All posts by Andrea

Where to start….

I’m originally Canadian, now dual citizen in USA. I’m married with one young child, a dog and a cat.

I am also an “adult orphan.” My dad passed 4 days before my 5th birthday and my mom passed when I was 28. I’m 33 and still coming to terms with it all, but I know my training as a teacher, educator and now business woman can help me reach others like me. I want people who are younger adult orphans to know they are not alone and to provide a network for myself and others.

My husband is my rock. We may argue and bicker at times – I’m a firecracker so it may get explosive! But he’s been there through thick and thin.

I began my career as a teacher in my hometown local area, but when I met my husband I made the switch to working with him to support our company. I knew I could educate more people working with him than I ever could in one school district in rural Ontario, Canada. Together we are self-employed and work together 24/7 our business.

Due to the nature of the business I am in (www.farrowpr.com, www.davefarrow.com) I’m blessed with the opportunity to share my story in a more powerful way. I’ve learned the art of publicity, sales and marketing. My goal now is to use these skills to reach more people, to share my story and experiences with others and provide support for other adult orphans – especially the younger ones who have less life experience and fewer people to relate to.

If you have any questions, please reach out to me by email: andreaz@davefarrow.com

…and then a bad day happens.

So in my last post, I talked about dealing with the holidays.  We just had U.S. Thanksgiving.  I’m originally Canadian and celebrate CDN Thanksgiving in October (which really isn’t a big deal), but have begun to celebrate the U.S. festivities as well.  All my friends and family are in Canada and can’t take time off during the week to come join us, so this year it was just me, my husband and our little boy.  It was actually a really great day.  Time off work, no scheduling demands, other than cooking a turkey.

Daycare was open on Black Friday so I dropped off my boy and did some shopping.

Now, Saturday Nov. 28th is our anniversary – married 7 years now.  So my awesome husband made plans for his parents to watch the boy over the whole weekend.  I was super excited.  So Friday night at “bedtime” he drove 2 hours to his parents to drop off the boy.  Then drove 2 hours back to spend the weekend with me.

Our weekend alone was super productive.  I accomplished so many things around the house in 1-2 days that would normally take 1-2 weeks, in the evenings/weekends at home while playing with my boy.  Of course, being our anniversary, we had time together too, candles and all.  😉

Now you have to understand that this was the first time the boy (18 months old) has spent a full weekend away from both parents.  At times, he is with momma when dadda travels, or with dadda when momma gets a weekend break alone.  But never away from both of us at the same time, for 2 whole days and nights.

When I went to pick him up, his face just lit up.  He was soooooo excited to see momma again and he hugged me longer than he ever has.  As much as I really enjoyed the time without him, being a woman again, I realized that he was really scared that maybe momma and dadda would not come back.  This is normal for toddlers and small kids, at this stage.  Without words, it’s hard for us to communicate fully, but I’ve been told that this is the time of life for a toddler to have real separation anxiety.

Since we returned on Sunday, he has been clingy.   But I have also been unnaturally moody as well.  It made no sense to me.  I had such a great weekend, why would I suddenly feel such heightened emotions after a relaxing weekend?

Then it hit us.  After calm weekend, no child, I let down my guards to fully relax.  But the moment my boy hugged me, I recognized the feeling of fear and abandonment from being left alone.  I knew it because I felt it as a child and I still feel it now, from the loss of my dad when I was just 5 years old.

Now, as you may know, young children who lose a parent feel a sense of abandonment.  They just don’t know how to process abstract emotions of grief with their still developing brains.  And to lose a parent, who is viewed as a stable source of security in the world.  Well, it’s tough to deal with.  Why did they leave?  Did i do anything wrong to make them leave?  Am I a bad boy/girl?  These are typical feelings for a young child who loses a parent.  There is a lot of literature on young children and grief.  Personally, I only started to process these childhood emotions as an adult in my 20’s.

I instantly recognized that fear of abandonment in my little boy when I hugged him.  It took me 2 days later to realize that it triggered my own childhood trauma.  And after letting my guards down so much from a relaxing weekend, it was so much easier for that lost and broken little girl to return, as there were no walls holding her back from my regular adult life.

As my husband said:  “You carry so much hurt, so much emotion inside you every day.  Such hurt that I can never begin to imagine.  And you hold it back with a wall so it doesn’t interfere with your daily life as an adult, as a professional.  But when it does come out, it’s a tsunami.”

