|In Edward Klein’s book, Farewell, Jackie (Viking Penguin, 2004, page 191), he quotes JFK, Jr. upon the death of his mother. The son remarked to a writer at George Magazine, “There is something liberating, as weird as that sounds, to being parentless. With that loss comes an odd sense of liberty. You find yourself making decisions. While your parents are alive, there is always unconditional support, but you always feel the need to please them.”
That statement causes me to consider the death of my own parents and that next-in-line final ordeal of life, my own demise. And about this need we all have to please our parents, can there be complete freedom from the expectations? Does death really liberate us from the child-parent relationship in the way JFK, Jr. expressed?
It’s true, the child is free of parental guidance and advice, along with parental judgment and dissatisfaction, when the parent dies. Of course, the child is also left with the absence of a loving parent’s assistance and wisdom, of the assurance and praise all children enjoy, even when adults. But the notion that liberation is experienced upon the death of the parent fascinates me. Does the sense of freedom balance the feelings of loss, the first-time experience of living without a comforting parental presence?
That gives me pause to ponder the natural progression of human relations, even the most intimate ones between parent and child. I think about my relationships with my own adult children and how they have changed over the years and how those changes compare with the ones experienced between my own parents and myself. The fact is that we are all in a continuous pattern of change, for time is the element that changes everything. As one of my daughters-in-law once said, “Life happens.”
When I was a child, my greatest fear was the loss of one of my parents, or both. I went through a phase when I was about eleven of being obsessed by the thought of death, my own, and my parents’. I experienced an overwhelming dread of death for about a year, but with the onset of puberty, it seemed to ease into the background of my consciousness. By the time I was well into my teens, the idea of death, my own and my parents’, had become vague, for at that time old age seemed too far away to even contemplate. In the mid 1950’s, the year 2000 seemed as far away as Mars to me.
As I ventured further away from the watchful eye of my parents, and into my own extended circle of friends, my self-reliance grew, along with a sense of independence I had not experienced before. I became eager to separate myself from my parents, to find my own place in the world. At the same time, there remained that unbroken bond of answerability, the tie that binds us in a way that keeps us aware of that ever-present sense of accountability.
And it’s true, it remained with me in relation to my father, until the day he died. Immediately following his death, I understood exactly the liberation JFK, Jr. expressed. Will the same be true for my children when I die? I suspect so, for it seems to me to be the natural order of things. The same was true when my mother passed away two years ago. I wonder if it is nature’s way of easing the pain of loss. The silver lining in the cloud, the rainbow after a storm. It’s a built-in healing device for the human psyche.
When I am gone, I wish for my children no sense of sorrow, or sadness. I hope their liberation from all my expectations, real or perceived, soothes their sense of loss. I want them to remember me well, with understanding, to know that my own parents instilled those same aspirations in me, and that the same desires and wishes that too often encumbered them, will nevertheless continue, in their own hopes and dreams for their children. I want my children to know that the freedom granted them upon my death is generational, and one day, their own children will experience it as well. I think that’s the way it should be. What a truly remarkable conception!