I was devastated after my father died, which surprised me because I knew he was sick and that it would be fatal. I thought I was prepared.
In my grief, I found “The Orphaned Adult” by Alexander Levy. The title fascinated me. I’d always thought of orphans as children. It never occurred to me that adults could be orphans.
But Dr. Levy is right. Age doesn’t matter. When people lose their parents, they become orphans.
When Daddy died, I was partially an orphan. It wasn’t easy to accept, but I still had my mother, so my sense of my “life as usual” was almost on track.
I’ve been lucky. I had my parents a long time. I remember being surprised at a high-school reunion when I learned that I was only one of just a few classmates who still had living parents. It shocked me because I remembered those people and didn’t realize they were gone.
But I still had Mommy. In fact, I’d always had “Mommy and Daddy.” They’d always been there and part of my life. How could they not be?
When Daddy died, part of that scenario changed but he remains with me in spirit and memory.
For my mother, it was more difficult as she clung to the memory of the man she’d been married to for 65 years. She went on with her life and activities and friends and family, but it was clear that part of her spirit died with him. She missed him desperately.
How could she not?
The youngest child of an immigrant family, she had a tough life, growing up during the Great Depression. Her mother was widowed when she was 13, which left Mom, her two siblings and their mother to face a future during which the main concern was how to survive economically.
The whole family worked to put the eldest son through law school. They even made potato chips at home, selling them door-to-door.
The middle child completed nursing school, but for Mom, the youngest, college wasn’t possible. There was just no money. Dental-technician training was what she got, and she did work at that for a while.
Then she met the right guy. Love at first, last and only sight! They married young and not entirely with her mother’s blessing. A mother never likes it when her youngest leaves the nest, especially if she’s the first to do it. But in time, peace was made and the marriage was long and good.
But it wasn’t easy surviving the fragile economy and then the war years. The couple worked together, starting their own businesses and getting involved in politics.
Ardent FDR Democrats, they worked for local issues and candidates as well as state and national offices. I remember that a “smoke-filled political room” meant our dining room! I eavesdropped on lots of behind-the-scenes discussions!
Mom organized a ballot initiative to get voting machines in our New Jersey county. It was a tough battle, and the political machine opposed her, even with death threats, but she did it and the initiative won!
She was elected county committeewoman and worked closely with the campaigns for state senator and governor.
My mother was a champion of fairness and justice. She wasn’t a “feminist” – that movement came later – but she worked hard for equality.
Unfortunately, she didn’t always win that battle. I remember when she was doing the entire job of managing a major retirement home for a church group. She was good at it, and things moved smoothly.
Then management decided to hire an “official” manager. When she applied for the job, which would have given her a nice raise, they turned her down and weren’t shy about why.
They told her that a higher salary had to go to a male manager because he had a family to support. Since Mom was “just a wife,” she really didn’t “need” the money.
Needless to say, she didn’t stay in that atmosphere long, especially after the man hired came to her for advice on how to do things.
But mostly, my parents worked together in their own businesses and were always together.
The best way to describe my mother would be to say: gregarious, caring, gentle, generous, loyal, hard-working and tough. She was of a generation not spoiled by ease. What my parents had, they worked for or they didn’t have it. But we never wanted for anything. Best of all, we had a loving family.
It was that way until the end for my father. His last words to me were “Take care of Mom.” I’d hoped to see him the next day, but he died.
My mother lived on, beating breast cancer by six years. I said she was tough! She remained active in politics, loved her friends and enjoyed her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She relished being the matriarch, attending a cross-country family reunion, meeting distant cousins and their children.
Then in May, another reality took over. A minor, non-life-threatening medical situation escalated into a medical horror. She was overtreated and overmedicated by a humorless, impersonal, insulting and cruel system that’s spinning into chaos.
I was with her 24/7 for weeks, as though we were on an out-of-control freight train.
More than 15 doctors streamed through her room, scarcely paying attention to what each was prescribing.
The system was against her. She had no control. The only way she could get them to stop overtreating her was to die.
And she did.
They made up medical jargon for “cause of death.”
I spoke to one of her former doctors who was astonished she’d died.
“Of what?” he asked. “She wasn’t sick!”
And, she wasn’t.
My dear mother, Rose, is dead. Her funeral was Friday. She’s finally at peace and reunited with her beloved husband, John.
I pray they’re happy.
I pray I can stop crying.