Losing a parent

White Sands Proving Ground, White Sands, New Mexico, 1952 Hugh Block and Bob Somebody

by cheri block

In my earlier years of blogging, once I had a readership, I spent some time considering my audience. Would they be interested in a particular piece? Would it turn them off? Would they <worse> unsubscribe? Would I be relevant? Silly? Instructive? In the mix?

Now that I have been at it for awhile, those concerns  no longer hamper me. Since I do not write for a living–and thus do not have to adhere to a prescribed style sheet or editor’s whim–and now only write for fussy professors or better yet, for my dorky junior high students, I really am free.

It is because of  this freedom, I confess, I still plug away, thinking of the verbs I choose and the content I share.

This evening, I’d like to comment on losing a parent.

Those of you who are in your thirties/forties may not have experienced the loss of mother or father. But you will, and as Joe reminded me last month, don’t miss opportunities to connect with them because once they are gone, they are gone.

For me, losing a parent was the most profound experience of my life.

I say profound because well, I had no road map, no Virgil, no guide to show me what might happen and how my heart might ache.

But no one is ever ready.

Even if you are not close to your parent or your parent disappointed you or she didn’t live up to your expectations…losing a parent is profound.

Literature and cinema burst with such themes:   the orphan crying over the dead parent, the lion cub crying over the dead lion king.

It’s all so surreal until it is your parent and he or she is no longer available to call or text or e-mail.

I know this sounds like an encounter group activity, but if your parent is still alive, send them an e-mail or call.

As Joe used to tell me, don’t miss an opportunity.

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
This entry was posted in Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Losing a parent

  1. I KNEW there was a deep relationship between us! Ihave been mentally writing a story about the night my Dad died! Don’t worry. I have a few more in between! AK

  2. Don says:

    My dad’s in hospital tonight. I expect they will send him home tomorrow. He’s not deathly ill, just steadily weaker and more fragile. And 85.

    My mom’s doing pretty well, considering.

    They divorced after thirteen years of marriage, forty-nine years ago. I spent my childhood never experiencing them together.

    Yet last weekend I was with them both at an event in the Alumni House at Cal. That was pretty nice.

    * * *

    Your picture reminds me that my ex-wife’s former best friend’s father worked on the Manhattan Project and died of cancer in the late 1960s.

    • Cheri says:

      I hope your father is released today to his home.
      I guess your example about being with your divorced parents, forty-nine years later reminds me of the adage: never say never. Right?

      White Sands Proving Ground hosted a number of the men and women who worked on the Manhattan Project.

      • Don says:

        Well, they’d never be together. They have mutual friends from those post-WWII college days. Not many are left, though. It’s just sort of a treat to have them together in one place, now that I’m more or less past the bitterness such a juxtaposition has historically inspired.

  3. ana terán says:

    I’ve lost both parents. And 2 young brothers as well. Not that long ago. Although I think they left knowing how deeply I loved them, from time to time I feel an urge to pick up the phone and dial their numbers just to hear their voice, just to tell them everything is fine, just to let them know my life is not the same since they are no longer around…

  4. Cyberquill says:

    I’m scared to call my mother, because she’s going to suggest, once again, that I move back to Austria, go to school, and get a real job. Trouble is, she’s absolutely right of course, as going conventional is the only realistic chance I see for myself to survive in the long run without ending up under the bridge. Faced with this reality, however, I tend to wax philosophical as to how desperately I want to survive in the first place, the upshot being that I talk to my mom once or twice a year. I simply don’t know what to say about this elephant in the room called my future to which the conversation inevitably must turn.

    • Cheri says:

      Should I say what I am feeling here? (If you do, Cheri, you risk Peter’s razor sharp wit and pointed pen coming at you like a Skil Saw.)

      Should I say that this comment touched me? (No way. That would lay/lie you open to Peter’s grinder…Viennese coffee grinder, that is…)

      Should I say that you, Peter, will find a way to make your life what you want it to be? ( Absolutely not, Cheri. You will sound too optimistic and he will chastise you, l00k for a secret symbol in the text, finally rendering you a grease spot in the Teflon Pan of Life)

      Thanks Peter. This comment really touched me. (Damnit, just resist the urge…)

      • Cyberquill says:

        Usua11y when a w0man c1aims I t0uched her, she pr0ceeds to rep0rt me t0 the auth0rities.

        Yes, I wi11 find a way t0 make my 1ife what I want it t0 be, pr0vided that the pr00f resides s0mewhere 0ther than in the pudding.

