Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fiction vs. Reality: A Personal Take on Being an Orphan

“Because orphans represent the feelings and pain that all humans experience, the character still resonates with audiences of adults and children alike. And until the day when no one feels the pain of isolation, orphan characters will continue to symbolize it for us.”

Professor Melanie Kimball

In June I get hit with two days that poginantly remind me that I'm an orphan. My first reaction is to hop online and look for information and resources to help me through it.

What’s interesting is if you Google terms like “loneliness and orphan” you’ll get tons of links on the phenomenon of orphans in fiction, especially children’s fiction.  There is an impressive list of characters:
  • Peter Pan
  • David Copperfield
  • Oliver Twist
  • Huck Finn
  • Tom Sawyer
  • Jane Eyre
  • Mary in The Secret Garden
  • Sara in The Little Princess
  • Anne Shirley in Anne of Greene Gables
  • Heidi
  • Louisa May Alcott’s Rose or Fanny
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
  • Harry Potter (the one, surprisingly, I relate to the most)
  • Luke Skywalker (my personal favorite) and, his twin sister, Leia Organa 
  • (list lifted in its entirety from this webpage)

Illustration by J.L. Cook 

I won't deny that these stories engage you and pull at your heart strings.  Real stories of misfortune and triumph do the same.

If you don’t find links to various essays on on fiction, then it's usually a mental health professional talking about the literal or figurative state of being an orphan through the lens of some sort of trauma.

Another result? The how-to lists on combating loneliness for those who might be a bit shy and reserved.

All of these have their place and are definitely useful.  The most engaging category for me is the fiction analysis because that’s an interesting phenomenon that I’d never thought about.

The problem is that in looking for answers all of these sources fall flat for me: a real life orphan. That means when I’m having these moments, none of those resources do much for me. 

I didn’t have any trauma until the trauma of my parents’ deaths (when: my mid-20s, how: 5 weeks apart and unrelated (no accidents, just sudden trauma)).   I was a very happy and very loved only child.  (I'm also usually a pretty happy adult, considering.) I knew my parents adored me, and I was very close to both of them.

In person, I’m outgoing and engaging.  I don’t need tips on how to meet people and form friendships.  I'm not shy, and I'm pretty confident.

I also don’t need analysis on traumatized children as that wasn’t my childhood.  I have a literal separation due to death and not a figurative one due to bad parenting.  Those are heartbreaking stories, for sure.  People in those positions do need help and support.  Also, when I read those, I'm thankful that I was so incredibly lucky. However, those don’t apply to me.

I don’t relate well to any of these because I don’t see myself.  I can’t be the only one.  BTW, yes, I have seen and owned books like Motherless Daughters. It's just that most works like that are for sale only, so outside of an link and summary that's all the solace and direction you get.  (Time for me to make a run on the public library.)

June is a hard month for me.  Usually, the weather is lovely.  It’s the start of summer, and it’s bright and sunny.  I'm writing as the sun rises over the NYC skyline, and loving the view.

Again, in June, I get hit with two significant days: my mother’s birthday which is in mid-June and then Father’s Day which was always a big deal because I was daddy’s girl.

There is almost nothing out there that deals with my sort of loneliness head on.  My loneliness is the pain of having lost my parents and missing the deep connection I had with both of them.  I have it in spirit and that keeps me going.  I also know that I’m blessed to have been loved so much that my grief runs deep. (Irony at its finest, but a way to spin it so that I’m not just a mess.)

From an academic perspective, it’s really interesting to see that adult grief is rarely addressed.  We all know that if the natural order of things occurs, our parents will die and we’ll be left behind.  For me, that happened years before anyone expected it. It does affect how I deal with people now. It's very hard for me to get close to others as I have a fear of abandonment.  There is also that feeling of constantly running scared because I am my safety net and when things go wrong, it's all on me.

There's my psychological rubble from all of this.  I can socialize with no problem.  Throw me into a party where I know no one, and I’ll leave with a few new friends.  However, I’m very slow at getting close to people.  (I always have been. Now it’s just 10 times worse.) Knowing it's all on me also means I've learned to be both resourceful and responsible.  I used to lose my keys all of the time.  I knew my mom would have an extra set waiting for me.  Since her death, I've never lost a set of keys (misplaced, yes, but lost, no).  That's probably because I know that, if I do, I don't have mom to save me anymore.

Since I’m adopted, I’m also an orphan twice over. I'll admit that probably factors into the deep attachment I had with my parents.  I was very aware that they chose to save me.

Illustration from

You have to be a fictional character tasked with saving the world or a galaxy far-far away, someone traumatized to the point of serious behavior and psychological problems or simply someone so reserved and shy that they can’t make friends to get essays written about you.

I don’t fit any of those, so, I guess that's why I'm watching the sunrise and writing my own essay.

I’m someone who had loving and supportive parents and I miss them.

A lot.

Happy Father’s Day to my dad, RIP.


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