Today would have been my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary.
One year ago today, I sat next to my father in his hospital room, watching the tears well as he remembered his 48th anniversary, my mother three years gone. We listened in a heavy silence as the doctor informed him he had been too weakened by his fall and inability to eat to begin his course of cancer treatments, and that without those treatments, he would likely not live much longer. And we talked once the doctor left the room, with me fully supporting his decision to waive treatments, head to the nursing home, and choose palliative care (and, later, hospice).
Eight weeks later, my father slipped away silently, eyes cloudy and fixed on a far-distant point (my late mother, perhaps), while I remained at his side, saying good-bye and sending him off with my love.
The past year has been sprinkled with the challenges of dealing with estate matters as well as shadowed by the adjustment to becoming truly alone. With both parents dead, no siblings, no husband or children, and no other close family, I have come to rely even more on my friends to be my “family” — but as wonderful as they are, they are still not a complete substitute for those empty spaces in my life.
And I don’t say that to provoke pity. I have actually felt a great deal of relief in that aloneness, for most of my adult life but especially in the past year. I have always felt out of step with the rest of my family, holding much different opinions on politics, social matters, and religion, and it is a tremendous burden off my shoulders not to have to navigate the rocky shoals of discussion on any of those topics with my parents. I am completely free to be my own person, speak my truths out loud without looking over my shoulder, and do what I know to be right for me without feeling a need to seek approval.
Yes, those are things I should have been able to say years ago, and it’s on me that it has taken so long to assert my convictions. But along with laying my parents to rest in the past four and a half years, I am also laying to rest the “good girl” I was raised to be.
Reflecting on life and death during autumn always seems a natural thing to do: as the trees let go of dying leaves and flowers drop their faded petals, we are constantly reminded of mortality as part of the cycle of life. But we head into winter comforted by the knowledge that springtime will renew that cycle once more.
As I head out on walks these days, looking for the changing colors above me and seeing the signs of a world heading slowly towards its annual rest, I find time to remember my parents, to feel their loss deep in my heart, and to cultivate the hope that I continue to grow into my own self, free to speak my truth and to do what I must to become the strong woman I want to be.
And in that, I find my peace.