Living as an orphan? Is that what I am?

It was graduation week last week. It did strange things to my head, different to normal. I mean, of course 95% of me just loved the atmosphere on campus, and loved seeing so many proud students with huge grins. They so deserved that happiness and it was just wonderful to see, and contagious warmth. 🙂

But it does do strange things to my head. Last year it had me scared, on some level. Sad, but also scared. I was still in contact with my parents, out of duty or…I dunno really. Out of feeling powerless. I remember seeing students graduate with beaming parents and thinking would I want my parents here? Would we just play happy families, and would I be hurt? Of course I’d be hurt. Without question I’d be hurt. So what will I do? I can’t just tell them no you can’t come, can I…?

But I officially cut the ties with my parents and rest of family last summer, and haven’t had contact since, and don’t plan on having contact again. So seeing the happy families at graduation week this year has done somewhat different things to my head. There’s no longer fear/apprehension/uncertainty about what mine will involve…. there’s just sorrow. Grief. A sense of disconnect. It’s like I’m living as an orphan, except my parents are still alive, they were just never parents…

I watched parents and their graduating children on campus and realised I could never have that. I mean, I never had it anyway, any smiles were a mask. But…even so. Cutting off my family was the best thing for me, and I’ve come so far since, and I don’t at all want them back in my life. But this week I have felt a tremendous sense of loss – and not even loss of what I had, but loss in fact of what I’ve never had. I was witnessing scenes of unconditional love which I couldn’t, as a child, empathise with. I could empathise with the love from the parents, as I felt for my own, but I couldn’t empathise with how the students may have felt…

I have no sense of what being a child in a safe, secure and loving family is like. And I never will. This really hit me this week and I just didn’t know how to sit with it or deal with it. I felt another wobble in my sense of identity. And I didn’t want to talk about it, because I didn’t want to be seen as someone putting a downer on a week of such celebration. But I couldn’t help feeling lost somehow, disconnected from the world, like I was watching through a window at a dream I might have once had as a child. I suddenly realised how much I long for a parent. It’s a grief, of some sort, that I mostly bury. I bury it because I know there’s nothing I can do about it, and also because at the same time there’s a part of me scared of ‘parent’ as an idea – because ‘parents’ hurt me. But this week I really felt the jolt to my heart. I’m a grieving mother, but I’m also a child. A lost child, with no parent. I kept trying to keep that sorrow at bay, but it was no use. For some reason this week I apparently needed to feel that loss.

I spoke to one of the counsellors I see about it, feeling a great sense of shame with it, somehow worried that my sorrow will affect everyone’s week. I’d half convinced myself every student celebrating would be hating me secretly for feeling sad. This insecurity has mostly come about this year from hearing of ‘friends’ not actually being friends at all, but even so, it was a mildly absurd worry. After helping me realise that maybe a small handful were partly aware of how I was feeling, if at all, and that I therefore wasn’t being a burden on thousands of students lives, I let myself relax. And then cry. Really fucking cry my eyes out, as the sense of loss hit me. A real sense of grief for myself, grief not over what I have had and lost, but grief of what I just never had. Not grief for the fact I didn’t have a ‘perfect’ family – what family is? But grief for the fact my sense of what constituted a family was so long full of fear, shame, abuse and trauma. That wasn’t a family. I guess it’s good I can cry for not having a family, because it means I acknowledge that what happened was wrong, rather than ‘normal.’ But still, it hurts. So much. I have the most wonderful friends and I guess in a sense the privilege of creating my own ‘family’ within that, and there’s a lot of freedom which comes from not being tied to a family. But even so… I’m already dreading Christmas, already feeling heavy-hearted about feeling that disconnect again. I’m dreading my graduation and it isn’t for 2 years. I then feel ridiculous for dreading something so far away. But really I’m not dreading the graduation. I’m dreading another week of this sense of loss and disconnect. But maybe in another two years’ time that will have grown easier.

I don’t miss the family I had. I miss odd moments, perhaps, odd glimmers of almost normality amongst all the madness. But I don’t miss the family. It’s not them I’m grieving for. It’s deeper than that. It’s that I never had a family in the first place, not really. I officially did, but in terms of love and care, and correct discipline, and silly arguments, etc etc… I never had a family. I’m grieving for something which never existed, which means it’s especially difficult to find closure from the grief.

And removing myself from the family meant I had to remove myself from close friends, or friends of the family. I didn’t want to, and most didn’t want me to, but there was a mutual understanding as to why. But still…

And in all this, because it’s all about parents, I miss my own daughter. But I’m glad God saved her somehow, took her somewhere safer…

Just feeling so disjointed and not really part of this world, even though I know I am, and I know there are lot of people orphaned/estranged from families etc… I really absolutely know I’m not alone with this feeling. But it’s still so hard. I just don’t know how I stand or where I fit. Odd random things have been passing through my head this week, thoughts that have come from nowhere – who will come with me if I ever get married and go to dress fitting? Isn’t that the mother’s job? But where on earth did that feeling even come from?! So many other little random things like this passed through my mind, things or scenarios which most people would do with their parents. If I have children – what do I tell them when they ask about grandparents? Etc…etc…etc…

I wasn’t really prepared for this…

Who am I? When will I stop feeling so disconnected, and actually feel securely like I belong?



2 thoughts on “Living as an orphan? Is that what I am?

  1. Being without a family is one of the hardest things for anyone to deal with, I think. It’s incredibly painful to realize you can never go back in time and see what your life would’ve been like if you’d had good parents who loved you. I get really angry about it sometimes because it’s so unfair: what did I ever do as a baby to deserve this? The truth is we didn’t deserve to be abused and unloved, but sometimes it’s harder for me to accept that life is unfair. Sometimes it’s easier to blame myself, but on some level I know it’s not true. We didn’t deserve it as children, and we don’t deserve it now. I’m sorry you’re hurting.

  2. I know exactly what you mean, and it is part of the experience of being an orphan. We are orphans and it is a very particular experience. I think every milestone in your life is a little like what you describe. We are happy at the milestone, but also reminded of our aloneness. Yes, we have the opportunity to create families of friends, but our friends most often have family as well as families of friends. It isn’t the same, and usually for them families of friends are not given the same level as family. So it isn’t the same. We really don’t have the same experience of life as many other people have. Maybe this is partly because we have been relatively successful in life. Many people who lack the support of parents don’t go to college, don’t enter the professional work force, and don’t exit poverty. So we aren’t alone in being orphans, but the people around us very rarely are. There are few people around us who can normalize our experiences. But we are orphans.

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