Allison Gilbert, author of Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children, shares her inspiring story, and her moving journey through family, parenting, grief, and loss. For more information about her book, take a look here: http://allisongilbert.com/books/parentless-parents/
Genevieve: How would you describe yourself professionally?
Allison: I’m an author and journalist.
Genevieve: As an author/journalist, what do you think are your greatest accomplishments?
Allison: Wow, that’s a loaded question! I suspect there’s a different answer depending on whether we’re discussing journalism or book writing. For the latter, there’s no question that I take great pride in my last book: Parentless Parents. The book has created wonderful opportunities for individuals to come together and discuss parenting after the loss of their parents – an extremely intimate, sensitive, and often challenging topic. Online, there’s a very active Facebook group for Parentless Parents. There are also in-person support groups that have popped up across the country.
Genevieve: That’s so great. May I ask you about your losses?
Allison: My mother passed away when she was 57 from ovarian cancer. My father passed away five years later, at the age of 63, from lung cancer.
Genevieve: How old were you?
Allison: I was 25 when my mom died. She passed away before I was married or had kids. My father passed away when my son was eighteen months old. My daughter wasn’t yet born.
Genevieve: Can you describe how these losses, which have had to be devastating, affected you as a person? How do you think they changed you?
Allison: I don’t think there’s a way these losses have not impacted me – in ways big and small, bad and good. For example, I don’t think I would have become an author – and for me, writing now is the most gratifying career I can imagine.
Genevieve: Sometimes I get stuck imagining what kind of grandfather my dad would have been. Did you think about that?
Allison: To me, honestly, that’s a very dangerous path to go down. While I might fantasize about my parents being grandparents, in reality, both my parents were career people and had very active, engaged lives and may not have been as involved as I would have liked. That’s an important reality to confront. What-if scenarios are likely to cause great disappointment, reinforcing what you’re missing instead of focusing on all the wonderful and important lessons your parents were able to pass along when they were alive. I can tell my kids about their grandparents—their values; their taste in music; their love of travel – these are fun and important aspects of my mom and dad I’m able to pass along to my kids.
Genevieve: To me, those are very wise words. Thank you. Can you tell me a little more how you keep the memory of your parents alive for your children?
Allison: The most effective way to keep the memory of your parents alive is to talk about them. Bring them up in conversation! Share stories! Say their names out loud! I don’t want my parents to be ghosts to my children. My parents were great parents and they’re still my children’s grandparents even if they’re no longer here.
Genevieve: I love that you say that. Can you tell us something about your parents when they were alive: their names, their professions, how they were as parents?
Allison: My mother’s name was Lynn, and she was fearless. She was a woman who ran her own business, an executive search firm, and she launched the company at a time when few women were hitting the same trail. She was a trailblazer and a role model for women, including me. It was my mom who showed me that women could be engaged and powerful and being so was more than OK—it was fantastic.
My father was an architect and he also owned his own business. His name was Sidney and he was artistic and creative. My dad was a wonderful person to be with in because he appreciated buildings and spaces—the way rooms were constructed, the way interiors were designed. As an adult, I’ve had to buy houses and decorate them. The aesthetics my father appreciated often creep into my thinking and influence the color of paint on my walls and the style of furniture in my living room. The lessons he taught me just kind of bubble up, and I see the impact throughout my house.
Genevieve: It is interesting to me that parents do affect us subconsciously, including our decisions. Last, do you have any favorite memories of your mom or dad?
Allison: Of course! My husband and I took our kids to Fire Island this summer because of the many cherished days I spent there with my parents when I was a child. To me, it’s a very special community. There are no cars, and everyone walks and bikes everywhere. The pace on Fire Island is slow and relaxing and I remember my parents being very happy whenever we visited. Bringing my kids to Fire Island helps me retrieve and share these memories – and that makes me very happy, too.