It was one of those moments. I was having a chat with mum. She wanted to give me some instructions as to some things she wanted done after she passed on. (Mum is in good health but I guess that after dad passed away, she wants to be more pro active about preparing for the future.)
I found it a difficult conversation. I had lost dad not too long ago. It was very hard to imagine life without mum as well. While mum and I were chatting, I received an SMS. A good friend’s dad had passed away. Since then, and that was just a few weeks ago, another friend’s mum has passed away. I guess it’s that chapter of my life.
Which led me to think: How do we respond to the death of a parent? By all accounts, this is a major loss. Grief will be there, and called for. (Genesis 50: 1-14) The world will never be the same again. There will always be this vacuum in our lives.
As we walk through this valley of grief, there are three things we can try to do: forgive, give thanks, learn.
Forgive (Matthew 6:14-15)
One of the prices we pay for growing up is the realization that our parents are not perfect. Indeed, they are capable of all sorts of terrible things. Some of us have loving parents whose failures are in other areas of their lives. We find ourselves having the difficult task of reconciling their warmth for us with their weaknesses and failures in other areas.
Others had a parent or parents who brutalized them. For whatever reason, they made life hell for us. Instead of affirming us, they wounded us deeply. We ended up hating them.
In any case, we find ourselves having to come to terms with the imperfections of our parents. And therefore we need to work at forgiving them. It is the Christian thing to do.
Indeed it may be the first step to our own healing. It may be the first step towards moving away from the distortions caused by our parents’s failures.
Preferably this should be done before they pass on. Hopefully it is done before we pass on.
Give Thanks (Deuteronomy 5:16)
Can we give thanks for our parents? I trust most of us can. We recall them trying their best to raise us, to educate us, to help us get on our feet in life.
Yes, they may have done it imperfectly, and probably with mixed motives, but they tried. Indeed it is when we become parents ourselves that we realize how scary and difficult parenting is. We realize that so much of life is not under our control, how, even after we do our best, we do not know how our children will turn out.
When we become parents, we learn what it means to take responsibility of other lives. We learn how much sacrifice is called for, and when the recipient of your love has no clue whatsoever, what it is costing you. We owe our parents plenty.
And even if your parents were the “parents from hell”, you have to embrace the fact that the Lord used them to bring you into existence. And because you exist you have experienced life. You have come to know God. With more, or less, enthusiasm, we can thank God for our parent/s.
Learn (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14)
I have learnt much from my parents. Among the many, many lessons I learnt — dad taught me to accept and love people as they are. Mum taught me to be the best that I can be. She continues to do so. I can write a book on my debt to my parents. Maybe I will one day.
Unless you lost your parents early, or they were very distant in their relationship with you, your parents were the major influence in your life. Modeling remains the most powerful way that lives are shaped.
We need to be aware of the tings in our parents’s lives that were not good. We need to minimize the impact of those influences. We need to forgive them for those failures. Indeed, I hope my children will forgive dad for his many faults.
But our parents also taught us many good things. Because they lived in another era in history, the challenges they faced may be different from ours. And so the relevance of their lessons may not be immediately apparent.
But in time, we learn that lessons like faith, courage, flexibility, tenacity, sacrifice, kindness, etc., are virtues for the ages. We were probably too close to our parents to appreciate some of the things they modelled for us.
The distancing that comes from death usually gives the needed perspective to see their contributions more clearly. And we may find that we have much more to learn from them than we realize.
There is no easy way to lose a parent. But yet it may be in losing them that we begin to see them as they really were. Sometimes there is really no way to appreciate a book till you have read the final chapter.
So when the day comes to say farewell to a parent, and that day will come to most of us (some die before their parents do), we will have to do the hard work of letting go. But if we also remember to forgive our parents for their failures, thank God for their contribution to our lives, and continue to learn from them, their going can be a significant step in our growing.
Your brother, SooInn Tan