How do I learn to live on my own?
February 17, 2014 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I've never been close to either of my parents and was really only close to one set of grandparents. Well, the last of my grandparents died recently and I'm rapidly realizing just how alone I am. How do I come to terms with this? How do I proceed in having a happy and successful life in the knowledge that I'm really without a safety net?

1) Both of my parents are still living and are superficially nice to me and I know that on some level they care about me. They're also incredibly self-absorbed and have their own families that they focus on and engage with. I've always been in the periphery and don't expect that to ever change. I also have huge problems with the way that they have chosen to live their lives and don't really want to engage and get drawn into that.

2) I have aunts and uncles on both sides of my family that are also superficially nice and have been a huge help with the death of my last grandparent, but again... they have their own families and lives. They also don't live near where I live now or where I'll be living in the near future.

3) I am currently living in a place that I objectively like a lot, but I'll only be here until August. It's also incredibly cold and with the current upheaval in my life, I don't have money to spend to go out and do much of anything. I expect that when the weather gets warmer, I'll be able to go out and hike and do free/cheap things that I love, but that's at least a couple of months away. The place that I'll be moving to in August is somewhere that I already have a decent network of friends and is much cheaper/warmer, so at least that will be easier.

4) The primary questions that I have are these:

a) When I've spent the last 30 something years with my grandparent(s) as my anchor, how do I deal with that anchor being removed?
b) How do I deal with accepting that I might just be without a family? I know I can meet someone, build my own family, etc... but none of that is ever certain. This is especially hard around holiday and such.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone has to deal with this at some point in his or her life, you've had the misfortune to have to do it sooner.

I have a vast network of very close friends, people I consider family. I know that there are people out there who will step in as family for me, should I need them to do so. And vice-versa.

It's hard, and I do extend my condolences to you.

When my parents were overseas and I had nowhere to spend the holidays, I was adopted by my Cuban family. They are great! I'd spend the holidays there! Traditional Thanksgiving and Cuban Noche Buena. It was awesome. Now that I'm married, and my parents are back in the states, I have other obligations, but we celebrated with about 10 other strays, the more the merrier. I'm still hassled to bring the Cranberry Relish to every family event!

You can have holidays at your place and invite other 'strays' to be with you, or you can ask your friends to take you in for the holidays. You can have your own holiday rituals, we're Jewish, so Christmas to me was always a movie and Chinese food.

So, you will get used to your new status. My advice is to have little parties and plan holiday things to which you can ask your friends.

You might want some therapy to sort out your feelings, or you might just need more time to grieve.

You don't have to decide everything, all at once and you don't have to be alone if you don't want to be.

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:38 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

First, recognize that your perception of your situation is colored by grief. Your 3rd item seems to address a lot of your questions: you have a decent network in the place you are moving to in the summer.

I can't answer 4a. I think you have to grieve your loss.

As for 4b, I think the answer is different for a lot of people. Some people become deeply involved in churches, volunteer organizations, or neighborhoods. At times I've been lucky enough to be part of a close group of friends. Those things tend to ebb and flow - people move, lives change, the circle breaks - but I always find that at least some of those connections remain.

If you're in the New York area, which is a guess because it's cold and expensive and I don't feel like going out either, you can memail me and we can go to a free event. I lost my grandfather a few months ago. It's rough.
posted by bunderful at 1:45 PM on February 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I might come back and organize my thoughts better later, but for now- I feel you. My grandparents were my rocks and basically raised me for a long, long time after my parents went nuts and selfish. I understand that bond, and I get it- they're more like parents to you than actual parents. I'm sorry.

For many reasons, I no longer speak to my sister, very rarely my mother, and only some of my aunts/uncles in a superficial way. Basically, I'm kind of you.

Surrogate parent figures I ended up connecting with: my stepmom. Somehow I am like the reverse of all the fairy tales: she's way better than my actual mom. And kind of my dad too. It's weird. It helps that her relationship with her adult daughter is strained and so we kind of adopted each other.

My therapist. Not in therapy anymore, but for a good while he was kinda like a second dad.

