Is it harder to lose your parents when you’re childless?

Dear friends,

My father, Clarence “Ed” Fagalde, died last week. He was 97. I have written often about needing to travel to San Jose to take care of him. It’s hard to believe I won’t be doing that anymore.

When your last remaining parent dies, it leads to all kinds of thoughts. We’re orphans, my brother noted that morning. Can siblings old enough to collect Social Security be orphans? Can adults with their own children be orphans? There’s a connotation of helplessness in the word. But then I think about “widows.” I’m one of those for sure, and the helpless thing is attached to that word, too. We hear about “widows and orphans” a lot in the Bible. By definition, they are poor and need help.

The only help I need is in dealing with my grief, with the pictures in my mind of those last hard days, and with feeling more alone than ever.

I told the hospice chaplain through my tears that I was afraid I was going to feel terribly alone. My brother has his wife, kids, and a huge group of in-laws. I live all the way up in Oregon with my dog. It hasn’t sunk in yet, but I know it’s going to hit me.

I was more attached to my father than I think most people with children are. My sister-in-law’s first thoughts when Dad died were about the effect on her grown children. She said my Facebook posts had upset them. I honestly didn’t give them one thought. I feel bad about that. Perhaps if I had children, they would have been my first priority, too.

I don’t feel as guilty for an earlier post when Dad was suffering and I really needed someone in the family to sit with him for a while. One cousin-in-law said she would come if she weren’t out of town taking care of her grandchild. From the rest, no response.

I can understand those with young children not wanting to expose them to the nursing home or to the way Dad looked toward the end. My brother and I still bear the scars of visiting our great-grandmother in the nursing home. It was terrifying for little kids. But what about the adults?

My friends called and texted often. How are you? How is your dad? After I complained that I couldn’t sleep because it was almost as hot inside my father’s house (95 degrees) as it was outside (102 degrees!), a Facebook friend I had never met said I could stay at her house. She was in the middle of moving, but she would make it work. I declined, but was deeply touched.

I’m so grateful for my friends, people like Pat W., Pat S., Fran, and Bill, who have been taking care of Annie, watering my plants, doing my church job without pay, and calling often to check on me. Now that I won’t be talking to my father on the phone every night, I want to use those times to reach out to others, both friends and family. Too often we say, “Let’s keep in touch,” and then we don’t.

If I had children, would we be having heart to heart talks, helping each other through our grief? Maybe, maybe not. They would be young, they would be busy, they would be involved in their own lives, just as I was when my grandparents passed away. I felt bad, but not the guts-ripped-out bad that I feel this time.

My brother and I have had those talks lately. Losing our father has brought us closer. In reality, siblings and friends of our own generation are the only ones who really get what’s happening. Someone said last week that we don’t begin to treasure our parents and their history until we’re older and about to lose them. That’s probably true for most of us. We’re busy with school, work, social life, hobbies, workouts, whatever. I still regret an anniversary party years ago for my great-aunt and uncle that I left early to go sing somewhere. The guests of honor died soon after, and I never got the chance to be with them again.

I may have held on tighter than most people to my parents because I didn’t have children. When my mother died in 2002, I still had my husband, and that made it a lot easier. After Fred died in 2011, my father became the man in my life again. Now, well, it’s hard. I keep waiting for the phone to ring. I’d like to think if I had kids, they’d step in to help me and my brother take care of things and distract us with the concerns of youth so we don’t dwell on aging, illness, and death. Surely it’s a comfort to my brother when his granddaughter climbs into his lap now for a little “Papa” time.

So what am I saying? I’ve got grief brain, a little PTSD, and a runny nose. I’m still having trouble believing this really happened. I’m saying treasure your family. Reach out to them if they don’t reach out to you. But also hold on to your friends because you’re going to need them, especially if you don’t have children and grandchildren.

How are you with your parents? Do you think your relationship is different because you don’t have children? If you never have children, how will you feel when your parents are gone? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

You can read more about my dad at my Unleashed in Oregon blog and also on his online remembrance page at https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/santa-clara-ca/clarence-fagalde-8829584.

23 thoughts on “Is it harder to lose your parents when you’re childless?

