silence and many do so without seeking counseling, which is tragic. They often wear a “mask” of being ‘healed’ to make others feel more comfortable. I know when I mention my father more than a few times people looked quite uncomfortable. Instead of sharing with me how they felt when their parents passed, they would change the subject. I felt a bit misunderstood. I was not sure if people thought I was weak for being so sad. I didn’t want to be a burden on my husband or kids so I tried to get back to reality as quick as I could.
I read in my research that milestones in life will often trigger sadness for adult orphans as it reignites a yearning to share moments with their parents who have passed. Recently my eldest earned her Silver Award through Girl Scouts. My father would have been especially proud. He would have gotten her a card, sent her flowers or a gift and spoken to her personally about her achievement. Of course she has a living set of grandparents on my husband’s side that celebrated with her but I found myself tearful as I wished my Daddy could have been here to see it.
Parents hold important memories and vital information from our past. When they are gone, it almost feels like your own history has faded. Who will remember our first words or our first steps? Who else knows what happened on that special hike when you found those baby raccoons? Who will hold the key to our past now?
The elephant in the room is of course our own sense of mortality. I’m 53 which is not that far from 63. Do we, as adult orphans, feel as if our mortality is already written out? Other people may live well into their 80s but if our parents died in their 60s does that mean our lifespan is shorter? You can see how this can really impacts our psyche. I try not to dwell on these facts but it is hard not to think about it from time to time.
If you are an adult orphan know that there are a lot of us and we know you are hurting. I for one am focusing on living my best life with my kids. I chose to have kids later in life and I know that I will pass away when they are relatively young so I try to prepare them for life without me. We talk often about independence and that I will not be a “rocking chair grandma” and will be traveling during my retirement. LOL I have chosen to realize that my lifestyle is very different from my parents’. I have never smoked cigarettes, I do not drink heavily, my diet is better and I exercise more than they ever did. I am also lucky in that I live in a higher income bracket than they did and have great insurance and therefore have fantastic medical care. I can afford to see a therapist regularly and I have a great support system. All these things will probably prolong my lifespan at least 10 years beyond theirs barring any accidents.
I have chosen to not look at the number of years I have left but try to live in the moment and enjoy everything I possibly can. It’s not easy because I am human. I cried as I sent out notices to everyone to celebrate my daughter’s accomplishment knowing I would not be able to tell Daddy. However, it also filled my heart with joy as congratulatory texts flowed in from other grandparents, aunts and friends. My children are surrounded by people who love them and I am thankful for that. I will continue to grieve the loss of my wonderful Daddy but I will not wallow in it. I’m an orphan but I have a fantastic group of people who lift me up and care about who I am. I am making brand new memories that I will share with others. I know that is what Daddy would expect of me and I will honor him by being the best ME I can be. Here is a (((HUG))) for my fellow adult orphans – hang in there!