When My Parents Are Gone

Do you know how your parents will die? I think I do. My mother will die from lung cancer or emphysema because she has smoked for many years and already coughs uncontrollably. At night I can hear her wheezing and it will make my bones stiffen. I’m just waiting for that phone call that will change everything.

My father will die of a heart attack because there is a high level of calcium surrounding his heart. I was under the impression that calcium was a good thing, made for strong bones etc. But I guess there can be the deadly kind of calcium, the kind that basically makes it so you’re living on borrowed time.

Of course there are a myriad of ways they could go. In the past two years, my father has almost died from swine flu (seriously) and prostate cancer. He could easily develop the cancer again and be dead as a doornail. My mother could be hit by a truck tomorrow. I mean, there are a lot of opportunities for everyone to die. In the case of my parents, however, lung cancer and a heart attack seem to practically be a guarantee. And I sort of hate them for that. I wish my mother never smoked cigarettes (I never did) and my father stayed away from meat and potatoes. If they had taken care of themselves better, I could’ve been surprised by their demise, wouldn’t have been able to see it from a mile away. And that would’ve been better, right?

Sometimes I think about the things I will no longer be able to stomach when they’re gone, the things that will be ruined forever. For my father, I know I will no longer be able to listen to Cat Stevens again without weeping uncontrollably. It’s his favorite. There’s also this one Blind Faith song on my iTunes that he played for me a lot when I was younger. When he’s gone, I might have to delete it. It’s funny because today that song provides me with such a warm sense of nostalgia and takes me back to memories of driving with my father along the California coast. But when he’s no longer here, the song will be misery. It will evoke the kind of nostalgia that cuts you off at the knees.

Other things that will probably make me sob: Electronic Fry’s in the Valley, a restaurant called Houston’s in Santa Monica, the Pacific Coast Highway (that’s where he lives), My So-Called Life, Car 54, Where Are You?, spunky Jewish women with curly hair (my father’s favorite), and Zankou Chicken. Yep. Those things are a source of joy for me now, but will inevitably serve as triggers once it’s over for him.

With my mother, it’s sort of less specific. I know I’ll never be able listen to Neil Young again though. And last year, we went on a trip to Maine and when she dies, I’ll probably never be able to go back there. I suppose the Valley will be a no good terrible place for me. It’s where she grew up.

But with my mother, moments will stop me in my tracks rather than places or things. A memory I have of her looking young and vibrant on a warm summer day will forever be etched into my mind. My father was dropping us off (it was post-divorce) and as we pulled up, she was retrieving something from her car. She was wearing a denim skirt, a blue shirt, and looked tan and beautiful. My father remarked, “Your mother looks…good.” And that was that.

Other moments that will make me very sad: The week my mother stayed with me in Los Angeles after one of my surgeries. We got along for seven full days and stayed up watching VH1 till one in the morning. A night we laid in bed watching a special on crocodiles. Gosh, a lot of our memories involving watching TV. Um, my mother going through menopause and crying because I forgot to get her whipped cream on her ice cream sundae from Baskin Robbins. By the way, menopause is some crazy shit. Once my mom played Andrea Bocelli for a week straight and puttered around the house in her nightgown.

So those are the things that will hurt me when they’re gone. It feels morbid thinking about it now when they’re still here, but I just can’t help it. Does anyone have the same problem? Am I crazy? I’d really like to know. TC mark

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.

Trace the scars life has left you. It will remind you that at one point, you fought for something. You believed.

“You are the only person who gets to decide if you are happy or not—do not put your happiness into the hands of other people. Do not make it contingent on their acceptance of you or their feelings for you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if someone dislikes you or if someone doesn’t want to be with you. All that matters is that you are happy with the person you are becoming. All that matters is that you like yourself, that you are proud of what you are putting out into the world. You are in charge of your joy, of your worth. You get to be your own validation. Please don’t ever forget that.” — Bianca Sparacino

Excerpted from The Strength In Our Scars by Bianca Sparacino.

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  • http://www.kathygambo.tumblr.com Kathleen Gambo

    This is some serious day-after-drinking-depression lit.

  • mgyxoxo

    this made me cry. thanks, ryan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Caroline-Evertz/25521401 Caroline Evertz

    My mother passed away 2 1/2 years ago from pancreatic cancer. She led a healthy life, cancer does not run in our family and when we received the news we were shocked, but hopeful she would beat it. Even the doctors told us she could manage the cancer a live a long life, but eight months after diagnosis she passed.

    Whether your parents ailments are known or not doesn't make their passing any easier to deal with, but having those memories will someday bring a smile to your face (even if they make you cry now).

    Some of my memories of my mom include low fat blueberry muffins at Dunkin Donuts, Bruce Springsteen and walking arm in arm at Camden Yards. And I'm happy to have had them.

