Midlife Orphan Self Help Advice

Written by Rita Kennen

One woman's learning and advice on mourning a parent. 

Jane Brooks' life shattered on the night her mother died.

Brooks is like anyone with elderly parents: Although she had recently lost her father, she believed she was coping throughout her mom's long struggle with brain cancer and felt prepared for the day the dreaded phone call would come.

Share stories and memories to help resolve your feelings.
Your children have also experienced a loss. Include them in your grieving.
Rituals are important; a funeral or memorial service can provide closure.  

Even if they're fragile, parents are a living link to your childhood. When both of them are gone, a part of you is gone, too.

Immediately after her mother died, Brooks felt like a deserted child. "I just sat up all night thinking, `I'm an orphan, I'm an orphan.' I just couldn't get it out of my head."

Fortunately the suburban Philadelphia freelance writer and divorced mother of two boys is no orphan. She enjoys a full life and a warm circle of friends. But the deaths of both parents coming so close together sent her into emotional turmoil.

"I was just going through the motions, but inside I was churning," she says. "I had the sense of being alone, even though I had my kids, family and friends around me."

Brooks channeled her energy into a book, Midlife Orphan. With 11 million American adults, about 5 percent of the population, losing a parent every year, the book is not short on a target market. It emphasizes that the second parent's death makes us aware of our vulnerability and life's fragility.

Brooks found sympathy and learned from others' experience by weaving interviews with 52 other midlife orphans into her book.

"With the parent generation gone, we are next on the firing line, as someone I interviewed said. We rarely think about our own mortality until our parents die. And what was particularly interesting was that the grief was just as intense when parents and children had a poor relationship as when the relationship was good."

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