When the Legend of Your Parents Die

Greyson F

Parents aren't around forever.Photo byMarília CastellionUnsplash

The shadow stood immense over my bed. A giant. A god. With inconceivable strength in his hands and unfathomable knowledge in his mind. I watched from under my covers as my dad knelt to tuck me in, the light from the hall now illuminating his face.

As a child, parents were legends. They had the answers to all and could do no wrong. They were dictator and provider. I knew very little about them other than whey were there when the sun rose and when it set. Had they said the sun would not come out the next day I would believe them. Because they were the gods of my universe.

Parents, for a time, are legendary creatures. Living and breathing legends we see in front of our eyes. The less we know the more legend they are. Early on nothing can harm them. Nothing can sway them.

They are legends and gods, until one day they aren’t.

It’s a sudden realization, but it doesn’t happen overnight. At least looking back for me it wasn’t. For me the legends weathered away like granite slowly chiseled down by an artist, slowly revealing the final sculpture.

The day I discovered the fear of a spanking no longer sent shivers down my spine started the erosion. I didn’t run. I didn’t hide. As a middle child (the middle boy child to two sisters) I found myself in the spanking crosshairs my fair share. But the day I discovered it no longer shook me to the core was the day my parents discovered it no longer shook me to the core. It was the last day corporal punishment was used on me.

A bit of their power faded away. One bit of their legend disappeared.

Some of the continued sanding of that granite block comes simply through time. I age. I learn. I discover. The world expands. It’s no longer just my parents. There are other parents. Other adults. Other authority figures. But even still, there’s something godlike about parents. So when something happens to that very idea. When you see it unfold, it shakes you to your core.

One day I sat on the sofa with my dad. He laughed and stood up quickly. He then blacked out and collapsed. Rushing to him, eyes rolled in the back of his head, yelling for help, for someone to call an ambulance, it was the day I saw my dad as who he was: a human.

At some point in time, we all see our parents, little by little, become less god and more human. It’s a strange feeling. When the person who cared for you. Who raised you. The person who at one point held power over everything you did, becomes the person who relies on you.

When my dad died there were a few dozen people in the hospital waiting room. Every 20 minutes I’d go into his room to look at the beeping numbers that made no sense to me. To report back to my mom on the numbers that made no sense. Not that she asked. It gave me something to do. It gave me something to help keep me from thinking. From realizing that gods fall and legends die.

Occasionally I’d sit in a chair in his room. Not sure what to do. Hoping he’d spring up, gray skin glowing radiantly. Stronger than ever. Larger smile than ever. That didn’t happen. The nurse came in to change his top sheet. I saw my father naked. The first time in as long as I can remember. Fat tubes running into his mouth, coiling down around his side. Smaller tubes and wires ran from his arms. His fingers. A mechanical whir hissing with the rise of his chest. The inhuman shake of his mouth as oxygen was forced in and forced out.

His skin looked fake. His whole body looked like a bad imposter. But this was the finished sculpture the artist wanted me to see.

The death of a legend.

For some, the legend of parents ends when they die. For others, it might end far sooner. Perhaps at the death of the relationship. Or the discovery of a devastating truth.

The visitation for a death is truly one of the worst parts of any death. Everything else has a clear ending. When you can finally go home and be by yourself or do what you need to do. For the visitation, I just sat there. Some people would come up to me. Consoling someone at a visitation is like telling water to stop being wet. Not much hope in that.

The people nearest to success, they didn’t tell me the standard tropes. They told me something about my dad I didn’t know. About how they went on their annual lake trip and dad mooned them after locking them out. About adventures in a houseboat as a teenager in Arizona one summer. About driving a van down to Florida with supplies after Hurricane Andrew. About quirks he had as a professor or poetry he wrote in his free time.

Things I never knew about. Things that made him seem grander. Larger than life.



So maybe the legend of parents don’t ever fully die. You just hear the second half of the story when you think you already know.

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