The Orphan Syndrome
By: Beth McHugh 2010
A little known, but often experienced phenomenon, is the orphan syndrome. This common event is usually associated with a child who loses both of his or her parents at a young age. But what is less known is that this phenomenon occurs to all people who have outlived both their parents and whose relationship with those parents continued in some form for the duration of that adult child’s life.
Hence even a 40 or 50 year old can go through the feelings associated with the orphan syndrome when their last parent dies, even though that parent may well have been into their sixties or seventies or even older when they passed.
Although it is not uncommon for people to laugh when they hear of this occurrence, it is very real and often older people who lose their last parent go through a mourning period which can be more intense than the mourning they experienced when the first parent died. This is sometimes distorted when the second parent is not loved, but even in this case, the orphan syndrome can still kick into gear.
What happens when the last parent dies is more than just the death of a single person. It is the end of that particular hierarchy in the family tree. It reminds the bereaved that they are, in fact, next. There is also the issue that there is no more “family home” to go to, and the remaining siblings must increase input into keeping the family together because there is no focal point for the family anymore, no family hone to go to. Certainly, not that particular family – the birth family.
Also there is the issue that when the remaining parent dies, there is the question of the deceased’s will and the free-for-all that often occurs after the final death in a mad grab for the pick of the family jewels.
But the orphan syndrome really involves the feeling that there is no more place to go where one is always welcome, where you are “at home” at any time of the day, and if there are marriage problems, no “going home to the folks “anymore.
The orphan syndrome is yet another rite of passage we all must go through, and one of the best ways to get through the grieving associated with this part of the death process is to remind yourself that your own parents have already gone through this experience and survived. And so did those parents, and so forth.
So if you feel that you are suffering from the orphan syndrome, remind yourself that it will pass, it is a normal part of the grieving process and that every one of your ancestors has gone through the process and come out the other end. You will too.