Orphaned at 65
by Donna Scrafano
I recall worrying about my parents’ health when I was in my twenties and thirties. I had a great fear of losing them during that time. Although my parents were seemingly very healthy, my concern about losing them was still present. Maybe this was because my mother lost her mother (my beloved grandmother) when she was only thirty-six. The trauma of that loss affected both of our lives deeply.
During my forties, things changed. My mother was diagnosed with high blood pressure (HBP), elevated cholesterol, and what was called “borderline” diabetes. My father was also diagnosed with HBP and elevated cholesterol. In addition to my parents’ newly developed health issues, some of my friends had lost one or both of their parents. So my concern about losing my parents became more acute. I recall one friend referring to “being orphaned” following the loss of both parents. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the possibility of feeling orphaned one day. I viewed the loss of parents as the process of life. A sad process, yes, but nonetheless how it’s suppose to be.
When I was forty-seven years old, I accompanied my parents to my father’s urologist, as my father had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The doctor said my father had three options: (1) leave it, as it is a slow-growing cancer; (2) undergo radiation treatment (but if the cancer returned, the prostate could not be removed); (3) have the prostate gland removed. This third treatment was the most aggressive. I insisted that my father choose that one. And so he did. The treatment proved to be very successful.
Just before my fifty-third birthday, my mother was diagnosed with lymphocytic leukemia. Cancer. Since 1963, when my mother lost her mother (and I my grandmother) to colon cancer, the “C” word had never been mentioned in our household. I accompanied my mother through all of her chemotherapy treatments. Although the treatments proved to be successful, my fear of losing her intensified. Unfortunately, following the chemotherapy, my mother’s health took a downward spiral. It was one debilitating diagnosis after another. My mother’s last diagnosis was the dreadful Alzheimer’s disease. She finally passed away at the age of eighty-three. I was fifty-nine.
During my late fifties, my father’s health began to wane as well. He developed heart failure and needed a valve replacement, a double bypass, and a pacemaker. Some years later, he developed congestive heart failure, needed a second pacemaker, and had a fall that fractured one of his neck vertebrae—all within months of each other. Like my mother, but with different diagnoses, he, too, had failing health following his major illnesses. After years of suffering, my father passed away this summer. He was ninety; I was sixty-five.
During my fifties and sixties I was grateful to still have my parents with me, as most of my close friends had already lost both parents. And then on July 15, 2019, I became parentless or, as my friend had said, “orphaned.” It was a very strange feeling. Surreal. The feeling of being orphaned didn’t occur, or at least I didn’t allow it to occur, until several weeks following my father’s death. The word “orphan” is defined as “a child who has lost both parents through death.” The people who cared for them, who provided for them. Unlike when you are an adult who lose your parents. I suppose.
Although there is a great difference between being orphaned as a child and orphaned as an adult, the feeling of loss is no less onerous. We’re picking up different pieces than a child does, but nonetheless we need to pick them up. The pieces that once fit in my puzzle of life, which included my mother and father, are no longer present. Additionally, due to family fracture, there are no longer the sibling pieces.
Following the surreal feeling came reality and the need to design new pieces to my life puzzle. Fortunately, my puzzle already included my children, my grandchildren, and my soon-to-be great granddaughter. When children are orphaned, there are teams of support involved. As an orphaned adult, you need to develop your own team(s). I’ve asked myself the question, what would my mother and father want me to be doing? One constant word enters my mind: “family.” So there it is, additional puzzle pieces of blood relations and close friends. Family. It is that word that helps both children and adults survive the orphaned stage.
Photo credits by Wikipedia and Wikemedia.
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna’s relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her six grandchildren, writing for Silver Sage, spending time with friends, and applying self-care. Her current full-time position is care-taking her 90+ year-old father.