Coming home used to excite me. My father would wait right outside the arrivals area. I made a game out of trying to spot him as fast as I could. I loved the way his and my mother’s eyes would light up as soon as they saw me for the first time in months. It always made me feel special and safe and loved.
My mother would ask me what I wanted her to cook while I was home. I once told her all I wanted were scrambled eggs.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Scrambled eggs. That’s all I want.”
I now wish I had asked for her special lasagna or the pizza bread that was a childhood favorite.
I lost my mother at 20, and my father at 27. All I feel is emptiness now when coming home. Literally, because my childhood home is devoid of the people I love and adore. Figuratively, because there is a hollow cavity in me that will probably never go away.
When it was obvious my father would not make it, I foolishly thought it wouldn’t be so bad. I had already lost my mother and I turned out fine. Been there, done that. How naive I was. I did not consider the fact that my father was my last surviving parent, and I somehow conveniently forgot that the pandemic was still in full swing. There were so many factors pushed to the back of my mind, only for all of them to be unleashed all at once when reality finally hit me hard.
What surprised me most was how my father’s death made me mourn my mother again. I think I was really mourning the loss of my identity as a daughter. I know I will always be their daughter, but a world without both of my parents is disconcerting. I felt untethered and lost. The world felt more frightening, less safe. I had lost the last of my security blankets. I remember thinking I will never be loved like how they loved me.
I became more cautious automatically. I am always thinking about how I have to be careful because I don’t have parents anymore. I am more mindful because there is a big chance I will get the diseases that cost them their lives. I have the urge to tick off my goals as early as possible because my lifespan might be the same as theirs … I might only have 30-40 years left to live; 30-40 years is pretty long, but the 20 and 27 years I spent with my mother and father respectively feel unfairly short.
Tired after months of moping and feeling sorry for myself, I looked for ways to be happy again, no matter how fleeting. I grabbed every chance I could to see my friends. When it felt safe to watch a movie in the cinemas again, I took myself out on dates reminiscent of my pre-pandemic weekends. I even changed my Instagram profile picture into one where I was sporting a huge grin. When I was with other people, I seemed okay and had “moved on.” Sometimes, random mundane things would trigger my grief, and I would have to quietly collect myself in the company of others. Truthfully, I would often break down and cry every time I came home from gatherings with friends. I was glad and grateful for their company, but it also made me feel terribly lonely. I would get jealous of their stories involving their parents, family vacations, and even the silly squabbles common in families. I want what they have. I used to have what they have.
Losing your parents in your 20s feels like a cruel joke. I don’t personally know anyone my age who has lost both their parents. It’s easy to feel isolated when your peers share stories and complaints about their parents. Every time I mention my father in a conversation, the discomfort in the air is palpable. No one knows how to react most of the time. Questions about my dead parents are always prefaced with apologies. I don’t blame them, though. Grief is such a complex thing; it’s uncomfortable and painful. Sometimes, it makes me want to laugh at my own morbid jokes. Most of the time, it makes me want to cry. But it also makes me want to talk about my parents a lot. I’m immensely thankful for supportive friends who are gracious enough to listen, check up on me from time to time, and invite me out occasionally. They have no idea how much these simple acts mean to me.
Still feeling bouts of loneliness, I searched for people in similar situations. That’s how I stumbled upon the term “adult orphan.” I learned there were many support groups worldwide for people just like me, and they called themselves adult orphans. I joined a Facebook group specifically for those who had lost their parents in their 20s and 30s. There, I found a community that understood what I was going through. It was a club nobody wanted to join, but we were all grateful to have one another to lean on despite and because of our circumstances. Knowing I am not alone has lifted a lot of my worries and fears.
I am still learning how to live my life again. I think it’s going to be a never-ending process, learning to live without my parents. When waves of grief come, I’ve learned not to push them away. I let them wash over me, knowing that I am lucky to have experienced a love that is unconditional and safe. It hurts, yes, but that is the price of having the honor of being the daughter of two of the most wonderful people I will ever know in this lifetime.
Anna Cueto, 29, works in advertising. She hopes to have made and continue to make her parents proud.
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