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The Death of a Parent May Be Hard

by Brian Allison  
8/16/2012 / Death

With the death of a parent (and really, of any close family member), a strange silence, or 'a heavy fog', may irresistibly descend upon, and eerily engulf, one's thinking and perception. Life is no longer viewed nor experienced in quite the same manner--when the dust eventually settles, a town may assume a different hue. It can't be the same--a major life reference point, and grounding, has irretrievably vanished. With the crashing reality of the demise of one's parent--the person who was biologically responsible for one's own existence (forging fixed blood-ties)--the surviving member may feel a disturbing sense of abandonment and disorientation; as well as feel emotionally uprooted and disconnected; with perhaps, a vague sense of mild meaninglessness assaulting the mind. As Thomas Mann astutely observes, "A man's dying is more the survivor's affair than his own."

The survivor's first acquaintance with life, his parent/s--the one responsible for imparting that initial sense of belongingness and feeling of security--is now gone, never to be seen or heard again (the foundations have not only been rudely shaken, but irredeemably shattered). That may leave a gnawing feeling of angst and vacuum--a startling sense of stark aloneness and emptiness; perhaps mixed with a chilling separation anxiety. Not unlike the feelings the early disciples must have felt at the unexpected announcement of Jesus' departure; and Jesus comforted them. We read, "Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, 'Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, "A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me"? Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy'" (John 16:19,20).

The survivor's mind may slam into the relentless existential wall that life has irrevocably changed, old patterns and routines never to be repeated nor revisited, lost in the yesterdays; accessed now only through partial and misty memories. Because relationships comprise the very essence of what it is to be human, the loss of a significant one leaves one painfully torn, a little shrunken, and perhaps in a sore and surreal suspension.

If one is to emotionally survive, then he or she is thus forced to make intellectual and perceptual adjustment in order to conform and relate to the new irreversible reality which must now persist and inform one's future engagement with the world and life--a 'final chapter' demands the commencement of a new book. A redefining of some of life's former patterns and habits demands unavoidable scrutiny. The centre beam of the cabin has been pulled down, and now a new one must be raised up. The old familiar (perceptual-emotional) paths have been sodden over; and new ones must now be trod, which initially may feel a little foreign, strange, restrictive, and uncomfortable. Such is the calling, and appointment, of being human and of being mortal.

This internal adjustment, if it is to be a healthy one, involves a full conscious acceptance of the present reality--void of regret, guilt, and the remorse of 'missed moments'. One must humbly surrender to life's heartaches--without reaction or resistance--and bravely embrace the pressing 'Now'; being thankful for past opportunities, and consciously cherishing the past good and pleasant times. Furthermore, this adjustment, to be healthy, demands a determination to be consciously engaged and intentionally open to the future, not getting lassoed by an illusive past, morbidly dwelling on, and thus getting stuck in, the muck and maze of former days. The survivor must really awaken to 'a new day', though continuing to hold yester-moments and yester-years as sacred and dear. One must now choose to forge ahead into an anticipated bright and prospective future, while maintaining a healthy respect for the precious past. Moreover, this internal adjustment requires a fresh kindling of hope and expectation; and for the Christian, specifically speaking, there is the blessed hope of future fellowship and eternal reunion. To be sure, not moving "the ancient boundary" (Prov 23:10), the survivor must still be prepared and determined to cultivate a new emerging plot.

We must continue to carry and pass on the spirit and wisdom of our forebears; but we do so with renewed vision and involvement, putting "new wine...into fresh wineskins" (Luk 5:38); and with a view that one day, we too will become bona fide participants and members in that "so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us" (Heb. 12:1a); which now serves to continually inspire and encourage us to press on triumphantly

Dr. Brian Allison (B.A., M.A., M.Div, D.Min.) is the therapeutic counselor at Maranatha Counseling Services, Toronto, and former Professor of Apologetics and Counseling, and lecturer in Theology, at Toronto Baptist Seminary.

Copyrighted, Brian Allison, 2012

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