It’s never easy to tell someone that they lost a parent. Last week I was asked to inform an individual whom I’ve known for ten years that his mother had just died. The survivor is in his early fifties and his mother was in her early eighties. He had a severe brain injury fifteen years ago and over the course of time has experienced his own “touch and go” problems with his health. He is about the same age as I was when my mother died. I went to see him with a heavy heart; this is not something I ever wanted to tell anyone. But yet, it needed to be done, he needed to know, and I was the one to deliver the message.
We talked for a few moments before I told him that his mother passed away. He knew before I could get the words out. He said his mother had joined him for breakfast several days before and they enjoyed eating together at his favorite restaurant. Later in the week, he saw his mother in the hospital where she had slipped into a coma.
We talked about enjoying life in one minute and dealing with saying “goodbye” in another. He reminded me that his parents were married for over sixty years. I remembered that I usually saw his parents together and never apart.
Our conversation reached to my own experiences with the deaths of my parents. He remained strong, yet it was easy to see his sorrow and weight of the loss. He even asked me if I was “OK”. I said I was there for him and then we sat quietly for a few minutes, together, but alone with our thoughts.
Over the recent months I have spent considerable time talking with his father about future planning, health care proxy issues, and the difficult job of maintaining a network of care for a disabled family member. These are real issues that survivors must face as they age. I always appreciated the thoroughness and precision that his father brought to the job of planning for his son’s care.
My father used to tell that “we all put our pants on the same way”. I know he was right. The pain caused by the death of a parent brings all of us one step closer. What is striking is the total sameness of the experience for all of us. We really do put our pants on the same way.