There is a young Nepalese woman who works at my dry cleaners. She came here for college a few years ago, leaving her entire family behind. She knew she wouldn’t be able to afford to return home until after she finished her studies. Now, she follows her family’s plight through the devastating earthquakes there from thousands of miles away, mourning relatives she’s lost, worrying about her family’s safety.
I often think about tragedy from my perspective as a parent, but this young woman has opened my eyes to how my children might experience a catastrophe that hits home, but not them. My teenagers are often away from me now, at college, school trips, summer programs, or just sleeping over at a friend’s house.
What if something happened to our home or me? A car crash, fire, or random dangers of city life, or worse, if disaster hit the city? How would my daughters find out? Would they know what to do? Who to call? Whether to come home and, if so, how to get there?
I like to think I’ve prepared my girls for life. They know how to cook, shop, get a job, get an ATM card from the bank, drive a car. Always, though, it has been under the assumption that I’d be around for awhile and my departure, hopefully many years from now, would come with time for both emotional and practical preparation. That is just not how life always works.
At the root of my fear is the fact that I don’t want my daughters to feel alone or abandoned. It is a big world and I like to think I provide them a center, a place of security and safety, a place to return both physically and emotionally. As they move farther afield and are more independent, I become less important to them day to day. I offer something else, a place to turn to for grounding, support, a few extra bucks, and a hot meal.
None of us really know when we’ll lose a parent. My father died suddenly at the age of 62. As much as I try to prepare for my mother’s eventual passing, I’m sure there are ways I won’t be ready, even though I’m older and independent.
The young woman has soldiered on, showing up for work, going to class. Still, I see something changed in her face, a sadness or distance perhaps.
A giant burden has been placed on her young shoulders, one that could land on any child’s, with no way to prepare.