28 things I’ve learned from being an orphan for a whole year now.

My mother died when I was 27.  My father died 5 months later, when I’d just turned 28.  He died of unknown causes but was a severe alcoholic.  She died of cancer and had Emotionally Unstable (AKA Borderline) Personality Disorder (and possibly, bipolar disorder).  I hadn’t spoken to her in over a decade after she tried to kill me.  It’s a year later, here’s what I learned.  Some of these are specifically about one parent or the other, not both:

  1. People will tell you “time is a great healer” but it’s not true – time is simply the dimension you travel through as you work really hard to sort your shit out.
  2. People will tell you “time is a great healer” at least 10 times a day, and you will be overcome with the urge to punch them.
  3. The dreams will be REAL.  Like, so real.  I have had some of the weirdest dreams about both parents since they died, mostly centering around my dad being in his flat and he’s got no idea that he’s dead and doesn’t understand why new people have moved into his flat (or similar).  There was also the dream where he bought me a pegasus for my 30th birthday.
  4. Really, really stupid things will catch you out.  I couldn’t go into any supermarket without crying my eyes out for about 6 months after my dad died because him, my granny and I used to go to the supermarket together, and after my granny died, he and I would go to the supermarket together.  Then I burst into tears once because Schwartz had changed the labels on their sauce mix packets.
  5. When people in call centres dealing with the estate tell you, totally insincerely, like it’s just automatic, “I’m sorry for your loss,” you will again want to punch them.
  6. You will find things out about your parents that you NEVER wanted to know.  Think about THAT before putting those nudie photos of yourself in a box for later.
  7. When people at mental health services are so desensitized that they don’t understand that losing both parents at a young age in quick succession affects humans, you will wonder what they’re actually trained to do and why you’re there.
  8. If they died young (mine were both in their early 50’s) you will feel like the clock is now ticking and you’re doomed to die young too.  Try to not think about this, there’s nothing you can do about it if it’s true.
  9. If they died of unknown causes, you will tie yourself in knots looking for answers and finding only frustration.  This too shall pass.  Then it will consume you again.  Then it will pass again.
  10. Nobody will understand how much effort it was to get back on your feet again, especially if you had a professional job and it turns out you also had bipolar disorder and PTSD, all they see is that you are childless and you now work 3 days a week and that makes you lazy to the eyes of the world.  Maybe at the 2 year anniversary I’ll be back to full time again.  Who knows?
  11. Nobody will understand that “taking it one day at a time” doesn’t mean you can’t make plans for the future, and they won’t understand that “taking it one day at a time” means you sometimes have to break those plans at the last minute either.
  12. You will feel like your soul has been subjected to the death of a thousand cuts.  But you’re still alive.  And in a lot of pain.  And people still want you to pay the mortgage.  You will get very pissed off that no-one can see that you’re emotionally bleeding out onto the pavement.
  13. You might get religion, or you might lose religion, or you might have been uncertain about one or the other and now you’re not.  Either way, this will affect your outlook.
  14. Future employers will surprise you with how understanding they are about the gap in your CV.
  15. It doesn’t matter what your parents did, how much you think you won’t miss them, how many times they made you wish you were dead, you will miss something about them even if its just that they showed up drunk to your nativity that one time.  Admitting this conflict of emotion when you lose an abusive parent is hard, but it’s ok, you don’t have to tell anyone else.
  16. That won’t stop you dancing on their grave then crying your eyes out that you never had a chance to make them proud of you or whatever.
  17. It doesn’t matter how much they hurt you, you will still feel guilty that you weren’t with them, looking after them to the end.
  18. It doesn’t matter what your parents did, other people will mysteriously turn them into saints and martyrs and if you are honest because you don’t lie to yourself, those people will get very angry at you.  Just remember, somewhere, there’s a relative of Stalin who honestly believes Stalin was a nice guy who never did any wrong.
  19. Nobody else will understand why you seem to be carrying on as usual because you had to go back to work shortly after the funerals.  Nobody will understand why, six months later, you still can’t look at the photos/other items you saved from the house clearances.
  20. You will feel guilty for thinking it, but on the plus side, you now never have to worry about what to do when your parents get old and can’t look after themselves any more.  Especially since they lived in two different countries.
  21. If you deal with your emotions, you will come out of it stronger in some ways and a complete wreck in others.  If you don’t, you will just be a total car wreck until you do.
  22. If you have bipolar disorder, there is a good chance that you will go manic after you lose your parents.  I went manic both times.  People will look at your behaviour and judge you for not sitting around crying your eyes out.  Then when you do, they’ll be like, “aren’t you over it by now?”
  23. Other people’s experiences and expectations and assumptions will make you feel totally invalidated, and everyone will assume they know how you feel even though they can’t possibly.
  24. Most people assume you want time out straight away then to get back on with life, but losing both your parents together is not like losing anyone else, it’s not even like losing one parent; the pain will come and go and come and go and girl, you gotta take each day as it comes.  It’s a year later and I’m still taking each day as it comes.
  25. If you have bipolar disorder, this is the sort of pressure that will make it worse.  Like, one minute I needed to drive to Mongolia and the next, I was trying to kill myself because life was hollow and pointless.  There is no shame in taking medications to sleep, wake up, wash your hair, or whatever else you gotta do and can’t.  Why society thinks it’s ok for people to drink to death but not to take antipsychotics (ANTI – psychotics, c’mon, clue’s in the name), I will never know.
  26. Regardless of whether you have a mental illness or not, at some point you have to get back on the horse and try and move on.  This will happen in your own time, in your own way, it can take weeks, years or decades, and nothing will go back to how it was before this happened.  Don’t let other people push you into taking more or less time off than you need, even if they mean well.
  27. You will move on with different things at different times.  Just because you’re back at work doesn’t mean you’re ready to sort through your parents’ possessions (my dad’s stuff is still in a box in my kitchen), or vice versa.
  28. Losing your parents and realizing that, before you’ve even hit 30, your life might well be halfway over, really puts it into perspective if you hate your job, hate your life, whatever, and (in my case) really spurred me to take stock and think about what I actually want to do with myself, what makes me happy, because if I’ve only got another 27 years left (or less) I haven’t got time to be stuck doing something I hate or not doing something I really want to do.  I still have no idea what I want to do with my life and that scares me, but I feel like I’m narrowing it down as time goes on.

Normal posting schedule will return tomorrow with the weekly photo challenge.  I just wanted to talk about this today.  Being orphaned in your twenties is something that people just don’t talk about, like we all hit 18 then magically have the ability to cope with this stuff.  It’s a lie.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, knowing that you can’t just phone your dad about something (anything) any more is really shit.


Author: MsAdventure

I am a twentysomething travel, photography and beauty blogger who occasionally writes about other topics. Within travel, I tend to write mostly about Europe because all the other travel bloggers seem to write about South East Asia. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at www.delightandinspire.com

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