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Health & Balance

The Loss Of Parents

'I felt abandoned'
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"It's like getting a boarding pass to death," says Michael Leming, PhD, a sociologist at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. "You realize that your flight will be the next to take off."

 

The good news is that, once the grieving period begins to fade, many boomers report an unexpected freedom: The ability to pursue their own dreams without the need to seek parental approval. Audrey Gordon, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Carbondale and an expert in grief, says that despite her professional expertise, she was overwhelmed by loss and regret when her parents died. But a year later, she realized she was free to plan her life in a way that previously was impossible.

 

"I was always the caregiver. I always had to be there. Now I can go places, travel, move. I'm freer. There's no question about it," she says.

 

Indeed, in her research, Secunda has found that many of her 100 study participants reported positive consequences of parental loss. They became more self-reliant, reordered their priorities, and often changed careers. Of the 50 who changed careers, 69% said it was a direct result of their parents' death. A nun left her convent, entered graduate school, and embarked on a whole new career. Others said they were able -- without guilt -- to leave high-paying careers in law or medicine, for which their parents had paid educational expenses, and work for nonprofits.

 

"It's a final opportunity to grow, to think in the best possible sense, of what is in your true best interest," says Secunda.  "If you don't do it now, you never will."

 

Although his grief remains, Wood acknowledges that he has grown. He has realized that work is not all of life. He spends more time with his four siblings and his friends. He volunteers for numerous charitable causes.

 

"I know now that life is short, that the loss of parents tears the fabric of your soul," Wood says. "But I also know that there's new meaning in my life because of their deaths."

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