On Becoming A Mid-Life Orphan

On Becoming A Mid-Life Orphan

If all goes as it should, we all end up being orphaned at some point in our lives. If we don’t, our parents have outlived us and that either means you have died a tragic and early death, or you are the offspring of vampires. And everyone knows vampires can’t procreate so…..

Just because we may see the total logic in this sequence of events doesn’t mean it isn’t a huge mind-fuck.

Whether you have a healthy or therapist-inducing relationship with your parents (I suspect the latter is much more rampant….and interesting), no matter what age we are, we rely on having our parents on earth and kicking.

They are a touchstone to where we are in relation to death and the natural pecking order.

They are also the keepers of our personal history in a way that siblings and friends are not.

Having just entered orphan-hood myself, I’m still navigating the sans parents world. I suspect I will settle into it. Right now, however, I can’t stop the loop of a cockney accent asking for another bowl of porridge that keeps running through my head.

I think I’ve been watching way too much PBS.

This transition was made even stranger this past week when I was in Minnesota for my mother’s memorial service. After the very touching and lovely tribute, my sisters and I decided we’d check out our childhood house.

I had not been back since I was 10 years old.

The real shocker was that not a whole lot had changed. The house was still there, well-kept, familiar and much smaller than I remember.

As we stood around outside the house, no doubt looking like the most inept and best dressed thieves ever, a nice, young Midwestern man came out to start to mow our….his….lawn.

We let him know that we were not some sort of middle-aged organized crime ring (though I may have to start one of those) but that we had grown up in his house. Like all Midwesterners, he was exceptionally friendly and warm.

But here’s the crazy kicker. He asked us what our last name was and when we told him, he smiled widely and told us he had something for us.

He ran into his garage and came back moments later with a tarnished brass door knocker with the name “A.J. Barnett, MD” inscribed on the face.

We were the original owners of the house and this knocker hung on our front door, identifying the town doctor and intimidating every boy who came to take my sisters out on a date. And, 40 years later, it was kept and passed on from owner to owner until this nice father could give it back to us.

I couldn’t help but picture my parents hanging that knocker on the door of their new home, my Mom pregnant with me, her sixth (yes, I said SIXTH!!!) child, my father thinking about opening the doors of his new private practice in this rural outpost.

They would live in that house for over a decade, struggle with raising a hoard of kids, mend broken bones and broken hearts, struggle with starting and keeping a medical practice going, make lasting friendships and build many memories for us.

They were very much like me….except the six kids. I’m not insane after all!

 What the hell, Irish Catholics? Keep it zipped up why don’t ya!!

As I walked around my old back yard and watched my kids standing by the river that I played endless hours in, my new status of orphan didn’t feel so bad after all.

Man, I loved that sweater! I was pretty fond of that dog too.

Though I still have a real hankering for porridge.

23 Responses »

  1. Ok, so I am not the only one who considered myself an orphan after my parents left. I, unlike you, came to where I couldn’t take going by our home. It is hard to drive with tears in your eyes, or streaming down your face. I was the 5th of the Irish/German Catholic family and the house was custom built by John E Birch for the RA Williams family. Said so right there on our front door knocker! I have considered going to scare the people who live there now “I used to live here, would you mind if I just step into the living room? This is where my mom died. You don’t hear any strange noises at all do you?”

    They lived long and happy lives mom was 82 when she left and dad was a week shy of 87. I miss them dearly, every day, ever since….

    Ok so can they speak to us? I think so but it’s hard to know what they want. I was driving to work and a car passed me with our home phone number on the license plate. The same drive maybe 4 minutes later a service van #(our home address). “What guys? I see. What are you trying to tell me? I Love You Too!”

    Funny how it hurts even though you understand it. and there is nothing to say that helps really.
    Sorry just isn’t right. Even if I am. You aren’t alone? And most of us will have to go thru it, as you pointed out.

    • I still have many days when I want nothing more than to talk to my Mom. Or, to have my Dad call to see how my car is running. I don’t think that will ever change, no matter how old I get. And, I hope it never does.

  2. I just found you today on a link from the Blogess. Timing is ironic, because I just became a mid-life orphan myself on August 10, 2013. A person who may or may not be my therapist told me I am going through a “reconfiguration” and I thought that word was perfect (but “mind fuck” also spot on, sister! If I were to be in therapy, which I may or may not be, I would be sure to share that phrase with my therapist, who I may or may not be seeing again next Tuesday.) Also ironic is that I was the youngest of 7 Irish Catholics and grew up in a home that they moved to when I was just a baby. My Dad still lived in that house in upstate NY with his wife (whom I love, don’t get me wrong). The strange part for me is that she now lives there and I have to prepare for the changes that will be happening there and accept that the connection is more to the family and less to the “stuff.” Anyway, really sorry for your loss. I have never once posted on a blog but felt compelled to tell you thanks and that I feel bonded with you, albeit in a totally shitty way.

    • OK, wow. Ask someone who may or may not be your therapist if the fact that your comment made me tear up makes me unstable. Then as that person that you may or may not see next Tuesday when all this “mind fukery” slows down because I’m still pretty dizzy!! Thank you for taking the time to write. Made me super happy and sad all at once!!! Good luck with your reconfiguration!

      • Update: he may or may not laughed uncontrollably at the suggestion of the phrase. Good luck to you as well. Love your writing by the way. So perhaps I will just stick around for a while :)

  3. More love on words by Irene! Brava! (Hey, this is kinda weird but — kidding not — we had the *same* ’70s brass knocker action — with R.W. O’Brien engravables.)

    • I kinda love that we have a shared knocker experience! Partly because I so dig you and partly because “shared knocker experience” can mean so many interesting things. I heart you Dan O’Brien!

  4. Irene, thanks for making me laugh about a sad subject because life can be like that, sad and funny at the same time. Life just keeps marching on, but now I feel ike I’m literally running to catch up- it’s comical, really. Again, so sorry about you losing your mom. And, you look so much like her…how wonderful for you.

  5. +1 on starting a middle-aged organized crime ring. “The Middle-Aged Gangsters” sounds a little flat, but translating it into Spanish seems to add a little pizzaz: “los gángsteres de mediana edad”
    ;-)

  6. I love that you intersperse humor in such a classy way, Irene. This is just beautiful – heartfelt and honest. The whole scene of going back to your childhood home sends chills up my spine because I’ve gone past my old house many times since my parents moved. It’s the strangest feeling, and you have to feel your teeth to make sure there are no braces and look down at your sneakers to check for the friendship pins. I am so glad it brought you peace.

    • Thank you!! And, it’s true – I kept picturing the giant hand-me-down bike I used to ride all over the place that was so big I couldn’t reach the seat. Seems so distant and like yesterday all at once. Ah aging!

  7. Gorgeous writing and funny as a mofo too! It is indeed a huge mind-fuck. But perhaps the costly therapy sessions can come to an end. I wonder if being adopted, as I am, will have an affect on all this or if conditioning will prove just as powerful as genetics. Will my brain tell me that I have lost my biological bearings despite being adopted or will it still seek to know what they are?

    • I have no idea but for me, it’s less about biology and more about the cosmic slap of childhood memories mingled with the foreshadowing of death. Fun stuff, huh???

  8. I’m so glad you blogged this. My mom is 80 and my dad is 87. It’s in my mind a lot more these days than it was 20 years ago–I will be an orphan at some point, and I’m not looking forward to it. Your story made me smile, and reminds me that I’ll have some fun memories too. Thanks.

    • It’s a tough time everyone has to face. But, it also can give you a lot of clarity too in an odd way….whether you want it or not!

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