Losing Your Parents, Finding Your Self

Excerpted from Losing Your Parents, Finding Your Self

My mother did not open her eyes, and after a couple of hours, my husband and I went home. I later learned that she got up once in the night, with my sister's help, to go to the bathroom--stalwart to the last--then went back to bed. At 11:07 PM, February 13, 1993, she died peacefully in her sleep. She was eighty-two.

I had been preparing for this event my whole life; as a child, I had recurring nightmares that she would die and leave me. And when it finally happened, for one day I felt some melancholy. Still, there was no big bang of grief--I had already done my grieving, years before.

And so I did not go to her funeral, a ceremony designed for those who would want to pay mournful homage--her other children, her grandchildren, her loyal friends--because I would have been out of place and because I had said all my good-byes. Instead I stayed home, feeling, more than anything, a sad sense of relief. We would never again disappoint each other.

What caught me by surprise, and was far more wrenching than the death itself, was the ripple effect of her dying. What I never saw coming--this is the part no one warned me about; what can happen long after the funeral is over--was the impact her demise would have on the grown children who survived her. For my siblings and I had not simply suffered a death in the family but, in a sense, a death of the family, at least as we had known it.

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