Recognizing the feeling of abandonment in my boy triggered my own residual feelings of abandonment.  It never really goes away, I just learn more each day about myself and dealing with such emotions.  It doesn’t help that my mom has since passed as well, and never got to meet my boy.  It just muddies the waters of already complex emotions of grief.  And still, I need to re-assure my boy that momma will not leave him, when I know darn well that a stray accident or illness could make me a liar.  As a mom, I know what he needs to hear because I still want to hear it too.  I know I need to tell him these things, even when I know them to be false.  We are all just dust in the wind and eventually, even moms and dads can’t be around forever, as much as we want them to be, or we ourselves want to be for our own children.

Today is Tuesday, and I am having a bad day.  That lost and broken little girl just wants her mom or dad to tell her it’s ok, so the adult woman can pass it on to her little boy.

On Holidays and Extended Family

Hey world!

U.S. Thanksgiving is coming soon, and with it, family, holidays and those times when adult orphans can feel the loss of parents even harder.

When I first met my husband, he was vegetarian and I had no interest in cooking meat.  Then, when my mom passed, I realized that I never learned how to cook a turkey or a roast beef – two of my favorite holiday meals.  It hit me so hard.

Who would cook turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas?

I felt alone and adrift, without that one meal and home to go to, without my anchor.  Yes, other relatives made meals too, but it just wasn’t the same.  Not the same home, not the same standard clean-up rules as mom enforced.  And I’ll be honest, my mom made the perfect gravy, and I’m a gravy snob.  So I set out to cook one myself.

I decided to try the turkey.  My mom always put the bird in the oven at night, slow-cooking on low, then cranked it higher in the morning.  We would always wake up to the smell of turkey.  Very mouth watering experience, makes you forget about the morning coffee!  So I really wanted to do this myself.  I realized after a few tries that cooking the bird was easy.  And I’ve even perfected my gravy, but I never learned the secret to her home made, in-the-bird stuffing and nobody else does it the same.  One day, I will perfect this too.  I’m still working on my roast beef as well.

Learning to cook these meals myself has given me comfort.  I know that at least one part of a holiday that I look forward to, is in my control and I can carry on the traditions we had.

But still, I remember the first few years of feeling that void.  My extended family is somewhat fractured (long story for another time), so there aren’t many other holiday dinners or locations that feel the same as mom’s.  For me, it’s been about re-creating mom’s meals and traditions for my husband, brother and now my son.

For others who have larger or more welcoming extended families, it may be easier to attend a meal and feel connected.  But it still may be bittersweet.  Even if you are surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., it may also remind you of your own parents who are not there.  You may feel alone, even surrounded by people/family members.  My advice – try not to isolate yourself even more.  You may feel like hiding away, but try to make an appearance and put on a smile, even just for a few minutes.  And try to find a quiet corner of solitude in those busy situations, so you have an exit if you really need it.

Holidays are always hard for those whose loved ones have passed.  Try to find new traditions or ways to incorporate old traditions into your new lifestyle.  It’ll be different for each person and each situation, but try not to get overwhelmed by loss.  Remember that life is about living.

I know others out there will immediately understand these feelings.  If you are an adult orphan, I don’t have to explain it.  Just know that you are not alone.  If this blog reaches even one person, I know I’ve done my job.

For everyone else reading this – if you know an adult orphan in your life (or anyone who lost close family members), please try to include those who are feeling lost or adrift.

So hang in there this Thanksgiving… or Christmas, or any other holiday you may celebrate.  Your parents are with you in spirit.  Just remember that.

Until next time.

 

The Stages of Grief – is it Grief or is it more?

Hello again.

I found a great photo recently that expands upon the traditional 7 stages of grief.

More than 7 stages to this cycle of grief!
More than 7 stages to this cycle of grief!

Part of me was drawn to it as it’s far more nuanced and it explains the  complexity of grief so much better than the traditional model.

5 years after the passing of my mom, I find myself bouncing around between the Loneliness/Isolation, all the way up to the “new” items.  I don’t feel that I’ve reached “hope” yet.

I feel that the complexity of this image is more true to the complexity of grief in general.  All too often, we try to label or categorize things into hard “black and white” places when the whole topic is shadowed by numerous shades of grey.  No, not that popular book/movie.  I mean, it’s more muddy, less defined than the textbook 7 stages.

To compare, here are the traditional 7 stages of grief:

traditional 7 stages of grief - a simpler model
traditional 7 stages of grief – a simpler model

Now, when I say that grief is more complex than simple labels and categories, here’s what I mean.

