Family, Life
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When are you too old to be classed as an orphan?

When I think of orphans, Annie springs to mind.  Her bright red hair scuffed shoes and dirty face to match.  There’s Tarzan of course, Cinderella, Snow White and Mowgli (Jungle Book).  Are Disney obsessed with orphans?

The message conveyed in most of these films is that no matter how low things get, there can still be a happy ever after.  But can this theory be applied to real life and when are you too old to be considered an orphan?


Ten minutes after Dad died, the hospital chaplain entered the room to say some prayers.  She took one look at my sister and I (sobbing by the bed) and said “wow you two look in a state.” What happened next I still cant quite believe today.

She pulled a chair up next to us and asked where our mum was.  We explained that she had died ten years previously.

“Oh, so you are orphans now then.”

Shock, laughter (my sister and I), the tears stopped from us both as disbelief set in at what she had just said and what it actually meant.  The chaplain had started saying a few prayers by this point but I zoned out still thinking about her orphan comment.  She finished and prepared to say her farewell.  I thanked her for the prayers (Dad would have liked that part) but said that perhaps she should hold off with her orphan comments in future.  I hope that she has taken that on board and not said the same to anyone else.

It’s pretty lonely when you lose your parents but I’ve found comfort in strange places; Jon Hamm (aka Mad Men’s Don Draper shown below) is an orphan.  He lost is mum when he was ten and his dad when he was twenty. “When you lose both parents, there’s an abandonment situation that inevitably sinks into your being.  I made sure I had a schedule to follow…”

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I am very lucky that I had 28 years with both my parents.  They were amazing people, I was friends with both of them in my adult years and even in my teens we had fun.  Humour was the hub of our family.  My three siblings all have brilliant senses of humour and in our toughest times we use this to help us.

Mum died suddenly (brain haemorrhage aged 55) and it was beyond hideous (I miss her every single day, people say that time helps; sure its not so raw but the loss is as big as it was ten years ago).  I still had dad though.  When you lose one parent, the focus goes onto the other one.  Are they okay?  Do they need looking after?  How are they feeling?  I used to talk to Dad alot about losing Mum.  He missed her so very much.  Some people didn’t understand why he was so low about it for so many years but he had been with her for 30 years; that’s a long time…  We talked about her a lot and shared our grief together.  I would call him and start crying “I miss her”, he would just say “I know” but I knew that he really did.  Now that Dad has died there’s a huge void that will never be replaced.

Nothing can change this.  No amount of counselling or therapy will bring my parents back (although bereavement counselling has helped normalise the rather zombie like state I have been in for the last 6 months). Friends feel helpless about what to say; most problems we have shared in the past could be solved over a bottle of wine and a good chat.  There is a gap in my friendships that will only be closed when they too experience the loss that I have; I do not wish this on any of them and only hope that I can use my experience to help when it happens.

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The Oxford Dictionary defines an orphan as :  A child whose parents are dead.

So, what does this make me?  I am not a child according to the Oxford dictionary :

Child : a young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age of majority.

But, six months ago I was referred to by my father as one of his four children.  The Collins dictionary has eight different definitions of the word child and I come under number seven (phew) :

A member of a family of tribe – a human offspring son or daughter.

I may have no parents alive but I will always be someones child.  I have my own tribe now; a husband and three sons of my own.  I am a mother, a sister, a wife, a friend, a writer, a niece, a goddaughter and a cousin.  I am surrounded by love; my recent wedding was confirmation to me about this fact.  When we think of orphans it’s often with pity and I certainly do not need that.

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