  • Nessa

    I think you and I both know its healthy to think about these things as most people go half their lives never thinking about what will happen when they lose a big part of their life.

    Most people think in the back of their mind 'I should really have a moment with my mom/dad/aunt/sister and tell them how much I…' or We'll breach that topic someday.

    We'll hear more about how they grew up, their summers and first loves, and start to see them more like individuals and people, and laugh about when we were teenagers.

    My mom died when I was 15, and of course for years I have thought about all the dumb shit I should have thought to ask her, or appreciated.

    I'm not looking for sympathy, but coming to that conclusion with my step father, and dad, and everyone in my life, took losing someone I depended on heavily and had never, ever imagined losing.

    I was young but that's not an excuse.

    The truth is, you'll stop sobbing when you hear songs that remind you of your dad, or memories that remind you of you mom, and instead they'll just make you happy you had that. It might be an aching happiness, but it won't always be the tragic breakdown it feels like at first.

    And there is nothing more annoying than treating your dead mother, or father, or anyone important to you, as a new-found saint. Remembering the shit things and their faults as people, can be just as good.

    You're not crazy, maybe a bit morbid, but one has to wonder if you're wasting all your time thinking about these things instead of telling them about it.

    To be fair, this article just reminded me of all the things I need to ask/tell my parents, too.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HROKHUZZS5ROA3D6O7OM53ITZA Autumn Banter

    Yeah, you are not crazy. I think about stuff like that too. I am 33 and the older I have gotten, the stronger the realization that no, my parents are not immortal, oh and they are flawed as sh*t!

    I still love them to pieces and will I will miss with with a deep and chest crushing sadness when they are gone. I know there will be moments of uncontrolled sobbing and moments where I want so badly to call or see them that it physically makes me ache.

    And all that realization does nothing to comfort me now – while they are still here. They drive me batshiat crazy, but I try to take them for who they are – let them know I am well and stay in touch with them on a frequent basis.

    Heck, they are the ONLY ones who will have ever really loved me unconditionally – that is not to be taken lightly.

    So, yes, now I have tears in my eyes and I will likely call them this evening just to say hi and hear their voices.

    Morbid yes, but no you are not crazy.

  • Shannon

    I think that, instead of those events, places, memories hurting so badly when you look back on them, they will eventually turn into warm memories. When we are on this side of losing those we love, it would seem impossible to think that we could listen to that song or think that thought or visit a place and not break down sobbing. But, in the end, if we got rid of everything that we loved about them or something that reminded us of them, or even the memories, we wouldn't have anything left. I understand that at first, it will hurt, it will cause pain but like Carolina said, eventually they will make you smile. So don't delete your songs or give up on Maine when they pass on, just put them away for a bit until you can smile at the memories instead of crying….good post though, I'm gonna go call my mom now.

  • sarah

    my mom wore a whole arm of various silver bracelets from everywhere. my dad drank Sleeman beer and listened to Chicago. These things may always make me cry.

  • RuthAnimal

    you aren't crazy

  • JD

    Wow. That's exactly what's running though my mind the past 2 months, as I go home to be with my parents and they seem older, skinnier, frailer in increments. No, you are definitely not alone in this current preoccupation. In fact, I'm writing out a love letter to each, but need to remind myself to get my taxes done first, tho that seems less likely, the waiting. Because I used to hear the clock ticking, and now I feel as if the metronome is inside me, I can feel it. Because Nessa (above) is right; tell *them* so they too know. And as I mentioned to a friend whose father is slipping away, no matter how hard I brace for the day, when it comes, it will be far too soon.

    Hope you tell them soon too.

  • Derpina

    My mom died when I was 13, and I mainly have a hard time not being able to ask her specific things. She kept a lot of secrets, so while my family knows parts of things I'm looking for, she was the only one who knew the whole story. My dad died when I was 17 and I miss him being this weirdly overprotective man in my life. It makes me sad when I think about them never meeting my husband or that I didn't get to have them at our wedding. That if I ever have kids, they won't get to know my parents. That makes me sad, but not usually to the point of tears. I was seriously depressed after my mom died until about a year and a half after my dad's death. For all that time I didn't want any reminders of them whatsoever, but now that's passed and I can enjoy their music and photos and all the good times we had while they were here.

    What I have a real problem with is movies where one, or both, of someone's parents die in any kind of realistic manner. Click is an insanely horrible movie, but I sob uncontrollably every goddamn time Henry Winkler and Adam Sandler die.

  • angelica

    Ryan, you are definitely not crazy. I'm an only child, which adds a new level to my fear – what if I forget that my mom used to make Wizard of Oz references or that day my dad surprised me at work with flowers just because? And when I do remember those random things, I'll have only myself to share them with. None of this is easy for anyone and I think it's normal for us to think about this stuff, especially as we get older.

