• Bryan Alaspa

Losing the Safety Net: On Becoming an Orphan at 50


My mom, Adele B. Alaspa, passed away from complications due to dementia on December 1, 2021. It was not exactly a surprise, as we knew she was likely to pass away from complications due to dementia, but the fact she took a very sudden turn was surprising. I got word from the long term memory care center on a Monday that she had been up and talking, and then the very next night I was told she had taken a turn and would likely not make it much longer.


It's so hard to find a way to wrap up a life when something like this happens. My mom and my dad had a love story for the ages. They met as teenagers during a party being held at my father's house. Dad always said he saw her across a crowded room and was instantly smitten.


My dad died for a very long time of a heart attack he had at the age of 32. It damaged his heart, the doctors missed how much it was damaged, he didn't take good care of himself, when he was 50 he had another heart attack. Then he was found to be in congestive heart failure and one thing after another fell. In the end, the real end, it was about 10 years of slow and steady decline.


Most of us had this little hope that when dad finally passed, mom would thrive. She would no longer have to take him to all of his doctor appointments or keep track of his pills. Her life would no longer revolve around him. Instead, the cracks that were probably the first signs of the dementia slowly eating away her brain showed. Having the routine of taking dad to the doctor, getting his pills ready, taking care of him, might have actually slowed the progression.


Dad died in 2018. When we were clearing out his room, going through his things, we found out how badly he had prepared for something that was killing him for more than a decade. A lot of anger happened between dad and the rest of us in those final years and more came about when we saw how he had not set up anything to take care of mom financially when he passed.


With my father working nights, it was my mom who essentially raised my brother and I. She was always organized, writing notes to herself, writing appointments in her calendar, always with the routines and always ending up early to everything. So, of course, we were prepared when she passed. We had a funeral plan in place. She passed on a Wednesday and we somehow had a service for her that Saturday and even got her ashes back. Mom pulled strings somewhere, I guess.


It's been, to say the least, weird. I know I have quite a few friends who either lost their parents in a variety of ways when they were young. I know there are orphans the world over. I know many become so as children and have to grow up fast. I understand that becoming an orphan at 50 is not the same thing, but it still feels ... weird.


Mom and dad were always there. The safety net. I would talk to dad about movies and we'd watch Bears games together. I still have that desire to talk to him about a really good movie I've seen. I haven't really cared to watch a Bear game since 2018.


Mom was always there to listen to me and about my life. If I had a complaint about work, she would listen. If there were problems anywhere, she would listen, maybe offer advice, but mostly listen.


The safety net.


Now, I feel like I am on a tightrope and the safety net is gone from beneath me. It's a bit disorienting. I have to truly make the decisions now. There's no one to talk to about health issues, or tell about my week at work or the plans I have made. Not in the same way I would talk to mom.


They say time makes orphans of us all. I knew the day would come, but somehow figured I would be more ready, know more, be more prepared when it happened. It turns out, like so much, this is not the case. Just like turning 18 did not give me anymore answers, nor did turning 21 or 30 or 40. We're all just still blindly walking around it the dark in search of a light switch.


I couldn't have gotten through this without my wife. Her strength is something to behold and it held me up and together. I also could not have gotten through it without my brother.


There's so much ahead (I hope), but time itself seems thinner and faster. I don't feel ready to have the answers or like I know anything more than I did in November, before mom was gone. I'm not ready to host Christmases in the future.


My mom and dad were far from perfect. They were flawed and they made mistakes, but they did love me and my brother. When I went off to college, my dad would tell me mom spent hours cleaning the house up when they knew I was coming back home for a holiday or spring break. I was no longer just her son. I was now the guest coming to visit. She loved me enough to want to impress me with how nice the house was when I was coming home for a weekend.


The fact is, I loved my parents. I loved my mom. One of the few things that survived her having to move out of the house where she grew up (just after dad died) was a small collection of paperback editions of my books. I think that says a lot. I will miss her. Rest well, mom.

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