I have a theory.
When an adult loses a parent, what follows from that loss is a transformation– where once the surviving child was blocked, she now soars towards freedom; somehow invisible forces that kept the child locked in old patterns evaporate. It’s as if the parent’s death allows the child to live in ways that simply weren’t possible while the parent was still drawing breath. I’m not only talking about strained parent-child relationships; my theory covers all kinds of parent-child relationships.
I saw it happen when Elizabeth’s mom died in 2004– she started dating for the first time ever. Then when Laney’s dad died in 2007, she moved out of her dysfunctional living situation and bought a gorgeous one-bedroom apartment. When Jay’s dad passed unexpectedly in 2010, he re-evaluated everything, ended up quitting his law job to go back to school to get his teaching degree.
Just the other night, someone told me that the very first time he went out after his father passed, BOOM!, he met his wife at a bar.
Don’t ask me about my sample size. I’ll admit it’s small. I’m not a social scientist, nor I have I tested this theory on myself (and hope I don’t have to for decades). But I still believe it. I’ve watched friends face grief head-on and then find themselves for the first time ever in long-term relationships, new jobs, cross-country moves, creative successes.
I don’t go around whispering in grieving people’s ears, “Hey, something really big is going to shift now that your parent has passed. Think plate tectonics. The loss sucks, but trust me, something big is coming your way.” I don’t even hint at it while tears are flowing and the pain is still raw. Grieving people need casseroles, help picking up dry cleaning, and someone to sit next to them while they watch Sanford & Sons re-runs. They don’t need my theories.
I’ll be testing this theory for the next few months, thanks to the email I got last week that my therapist was cancelling sessions because his mother had died
I’m already anticipating his Great Shift. I can see it now: he’ll tap into his deep-but-repressed-all-these-years passion for parasailing, and he’ll close up his practice to live near the ocean. Maybe he’ll decide to buy a villa in Italy and work three months per year, asking us to Skype in when he’s abroad. My fantasies about what his loss will unleash in his work life vary wildly: one second I imagine him growing ever more Zen, quoting ancient philosophers and encouraging me to let go of suffering or to light more candles. Then, I imagine him engaging in brand-new ways of being– like screaming or singing or pounding a drum– embolden by his new status as a motherless child. Maybe he’ll recommit to his practice (read me) and stop taking twelve weeks of vacation every damn year.
I wonder if I’ll tell him my theory and if he’ll see me watching him for signs that my hypothesis is solid. Like science.
Mostly, I wonder if I’m right, and whether I should keep my mouth shut and just send flowers.