  • http://tattoosnob.com Julene

    Not crazy. One of my parents is chronically ill (that's a nice way to say “borrowed time” in doctor-speak) and I've worked myself up until I'm in tears in public thinking of things that will no longer make me happy once they are gone. Some of those things: old Winnie the Pooh illustrations, Elvis' “Blue Suede Shoes”, changing the oil in my car myself and portraits of as well as quotes by some of the great Native American chiefs from the late 1800's.

    I got teary-eyed just writing this, as well as a crazy craving for Zankou Chicken… which is all the way across the country. Double sad.

  • http://ethecofem.blogspot.com April Lukes-Streich

    Nope, you're not crazy. And thanks to this post, I now know that I am not crazy, either.

  • Katie Welch

    I do this stuff all the time. I think my parents will live a long time, but I have lots of friends who haven't been so lucky. I don't think its a bad thing to think about their mortality. Like most families, there is occasionally screaming, getting out of the car and walking three miles to your best friends, and a dash of deception. In the midst of that shit, I never forget to mention I love them.

  • Don Phelippe

    You are not alone in this. My mother passed 2 years ago – and I still can't think of certain records or songs or even foods she used to make or what not and not get watery eyes. Tell them everything, your deepest fears and deepest secrets and release yourself because when they are gone you ll never tell them why you were angry at them and despite that how much you love them and how much you ll need them. I regret all of these omissions and will probably do till the day I die.

  • http://nancysdays.wordpress.com/ Nancy

    I am always worried my mom won't make it to see my children. Then I wonder who I will call when my baby is sick or I need help throwing a birthday party. My mother has smoked since she was a kid. She has emphysema, she has had cancer scare, and her chest is always hurting. Its hard to wonder what I will do when she is gone.

  • http://twitter.com/RAstaiza Randy Astaiza

    This made me cry.

  • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Aja

    Not alone. Not at all. It's strange that losing your parents is universal, if you're lucky enough to have them by your side through out your life . . .and yet when it happens, it's probably the loneliest thing in the world.

  • Kathy

    I often find myself thinking about how I'll feel or what will hurt me the most when someone I love dies. No one I've really loved has ever died, but I know it happens to everyone eventually unless you yourself die really young, so I feel like I spend a lot of time thinking about what it will be like to lose someone to death.

  • Rae

    One of the first nights that my parents deemed me old enough to stay home alone while they went to out to a dinner party, I decided to watch TV in their bedroom and stay awake until they got home. When they weren't home 2 hours after they said they'd be, I became absolutely convinced that they had died in a car crash and that I was never going to see them again. I remember beating my fists on the floor with tears streaming down my face and sobbing harder than I've ever sobbed in my whole life.

    They came home 20 minutes later, and I still can't explain in words way I felt when I heard the door open and their hushed voices re-enter my life. Since that night, I've had an obsession with “I love you” being the last words I ever say to them. If I hang up without saying it, I have to call them right back. It's been imbedded in me that every time I see or speak to my parents might be my last. I'm not crazy, and neither are you Ryan. We'd be crazy if we didn't understand that we can't have them forever.

    • ska

      so true. every beautiful word of this

  • http://www.victoriarushton.com Victoria

    I think of my dad every time I listen to Cat Stevens, too.

  • http://ohheyhellothere.blogspot.com Sana

    This made me realise how lucky I am to have such loving parents that are still around, and to not take them for granted.

  • rilez

    Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to hate my parents like a lot of people I know do. It sucks how fast life is. So many memories of my mom is us watching t.v. and listening to Neil. My grandparents on both sides died when my parents were in their twenties and I can't bear to think about that happening to mine. I love that you are close with your parents because most of my gay friends have families who don't support them and just mope around the house like someone died when they are home. So, no, you're not crazy. But if you are, then I am too.

  • ska

    i am lucky enough to have been blessed with such amazing and loving parents whom I love more than anything in the world. I think of my childhood and it almost seems as if it was all a dream. after my dad died when I was 14, I honestly don't think I can survive if I had to go through this again. he was a very special person that left all too soon and suddenly, and my mom is fighting her way without him. almost seven years later and the pain doesn't recede, just gets buried deeper. I haven't felt alive myself since then, i don't think i could handle something like that again if something else were to happen, if the thin sheet ice i'm already skating on could just finally burst asunder. i think about it every minute, every day. it sucks.

  • earlobe

    I don't think you're crazy at all. I consider these things all the time, but my problem is that I cannot fathom death at all or how it will even affect me because I have never ever been close to it. I think it's ridiculous to say something is bad or taboo or morbid to talk about. I think it's healthy to consider things like this and not completely freeze up over it all. I think the world tiptoes around a lot of things in life that should be considered more openly and in depth. Thanks for this, Ryan. I really loved it. And I feel for you.

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