Friday, August 7th, 2020

R Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin
An orphan at 43


I will never forget the day my father died. While walking on a North Carolina beach during our family reunion, he had a heart attack and died before falling to the sand. What a shock. The feeling of absolute unbelief engulfed me.

It was as though a door slammed and suddenly I was cut off from my father. This intrusion came unexpectedly and uninvited. My life changed suddenly without my permission.

When dad died, I felt like an orphan and I was 43 at the time! It was as though the little boy in me was being abandoned. This gave me anxiety as well as a sense of insecurity. My insecurity made me question my job and other things I was doing.

These feelings were difficult to understand since I never had to ask my father for help, but at the same time I knew he was there if I needed him. It was during this time that I realize that my father was a part of my security system which was being partially uprooted.

When someone close to us dies, our body goes into shock. We experience numbness and it feels like we are in the twilight zone. We watch and hear ourselves from a distance. The whole experience seems unreal. Is this really happening? In this shock stage, we experience confusion and absent-mindedness. We find ourselves misplacing things as well as having difficulty organizing our time and making decisions. The shock stage impacts us physically.

Our breathing changes and we may experience physical discomfort, dryness in our mouth and hollowness in our stomach. It is difficult to sleep or eat which leaves us feeling exhausted.

The purpose of the shock stage is to buffer us against the pain; it cushions the impact of our loss. Even when we have known that someone was about to die because of a long illness, we still experience shock and disbelief.

With all this going on, we are asked to make major decisions. There will be a list of things we have to do such as call our pastor, the funeral home, picking out the coffin, etc.

We are kept so busy making decisions and having people visit us that it is difficult to process what we are internally experiencing.

After a loss such as death, divorce, job lost, retirement, we find our task is to redefine who we are. Before the loss, our identity was tied closely to the other person or life status.

Who am I now? When a parent dies, we find ourselves re-identifying ourselves because we are not someone's son or daughter any longer.

We are now first generation. It is as though life is saying, 'Next. Step up to the front of the line.' It is a time of reorganization, acceptance and re-identifying.

In the next articles we will be examining what grief does to us and ways to cope.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700