        N0b0dy’s 100king f0r secret symb01s. St0p being s0 paran0id a11 the time.

    • Richard says:

      It’s just that you deny the workplace your exceptional talents, Peter (if I am to take all you say at face value).

      Only a mother’s love will utter home truths and risk popularity. She knows the choice is yours. She must miss you beyond reason. Sometimes a desire to be free leads to another kind of captivity.

      • Cyberquill says:

        Yes, sometimes the desire to be free leads to being broke, a state which most certainly ranks among the prime enemies to freedom, as does going to work solely out of fear of having no money. It’s just a matter of deciding which kind of captivity we prefer. In the end, I, for one, tend to wimp out and choose the kind where I can at least eat, have a roof over my head, and enjoy a few luxury items like a computer, a telephone, a little TV, and a gym membership. I even own an electric blender. (I don’t think it’s Skil, but I’d have to check to make sure.)

    • Wow! You’re so attractive when you’re being straight.

      Ever considered calling your mum and telling her the truth? That you don’t speak to her often because you don’t want to have that conversation?

      • Cyberquill says:

        That’s funny, because most of the boys in the West Village (where I used to work for a long time) would have preferred me being gay.

        I’ve had that conversation with my mom many times. Obviously, I’m heading straight (to use your terminology) to a life in the homeless shelter. She knows it, and I know it, and she’s clearly the reasonable one in the debate. And the worst part is, if anything happens to me (such as, for instance, my needing expensive medical intervention of some sort), my mom is the one who’s going to spend her life savings bailing me out. So if I go down, I may actually take her down with me. And there’s no evidence that I’m going anywhere else but down unless I were to surrender, get an education, and enter the conventional work force.

    • Richard says:

      I see that on your blog you discuss returning to Austria, Peter.

  5. Richard says:

    Father left for somewhere in the cosmos with a faint quiver of his lips. “You live on in your children,” he once said to me. I grieved for years, but this is where he is now, reunited with my dear mother.

    Your children are not always children of the body.

    I pray that I may leave before Glenys. The pain would else be unendurable.

    • Cheri says:

      When I asked about the cosmos, my dad told me exactly the same thing Richard: we live on in the memories of our children.

      I said, “What happens when your children die?

      He said, “You’ll live on in the memories of your grandchildren.”

      Finally, exasperated, he said, “No more existential questions you little blabbermouth.

  6. sledpress says:

    My father died five days after my ex-husband. A friend and client, learning the news, sent effusive condolences about my father’s death and made little mention of my ex. I had to set him straight about the priorities.

    There is disappointing, and then there is a man who lies around drunk and unavailable for most of your adolescence, sobers up in time to convey his ambivalence about every penny he ever spent on his only child, makes himself inaccessible to all contact in a fit of pique after being called out on shabby behavior, and says “I have no daughter” for twenty-seven years, until one day, once a stroke has turned his brains to fruit salad, he asks his second wife (only six months younger than his daughter) to call and transmit his request for forgiveness.

    And he was the nicer of the two. You don’t want to know any more.

    I’ve spent many hours of my life trying to imagine an alternate evolution for intelligent life that didn’t condemn people to having parents.

    I can’t decide if I’m lucky that there’s nothing to feel but relief, or if at least some other people are lucky to have had something worth missing.

    • Richard says:

      Oh Sled! Despite all you’ve been through, you are the kindest Sled that everyone loves and admires.

    • Cheri says:

      Your line “and he was the nicer of the two” stopped me cold.

      Your last line stopped me colder.

      And an interesting profession you have chosen, in light of your difficult (to say the most) experience.

      You have my attention.

      • sledpress says:

        I don’t often allude to the matter. Loads of people suffer worse growing up. Hell, my parents were American property owners during our country’s most prosperous time, I got an education, Mozart horn concertos issued from the basement. Their behavior toward me and one another does not define me, in part because by the age of around ten I had grasped that allowing it to do so would be the real tragedy.

        I only mentioned it because I sometimes feel called on to bear witness that some parents who not beaters nor yet molesters nonetheless lacked the fundamental decency that might make a child regret their absence. Both exhibited talents, traits and even conduct that merited praise, but neither one had any business having children. Other people in my position likely feel as isolated and perplexed as I once did. (It is actually difficult for me to imagine a parent having benevolent motives, but I stipulate it, as they say in courts of law, in cases where the evidence seems to support the assumption.)

