I’ve written about the death of a parent on more than one occasion in fiction. It’s a familiar topic for me because at age 5, my father was gone. He was all of 46 years old when he died of his last heart attack. Yes, he had more than one, the first being in 1968, the last in 1976 with him dying in January of the new year. So I essentially grew up fatherless, according to most people, but my dad always played a role in my life.
His name was Robert, so when I was hunting for a surname for my pen name, I didn’t have to look every far.
I’ve written about teens who have lost fathers and mothers through both horrifically quick events like accidents and also those slow illnesses that seem to last forever. When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in my mid 20s, I was positive I was going to lose her. Thankfully, she stuck around and fought against the odds. During one of her breast cancer check ups, her doctor suggested she have a mole checked out. It was skin cancer, but again, she survived.
I’ve lost my step dad, the man who I wasn’t thrilled about taking my dad’s spot, even if I was 20 years old and on my own at the time he married my mom. He died just a few years ago, and while I never expected to mourn his loss too much, I was buried in grief. The death of other people brings up the grief we all thought we’d left behind. It gets churned to the surface as we hear about a friend losing a grandmother, a father, a mother, a child, a partner. I’ve seen all those people lost in lives around me, and I hurt each and every time.
I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my John. He knows that’s my greatest fear, because I want him to be with me until I die. That’s what “until death do us part” meant when I said those words. He can’t die first. I’ve told him that many times. He always laughs and tells me he’ll do his best to stick around until after I’m gone.
In second grade the firemen came to my school for Fire Safety Week. Most kids went home on that 1978 day and told their parents to buy a smoke detector and to make sure they checked the batteries each month. I went home with so much anxiety that I couldn’t sleep alone until I was too old to admit here. I was positive the entire house was going to burn down, and I would be the only survivor. So I slept with my mom, crawling into bed after she was fast asleep so she wouldn’t protest and send me back to my room.
I needed to hear her breathe to know I wasn’t alone.
And when my baby was born with so many things wrong with her insides that she spent 5 months of her first year in the hospital waiting for, enduring, and recovering from over 15 reconstructive surgeries, I saw that it was a huge possibility that I wouldn’t see my baby even make it to Kindergarten. She’s eleven today, and she’s amazing! Even if she drives me bonkers at times.
After my step-dad died, I saw my mom start to fail. She struggled to get around. I worked with women who were watching their mom’s die before their eyes because of Alzheimer’s or cancer. They were lost at the thought of losing the women who taught them so much even though most of it went unacknowledged or even appreciated until too late.
When my best friend came to me at not even 40 years old and told me it was very possible she was going to die and leave three kids without a trustworthy parent, I decided to write a story (North Star) about it. I’m very thankful that her doctors were fantastically wrong! But I took the pain of losing my own father as a child and wrote it into Hugo’s loss as well as Brooke and Finn’s. I took my fear of losing John and wrote that into Kevin… and even Hugo. When that friend lost her beloved grandmother a year ago and then her father months later, I saw how thin the string of life really is.
My mother was lucky enough to have a spinal fusion in ’12 and a hip replacement in ’13. Her cancer has stayed away! She is getting stronger and walking without the aid of a walker or even a cane. But I know she won’t be around forever, and that scares the living shit out of me.
And now I see another dear friend has lost her mother. My heart feels like it’s been split in two. I wish I could be there for her to hold her and to let he cry all her tears into my shirt. I’d wear 100% cotton just to make sure it was absorbent, because I want to take her pain way. But that’s not possible, is it?
We all lose people. Circle of Life and all. Does that make it easier?
And every single time I hear of a friend losing someone they loved, my heart opens up in empathy. I know some people close down because it either hurts too much or they don’t know what to do or say. Maybe you’ve never lost anyone so the experience is just an abstract. Death is not easy to deal with, even on the outside.
Just telling someone you are sorry and that you don’t know what else to say can be a help. If you are with those people, hug them, touch them, hold their hand. Don’t let them fade into their grief.
Reach out. Show you care in whatever way works for you.
Just some thoughts.