I have several dear friends who are in deep grief right now. A lost father, a lost mother, a dad with Alzheimer’s. One friend commented that it’s like being in a club. And I replied that it’s a club you never want to belong to, but once you do, you’re at least glad for the company.
In so many ways, it’s like becoming a parent. You really don’t know what it’s like until you live through it. You can’t. You couldn’t possibly. Interestingly, I was so thankful to have friends in the parent club before I had Jack, because I benefited so much from their experience. But I was late to the game for that club. I was one of the last of my friends to have children, so the club was already full when I arrived.
But with my parents’ deaths, I was the first. Or one of the first. When my mom died, I was not quite twenty-nine years old. This doesn’t put me in the category of people who have lost a parent as children. But twenty-nine is still pretty young to lose a parent. I think I had two other friends, both from college. But they were guys, and they had both lost dads. I didn’t know any women my age who were losing their moms. It was a very lonely club.
Thankfully, I had older friends, teachers, mentors, and counselors, who had traveled the road I was on. It didn’t make it go away. It didn’t make the emptiness any less vast. It didn’t make the terrain I was covering any easier to slog through. Step after clumsy, painful step. But the company was more helpful than I could say. Like the lyrics from an old Police song: “It seems I’m not alone in being alone.”
At my twentieth high school reunion, a friend pointed out another classmate of ours across the room and whispered in my ear, “She just buried her mother today.” I had buried my father the day before, and I felt defensive. “Oh, I wonder what that’s like!” I said, sarcasm dripping from my tongue. She rolled her eyes at me. “That’s what I mean, stupid.”
Oh. So here we are. We’re in our early-to-mid-forties (depending how you count). We get older. Our parents get older. It’s the way of things. That doesn’t make it easy. But it makes it, somehow, easier to handle. To know that we’re part of a larger experience called life. Which includes death. Including the death of people we love. Including our own.
One of the hardest parts of losing a parent is that there is now no cushion between ourselves and the end of ourselves. There’s no buffer. There it is. We’re next. And then our children are born, and they get older, which means we must be getting older. Jerry Seinfeld once said: “Make no mistake about why these babies are here. They’re here to replace us.”
Jack just graduated from preschool last month. He’s five. He’ll start Kindergarten in the fall, and I can’t believe it. I can’t stand it. I blinked, and here we are. I’ll blink again, and he’ll graduate from high school. How did this happen to me? It feels impossible. But here we are.
Groucho Marx famously said that he didn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member. But this club accepts everyone. Whether we like it or not.
I don’t know anyone who “likes” belonging to the club of orphans. Or the club of people who lose the ones we love and who eventually die. But we are also a club of people who hold each other up, who send cards and flowers and love to our friends who need it most. Which, at one point or another, is all of us. Not such a bad club, really.