        My profession chose me. I became dimly aware around the age of four that if anyone was unwell my job was to somehow put my hands on them and do something about it. I worked out the rest as life went on.

      • Richard says:

        Not so much motivation as instinct, Sled. That same instinct that urges us to protect each other and which your final remark testifies to.

        In some the instinct lies dormant. It is their sad loss and we can never know why it happens.

    • Hello Ms Sledpress, we haven’t met properly before though I’ve come across your formidably intelligent comments in other places.

      Thank you for sharing your story. It really takes something to speak about pain and loss.

      I hear the story of your father differently. He knew he was about to die and used the one method he had to hand to ask for forgiveness. He trusted you would have ears to hear it, however long that might be.

      • sledpress says:

        It was late (though not that late; he lived two more years). However I felt, there was no point saying anything that would hurt him, and saying it was all right didn’t cost me anything.

      • dafna says:

        @ sled,

        yep, my mom always said, “when you have to hang a man, it costs nothing to be kind”. whatever, you felt, i’m glad to hear the words “it’s alright” came out of your mouth.

        my sons da is the fellow you described “lacking the fundamental decency that might make a child regret their absence.” yet it is precisely this remoteness that has my son pining away for him and any “father figure” type in the near vicinity.

        thanks cheri for this post, it has brought out more than on confession from your readers.

      • sledpress says:

        I drew the line at actually going to see him of course. Three time zones. Nope.

        I like your mom’s saying. It may not apply to all cases, but quite a lot of them.

  7. wkkortas says:

    My father died when I was very young; the memories are all good, but I miss not having an adult relationship with him. What I found out (and continue to find out) was what a hell of a woman my mother was–well, is, for that matter; she didn’t even know how to drive when my Dad died, but she put three boys on her back and slogged through it, which I now know must have been tough as all hell, but we never had a clue at the time, because she made sure it was never our problem. She’s still close by, so I see her pretty much every week and talk to her every other day or so–but after reading this, you can be damn sure I’ll call her tonight.

    • Cheri says:

      Your mother is a lucky woman, indeed.
      And she is a rock, no question.

      Yesterday, the rain pounded so hard that our storm drain started to plug up. Judge Blah was at work. The Labrador retriever and I put on Gortex, walked up the long driveway, and moved many rocks out of the drain. Neighbors drove by, waving their thumbs up.

      I have a new appreciation for rocks, especially the type your mother is.

      • Richard says:

        Glenys used to amuse the neighbours from time to time by lifting the manhole at our former home and climbing into the foul sewer to clear the soil, her rain hat just visible above the surface. I could hardly bring myself to watch.

  8. My big loss was my grandmother, she was my real mother emotionally speaking. When my father walked out on us we moved in with our grandparents. I was 10, in 1941.
    Grandma died in 1954. My mother would have preferred girls and she resented us for being boys and for reminding her of our father, especially me, the other two being much younger when dad left his imprint was not as strong.
    Grandma’s words and teaching are still very much with me, even her ways of cooking. In a way, Marie-Louise is still alive.

  9. Douglas says:

    I sometimes wonder… are good relationships with one’s parents the norm or the rarity? I was never close to my father. Not because I didn’t want to be but because he did not know how to be. Eventually we reached a sort of “detached attachment” (ref: “Hallelujah Trail”) and came to accept each other. My friends all had similar issues with at least one of their parents, it was a rarity in my circle to have two parents you got along with.

  10. Cheri says:

    Hi Douglas,
    Always good to hear from you. We’ve been at this blogging hobby for awhile, just about the same time if my memory serves.

    Many times a surrogate parent steps in when the need makes itself known. Joe stepped in for me when my father died. Thus, I feel as if I have just lost another father.

    • Douglas says:

      I (also) wonder… does the surrogate parent find us or do we find the surrogate parent? A brother-in-law (I had several over the years; 4 of them between the time I turned 12 and then 16) took that role around the time I turned 16.

      But my biological father? I tried to explain our relationship here:

      http://boomer-musings.blogspot.com/2009/06/stranger-in-my-life.html

      Yes, I think we did start blogging around the same time. Maybe it was a kind of “Baby Boom” period in blogging. I have noticed many blogs began around early to mid 2008.

  11. Thinking of you, Cheri and your loving, handsome father. And of my own lovely father, Leonard Francis. x

    • Cheri says:

      And of you, Narelle.

      To Hugh and to Leonard and now to Joe!

      May their journey to Wherever (by now Hugh and Leonard are there…either that or they are lost) be as successful as their journeys were here on earth.

