My father, Max Prager, died last week.
Here are some thoughts on the death of a parent.
Parents who live long are very lucky. Not only for their longevity, and not only because they get to see their children grow into adulthood, and not only because they may see grandchildren, but for all those extra years to reconcile with their children. Had my father died when I was a teenager, we would not have had the decades since then to get closer.
2. Age at death
My father was born on July 18, 1918 and died on August 16, 2014. He was 96.
When people are told that someone's parent has died, the first thing most ask -- and nearly everyone wonders -- is, "How was old was he/she?"
This is completely understandable. But it needs to be analyzed.
The age of the deceased matters only if one is assessing whether the death was a tragedy. Clearly, death at age 96 is not a tragedy. Moreover, my father was healthy for 93 of those years.
All that notwithstanding, however, the age at which a parent dies is irrelevant regarding the hole left. In fact, one might legitimately argue that the more years a person has had with his or her parent, the bigger the hole.
3. Impact and legacy
Just as children can be a source of pride or shame to parents, parents can be a source of pride or shame to their children. In some ways, even more so.
It was my parents who made me realize this. Whenever I introduced my parents to an audience or in private settings, I was proud of them. They carried themselves with dignity and grace.
Upon further reflection, I came to realize that as regards shame, bad parental behavior can actually have a greater impact on children -- including adult children -- than bad behavior of children has on parents. If a decent person's son commits a terrible crime, we tend to have compassion for that parent. But if a decent person's father commits a terrible crime, that crime, completely unfairly, reflects on the child. That is why one of the sons of Bernard Madoff, the man who stole billions of dollars, committed suicide. So did one of Charles Manson's sons. It was as if they felt forever tainted. Yet we don't hear about the parent of a child who engages in similar criminal behavior committing suicide.
If your parents bring you no shame, be very grateful. If you're proud of them, celebrate.
4. What is more important than closeness.