  1. You are so blessed to have had such a special relationship with your Dad. I never had that with either of my parents. They were not affectionate and were very critical of everything I did. We really did not have a meaningful relationship. Losing them was difficult but I probably did not feel the grief that you are experiencing now. A sad thing, so I worked at having a real relationship with my children.

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    • Oh Pat, I’m sorry. For a lot of years, my dad was pretty distant, and he was ridiculously strict, but I am grateful we got so close. I had a good relationship with my mom, too, I was lucky. You’re doing a great job with your kids.

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  2. I’m so sorry you lost your father. But I’m glad that you had time with him in the end, even though I know how hard those vigils can be. (I lost my father 14 years ago and my mother three years ago.) I’m with you in your grief. My husband and I are now spending a lot of time caring for his father (though that was shared briefly with another of his siblings).

    Both my parents suffered in the end, so when they went, there was a sense of relief that that was over for them. Though I wish my father had had at least ten more (healthy) years.

    The sadnesses I have experienced since losing my parents has been that there has been no-one to ring and tell about our lives. Yes, I tell my friends, and sisters. But there have been times (not always, but just sometimes) I have wished I could call my mother, or that my father would have loved to have heard about our travels to, for eg, South Africa. (He would have adored it – I’m so sad he never got to go.) I don’t know if that’s because I have no children, or if it is just because I know they would have loved to have learned certain things. I do know that I’m grateful not to be one of the sandwich generation, as caring for the elderly (which perhaps is left to those of us without children) is stressful enough.

    When the grief goes, I will confess to feeling a certain freedom – we can realistically do whatever we want, completely without responsibilities. I know my parents felt that too (when we were grown and self-sufficient) – so I don’t think it’s unique to the No Kidding amongst us.

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  3. Hi Sue, I’m so sorry to hear about your Dad.

    As far as it being harder to lose your parents when childless, I think it just depends on the parents. I’ve been blessed with great parents and dread the day I lose them. Other friends I know are quite distanced from their parents due to childhood abuse.

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  4. Sue, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. I’ve blogged about feeling cut adrift when you have no parents and no children; I was close to both of my parents and by the age of 35 they had both passed away. Friends of mine who have children but have lost parents have told me they don’t have the disconnected feeling I get when there are family orientated holidays… that’s one of the occasions I really yearn for that special connection that I just don’t have with anyone else.

    Don’t get me wrong, both my parents suffered before they died and I was grateful when their suffering ended. My parents had me in their mid 40’s so I was doing the caring from a very young age, like Mali says there is a release when you aren’t tied down with the weight of responsibility.

    What I also found though was I had all this excess time with no purpose and it took a while for me to channel all of the energy into other things.

    I think it’s harder to lose your parents when you don’t have your own kids or kids whom you’re close to, in answer to your question. Some kids aren’t capable of supporting their parents – my eldest brother has aspergers amongst other issues and isn’t capable of being there emotionally for anyone.

    Thinking of you whilst you navigate this new found path, my heart goes out to you.

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    • Thank you, Bamberlamb. I agree with all of this. This morning at church an older man not known for tact and who has about 12 kids, said of my news, “Well, that’s the evolutionary process.” Sure, but what if you don’t have children? I didn’t challenge him, but that’s what I was thinking.

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    • My mother died four years ago. The triple whammy of having a dead mother, being single with no prospects in site, and childless has come to feel like my core identity. I wallowed for much of the last three years after she died, but it was grating to others and brought me misery. Now I focus on my family of origin, my career, my hobbies, and other pursuits. It doesn’t change the hole inside of me or the fear that when my dad dies someday, my family will drift apart, and I will be all alone. At the same time, I feel so close to my family that I cannot imagine giving up any part of that closeness to become part of a new family if I ever did meet anyone to marry.

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  5. So sorry about your father, Sue. But I am glad you were able to be with him at the end.