  12. Judi Campbell says:

    Cheri,
    I was taken by your mention of your audience, since I am one of the unknown in it. I heard that you were writing from Cindy some years ago and enjoy checking in from time to time. It has occurred to me several times that you don’t specifically know I am here, but I am, and your latest posting about losing a parent touched me deeply (but not surprisingly) and likely for reasons you have never known.
    As you may remember, I lost my Dad way too early and oh so suddenly. It was a surreal experience and I have ached in that unique way ever since. What you may not know is that it was the faces of your parents, Hugh and Joanne, that have been forever etched in my mind as integral to that experience. Since Cindy and Mary Ann and I walked to junior high each day, they were my first contact with “life from now on.” On my first day back to school, in the heart fog that didn’t clear, I ended up at your front door rather than the usual corner. Your parents answered, arm in arm, with the most profound looks of sadness, empathy and love. I have seen that moment countless times over the years, in my mind, in my moments of sadness. As adults, as parents, their grief for me was what I saw and could not begin to understand. It has since become a part of my fabric.

    As luck would have it, my life went on to include a most wonderful step father, who found his place in my heart and whose departure will also resonate from here on out. One never replaces another. The hesrt just seems to get bigger

    So, please accept my appreciation for being out there, as you are. Willing, and free of anything but your own highly qualified editing. You have given me an opportunity to remember what is most valuable, and to soothe what will always be sad.
    Fondly,
    Judi Campbell
    P.S. I called my Mom.

  13. Cheri says:

    Dearest Judi,
    I must respond to your generous comment before my emotion evaporates into the duties of the day.

    I had no idea you were “out there” in that readership, most of whom I will never meet in person.

    As you have discerned, then, from my writing over the last year, I have been in a sentimental and weepy but brave state, as I watch the mother I knew change so dramatically. The people who I so love–that Great Generation–are leaving each month and year. I fight this inevitability.

    Your story above and so aptly expressed (loved your kenning “heart fog”) reminds me of the bravery in a little junior high girl, losing her precious father to the river, ironically a symbol of so much.

    You have a story to tell and obviously, the words to tell it. I hope you do.

    Love to you, Judi.
    And here’s to you for calling your mom.

  14. I was just starting to type a comment, when…. I decided to stop and instead call my parents, which I am now doing.

    • Cheri says:

      Hello Andreas,
      Lots to share at this exciting time in your life!
      We are all waiting for your book to be published.
      Both major bookstores (Borders/Barnes&Noble) closed in our town.

      I want the real book, one I can hold in my hands, so when your book comes out, I’ll pick it up at Kepler’s. How’s that? Did Cody’s close in Berkeley?
      I was thinking it would be fun for you to have a book-signing in Berkeley.

  15. What a lovely, thoughtful post Cheri. I completely understand your sentiments beginning to end.

    Regarding the end, it is indeed profound and the loss reverberates throughout our lives I suspect until we ourselves pass on.

    But, yes, when they are gone, they come to us in our lives in unexpected ways and unexpected moments, in simple moments.

    Why, just the other day, I was sitting at home with my coffee, with a rare moment to think alone, and I thought it would be nice to call my father and unfortunately I can’t.

    Sweet post. I will take time to read all of the wonderful comments and reflections. My best to you as always.

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Sci-Fi,

      So true. I like your third sentence and will keep that thought with me today.
      This time has been a bit of a rough patch for me.

      We all experience these major changes/losses and must adapt.

      I wish you all the best.

  16. @cyberquill … geez, this is you uneducated? Terrifying thought.

    You know, whatever happens in your future, you will be OK. If you get a job, you will be OK. If you don’t get a job, you will be OK. And your mum will be OK too.

    In the meantime, man, you have so much magnificence to share …

  17. Cheri says:

    dafna,

    one of my dear friends, a man named Aldo, once told me that the best way to raise a child/teenager is to let them know by deeds/acts that they are the most important part of your life.

    after working with thousands of kids over the years, kids with one-parent families and the like, I still believe Aldo’s observations to be true.

    your son will be fine with a parent like you.

    • dafna says:

      thanks cheri,

      it is good to have someone say “you are doing alright”.
      recently i learned that i was trying to be both mother and father – a BIG mistake. this does not “balance things out”, it only produces a new stress for my son.

      best advice i got, “be the mom”. my son certainly is A#1 in my book 🙂

  18. Man of Roma says:

    A moving post Cheri, and your soul being both delicate and strong – what a great combination – it is such a good example to all of us!