Recently, I was having a tough few days.  I was super sensitive.  Partly from lack of sleep with a toddler, partly from overwhelm with work tasks, and I’ll be honest, partly from “lady stuff” around that time of month.  TMI?  I don’t care!  lol

Anyway, I was super sensitive, emotions triggered by the silliest little things.  My husband, who understands this most of the time, was in a more analytical mindset and came off harshly in a comment:

“Why are you so sensitive?  You’re a basket case!”  (I’m paraphrasing here.)

To be honest, I don’t even recall the specifics of the discussion, but I replied something to the effect:

“I’m overwhelmed, exhausted, “Aunt Flo,” and frankly, I just want mom here to complain to!”

And then it hit the both of us like a lightning bolt.  Whenever 2-3 things in life are generally getting me down, it just opens the door for grief to flare it’s ugly head.  It’s those moments when I’m bogged down with life that I want mom the most.  She and I would complain to each other all the day long, getting the negative out of our system.  We understood each other.

My husband, on the other hand is very positive minded and very into self-fulfillment, self-motivation and other self-help topics that empower a person to stop complaining and take action.  And in general, he hates it when I complain.  I get so busy and out of touch with friends’ lives that I have to explain too much about a “complaint situation” to just bring them up to speed, before actually just complaining, that it just seems like too much work.  Also, I don’t want to villainize my husband to friends by only giving them the negative and not the positive.  Suffice to say, I am lacking my outlet that I once relied on.

What I realized from this moment is that too often the overlap between grief and other mental illness labels just makes everything confusing.  Especially “so long” after the death has happened.

“Why are you depressed all the time?”  — I’m not depressed, I’m in a depression phase of grief, triggered by current situations!

In polite society there is an “accepted” period of time for grief and past the 1 year mark, we are expected to move on.  But it’s hard to tell emotions about the calendar date when they are expected to just vanish from existence.  And when outsiders either don’t know your situation well enough or haven’t experienced the loss themselves, they may not realize that it’s rarely a linear path, so clean and neat.

I can say from experience that I jump in and out of “being fine and normal” and “having grief.”  the grief, much like depression, comes and goes depending on the circumstances of life that may trigger it.  And when depression is one of the clinical labels within the grief cycle, then you start to understand the pattern and how confusing it is.

So, going back to the first image of a more complex and expanded cycle of grief, I feel that it more accurately shows what is actually happening within the mind of someone who has experienced loss.

Be gentle with those who are “cranky” or having a mental health day.  In general, it’s polite to address mental health anyway.  But you never know when the mental health issue is more nuanced and/or part of a larger grief cycle.

Everything is always more complex than it seems.

…….Until it’s not, but that’s probably the cranky side of me complaining again!

 

Thoughts on Priorities in Life

I am a firm believer that when a person experiences tragedy, loss or extreme trauma, it gives that person a more nuanced perspectives on priorities in life.  When you experience larger life struggles, it makes other things in life seem more trivial.

Today, for example, I am very pissed off (pardon my language), about some of my neighbours.  It seems that one or more have enough time to complain about our property and general maintenance that doesn’t meet their standards.

Now let me be clear here – we purchased our home as a fixer-upper and we made it clear to the neighbours that it needed work and we would be making messes in order to clean it up in the long term.  We even pay a reasonable fee to a landscaper to mow our front lawn, to keep it pretty, so that we have some flexibility over our side and back yard mess, during on-going repairs.  The side and back yard are not visible from the road.  The only way a neighbour can see it is for those 1 or 2 specific neighbours who have a back-yard view of our property.

We’ve done our best to clean up the property, but I will admit that our standards are not as high as those of our neighbourhood.  I was raised in the rural country side, in farming areas and my husband, although raised in the city, loves nature and would love to have a jungle in the back yard.  For a while, I was telling my husband that his jungle is unreasonable and we have to do some yard work.

Now let me get back to my initial thought about priorities.  In our daily lives, my husband and I work full 40+ hours per week or more in our growing business.  We immigrated from Canada to the USA in 2008 during a down economy and re-started our business from scratch at a time when most businesses were going bankrupt.  In the time since then, we’ve survived and thrived and grown from just us, to employing 3-5 other local employees.  In addition to this, my husband has been working for 4 years on a side project that has now been approved by our state governor for a new state-collegiate backing of new tech start up businesses.  And we had a child.  And we still deal every other day with my grief and loss of my parents, while being so remote from our extended family network.  Suffice to say, we have a lot going on.

