What else characterizes adult orphans? The particular attributes of the parents determine what we have lost in losing them. In my case and the same is true for many others I know, the loss of our parents has meant a loss of a constant source of spiritual renewal. Some of us had the good fortune to be given parents who prayed for us from before we were born and every day of their lives, as long as they had breath. When they left this world, we found ourselves bereft of a source of energy and strength that we may have taken for granted or even completely forgotten. Sometimes at an almost subconscious level, when this constant spiritual energy source is gone, there is a strange sense of void that we cannot quite put our finger on.
Whether parents have been the praying kind or not, they have tried to care for us and have given us a unique gift – our name. They were the first ones to call us by our name. The giving to us of our name created a distinctive bonding between us that lingers when we have grown and become completely independent from them in all other obvious ways. The name they chose for us is a particular marker of a stage in our relationship that in some ways may have shaped the person we have become. When they have gone, we still carry that name and it becomes a part of our legacy.
A child who has been orphaned may have only a few mementos to remind her of the parents that she has lost. We who are orphaned after many years of relationship with our parents may have material goods that they have passed on to us. More importantly, however, in our awareness of our loss, is that bank of memories where we have deposited from times spent together. Not only did we deposit them we also withdraw them. We have occasions through the years to take out the memories and examine them, giving us opportunities to discover facets of them we might have overlooked in earlier years.
Our long-term relationships with our parents gave us the chance to develop some perspective on our mutual strengths and weaknesses. We were able to make allowances for each other and forgive each other for our human failings. As we return the memories to the bank, after examining them more closely based on our own life experiences, we may see them transforming, so that hurt of the painful ones become less acute and the pleasurable ones increase in enjoyment.