Orphanos, Yathom = Losing Your Guide

There are so many stories that I would like to share as I continue on this journey of losing a last parent.  This is actually quite a different experience than losing my father.  I have always said that relationships are complicated and certainly one’s relationship with a parent is even more dramatic and life impacting than any other. I will however try to generalize some themes and experiences that many of you have experienced.   I guess the first theme is what it means to become an ‘orphan’.  I never fully understood the loss of continuity as expressed by others, as I had previously thought  this term as defined by UNICEF was used for those who were ‘under 18 and had lost one or both parents to any cause of death’.  The early Greeks and Hebrews used this biblical term (orphanos and yathom) to describe being ‘without a father or lacking a guide or teacher’. Today we use the term more loosely; referring to having lost both parents regardless of one’s age.

I think it is more than its definition and refers to a loss of connectedness, of continuity, and generational belonging. It leaves an empty space, a black hole perhaps and I now  realize I have so many questions that can no longer be answered.  Our role as child no longer exists and we find ourselves becoming our own story tellers and keepers of the memories.

It does represent the age appropriate generational transfer. We become our society’s elders, holders of knowledge and wisdom. With effort we will fill that role.

I have worked with many families who have a parent with an advanced dementia and I know this transition begins much earlier, while their parent is still alive but can no longer share in the warmth of a familiar story or a shared experience.

I know I have been lucky and I hope many of you today can reflect on your own situations and say the same thing.

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