The question surprised me, since I’d never thought of myself as an orphan, but I immediately recognized the truth of it. With my father’s death some years ago and my mother’s death more recently, I had become part of the “older generation” in my family–fatherless, motherless, an orphan.
My father’s death was the first death of a close family member. After years of heart problems, he had a sudden, fatal heart attack early one morning. When the phone rang, it woke me from sound sleep, I groped for it with my eyes still closed, and heard my mother’s voice:
Dad died last night.
Only she didn’t mean last night, she meant just moments ago, with the paramedics doing all they could, until finally they could do no more.
My body reacted to the shock of my father’s death with numbness and with tears. I hardly remember how I drove to be with Mom that morning. Then for weeks afterward, whenever I would see an older Asian man picking through the produce in the grocery store, my heart would skip a beat as I thought of Dad examining each piece of fruit before he would add it to his shopping cart. “Oh, the storekeepers don’t like to see me coming,” he used to say.
A year after his passing and for several years after that, I would feel a vague uneasiness for no apparent reason–until I looked at the calendar and realized it was the anniversary of his death. Even without my consciously thinking about it, my body remembered, this is when Dad died.