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So you’ve lost a parent at that weird stage in your life. You’re not a child, but you still live at home. The state won’t care for you, but you haven’t got a career or your own spouse or family to care for you either. Any sentiments you get sound like ‘God you lost them so young, but you’re also an adult so deal with it.’ Congratulations, you have entered into what I have less-than-affectionately dubbed as Grief Purgatory.
When my mother died last year, I was less than eight weeks away from turning twenty-two. My older sister was twenty-six. We both still lived in the family home, because millenials, duh. I was still a year away from getting a degree. Our parents had long been separated, with our father now residing in Berlin and therefore, it was just the two of us. That’s not to say that we were utterly alone in the situation – our cousin, and our Mum’s closest friends did everything they could, by financial aid to helping us plan the funeral. But still lingered the questions: ‘What do we do now?’ ‘How do we survive?’ I was a student suddenly renting a three-bedroom family house. And not even really a student anymore, as I’d had to drop out to care for my mum as the cancer ate away at her organs. I wasn’t an anything. I had no place in the world.
If you find yourself in this situation, thrust into adulthood without a parent for support, then I can only say this: I am so bloody sorry. People will find any excuse to be cruel and cut you down. Indeed, I’ve gotten plenty of snarky comments for being proud of getting by without my mother, the usual baby-boomers ready to insult a younger generation for seeming to be what they perceive as entitled. One of my favourites was ‘When I was your age I was married with kids and a mortgage!’ (I almost screamed when I read that.)
What these people seem to conveniently forget is that they probably had mum and dad around to help out if things got tough. Never mind, they chose that life. And I can guarantee that I never chose this. I never chose this by a long shot.
I was going to get a degree in theatre and become a big name in Irish directing. I was going to run the Abbey Theatre, and have my scripts and poetry performed all over the world. And through all of it would be my mum, beaming with pride, free tickets to the front row of every play. And now I haven’t been to college in a year, crippled with a horrible case of reactive depression and knowing that part time jobs wouldn’t be able to cover the fees. I have two options. I can dream, or I can survive. Which would you pick?
There is no right time to lose the person that raised you. But Christ, if I’m not envious of those whose parents get to watch them grow up completely. I only had my best friend in the world for twenty-one years, and it feels like a giant cosmic joke the universe is playing. She’s never going to meet her grandchildren, she’s never going to read anything new I’ve written. She’s never going to see how I turn out. No one will ever love me like that again, and since I’m over eighteen, the world has decided collectively that it’s not their problem. And this doesn’t happen to just me, it goes for anyone my age in the same boat. The time that we need to be looked after the most is the time that we suddenly become completely self-reliant. And that is a tough pill to swallow.
To any of you who are where I am, I am so proud of you. I know it’s the scariest time of your life. I know how lost you are. I know you don’t feel like a real adult because you haven’t quite figured yourself out yet, but I’m going to let you in on a secret. There’s no right way to be an adult. Everyone else is winging it just as much as we are. The only difference is that we have the added grief and fear, and as unfair a disadvantage it is, it also proves the resilience among us. We are indeed in Grief Purgatory and will be for the foreseeable future. But we’re in it together.