Forest

With my stubby snout smashed up against my plate, I happily licked off the remains of chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. Rooting to polish off the last remnants of my sixth birthday party, life was good until my mother walked in. My pigpen dream was disturbed and my joyfully gluttonous moment destroyed.

“What’s wrong with you?” she screamed. “I taught you better than this!”

Smearing the sticky frosting off my cheeks, I gave a shamefaced smile and mumbled, “I’m sorry, mommy. I couldn’t help myself. It tasted so good.”

Handing her messy child a towel, I could see a question in her eyes. She was clearly wondering if she failed in the decorum department. I think my mom knew there were special, important lessons that she needed to teach me if I were to one day stand on my own two feet, especially being that I was her only daughter. Those lessons included having good table manners.

As with all dedicated mommies and daddies in the 1950’s, my parents created an educational checklist that required constant review. There were classes on physical appearance (because dressing for success brought success) and extra tutorials for expanding the mind. There’d be lectures on honesty and how to live a life with integrity, seminars in cherishing family and friends, and daily conferences on the topic of religion, the most important subject of all. Knowledge wasn’t just power, but the key to unlocking all the treasures in life.

My mother and father gave me every sort of education I’d ever need, though they forgot the most crucial lesson of all: how to live in this world without them.

In 2012, I became an orphan. I know that may sound silly. After all, I was fifty when mom slipped through my fingers and sixty when dad joined her. I was an adult with grown children. But still, when I held my father in my arms as he took his final breath, an overwhelming feeling of childish loss blanketed me. I was no longer anyone’s little girl. Frightened, I couldn’t help but wonder who’d be there to protect me when life became vicious. Suddenly, I was the grownup, the elder stateswoman to my children, and the one in complete charge. I was also next in line for my mortality to come knocking.

When an adult child loses their last parent, so many thoughts and feelings pass through a heart that was once wholly shared with them. Gone are the two people who loved you unconditionally long before you were even born; gone are the historians of childhood memories you were too young to recall. Who else knew your first step, first word, or the first everything?

Gone too was that moral barometer that keeps any child on the straight and narrow—so easily done with just the lifting of an eyebrow. Still, the hardest thing for me was accepting that no one would ever love me again in the same manner or intensity that they did.

My parents prepared me to live a rich, strong, and beautiful life, but I wasn’t prepared for how empty it would feel without them.

Fortunately, the gift of time eases feelings of loss and replaces it with a new emotion. It’s been two years since dad’s passing and I still cry, even uncontrollably, at times, but the tears aren’t just from a place of sadness. Instead, they overflow from a heart filled with gratitude; for all those years we had together; for the lessons in etiquette and balancing a checkbook; for the boundless love; and for their spirit that remains in my soul guiding me to still live as instructed, prepared for the road ahead that will one day lead me back to them.

At some point we all become orphans. How did your parents prepare you to live without them?