My dad’s death made me explore the idea of childfree “regret” & “dying alone”

One of the questions childfree people are most often accosted with is a two-parter: “What if you regret it? Aren’t you afraid of dying alone?”

 

That said, it didn’t feel completely dishonest to reflexively say “no” to questions about regret, about fears of being alone when old. Weren’t a lot of people, parents included, old and alone?

In my late twenties, I worked as a job coach in a nursing home. I saw how packed the halls weren’t with adult children interested in spending time with parents who were on their way out.

MARTHA

Last of her species, died at 1 p.m.,
1 September 1914, age 29, in the
Cincinnati Zoological Garden.

EXTINCT

(Illustration by Michael S. Helfenbein)

 

Before my dad died, I’d had two family members who knew and loved me the way my dad’s siblings and children knew and loved him: my dad and my sister. Now one of them, the one who’d cupped my chin while feeding me a baby bottle and who, a week before his death, had taunted me in a text message to try a new flavor of gelato with, “Try it, Krissy poo! I dare you,” had vanished.

Beyond the devastating sadness, his absence smacked me with a discombobulating realization: Parents might lose their own parents and their siblings, but unless they’re unlucky enough to see their kids die, as they approach natural dying age they’ll still have them— if not in the room, then at least somewhere in the world.

“Some day,” my (current and final) husband said months after my dad’s death, “it could be just us.” He said he thought about that, sometimes: getting older — without children.

As he and I hit 50, 60, 70, etc., we’ll have each other, yes (until one of us dies and leaves the other behind, which one of us inevitably will…), and we’ll have friends, whose importance shouldn’t be undervalued, but there’s something different about *family, if it’s a good one.

And if I’d only been interested in programming instead of writing, I could be rich!

That’s not regret. That’s fantasy.

Sadness isn’t the same as regret. Loneliness isn’t the same as regret.

Tina won’t die alone, and I won’t die worrying about my children. Our future causes for sadness, just like our existing reasons for joy, are different.

*by blood or by choice

 

1 thought on “My dad’s death made me explore the idea of childfree “regret” & “dying alone””

  1. You put into words what we all think. I must say, having a son gave me three wonderful grandchildren. I often say how I wish I could skip the parent stage and just go to the grandparent stage. Two different feelings.
    I’m not sorry I decided to have an only child, that’s what worked for me. But it also made me able to become a grandmother and mad all the ups and downs of parenthood worth while.

    Reply

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