As an only child, I grew up with my mother and father. The bond with my father was better than the bond with my mother. How bad that bond was, became clear later when she suddenly left with the northern sun, on her way to a new life with another family. I stayed behind with my father. The years went on when my father unexpectedly died in his sleep. I was 29 at the time.
On paper I still had a mother, of course, but there had been no contact with her for years. That meant that without parents I was the only daughter responsible for the things that had to be arranged.
What I bumped into
My father’s funeral
The first thing to start with was arranging the funeral. I had no idea what was involved and knew nothing of the things that had to be done. It was quite intense to decide what the service should look like, which coffin and card to choose, and many other things. Often you do that together with your mother or maybe a brother or sister, but there were none.
After the funeral, my father’s house had to be delivered. I came across a lot of stuff with memories attached to it, which made it difficult to choose which stuff went away and which did not. It was not possible to keep everything myself; I simply didn’t have room for that in my own house. After a month, the house was empty.
I remember the last time I closed the door. It was a difficult moment, because from now on my father’s house was gone. I didn’t have a home anymore where we had so many memories together. After that, the estate had to be settled. I had no experience with this either. I learned a lot of things from this that I didn’t know yet.
The contact with my family
My dad had a big family. Most of them soon went back to normal. I kept in touch with three uncles and aunts. We had regular contact for about the first two years. We called each other and came to visit each other. That was nice. Especially because family feels familiar and I have known them all my life. When my uncle smiles, I always see my father’s face in him. From time to time they told stories about the old days, about things my father did and what they had experienced with him. That was nice to hear.
But they too had their own lives, and the contacts became less and less. It was exceedingly difficult for me when an aunt with whom I had a lot of contact ran out of time when she had grandchildren. She wanted to because she was so busy that I would always contact her. She didn’t see or understand that I missed it the other way around. By now I haven’t heard anything for a couple of years. Now, after ten years I can say that I still have contact with one uncle and aunt of the three occasionally. I don’t hear or see the rest of my family anymore.
Another point I quickly encountered was that my peers did not understand my grief. Often in their twenties or early thirties, they still had their immediate family around them and with that an unconditional network. Holidays, birthdays, fun and less fun things were still experienced together. They had no idea what it was like to do this on your own.
If they didn’t know something, or needed help with something, they asked their parents. I couldn’t do that. I tried to bring it up but was often told that they didn’t see their parents very often either. Or that you must make something of it yourself. While in my opinion they didn’t do that themselves, because if they wanted to, they could still rely on their parents. It also happened that people distanced themselves from me when I tried to bring it up. It was something I think they would rather not be confronted with.
The birth of my daughter
Five years after my father died, my daughter was born. I gave birth in the hospital, but my parents didn’t come to see her. They didn’t call to see how things were going. Of course, I knew in advance that they wouldn’t be there. But once the moment was there, it was extremely hard. Our daughter had to stay a little longer in the hospital. During Easter we were still there, but nobody came to visit us those days, we didn’t get any calls. That felt very lonely.
Lack of immediate family members
I’m sure it’s not meant to hurt. But it does indicate what happens when you’re nobody’s daughter or sister. Often your immediate family is close to you. They know you your whole life, are involved with you.
Your family members who are further away like your uncles and aunts, cousins, but also your friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. All these people are often further away from you than your immediate family. Of course, they also have their own lives in which you do not fall into their immediate family. Often, they don’t feel the need or ‘pressure’ to take an extra step. Something that does happen to an immediate family member. After all, they are already busy with their own family and relatives. You just have contact now and then or talk to each other from time to time. This means that not everything is seen. In recent years I have often noticed this.
The lack of grandpas and grandmas
Just like when my daughter’s throat and nose tonsils were removed. In the recovery room the other children were called by grandpa and grandma. No one called my daughter. A few days or weeks later people did ask how it had been. But not on the day itself, which is so important.
Five days a week I stand in the schoolyard between the many grandparents, but my parents are never there. These are two of the many examples that the lack is everywhere and what is often not seen by the environment. My experience is that the older my daughter gets, the more it is missing. Who comes to visit when she is sick? Who will be there when she gets her swimming certificate? For many people the answer to these questions is obvious, not for me though.
I find the lack of an unconditional network and involvement exceedingly difficult. Eventually I also got complaints and went to the doctor. Then you enter the path of help. But that’s not always blissful. Often you must deal with a waiting list. Before you qualify for an interview, this can take a long time.
On several occasions during those conversations, it emerged that the authority in question could not offer me any help. The lack of a support figure, they could not help me. The process was then not even started. They also investigated the deployment of a volunteer. It was concluded that this was no solution. A volunteer is often only temporary, and after one year for example, an unconditional network is still lacking.
Then you can see that a counsellor doesn’t understand the problem. For example, I was with a lady who kept stressing that I had to think positively. She also had exercises for it. When I discussed those exercises with her, it always turned out that a support figure was missing. She had no answer to that. You can still be so positive in life, but at the bottom of the line I don’t have a network to fall back on, and most people around me do. She sent me to a psychologist.
The psychologist in turn concluded that positive thinking did not help in this situation and that he could not help me because he could not do anything about the lack of a support figure. It was a social thing, he said, that people are focused on themselves today. This was also what the last professional I had conversations with said.
In the end I concluded that people who at a young age no longer had parents could run into certain problems, but that at the moment there is simply no help for that. There is no body that can do this.
What would have helped me
What would have helped me now, I guess? It would have helped me a lot of people had understood how intense it is to suddenly be without parents and that this is missing in everything. And that it is so important to take care of it. And that can be done with, I think, quite simple things.
A phone call or message on special (party) days. Not for lengthy conversations, but just to let people know that those days are difficult. Even after ten years.
On the anniversary of my father’s death, I always put something on my Facebook page and people respond to it. I think if I didn’t post something people wouldn’t know it was his dying day. While it is so nice to know that people want to remember that day for you and let you know to think about you. One time asking about my dad, how things went at our house. Just to reminisce.
Also, for my daughter and for us as a family it would help if there would be a little more involvement. A little more contact. If you don’t speak to each other for 6 weeks, you also miss certain things. And of course, we can contact people ourselves. But also, here it is important that people understand that there is a lack of interest and involvement for us and that this is precisely why regular contact is so important.
Last week my daughter celebrated her birthday at school. Because of the corona crisis, it couldn’t be done sooner. Nobody asked what it had been like. Just because people didn’t know. This is another example I can give, which often causes me to lose connection with the people around me.
After being without parents for ten years, I can say that at 29 you are old enough to take care of yourself, but too young to be without an unconditional network. There are so many things you have to do on your own unlike your peers. What so often is not seen or understood. I have gained a lot of knowledge about handling an inheritance. Something I didn’t know about before.
Unfortunately, I have also often felt alone and lonely. Due to the lack of bonding with people, I have been unemployed for a long time and have had an eating disorder. Probably people have not noticed this, precisely because I am not their daughter or sister. And then the story is over.
The trick is to have people around you who can and want to move around in your situation. And therefore, want to take that extra step for you. If you have none or too few such people around you, it can be difficult to give the lack a place.
How nice it would be if…
It would be nice if in the future there would be a body that focuses on people who at a young age no longer had parents to fall back on. What impact this can have on someone, especially if the environment does not see this. So that they will get the understanding and support that may be so desperately needed.