It’s 9pm…do you know where your parent is?
Losing a parent, especially your last one, can feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself. The role of son or daughter that you’ve played your whole life no longer exists, but the remnants of the relationships live even the smallest points of your life.
I used to talk to my mother every day, after putting my young son to bed, between 8:30–9:30pm. Usually the conversations were short, mainly covering her various ailments, updates on family, and making sure I was eating well. My father passed away when I was 12, so as the only child of a single mother in an Indian household, it was my responsibility to care for her and the household. My family always made that priority clear.
There is a phenomenon known as phantom limb syndrome. This is when someone who has lost a limb still feels its existence through pain in that area or other sensations. Becoming the last living member of your nuclear family can feel that way in that there is a tug of presence, pain of loss, and irreversible change of life and connection to others. I cannot imagine the physical and emotional pain of losing a part of your physical body, and do not want in any way to minimize such a traumatic event, but can only think of this analogy to describe the emotional pain and life change death of a parent can bring.
On my end, I many times looked at our nightly call ritual as a responsibility, or chore, to be borne. Mainly, I knew how lonely she was in her home alone and I wanted to keep her connected and also ensure she hadn’t fallen down the stairs or anything. My mother was quite a prodigious advice giver and fairly stuck in her way of thinking, so not all conversations were fully two-way, but at least they were contact points to end the day. She would also ask to FaceTime to see her grandson and many times we wouldn’t because something else was happening or it just wasn’t convenient timing.
I feel guilty about treating any of our conversations that way and would give so much to get them back.
Mom used to make copious amounts of food for our family. It was her way to help and also a way to spoil her only grandchild. I sometimes got annoyed by the amounts of food being given that no family could finish or having to pick it up and spend hours on the weekend there when there was so much work to be done in other places.
I feel guilty about treating any of our interactions that way and would give so much to get them back.
The weirdest items bring back a flood of memories and the tug of responsibility: seeing the Tupperware containers we used to transport food, songs I sing to my son, toys he plays with that she purchased, or questions that cross my mind I’d want her feedback on. I’ll sometimes even go so far as to reach for my phone, but the realize the futility.
I feel guilty about not getting my mom more time with her grandson who lit up her life and infused her with energy. Her love for him was as pure and full as possible…and he needed more time with his Dadima.
On January 5, 2020, she died. On January 3 she asked for me to let her go, to stop treatment suddenly after a complication from surgery. As her power of attorney and sole decision maker, I supported her wishes and began the process of allowing her to die. The first morning after she made her decision, she looked younger than she had in years. She called many family members and friends to say goodbye and gave me instructions about her funeral and what to do with some of her jewelry.
Every few hours thereafter, however, I saw Mom decline towards her own passing.
In 72 hours, I watched a seemingly healthy-looking woman descend to death.
I feel guilty about not pushing my mom a little more to try the fairly noninvasive treatment for just a little longer to see if it helped, even though I know I was following her wishes and doing what she wanted with the support she needed.
In the first few weeks, around the time I used to talk to mom I’d have a brief moment of panic that I didn’t know where my phone was and hadn’t heard from Mom or that I needed to call her.
During times when I have important meetings or events, I’d be surprised to not get any texts or reminders that only a mother would leave.
In a few more weeks, I won’t have another house to help take care of, another set of finances to work through, and one less person I am responsible for at all.
In the coming months and years, the pain and guilt will (hopefully) subside and my young son’s memories of his Dadima will dissipate.
My role as son and member of my childhood family will truly be over.
It’s 9pm somewhere in the world…have you called your parent yet?