    My own relationship with my parents has been relatively good, I think. As long as we’ve been married, we’ve always gone there to spend Christmas & a week or two in the summer with them (2.5 hours on the plane, plus an hour by car). I think I assumed that when we had a family of our own, they would come to see US more often… but the kids never came & they haven’t come here much either, especially in recent years as they’ve gotten older. I think some people (whose own parents live closer to them) don’t understand why we’ve spent so much time & money over the years travelling to be with them… I’m like, “what, 35 years later, I’m going to try to change things & do things differently??” I have no regrets about spending my free time & money to go see them… but I do sometimes feel a bit taken for granted. I haven’t had a family of my own to focus on (& my parents never had grandchildren to focus on), so my family of origin continues to be important to me (& to them, I think), in a way that it might not be to those who have kids as their #1 priority.

    My sister lives an hour away from them so she’s been the one who’s had to step up & help out more in recent years (although of course we do what we can whenever we’re there). I sometimes wonder what’s going to happen to both of us when our parents are gone. It will be strange not to have that link, that reason to go “home,” those people who were there for you from Day One & share your growing up memories. Theoretically, I could still go there, stay with my sister & see other relatives, but it sure won’t be the same. I worry a bit about her… we live close to dh’s brother, our nephews & other relatives, so I’m reasonably sure we’ll have somewhere to go for holidays and someone to look in on us now & then as we age ourselves. Like me, she doesn’t have children (by choice), and while she has one close friend, and there are other relatives around (our aunts & cousins, as well as her partner’s relatives), she’s not much for reaching out & staying in touch, let alone asking for help.

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  6. Sue,

    We have never met, but I adored your dear Dad.

    Just this afternoon I went to visit my own Dad at Somerset with hopes of seeing your Dad as well.

    I brought the cookies that our Dad’s enjoyed on prior visits and I couldn’t wait to ask him about a farming family I had just learned of, from the great old farming days of San Jose, I was sure your Dad would have known them.

    My sister and I almost always saw your Dad and today as it was time to leave I commented to one of the staff about missing your Dad, thinking perhaps he was out with your brother, Michael.

    Sadly, we heard the heart breaking news.
    I was stunned.

    My Dad, sister Diana and I loved hearing your Dad tell stories about San Jose in the olden days and his days in the Army Air Corp and being stationed in Townsville, Australia ( when it wasn’t even much of a town) during WW II.

    All about his adventures getting to and fro boot camp, the war time action, returning back to the States and making his way back home unannounced after the war in the middle of the night surprising his Mom, I just kept thinking this man’s life would be a great movie!

    He was never bragging or boastful he was simply sharing fascinating memories of a great full life well spent.

    Your Dad was always happy and smiling and so sweet and gentle. I feel honoured that I was able to make his acquaintance and hear him share his incredible life stories.

    I am more than happy to help you through your grieving process.

    Please contact me anytime, I would love to hear all you want to share about your amazing Dad.

    My heart goes out to you and Michael and all who loved him.

    With deepest sympathies, Sincerely,

    Deborah Thomas Norling

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    • Deborah, Thank you so much. This is so nice. He was a good guy, and I’m pretty shattered by his loss. I know he appreciated meeting you and your sister and hanging out with your dad. I would love to meet you. I’ll be in town for the funeral, which is Sept. 13 at 10:30 at St. Martin of Tours. All the best to your family. Somerset is a good place, but it’s not easy to watch your loved one lose his independence. Blessings, Sue.

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  7. Sending you a warm hug from NC. Praying for peace — His peace — to desend upon you as you process it all.

    My heart aches for you and your loss.

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  8. Hi Sue,

    I am so sad to hear about the loss of your father.

    I am very close with both of my parents and do not have any siblings.
    We who are childless, at least from my perspective, feel the loss of our loved ones even greater since there are less of them.
    Hugs & prayers to you!

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  9. Oh Sue. I came here for my own selfish reasons (feeling low) and I’m so sorry to read about the loss of your father. Prayers and blessings to you as you move through the rest of the year and all the “firsts” without your dad.

