Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On Being Parentless

For three months now I've been parentless. My mom had ovarian cancer back in 2001 and my father died from esophageal cancer this past April, one day before his 78th birthday. I'm 45 and can only think of a few friends who have lost even one parent and no others my age who have lost both.

It's not like the relationship that my generation has with our parents is anything near as intimate as what people under the age of 30 today seem to have with their parents. Many kids today graduate from high school, move out of their parents house and still communicate daily with one of their parents on the phone for years and years. I never did that so this isn't a sob story. It also isn't a sob story because my parents went relatively quickly and I have friends who are dealing with situations with living parents that I do not envy.

In fact I'm still trying to figure out what kind of story it is.

It isn't a comedy or a horror flick and it certainly isn't sci-fi. Maybe it's just a slice of life piece like a Richard Linklater arthouse film -- the ones that just kind of follow a main character through a time in their life where nothing particularly dramatic happens and you wonder why they ever made a movie about it. Maybe.

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Several years ago I was having a discussion with a girlfriend about what we learned from our parents growing up. She's from Pennsylvania and was (probably still is) significantly more emotional than I. It was a difference that came to be a challenge for us. She said that from her parents she learned passion. I said that from my parents I learned manners.

I never knew that passion was something we could learn from family because passion and 19th century Norwegian immigrant farmers aren't normally used in the same novella. Obviously my parents weren't of the 19th century but they seemed to retain many of those values that were handed down to them:

  1. say please and thank you, 
  2. be responsible so as to not be a burden on anyone, and 
  3. the salad fork gets placed outside the dinner fork on the left side of the plate.

These were wonderful skills for drawing loving nods from great aunts at family dinner gatherings, but different than what I needed to intimately jibe with the girlfriend from back east.

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There's definitely a sort of empty feeling being parentless, but I'm not sure how much of that feeling is because I'm parentless and how much of it is because I'm also childless, girlfriendless and dogless. I do have a sister who's awesome and a fantastic niece and nephew, but they live 1000 miles away.

The emptiness is also compounded by a feeling of being in purgatory -- that my life is kind of on hold while I'm finishing out this Denver lease and trying to figure out what comes next for me. I have a lot of options.

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The options in my life stem from the freedom of being parentless, childless, girlfriendless and dogless -- not that lonely freedom is any great shakes, but it does open up an entire world of futures.

I mean, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to Christmas becoming a thing of the past in my world. Oh I'll still send gifts to my niece and nephew but I'd much rather see them on a ski trip to the mountains than over Christmas Eve dinner (though I will miss our fun/weird family Xmas menu). The only reason I've kept any connection at all to Christmas is because of the family tradition expected to be honored by my parents. I'll be fine with 12/25 being just another day on the calendar and happy to no longer have expectations of travel at that time of year.

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So what kind of story is this?

I don't know. It's not clear. We can't tell because it's my story and the story ain't over yet.

But I have a feeling there might be a twist in Act III.






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