For Auld Lang Syne

An ‘adult orphan’ looks back at 2022

The writer, Lori Berglund, is pictured with her mom, Monica Nilles, in early in 2022.

I can still see the cards shuffling across the table. It’s a spirited game of 500. Bowls of popcorn, a glass of Pepsi, and probably a few cans of beer complete the table.

The adults at the table are waiting for Guy Lombardo to come on with “Auld Lang Syne.” There are 10 kids or more tearing through the house, voicing their preference for “Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve.”

Those were days of long ago for me. Days quite dear to me now. When 2022 dawned a year ago, we had no idea what lay ahead … for any of us.

I remember when the parents at that long-ago table — members of The Greatest Generation — faced the transition that has come my way this past year. It was my Dad, actually. Mom faced this transition when I was almost too young to remember. Dad was 53 when his last parent passed away. Mom was only 33 when she lost her last parent.

“We’re at the head of the line now,” is how I recall Dad’s words. “There’s no one ahead of us… We’re the old folks, we’re next.”

I’ve heard it called becoming an “adult orphan” when both parents have died. A number of books have been written about this transition. Indeed, I’ve been surprised by the number of friends who have used those words in comfort to me. They were all “adult orphans” themselves, and know this is a transition in life unlike any other.

Graduations, weddings, the birth of a child, are milestone transitions that we celebrate. But being left on this earth without your parents is a kind of quiet transition, and one that almost all of us will face.

Still, I find that the phrase doesn’t really fit me. I have too many older siblings to ever feel like an orphan. For me, Blanche Devereaux of “The Golden Girls” said it best. Walking away from the grave after the death of her last parent she said simply, “I’m no one’s little girl anymore.”

My brothers and sister and I have reached the head of the line. Just a few aunts remain ahead of us. Being at the head of the line means that we are now the keepers of the family history, the teller of stories to the generations that come after us. We are the keepers of the faith, so important to that generation that went before us, and our sacred duty is to pass it on like a torch to light the way through this world to the next for those that come after.

Of the half dozen families that we were especially close to growing up, only one beloved parent remains. As I look around at my friends and classmates, most have joined this club of being an adult orphan. Some have one parent left, and a rare few are blessed to have them both.

The only blessing is that I know that I have done what I always dreaded. That work is finished. I walked that last journey of life with Mom. When the time came, I helped plan her funeral and, under a soft rain, after we had taken her to rest beside my dad, I walked away from her grave as “No one’s little girl anymore.”

As her father always said before her, “We are put here to die. It’s the only way we get to Heaven.” And I truly believe that God blessed my mom with the most peaceful death on Oct. 17.

I was fortunate to have employers who let me disappear and spend those three marvelous weeks with her before she passed. We strolled outside, visited with friends, and just spent time being together. For that, I am most grateful.

But time keeps moving, and it seemed that no sooner had we finished the thank-you notes when Christmas songs started playing on the airwaves and the decorations came out in all the stores. After two hospice walks in three years, first with my brother and then with Mom, the lights and the music of the season were not the same for me this year.

I went smaller, less. I looked for the quiet in the season and found great comfort in a local service of remembrance.

Dad, I reached the head of the line faster than I ever thought imaginable. I had 35 years with you and didn’t know how I was going to face life without you when you passed. But there have been wonderful times in those intervening years. Our family continued to grow in those years, and it’s still growing with the birth of your great-grandson before Christmas, another on the way, and a most happy engagement at Christmas. Time keeps moving, in most delightful ways.

Mom, we had 60 years together. I would love to have just one more … but it’s not for us to choose. We were the best of friends, a mother and daughter who truly enjoyed each other’s company. We were two of a kind. From Clear Lake, to the State Fair, and every Sunday dinner in between, with you, Mom, I had the time of my life … the absolute time of my life.

So, here’s to Auld Lang Syne, to old times, often brought to mind. I will sip a cup of kindness as this year closes, toasting the good times, happy times with loved ones, and days that that will never be forgotten.

Lori Berglund is a former editor of the Daily Freeman-Journal.


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