Death of the Very Elderly
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Recently a relative of mine lost her mother. The deceased was exactly 100 years old. Certainly she had lived a full and happy life and was relatively healthy, even in her declining years.
The following are the comments that most of the mourners relayed to my relative and her responses to them: “”Yes, Mum had a long life”, “Yes, Mum was lucky to live so long”, “Yes, Mum, was pretty healthy till the end”.
But there was one mourner who tackled the real issue. She said to my relative: “I’m so sorry, you will miss your mother”. And that was when the floodgates opened. She had stated the obvious. No matter what age of your parent at their death, if you loved them, you will miss them. You literally know no life without them.
It is tragic to lose your parent at seven, because you need them, both physically and emotionally. But it also immensely sad to lose your parent when you are 70. You have known them both as a child and an adult, and watched them decline from the strong god-like figure of your childhood to a frail shadow of their former selves if they live to a ripe old age.
Yet you only lose your parent once in a lifetime and whether you are old or young, it is still a blow. The perceptive mourner certainly got it right when she said to my 70 year old relative: “You will miss your mother”. Yes, she was lucky to have her all those years, but she will miss her nonetheless. And it is important for friends and relatives of those with deceased older parents that the pain, although different from the pain of losing a young parent, is pain nevertheless and needs to be acknowledged.