When the Family Tree is Felled

Erin Britt essays

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It is simultaneously shocking and run-of-the-mill to me that my life is devoid of parents.

I have no parents.

And it has been this way for the majority of my adult life.

At 38, most of my friends still have their parents which also means they have a handful of grandparents for their kids to love and be loved. They might even have more than a handful if their parents divorced and remarried in which case there may be six or eight grandparents to go around.

But my kids have only one. One grandma who thrives on them more than the air she breathes but still—she is it. My kids don’t have ‘mommy’s side of the family’ and ‘daddy’s side of the family’ each with a different set of grandparents with different styles and snacks. I had two grandmas; one squishy with drawers full of the best snacks and endless hours of TV time; one formal who taught me checkers and allowed only a Fishwich when we went to McDonalds. My kids only have one and, while she is everything to them both and more than a gaggle of awesome grandmas crammed into one, she isn’t my kin and I am not hers. She did not know me as a baby; she doesn’t tell the stories of my errant teenage ways because she wasn’t there; and she doesn’t look longingly into my children’s eyes and say ’you look just like your mama when she was little’ because that is something my parents would say. And I don’t have any.

My father died at my engagement party when I was 24 and he was 53. I spent years mourning how he never got the chance to walk me down the aisle and give me away. But after 14 years of allowing his loss to sink in, I have learned to shape the story in a more gentle way. He actually did give me away; it just so happened to be on the 12th floor of the oncology unit where everyone who mattered to us had come to celebrate my upcoming nuptials. Because we were surrounded in equal parts hope and condolences, he was able to see the family his only child would be embraced by and take that moment to pass away. I can’t think of a more meaningful way for a father to give his daughter away.

Three years later, my mother and I were estranged and we have been for the last 11 years. I became one of those ‘Motherless Daughters’ but, since I did not lose her to death, I don’t think that camp is for me. I picture a motherless daughter as someone who pines for her lost mother and was lovingly mothered by that person in the first place. I am something altogether different.

When my maternal grandmother died two years ago, I felt myself physically untether from this planet and begin floating, irretrievably, toward the black of outer space. My grandma was my True North, but I didn’t appreciate the weight of that truth until she died in my arms; until I identified her body at the funeral home; until I laid her to rest in the brown earth. I did so without any parents to pave the way and cushion the blow of another loss. She had been, for 36 years, my ever-present warm lap, my homemade soup, and my answer-on-the-first-ring grandma. When I lost her, the family tree was felled and the place I called home was buried under its crush.


About the Author

Erin Britt

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