Losing a parent, at any age, is difficult and painful. It clearly marks the "end of innocence" for us as children. Our aloneness and vulnerability become painfully clear.
Most of us face this emptiness as a natural consequence of our own aging process. Usually the tragedy and loss of one's parent is forestalled until such a time as we have created alternate sources for our unconditional love, which often help us to put the pain into some sort of 'acceptable' perspective.
However, when this type of loss prematurely occurs, there is often no time for reflection, or guides willing and available to help instruct us in a 'healthy' mourning process. So we just do, and react to our own misfortunes in the best way we can to satisfy the moment.
Then as adults, as we raise our own children, the weight of the loss begins to really sink in, as we share in our children's important moments of both joy and sadness.
That's when we again remember that our parent wasn't there at our recital, or when we broke a leg, or when we got our period the first time, or had our first love, or baby.
"Mom (or Dad) where were you, and why aren't you here!?!?"
"G-d, why did you do this to me?!?!"
Of course these types of disturbing thoughts and unanswerable questions aren't for the normal "light of day". They're the questions in the back of our minds, the ones we don't ask ourselves anymore.
It's only when finally sitting with our therapists, complaining of being so fatigued, or of the emotional distance we feel towards our kids or our spouses, or complaining about how little help and support we get - does the picture really begin to come into focus.
That she wasn't there for you when you needed her and it really hurt you, but you were never allowed to let it show. There's still a part of you that needs to cry about it, that needs to mourn, to feel the loss and vulnerability in order to truly heal.
This is when we need someone to tell us that it's okay to feel sorry for ourselves. To assure us that we won't really fall apart, and to help us to give ourselves permission for such gross self-indulgence. As we begin to lift the heavy veil of avoidance which we have used to blind our senses and mourning until now.
The adult "orphaned child", who scurries around busying herself with every conceivable errand and chore, being the perfect worker, spouse, and parent, of course has no time for such "self-indulgence".
Self-indulgence is the type of word often used to describe what we think (and reinforce ourselves to think) about our permitting ourselves to feel!
All of the necessary healing in many cases unfortunately becomes mostly directed towards "not feeling the pain". Whether it's chemical dependency, "workaholism", depression, or rage, they all have one goal in common: not to feel the pain.
One of the key elements for recovery and repair is often avoided by pushing the pain inducing feelings and memories away. Ironically, this is the one thing that we must do in order to really heal and grow - mourn.
When is the right time to do this, and how long is normal?
Everyone is different, and all of us heal in different ways. Some need to be alone and remember, others to think and write, and others just to talk about it.
Especially children, who don't have the many faculties of expression at their disposal that we do as adults, need to be encouraged to positively 'act-out' their feelings: drama, drawing, and listening to others mourn as well.
In the long-run, as the old saying goes - "better late than never" - it is never too late to mourn one's losses, to permit oneself this absolutely necessary "growth process".
Death is a part of life, as well - we must it live through it, too.