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  10. Hi Sue! I am sorry for the loss of your father. I know I’m responding 2 years after the fact. but I googled “losing mother when you don’t have children” and your post came up. I am 48 years old, have no children, and have a very distant relationship with my sister. My father died Oct 2018 at age 91 and my mother was healthy teaching an exercise class and after a routine blood workup in November 2021, it led to the discovery/diagnosis that she has Stage 4 cancer with poor prognosis on December 16th. She has since declined in her function and will likely not make it beyond 1-2 months. Yes I feel like I’ll be alone. I am married, but outside of him and his 2 elderly parents we have no other family. My husband had 1 sister who died in a car accident years ago. I do wish I had more family close to me besides friends (which are wonderful!!).

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    • Linda, I’m so sorry for your losses. How painful! I do think it’s harder without children because being around a new generation surely helps when we lose our parents and other older family.

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  11. I don’t have kids and my wife and I are separated. When my remaining parent, my Mom. was going on her journey the last week of her life, my brother’s 2 kids were constantly in the house, sometimes joking and laughing out loud. I get that, it comforts them. My brother would spend large gaps of time with them out on the porch when I could have used him to help me with my Mom. He relied on them heavily for support, while I had none basically. We actually got into a fight because I did not want his kids in the room while my Mom was dying. He said, “That’s their grandmother, they have a special bond”. I replied, “Yes, and she’s my mother and those kids are strangers to me, and besides, why would you want them to see her like that?” (They did not share them with my wife and I as they grew up). At one point his daughter (24 yrs old) came into the room and sat down as my Mom was gasping for air. I gave my brother the darkest look and eventually he led her away, saying later to me he didn’t want her last memory of her grandmother to be of her dying. Really? So now you get it? He tried to justify it at first, and I asked him, “Do you think Mom would want her grandkids to have this as the last image of her?” When his son (28 yrs old) left the night before my Mom died, (again walking right into the room, I had to tell him to “excuse us”) my brother went to bed and never got up until after my Mom died. He literally had no strength left once his family was not there. I did not have a choice. I don’t blame him. I did at first, but after talking to him, he said he did not have the physical stamina to stay up any longer. Now that’s she’s gone, my brother is back to his normal life of doting on his family, helping distract him from his grief, (not shed it entirely. of course. I understand he’s going through it, too) while I go down the path completely alone. My Mom was the last person left in my inner circle, and now I feel like I’m completely untethered, floating in space with my depression and grief.

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    • Very sorry Matt. Gosh, when you said your brother’s kids were laughing and joking ..I thought you meant..little kids or teens…but 24 and 28 years ? Seems they should have shown a bit more decorum and respect for this precious time with their Grandmom and your Mom.

      It’s very maddening to imagine. You deserve to have feelings of anger and frustration about those last days with your Mom and their rudeness especially in her very last moments. The only thing I can say is, as you know, it’s an extremely stressful, frightening experience watching your Mom as she passes away. No one knows how they will react until they are in the middle of the process. Your brother was obviously overwhelmed by the situation, so much that he couldn’t even see what you were doing and that you would have liked more help with all you had to tend with, and oblivious to the fact that he should have been paying more attention to guiding his own adult kids through the process in a much more respectful and solemn manner.
      I’m hoping in time, who knows when, he may reflect back and realize he could have handled things better, and perhaps have a chat with you about it, but sadly, I’m not sure it’s anything someone needs to apologize for, again, because it’s such an uncharted, stressful, horrible time.
      I know in my family, we were close as children growing up, but tensions and anger really flared in the last days of my Mom’s life and afterward. And our sibling bond never fully recovered..
      I know it’s hard to ask for help, but please do consider seeking out a professional who can help to ease your anger,frustration and hurt. I hope you can talk to your doctor and ask for guidance, or if you have counseling through your job, or call your local County Mental Health Center or check their web site to see what sort of counseling or grief counseling is available, or if you go to church, perhaps contact the pastor from your church. We all need someone to vent to now and then or just listen while we spew our frustrations. I will add, even if you’ve never kept a journal, just grab a stack of paper and a pencil and write everything down, let it pour out of you, even if you can’t even read your handwriting, get it out! You can pretend you are yelling at your brother, his kids, whoever. Even if you never show it to anyone, it really truly can be amazingly cathartic and help you calm your mind and ease some of your frustrations. Meanwhile Matt, I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

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