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Kathryn Sandford Online

My Life as an Adult Orphan

We lost our parents within 2 days of each other and that event shattered our lives into a million pieces. My brothers, my sister and I for 8 years have carried our pain and grief in different ways however I know our hearts were broken the day Mum and Dad died.  I remember sitting around the dining table and my eldest brother looked at us and said "oh my god we are now orphans". The four of us looked at each other with shock and the pain of loss - the loss of unconditional love, the loss of knowing that no matter what happens you had someone to turn to who loved you , the loss of having a connection with someone who knew how you were feeling just listening to your voice, the loss of hearing the words..."its going to be alright", the loss of knowing my children were not going to grow up with grandparents who had so much to share and teach them about life, so many wonderful stories to tell were no longer going to be told.

Its a peculiar thing been an adult orphan because the term "orphan" is accepted as being when a child's parents die. The world accepts and understands that concept of "being a child orphan". It is so tough as an adult orphan because you feel that you have to get on with your life and so you shut away your  pain and grief . You keep going because that is what is expected of you.  Inside however you are still that orphan child feeling the intense pain, the grief, loss  disconnection and bewilderment.

Orphans Syndrome

 I read this article about "orphan syndrome" - which is a condition that a child can suffer from as a result of their parents dying. What is interesting though, is that orphan syndrome can manifest in adults and it is quite a common condition but not really talked about. The most likely time in an adults life where the condition can be triggered is between the ages of 40-50 years old. Orphan syndrome for an adult is  more like a prolonged period of mourning where the intensity of grief never really subsides. In fact the feelings of grief become more acute, particularly if you had a close relationship with your parents.

I have been mourning the loss of my parents for 8 years and realized when I read this article that I suffered from "orphans syndrome". This condition explained the feelings of loss, sadness and anger - such as getting pissed off when I  see my friends with their parents and it feels really unfair. I am a pretty optimistic, confident and positive person and the article also explained why all my fears,self doubt, angst and questioning of my purpose in life, my mortality and knowing that it will be me next in line to die etc have taken over my life  and  dominated my self talk and conversations in my head!

The article also talked about "disenfranchised grief" - which is where grief is not really appreciated when you lose your parents as an adult.  When your elderly mum or dad dies often the first question is "how old were they? Oh well they had a good innings" Because I lost Dad and Mum within 2 days of each other I would be told "Oh  thats sad, your Mum and Dad couldn't live without each other...or "Well at least they are together" One comment that really got me was "well its quite romantic how they both went together after such a long wonderful marriage" The intense grief you are feeling is instantly dismissed because your parents died at an age where you are an adult and they were old so it is to be expected!  Quite unbelievable!

Where to from here?

When Dad & Mum died my life was thrown into shock and turmoil - an emotional roller coaster which I believe is now near the end of its run. The article on "orphans syndrome" has literally lifted the weight of grief and sadness that I have been carrying for over 8 years. I know that my parents would not want me to mourn them and be sad. They would want me to live my life to the fullest and to be happy!

I believe that "orphan syndrome" is a rite of passage that as an adult orphan I have travelled through. I am now entering into a phase of my life which feels more like it will be all about celebration! Celebrating my parents, their life and their legacy that lives through me and my children. Those happy family memories now need to be shared and enjoyed - not hidden!

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