From the time that, as a small child, we first become aware of the fact of death, we know that some day our parents will die. Yet when that day comes for one of them, it is a shock that saddens us to our core, for one of those who gave us life and sustained us through the years is gone. This loss creates a void in our existence that no other relationship can fill and can leave us feeling temporarily stranded, perhaps even abandoned as we might have felt as a small child.
The most devoted of relationships between child and parent leaves memories of both happy and painful times and the death of either parent can trigger a flood of these memories along with strong emotions. We vividly recall words and actions, recent or of days long past, that we wish we could take back or undo. We may also feel regret for the words left unsaid, remorse for the small things that we might have done, but did not, to show our affection or to help. We may sorrowfully recall times when, in an angry adolescent mood, we refused the love of a parent. And perhaps, now being parents, ourselves, we understand the depth of their love that lasted throughout our lives - love that never asked for reward. Whatever the relationship was between each one of us and a parent, we know that they did what we try to do now - the best we are able at any given moment. As a child, we could not imagine what it might be like to be without one of them. Now we feel adrift at the loss of a beloved presence.
A young child will have great difficulty in trying to make sense of the death of a parent and will need much understanding, comfort and support. As adults, including those of us who have experienced a reversal of roles through the care of a parent, ill or no longer self-sufficient, we know that this death occurred in an orderly fashion in relation to our own existence. Part of the sense of loss, then, may be the sobering realization that our own generation has at last become the oldest generation. We no longer have elders to look to for advice and consolation, from now on it is up to us to play that role for others, perhaps also now for a surviving parent. As we continue to observe family rituals and traditions in our lives, we shall think of our past with poignancy and of our parents with love - and we shall miss them.