On Being an Orphan

I imagine that most adults, upon losing their parents, experience grief. I imagine that most are somehow confronted with thoughts of their own mortality too; it only makes sense.

Now, having experienced it myself, I can even comprehend less predictable results…like a certain sense of freedom (more on that later). But I wonder how many people feel this dull wonder when they realize that they have reached the bottom layers of potential pity and found it to be utterly hollow, useless and vain.

The pinnacle of all I could want in terms of pity (attention) without actually having to endure any kind of truly manly suffering has been achieved: he’s dead.

He surrendered to cancer almost 2 years to the day after Mom died. To say he “surrendered” is an irony in that he never fought it to begin with. Actually, he surrendered to the cancer decades ago. He chose this way to die when he was a much younger and healthier man. It’s just that after mom died, he stopped locking the doors and bolting the gate against whatever would sneak in first. He had agreed that it would be cancer long ago.

I watched him die.

I was squirting morphine into his dry, gaping mouth in a panicked effort to make his groaning and squirming stop. It was as much about my pain as it was about his.  His eyes opened during his stupid diaphragm’s last two attempts to suck air into his malignant lungs.

Stupid diaphragm.

His chest moved a little. His mouth moved a little. But nothing happened. He looked right through me and he died.

It was quiet but it was not peaceful. It was not just a “natural part of life”. Death is an enemy. While I respect those who choose not to engage in some vain, on-going fist fight against this inevitability, I do not embrace death as a friend or an ally.

We were not meant for this.

The weeks leading up to his death are a blur:

-Sleepless nights on the tiny bed in the room next to his.

-The sensation of his increasing frailty as I nearly carry him to the bathroom.

-His quiet, panicked gaze in the middle of the night.


-Charting medicines, food, bowel movements and emotions

…but one thing which stands out is a statement from Alick: “You, will find, Dan, that once he is gone, you will be released from certain bonds that you didn’t even know were holding you down. Don’t judge it. Just know that it’s coming with his leaving.”

It’s true. In his absence there is a void that I can only describe as elbow room.

Make no mistake: I would prefer to have him and give back this “space”, but the space is still a gift.

“Father” looms large in a man’s life. Even great fathers who got nearly everything about fathering right (like my Dad) can’t help but block out the sun to some degree. They steal some of the wind form your sails just because they ‘are’. Now I feel the wind blow stiffer, the sun is brighter too.

I must become who I am.

Simultaneously, as this realization blooms in the dirt of my grief, an old stink rises from the soil.

The mewling, cowardly beggar in me is measuring himself for a new suit of pity-clothes. This loss, in proximity to my marriage crisis, my mother’s death and all the other turmoil of the last few years, equates to the Mother Lode of attention getting pity.

How much pity do I need? Really? What’s the amount in pounds, or yards or hectares or giga-jewels? How many people whom I care about must die before I come fully into myself, before I get the attention I need to allow my image to come into focus?

I find myself at the bottom of an enormous pity-silo and I have used up all the contents. It’s been picked clean now. I can hear my own foot-steps echo off the walls as I scramble around looking for scraps…

…there’s nothing.

“But I’m trapped in here! I’ll starve!” I shout to the top of the silo, so far away.

“No you won’t.” I hear The Christ re-assure me, “I have provided for you.”

I expect to hear my own little voice cry out in protest, and it does…but a strange thing has happened: For the first time in my life, this whiny little voice is not dominant. In fact it’s not very loud at all.

The voice has been shown to be a liar. A fraud.

I will not dishonor my father’s life by using his death for my own ends. I can’t do it.

I’m so done with this shit.

I miss my Dad.

I miss my Mom.

I miss my Wife.

I do not miss the old Dan.

2 thoughts on “On Being an Orphan

  1. I remember making the firm decision not to play the pity card as it relates to being adopted. Unfortunately I think that left me to not explore my feelings on it at all, really. Don’t know what to think about that.

    1. Since then, as I have had opportunity to process real compassion, and real grief in a given situation, I have begun applying the teeter-totter principle (mentioned in the January 9, 2008 post): “the distance between hollow practice and idol is only inches”. Simply insert “self-pity” and “self-abuse”. I try to be still, sitting at the fulcrum and simply accept whatever drifts my way. Brennan Manning said, “It’s not that humble people have a low opinion of themselves, it’s that they have NO opinion of themselves.

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