On those days when we wake at 7am, bring the kiddo to daycare and still work a full work day….  On those days when one of us leaves work at 5pm to get the kiddo from daycare and the other may stay at work even longer…. On those days where we arrive home as late as 6pm or 7pm and still there are dishes to wash, food to cook, pets to care for, and random laundry loads to keep on top of….  Well the last thing I want to do is go outside and do another hour of yard work.  I’ll be honest, I choose to spend the evening with my son and relax, so I don’t burn myself out trying to be Wonder Woman.

Yet still, despite the fact we explained this to the neighbours, at least one of them has still had time over the summer to complain about our property to the state home inspectors.  Priorities.

Growing up without a dad, I knew I had to work hard in life.  And each day, I put in full hours.  Some nights, I don’t stop moving to eat until 8pm with all the chores inside the house.

Then, as a grown adult, I was the one who told the doctors to pull the plug and let mom pass in hospital.  This changes your priorities.  Suddenly, the yard doesn’t matter.  The dishes don’t matter.  Many things that were once important just don’t matter anymore.  And yet, there are nosy neighbours with nothing better to do than worry about how much my “messy yard” will drive down property values.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t care.  I care enough to obey the law of the city but I will not change my priorities to make the view of my house “pretty” just because the neighbour wants it.  I respect that they have different views, but don’t push your own views on me.

My priorities are very clear.  I spend time on my growing business.  I spend the little time in the evenings with my son and husband.  I do the minimum of outside yard work, but my yard will never be the perfectly immaculate yard from the cover of a magazine.

I will respect your priorities and pretty yard if you respect me and my messy yard – just don’t force me into your way of being.

To the neighbours in question, if you are reading this….

When you are ready to have a civilized discussion about priorities and talk respectfully about different perspectives, please knock on my door.  But if you only have time to get mad at my mess and report my home…. well I just feel sorry for you.  When you have endured the pain and loss that I have or are willing to empathize, I am ready to talk.  But until then, you might want to shift your priorities and just look at a different house.

Feel free to comment folks.

I’m back!

A year ago when I started this blog, I was intending to write about my experiences as a younger adult orphan.  However, at the time, my new baby was less than 6 months old and our business had just grown from husband-wife team to employing 3 others.  Suffice to say, life a year ago was complex and busy.

I was a new mom, struggling with becoming a mom without my own mom around for help and support.

But now I’m back and ready to share my experiences, from growing up without dad, to being a mom without mom’s advice and everything in between.

My blog will focus on those every day life struggles of younger adult orphans and will also feature samples of chapters for a book I’m writing.  The book will feature my own story, advice and expertise and will also include interviews with other adult orphans.  I hope to interview younger adult orphans from all walks of life, from regular folks to noteworthy celebrities.

If you have a powerful story or advice to share, feel free to comment or email me and we can speak further.

Until next time, remember you’re not alone, even if it feels like it!

Andrea

 

 

Adult Orphan .com

Hello World!

I am an adult orphan, and this is my story.

Orphan – a child, usually under 18, with both parents deceased  (like Batman or Oliver Twist)

Adult Orphan – a legal adult (or teenager) with both parents deceased

The are many books on grief. There are only a few on adult orphans.

Of the books or on adult orphans, most focus on the middle aged+ “baby boomer” who loses a parent around the age of 65-80+ and nothing about the 15-35 year old people out there.

I lost my dad at age 5.

(It was actually 4 days before my 5th birthday.)

I was lucky to have my mom longer, but even she passed at 52, when I was just 28 myself.

(Not even 2 months after my summer wedding)

There are grief and bereavement support groups in most areas. For parent loss of a child. For children who lose a parent. Even for loss of a pet. Grief is grief right?

I attended one group for adult orphans in my local area. It was a pleasant group, but I was 30 years old in a room full of 50+ ladies and one guy. One or two may have been 45ish.

My point?

I always tell people this, about the books, and the group:

It’s all nice. But most people who I bond with over loss of parents are about the same age that my parents would have been, so it makes the experience bitter-sweet.

There is less material by, about or for a 15-35 year old audience.

As a society, we expect a 50+ to lose a parent at 80+ from old age.

But think about….

The 15+ teenager, guy or girl without mom or dad for advice on dating and sex, or other gender-based issues.

Or the 25+ adult orphans without mom and dad for weddings, birth of children, or other life lessons or accomplishments.

And myself, a 32 year old seeking parenting advice, a grandparent babysitter and the stories of myself as a baby to compare to my son.

This website will chronicle my thoughts and my story as a Young Adult Orphan.

This website is also a community for other adult orphans. I welcome others to comment, share your story, or contact me personally.

I hope to both share my perspective, my advice, my story, but I want to learn from others too.

And most important, I want to give hope to other adult orphans that you are not alone.