Relationships

The Pain of Being a Parent

There's a helplessness I feel even as I do everything in my power to control the forces that are causing my children such physical and emotional discomfort

I hardly ever wear a tie and jacket anymore and when I do, it normally means one of two things is happening: either I'm making a court appearance, or I'm attending a funeral. I'm not going to court today.

This is the second time I'll be entering the same funeral home in the past two weeks. The last one was on the occasion of the death by suicide by a young man of 39. For the family who grieved, it seemed an unfathomable personal hell. Dreams lay shattered everywhere they looked.

When the father came forward to eulogize his son, he rambled on for a very long time. It appeared that he was unable to let go, clearly sensing that when he hit the last period, he would be saying goodbye forever. He seemed to be desperately pleading with death to wait, hoping somehow to reverse the course of events. When he concluded and slowly made his way into his seat, it was as though he had admitted a terrible defeat, to say nothing of looking like he had aged a lifetime. He had failed in his essential duty to give those in his care shelter from the storm.

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My two children are 29 and 33 and they're both currently encountering turbulent waters. My daughter's seven-year relationship with her boyfriend is no more and my son's longterm battle with health demons has recently escalated. There's a helplessness I feel even as I do all within my power to control the forces that are causing such physical and emotional discomfort. It's the pain of being a parent.

My daughter has made our home her temporary headquarters. It's (I like to think) as much for what wisdom we can impart, as it is for the free lodging we provide. While I'll occasionally compliment myself when I feel my words have helped to provide temporary salve for her wounds, I quickly become disheartened as soon as I see her struggle again. She can be unnecessarily hard on herself and no matter how I persuade her that better days are just ahead, I know that I can't relieve her continuing moments of quiet unhappiness and uncertainty.

My son is a remarkable fighter, who over 15 years of battles to regain his health, has shown a depth of spirit that I find astounding. No matter the particulars of the moment, he has consistently held his head up and kept his composure. But this last episode, just within the past weeks, was more severe. For the first time, and only for a brief few days, it appeared that he was allowing the sadness to overtake him. He has begun to recover his footing, both emotionally and physically, and for that I am grateful. But his amazing strength is a tribute to him alone. I merely stand by in awe.

As a parent I want to feel–I need to feel–that no matter my children's age or station in life, I'm still able to effect their destiny. That I can heal broken hearts and mend broken bones with the power of my words and the depth of my love.

But this funeral service served as a stark reminder of the limits of our abilities as parents. I imagined that others must've experienced a moment of personal despair like mine, understanding how little separated each one of us from such tragedy.

Life is made up of its uncertainties, of paths unintended and beyond contemplation. It's in this space that we find its greatest joys and its deepest sorrows. And it's here that we as parents hold our collective breath, waiting each day to find where the fortunes of those we hold most dear have landed.

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