Affected by Life Changing Loss

What does becoming an adult orphan and going bald have in common? In a very real way, they are both a type of loss. The former, a loss of a connection to your childhood, and the latter, a loss of your youth. My column in the August 6, 2015 issue of The Canadian Jewish News, discusses Life Changing Losses and how to cope.

Holding Hands with Elderly PatientDear Ella,

Last month I lost my mother at 92. For the last few years, she’d been deteriorating.

My father died nine years ago, so my focus has been on my mother for quite some time. I was lucky enough to be at her bedside when she died, and the oddest thought came to me within minutes of her passing. I’m an orphan. A 64-year-old orphan. I know it sounds ridiculous – that term is reserved for children.

Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling terribly empty. I left the hospital knowing I would not be returning and I didn’t want to go.

I have a husband, three children and four grandchildren, but I still feel alone, abandoned and scared.

I haven’t spoken to anyone about feeling this way, I’m too embarrassed.

Adult Orphan

Dear Adult Orphan

We all accept the fact that our parents will die eventually. It’s part of life, and logically we know the script, but the reality of a parent’s death has far more meaning attached to it than we anticipate.

Your feelings are normal. Most adults who lose their last parent have the same thoughts as yours. Most never verbalize it, as, like you, adults feel odd, or vulnerable, thinking of themselves as orphans. But that’s exactly what you are and you’re allowed to grieve, and should grieve, the loss of your last parent a little differently.

With your mother’s passing, your connection to your childhood has been severed, as has your role as a caregiver. Your life has changed in a flash and there are many emotional feelings associated with that life adjustment. The void is deep and the emptiness is real.

Your routine will change now too. Once you are past the funeral and shivah, you will have to redefine your time. It will feel strange, and you will want to call your mother or go see her on schedule. She won’t be there for holidays and birthdays, and it might be hard to realize it now, but her memory will be there. A familiar dish she served, or a saying she was known for, a scent, a habit – anything can and will remind you of your mom, and in those moments you’ll feel she is still with you. Hang on to those memories.

You are an orphan. It’s not strange to feel that way. When you’re ready, talk to others, and you’ll be very surprised to hear you’re not alone in those thoughts. Don’t repress your feelings. Embrace them and let others help you work through them.

Turn to your family to get you through this difficult time. Eventually, your grief will change to special memories, which you will hold deep in your heart forever.

balding

Dear Ella,

I knew when I got married there would be challenges, but I didn’t expect this one. My husband is losing his hair and you’d think the world was coming to an end. He is depressed, withdrawn, thinks he’s ugly and doesn’t want to go out much anymore.  When he does, he wears a cap. I’m having a hard time taking this seriously. He looks fine, but he is turning this into a tragedy.  Imagine if I acted this way because I found cellulite on my thighs. I have no patience for this nonsense. Am I being insensitive?

Appalled Being Bald

Dear Appalled Being Bald

With the invention of mirrors, selfies, Instagram and photos being snapped and posted on Facebook every time you blink, people have become more attuned to how they are perceived. Just as Samson’s hair related to his strength, so is your husband’s hair tied to his youth and sex appeal.

For many men, hair loss is part of aging, and who wants to face that reality? I’ll bet your husband spends much more time grooming, trying to camouflage his hair loss, maybe growing facial hair to compensate. As his hairline recedes, his forehead gets bigger, hence the cap. There is a huge hair loss industry built around baldness for a reason.

It may seem like nonsense to you, but it’s very real to him. Time to step in and make your man feel that he is every bit the guy you fell in love with, hair or no hair. Reassure him that you are still madly attracted to him and that he is as handsome as ever. This is not nonsense. He has tied his appearance, youth and self-image to his hair. Help him through this stage in his life.

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