When an Elderly Parent Dies

My husband and I are at that age where if parents of our contemporaries haven’t yet passed away, they’re dying now. This past year, our sister-in-law’s parents both died, as did a dear friend’s mother. Saturday night, it was our turn. At age 93, my mother-in-law passed away. It wasn’t entirely unexpected. She’d been in ill health and suffered from severe dementia. By the time she died, I’m not even sure she knew who my husband was. Watching my husband grieve has reminded me that when a parent dies who’s in awful shape, feelings of love and loss comingle with relief. At last, the parent is no longer suffering or living with a dramatically diminished quality of life. But when a parent-child relationship has been complicated, as theirs was, the emotional head winds are even fiercer. My mother-in-law did not like children, and she had four of them. She came of age when that’s what women did—they got married and had children, whether or not they were brilliant students (as she was) and whether or not they would have preferred to pursue a professional career and be child-free. I know that my mother-in-law wanted to connect with her children and later her grandchildren, but she simply couldn’t. As my husband’s younger sister said, her message was, “I love you. Now can you get out of here?” I grieve for her woundedness that made her incapable of communicating warmth and unconditional love and acceptance to her children. I grieve for the [...]