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On the Death of a Parent

While thinking of things to post to the Facebook page of a friend whose father died quite suddenly, this metaphor presented itself. It is just a metaphor and not a world philosophy.


Having two parents alive in this world may be compared to riding a tricycle. There we are, pedaling and steering, and there are two wheels of support behind us. Now, it may be that one of the wheels is bigger than the other, or flatter, or badly shaped, or missing altogether, i.e., still alive but not a part of our lives. Because we none of us have two perfect parents, we all have to work at finding the balance point that allows us to move forward, and most of us do a pretty good job one way or another.

When a parent dies, they are completely gone from this world and our lives, and they will never come back. (I speak as to adults, not to young children whose remaining parent may find a loving spouse that can SOMETIMES replace the deceased parent.) I say, when a parent dies, we lose our balance. Even if we have not had daily or even regular contact with that parent, just knowing that they exist, somewhere on the planet, changes things in a way we do not guess until they are gone. And the older we are, the longer we have lived in the world with two parents, the more difficult and startling the transition when one of them dies.

Then, when the second parent dies, we are really on our own, and finding the balance point is a lot trickier, just as riding a unicycle is very different from riding a bicycle. This is why family is so important.

Siblings are not parents. Even when they sometimes get sucked into a parenting role due to the vacuum created by a missing, ailing, or deceased parent. No, our siblings are on their own tricycles, as are our friends. They may come along side and, with an outstretched arm, help hold us up for a while, help keep us balanced, and we may do the same for them, but they are not our wheels.

However, there are other wheels in our lives: children. As we become the support wheels for our children, we are pulled along by their energy, and steered in the direction of their dreams.

We can do little when it comes to our parents: they are who they are, and we’d like to think they did the best they could. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t. I’m sure we could all wish they were other than what they were, somehow, or had done things differently. But, as I say, we cannot change them. That’s another reason I like this metaphor. The back wheels are behind and beneath us. We cannot simultaneously pedal and steer and make significant progress on our way while trying to “fix” one of those tires. This is not to say we should not care for them, but we must accept them as they are. We cannot change them.

What we can change is ourselves, at least to some degree, to be thoughtful, useful wheels to our children, matching to some degree the shape and pace of the other parent. It may be that we ourselves are lacking in strength or ability and so find ourselves the weaker, lesser wheel. That’s as may be, and so we must strive to bring all of what we do have to the struggle. Let us hold up our share of the weight in whatever way we may, creating as little drag as possible, though perhaps stopping flat when we see fire on the tracks.

If we still have one or two of our own parents, while we have children of our own we may be doubly blessed. Though seemingly pulled in many directions, we have a marvelous balance, for there are many upon whom we can bear for support. Or it may be that our parents are distant, physically or emotionally, unavailable, so that we gain little support from them, or are hindered by their malfunction. Still, if they are in the world, there is hope. We are far more balanced than we realize. Once they are gone, the universe shifts in strange ways.

Those who, through no fault of their own, must perforce pedal along with seriously defective or missing wheels, while simultaneously finding themselves the support wheel for the next generation should have our compassion and support.