I thought they would always be together. I thought it would be until the end. When I look back over the things I’ve written about my parents, a constant theme is always how I can’t imagine them without each other.
And yet, this week, my mother moved into her own condo and began her life apart from my father.
Their dynamic just was not working anymore; six months shy of their 50th anniversary, they’ve decided to separate.
I’ve known for a few months, and the children know now too. In fact, as I write this, my parents are (together) spending a week with Paige and Colin as they do each summer. Nothing, even the decision to move forward apart, comes in the way of that this year.
I’m still a child. Their child.
I’m learning that no matter how old you are it affects you; age is not a protective shield against the hurt that can accompany such changes. Now 42, I have two generations to consider: my parents and my children. At the moment my parents’ health is good; I’ve written before about my mother’s stage III cancer diagnosis six years ago (she is in remission). But I confess, even on their healthiest days I play the “what if” game. I feel I need to always be thinking about the future, making sure I have an escape route. Like a stewardess pointing with a flourish to an exit in the forward cabin, I need to show myself that there is always a way out, a plan should something go wrong.
Even in the face of truly excellent health we’ve learned that life can change in an instant; after all, Clarke’s mother was perfectly healthy when she was killed in a car crash almost two years ago. I did not have a “what if” mentally written for that circumstance– how could I? But I have seen the way a tragedy can change a life in a split second. I think my confidence in what the day will bring has been shaken; I no longer believe that the day shall end as it began, life bookmarked in its progress.
I love my parents dearly; I am as close to them as a child could be, I think. We laugh, we talk, we share. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the fact we are so close means this new chapter of their lives affects me deeply. How can it not? The very foundation of home life I have know my entire life is gone. I’ve been married for fourteen years; I am not a naive child who thinks wanting to make it work is enough.
And so, I program my phone with my mother’s new contact information; she gets her own entry now. I order change-of-address cards for her, and return address labels. Information now needs to go to two places. Anecdotes about the children need to be recounted twice rather than hearing my voice echo on speakerphone in the kitchen.
I support their decision– how could I not? I want them to be happy, and to achieve this goal they must live apart. But my knowledge that it’s what is best doesn’t make the bitter pill any easier to swallow.
I know a lot about grief and loss. I know that it takes time. This loss is something I’m dealing with, and will continue to, day by day.