When the last parent dies, it leaves a void that we did not expect. Even after a long, painful, and arduous illness where memories have been lost long ago — it’s still a void, an abyss of emotions. In many respects, the final torch has been passed with the realization that we are next. But more importantly a point in history has been closed and the question is how can we best remember it?
The stories of a life just passed flood our emotions and overrun our thoughts. The memories — both good and bad — pour out of our thoughts like a flood gate releasing waters from the dam after too much rain for the season. But whether good or bad those memories are reminders of why they were so important to us. As the flood of thoughts pour out of our hearts, tears quietly engorge our eyes awaiting the opportunity to drop on our sleeves in a moment of solitude. We quietly ponder what was…on how it happened…on when…on where…but little on why. Why is not the question at times like these. The answer is simply because. Because we were. Because of the moment. Because of the situation.
Now is the time that is filled with memories. Its memories of learning to hoe the garden properly. It is picking the green beans at the right size. It is standing up “tall and straight” when you’re the announcer for the 6th grade class. It’s being forced out into the cold of the afternoon because of the noise we were making in the house only to be rescued by a neighbor who found us in their garage and then took us home to chastise our Mom. It is seeing her beam with pride when you’re named Mr. 7C’s in the seventh grade for exhibiting consideration, courage and five other C’s you can’t remember. It is learning about the birds and the bees while drying dishes in the kitchen after a lengthy meal when it was just the two of us chatting away about everything and anything. It is the encouragement when you were distressed about some examination. It is a discussion of what love means when you had your first experience. It is sharing the distress of alienation from family who will not talk with you nor even share with you. It is the serious talk about career when the direction of the moment did not coincide with the opportunities that had been discussed and supported over so many years of growing up. It is so many thoughts that your cup runneth over and sloppeth on the floor…
And, then there are the rules of life or, at least the ones that I can remember that were applied consistently to almost every situation…
1. Everything has a place and everything in its place.
2. Dress your best and the best will dress you.
3. Sometimes you just have to “make do”.
4. If you’re going to do something, do it right.
5. This is how you do it. Now, go do it.
6. Study hard. Then, study some more!
7. Always wear clean underwear. You never know when you’re going to be in an accident, and they’ll have to undress you at the hospital.
The time of passing is when we realize that who we are is in large measure how we were shaped and molded while growing up. Parents are important whether they are present or not in our lives because in reality we cannot squeeze them out of our lives. They were there from the beginning. We find over time that the little things we do every day come from somewhere and — most often — it was our parents who embedded those behaviors into our modus operandi. So, while they may be gone or absent from our lives, they are very much an active part in shaping and sharing who and what we are for the rest of the world.
It is in these moments of reflection that we stop, give thanks, and ponder — not about what could have been but about what was. Life is short and the longer it is — the shorter is becomes. And the shorter it becomes, the more we realize how important it is to treasure every era, every moment, every point of passage in the life we lead. We are part of the universe as a thoughtful, contemplative, perceptive participant for such a short period of time before we dissolve into the paradise of our teachings and dreams. The passing of a parent brings all of this into focus as a moment of recognition — we are what we are because of them and despite them. They cared for us and nurtured us through periods of calm and disquiet alike. They loved us always and forever without reservation. We love them. We even returned the favor and cared for them. But now they are gone but still present as a part of who we are and what we will be in the coming time before us.
We must carry the torch with pride and hold it high! After all, it is our turn now…