In the past few months, I've had a number of people I know lose their parents. There's been an ebb and flow, particularly in the last year, although none of my friends are the same age so it's not like we've reached "an age" where we our parents might die. It's just happening.
In the eleven years since my dad died and then the three years since my mom died, I've had some time to process and think about what their deaths mean to me and how I go forward, especially at an age when most people I know still have both their parents, or at least one.
About fifteen months before my mom died, she told me something that has helped me, something that I believe all our parents want for us, particularly when they reach the afterlife where I believe there is no pain, no sadness, no hurt or anger over what has happened in life. In the afterlife, they want us to be happy, they want us to have the lives we're supposed to, and they want us to know we're still with them.
Mom told me that she knew I was different than the rest of the family and that I needed to go forward and be who I'm supposed to be. What Mom wanted for all her kids was happiness, to see them have the happiness she never had truly had in her life coping with polio, a not very great marriage, and all the sadness and insecurity that went with both of those.
I didn't think much about what she said to me until after she died. In my sadness knowing that she, my dad, and my younger sister are all gone (the three people in my family I spent the most time with because my older brother and sister had moved out of the house by the time I entered junior high), I have clung to those words.
And I've also come to realize something else: she freed me from the past with her message. The memories are mine to keep but I don't have to hold onto the sadness of anything that was said, unsaid, happened, or didn't happen. I can forward without letting any of the past hold me back, instead using from my past what motivates and inspires me (much of what you see in my designs).
It's painful to move forward in loss, especially that of our parents, because we fear we lose the past, of what defines us in some ways. But it's our choice to keep what works and helps us go forward. The rest we can leave behind. After all, that's what our parents wanted most for us: to know that we are happy and who we want to be.