    My parents are long gone and even when they were on this planet they were not of great help to me, for the simple reason they had too many problems. But I loved them deeply, and they loved me back, especially my mother, which was enough, more than enough I’d say.

    So I’ll contradict myself and confess I am wrong, since like Ana Tèran I’d like so much to call them on the empyrean phone and tell them my love for them is as big as a mountain.

    When I took a small apartment on the coast south of Rome becauseI needed to watch the never stopping waves before my window and there write my first blog posts, a neighbour I became friends with, a person from Veneto, hadn’t had have a father – he told me. And since he always had quarrelled with his authoritarian mother he left her for good at the age of 18 and moved to Rome. After a few years she died. He had tears in his eyes when he told me he would do anything in order to be able to tell her how much he deeply loved her but never had had the chance to tell her.

    I guess – and I am now talking to Spedpress we all love – we may even grow some hate for our parents for whatever reason, but such ‘hate’ usually hides a form of love that our (and theirs, we must not forget) sorrow has probably made more intense, more passionate.

  19. Cheri says:

    You have a way of adding such emotion to the conversation. (and to think English is not your first language…amazing.)

    I, too, need the ocean to watch the “never-stopping waves” and join in the continuity of it all.

    The detail in your writing draws everyone into your world, Giovanni.

    • Man of Roma says:

      What time is now out there Cheri?

      • Cheri says:

        Late, Giovanni. Late for me, that is. It’s 11:22pm and I just arrived home from my first night of class. New quarter. Judge Blah is out of town, but that sweet Labrador retriever was waiting at the door.
        New class: Indigenous Peoples and Environmental Problems. Spent 2.5 hours listening to a fascinating professor, Dr. William H. Durham (my age) tell the story of Polonoreste, Brazil and then watch a heart-breaking video.

        Drive home, over the bridge, up the road and here I am, having a little Chardonnay and reflecting on what I have just heard.

        Ciao.

      • Man of Roma says:

        9-hours time difference. Of course, California (+ 3 vs NYC), I had forgotten.

        So you are an early bird like me it seems, while Flavia being a night owl we seldom meet lol.

        The first American nations always mesmerized me, and Chardonnay, just a bit of it, helps my reflection too.

  20. Geraldine says:

    Thank you, Cheri.
    I’m approaching the first anniversary of losing two and find it hard to think of anything to say. I’m having lovely conversations with them in my dreams, though. All the words above help, don’t they?

  21. Cheri says:

    I am sorry for your loss last year, especially losing both parents at once. My heart goes out to you.

    For me, in pondering life and loss, only Nature helps truly soothe my longings. I look up at the Constellation Orion and see my father’s face in the middle star. Now Joe will take the left star.

    As Man of Roma mentioned above, the ocean and the regularity of the waves, bring peaceful thoughts.

    I live among the trees. Trees, more than any other entity in Nature, more than thrilling red skies or a sun soldered into the sea, remind me to be patient and have faith.

    Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson would approve.

  22. Brighid says:

    I’m so blessed to still have both my parents (in their mid eighties) alive and fairly well. Dad hunts, fishes, plays golf three days a week, and is on his computer til all hours of the night. Mom is upper management personified, with a southern accent, even after 70 years in N. California. Learning to enjoy them, warts and all, and keep in touch…

  23. petunia says:

    six years ago, you sent us a thoughtful sympathy card when you heard about the passing of my beloved father-in-law. in your kind and comforting sentiments, you shared that the experience of this painful part of life’s journey is a profound one. just a few moments prior to logging on to your blog (unaware of the topic), my husband and i called his dear Mom, who lives about 100 miles away, and had a nice sunday evening chat with her. a simple phone call to our parents means so much to them. your thoughts encourage us to “cherish the treasure”.

    you are in my thoughts and prayers as you mourn and honor your beloved mentor, Joe. to his credit, we are recipients of the legacy he’s left in you, Cheri. thank you for sharing his story.

  24. hillaryepeak says:

    You are absolutely correct–you’re never ready, and it changes your entire life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad. It has been 6 years. There are lots of things I’d like to tell, ask him and share with him. I have written a book about his life, which I hope is a tribute to him–Wings of Hope.

    • Cheri says:

      Hi Hillary,
      I wish you the best with your novel. Congrats on writing it…I have lots of stories to tell but don’t seem to have the discipline to sit down and write every day.
      I wish you the best.

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