Asides

ON ORPHANHOOD

Today’s Not Mom, Tyler, is unofficially my brother-in-law. We met almost seven years ago when he started volunteering at the robot shop (before it opened). He officiated my wedding. He’s a dear friend, one that I love to talk to about movies and music and beer. He’s one of those “I have to tell/ask Tyler about ______” people that you can never have too many of. Three months after the unexpected death of his father, I sent him this email. He responded almost immediately, and through reasons COMPLETELY my own, I am just now posting this.


Dear Tyler,

You recently lost your father. And, before I even met you, you lost your mom. I know you know this already, but this makes you an orphan.

I have three things I want to discuss with you.

1. Do you have any advice for people like me who have not yet lost a parent? I can make myself cry just, you know, driving around in my car on a Tuesday when I think too long or hard or specifically about my mom dying. Should I be taking more pictures? Asking more questions? Are there things you wish you had done that you hadn’t?

2. At some point, if things work out as they are supposed to, I guess, everyone becomes an orphan. One thing I’ve been struck with as a 38-year-old is how little I feel like an adult. Different things that I thought would make me feel like an adult (getting a career, having a baby) didn’t. If you feel similarly, does one feel more like an adult after the loss of a parent? (I don’t feel like I rely on my parents too much, but, especially now that I HAVE a child, I understand the parent-child dynamic more completely.)

3. You are, literally, the sixth close friend I’ve had lose a father in the last year or so. It’s a trend. In your twenties, friends start getting married; in your thirties; they start getting divorced; in your late thirties, dads start dying. What are the best/most supportive things friends can do when this happen? What are the worst?

Love,
Amy

Dear Amy,

It’s been a dream of mine to be a part of “Mom/Not Mom” since its inception. I’d hoped I could find a backdoor in even though I have an extra Y chromosome, and here we are! Hooray! I got here by being an orphan, so, I guess, boo.
But as you said, this happens to everyone if things go according to Hoyle. It happened to me earlier than most which is lamentable, but there are many things that make it . . . let’s say palatable? I’m going to run with that even if it might be distasteful phrasing. Anyway:

1. Advice? My initial response is, listen, you’ll have regrets no matter how everything shakes out. I ultimately can only speak to specifics, so here’s one thing I did that’s been great, and one that will forever be an “I wish . . .” The first is that as my mom started to get sick, we sat around a lot and looked at old photo albums. It was kind of like a long, protracted wake, with the deceased still around to give some context. Anyway, I started taking all of those old photographs and digitized them. It served the grieving process and now I can go look at the entirety of my parents’ lives from any computer. I find it comforting. On the regret side, I had planned for years to start visiting with my dad for an “oral history,” recording all of his old stories so they would be preserved forever. I never got around to it, and now I can’t. It seems trite to say “Don’t put shit off,” but that’s the crux of it.

2. I may be an anomaly here, as I had a kid when I was 19 (19!). That’s left me feeling like an adult for the last 20 years, but one that’s kind of looking in from the outside? If that makes sense? Since I never got to be an “unencumbered” adult and say, go backpacking in Europe or take a job where I make no money because who cares, I’m in a perpetual state of adolescence, trying to make up for “lost time.” I think I finally wrapped my head around being an adult when my kid became one. There’s no denying it now, I’m an old man, even if I act like a juvenile most of the time. I don’t think losing either parent had much effect on my feelings of being adult, but maybe that’s semantics, because both times it made me feel utterly alone. I suppose those things are intertwined, but that’s probably another conversation.

3. OK, so as a veritable “expert” on this, I can unequivocally say this: there’s no wrong thing. Outside of someone asking something of you during those times, anyone who says or does anything is nice. Especially if you have the mindset of “these people care about you and your family, and letting them help or express something is as much for them as it is for you.” I prefer physical cards to facebook posts or emails, and a donation to a charity I think is nice over flowers, but those are personal preferences. What meant most to me though was people sharing stories about my parents. Shared ones, personal ones – even people who didn’t really know them but would write to say “I always remember you talking about . . .” After all is said and done, memories are really all we have, so reminders of those or adding to them is the literal best thing you can do.

I guess in some ways losing a parent is like becoming one? It seems an impossible task that you ultimately muddle your way through. I can still well up thinking about my parents, and I know I will absolutely lose my shit next fall when football season rolls around and I don’t have my dad around to share it. But I mostly think about how lucky I was to have such amazing parents, and how I can always lean on all the things they instilled in me. That’s why I’ve kept this picture on my desk at work ever since my dad passed.  Sometimes it makes me cry unexpectedly, and I’m OK with that. Mostly I look at them and think “I want to party with those cats” and the fact that I got to for such a long time is worth celebrating.

Image

Dear Tyler,

I know you know this, but your mother was a Stone Cold FOX.

Also, thanks for all of this.

Love, Amy

Tyler Brubaker has lots of opinions on sports and music and politics and beer, and he’ll happily tell you about all of them on his blog.

On Orphanhood

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