The Loss Of Parents
'I felt abandoned'
"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,"
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.Â
"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
"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."