I wrote this last October 16th, but haven’t felt comfortable releasing it until now. Please feel free to comment, contact me, or pass this on!
An orphan (from the Greek ὀρφανός) is a child permanently bereaved of his or her parents. In common usage, only a child (or the young of an animal) who has lost both parents is called an orphan. However, adults can also be referred to as orphans, or “adult orphans”.
That difination comes from Wikipedia.
How much of us is wrapped up in who we are as children of our parents? For me, it was, and is, alot.
My father was fairly well known in our small towns of North Arlington and Kearny, NJ. He had worked various part time evening jobs to supplement both my parents full time salaries. He was a friendly guy as well, so his evening walks for nearly 30 years to the local supermarket, and pizza joint, became walks to chat with friends each night. He would fix neighbor’s cars, and build kid’s bikes. He loved handing out candy and being silly on Halloween. Each night around 6pm he could be found standing out in front of the house, having his nightly cigarette, chatting with who ever might be around. My mother was the local all-around-lady. She was the Chaplin of the EMS squad, a Crime Prevention Captain, a crossing guard, the substitute organist for her church, a lay minister doing the sermons while the minister was away, worked the election board, and had worked in the Board of Ed for years as well. She also held the distinction of being the only Girl Scout leader to have a troop of over 65 girls who’s parents fought for the troop to stay together when the council decided it was too big for one leader and wanted to break it up. At town events that the church participated in, there you would find my parents, one being a full member and working hard, and the other, being the dutiful husband, doing whatever he could to help make her job easier.
So most of my life I was known as “Jack’s kid” or “Grace’s daughter”. It was good. Without really knowing me, people assumed the best. Stores offered me a running credit (remember when local stores did that!?) account, auto shops got me parts quicker or went to greater lengths to help me out. I once went to cash a check at the super market, and found I had forgotten my license as ID – not to worry, the customer service clerk knew my dad, called the manager over and said “this is Jack’s kid”, and they cashed the check without further worry.
When my Dad passed away six years ago yesterday, part of the shock for me was, I felt, that I was no longer “Jack’s kid” in some way. That his passing meant I would never hear that again. And in many ways, that is the case. We moved my mother to my home within three months of my dad passing. Thirty-five miles away from the towns that they were known and loved in. Away from the church, the police department, the emergency squad, the super market, the pizzeria, the neighbors, the friends. But my mother quickly rebounded and made friends here. She was amazing like that; she could make people love her and want to be friends with her in the drop of a hat. She joined the church here. She became a deacon within six months. She got to know the local cops, and would sit and wave to them during the day. The local pizza place got to know her name as well. Our doctor, who was now her doctor as well, loved her visits and the whole office would be in bent-over laughter when she was there. Even my neighbors became friends with her, inviting her into their homes for chats. When she became ill and had to go to live in the nursing home, she again, became friends very quickly with the staff and other residents. In a short three years, I was “Grace’s daughter” to everyone again. It became my official title when dealing with doctors and medicare and the nursing home; “Hi, this is Terry, Grace’s daughter”.
The day my mother passed I went from the hospital to the nursing home. I knew I had to pick up certain items and thought I could handle it. I couldn’t. The social worker met Michael and I in the hall, embraced me and offered her sympathies. She pulled out a set of keys and un-locked the door to my mother’s room. My knees buckled and I lost control of my emotions. I never made it into the room that day. Nurses and other residents came to see me in the social workers office. They brought me tea and sat with me while I cried. I could hear a few voices in the hall, and I heard it clearly that day “that’s Grace’s daughter”, when someone would ask who was crying.
About three months later, the nursing home had a service for those residents who had passed the previous year. They invited family and friends to attend, and all residents were there. We went, and they kindly asked each family member to come up and place a rose in a vase that signifed the full life that we remember. Afterwards there was a small coffee/tea and cake reception. Many women came up to me, without the hesitency that we associate to politness, but with a decidedly warm familiarity, reached out for my hand and said, “you’re Grace’s daughter, she was a wonderful woman, I miss her”. The music director stepped up to me, telling me a sweet story about finding my mother sitting at the piano one afternoon after the normal afternoon music hour, trying to make her now painful hands play the notes they knew so well years before. She ended the conversation with, “she was a fun and wonderful lady, and loved you very much, she talked about you all the time. She was proud to be your mother.” Terry’s mother.
A year has passed since my mother’s passing. I miss her every day. I miss even the lunches at the nursing home, the walks in their garden as she clung to my arm.
A hug that said, “thank you for spending time with me”
But I am now coming into my own being. While I am still very much “Jack’s kid”, or “Grace’s daughter”, and always will be, I don’t hear it anymore.
I am now more focused on making sure the grandchildren don’t forget them. I cherish each silly habit or tradiaiton they had. I have associated myself more with the things that were important to them, trying to keep that part of them alive.
A year of being an orphan has been difficult, it has been painful and a learning experience. I will continue to learn to be “Terry” without the added title associating me as my parent’s child. And I will continue to miss it. But I have survived. That is something I would have told you ten years ago I could never do. I could never be here, without them.