When Your Last Parent Dies

For a child, the loss of a parent is the loss of memory itself. Svetlana Alexievich

When your last parent dies, you become an orphan. Untethered, unbound, unattached.

When your last parent dies, if you are the only child born of their marriage, you become the oldest living member of your little family.

When your last parent dies, your family splinters. Cracks in relationships reveal themselves. Others expand or split apart, never to be healed again.

When your last parent dies, you are forced to let go of the house you grew up in, that bright sunny space where your children laughed and played, where your parents drew their last breath. The place where you walked both of them all of the way home.

When your last parent dies, you sell your childhood home, that well-loved, quirky space with the bath and a half, a purple living room and hundreds of outdoor flower pots your mother carefully tended. You know that the builder will tear it down immediately and erect an oversized two story, white pillared monstrosity in an older neighborhood full of ranch style homes. And he does.

When your last parent dies, you sort, toss, give away, sell and box up knickknacks, clothing, books, dishes, glasses, Tupperware and vases. Objects that may have deep meaning but no value. Objects that you want to keep but have no space for. Some of the time, you make the wrong choice. Discarding what you wish you’d kept, and keeping what you wish you’d tossed.

When your last parent dies, branches fall off the family tree. Old resentments and long-simmering rage burst into view, no longer tempered by the matriarch or patriarch of the family. The money is all important now, and they have been waiting for far too long.

When your last parent dies, small, distant branches break, too, over words said in jest, responses too slow in coming, a refusal to understand or acknowledge how death and loss can paralyze or change you.

When your last parent dies, all the questions you never asked haunt you. You realize that there is no one to remind you how your great great grandmother came to this country, when the funds were stolen from your father’s business or why your aunts stopped speaking to each other. It’s too late to find out who’s standing with your father in that sepia-colored photograph from 1911 or the names of the long-dead relatives in the photos piled unlabeled on your mom’s desk.

When your last parent dies, you regret what you didn’t say and didn’t do. You regret what you did say and did do. You miss the phone calls, texts and emails that sometimes came too often when they were alive and desperately wish for just one more now that they are both gone.

When your last parent dies, you think “I must ask Mom what she thinks of that book …” or “I need to send Dad that article …”, only to realize as you grab for your phone or laptop that the person you want to call or email has been dead for almost nine or almost twenty-one years.

When your last parent dies …

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