My professor. Ditto.

Nice people who run meetup groups/support groups can kind of become like secondary parents/family.

Good luck. Sorry for your loss. It will be okay in time.
posted by quincunx at 2:00 PM on February 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm an only child and my parents died just before I turned 30.

I had an existential crisis for a while. I was in therapy for a while. I've made my own chosen family over the years (mostly unintentionally - when I met my friend Jen in the fall of '84 I couldn't have said we would stay friends for as long as we have, but we have). My non-bio family has bunch of rituals and holiday things that we've created over the years that I love.

The only way I found to cope with it is just to cope. I can't keep people from dying, or leaving me in other ways. I can only keep on keeping on. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by rtha at 2:29 PM on February 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss. It must be so hard to abruptly realise that in addition to someone you love having died, you have also been cast adrift in terms of where you feel you belong.

My parents are still alive, but I live on the other side of the world for them and due to some disagreements about the moral validity of my sexuality, they basically haven't been a support for me since I was 20. We get on better now than we used to, but we're not close. I have a good relationship with one of my brothers, but again, other side of the world.

I think I was (undiagnosed) clinically depressed for about two years after I moved, basically related to being completely cut off from what had always been my home, my support network, my family, my understanding of who I was etc. It took time to create my own family, composed of my partner and building up good friends.

Things had stabilised more or less when my partner and I split up, after 13 years. In addition to the normal post-breakup and moving out on my own stuff, I also felt a vertiginous sense of fragility. If I lost my job, if I were seriously injured, etc, how would I cope? I had no one to fall back on. Friends are all very well when you want to watch films, go out, have amusing conversations and so on, but I didn't feel I could ask them to help if a real crisis should eventuate.

I have an uneasy truce with this now, and I still keep trying to find my way. Holidays have been a bit hit-or-miss, but last Christmas I went interstate to spend the holiday with two of my closer friends and it was lovely. I felt that sense of family that I hadn't had in years. Though some of my friends have said of course they would be there for me in a real crisis, I am reluctant to put it to the test and aware that although their intentions might be genuine, their resources are finite especially as their own family situations change. So there's still no real sense of a safety net. You get used to it. You build up savings just in case. You can't make assumptions anymore, you actually have to plan for things (including holidays). It's different, but it's fine. You'll be fine.

Give yourself time to grieve, and it's perfectly okay to grieve for the loss of your relationship and the consequent effects as well as for your grandparent.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:52 PM on February 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I've spent the last 30 something years with my grandparent(s) as my anchor, how do I deal with that anchor being removed?

That is hard. Ditto for those of us who are closer to parents than grandparents. Coming to terms with the loss of this significant part of your existence might be something you can find in grief support groups or books. Its a constantly evolving process...

b) How do I deal with accepting that I might just be without a family? I know I can meet someone, build my own family, etc... but none of that is ever certain. This is especially hard around holiday and such.

Nothing is guaranteed to anyone, unfortunately. For those of us who don't have a family of our own, we really have to build one. Different people fill in different needs at different times in life, and not all of it can be pre-planned. You are only as alone as you think of yourself; there is something to be said about enjoying your own company too. Although, not everyone might feel that way. It might be helpful to also nurture and nourish your spiritual life, if you believe in that. You've mentioned superficial relationships a couple of times, which makes me think that you would really value intimate connections with family and friends. I think focusing on the above three things might help. Other than that, know that its something you have work at and think hard about as an approach to life, not a one-time act.
posted by xm at 6:10 PM on February 17, 2014

I'm so sorry for what you're going through - it takes me back many, many years, but it's my song, too. My parents were hateful and our "home" still gives me the creeps to think about, but my grandparents moved next door when I was about 13 and that's what saved me from the disaster waiting for me. My grandmother was so loving and kind and when she said, "I believe in you" - that did it all. My grandfather was less expressive, but he was like a rock - a giant, a boxcar (lol) - when my father came to their house to take me back home and pound on me, my old grandfather stood up and told him he'd have to get past him to do it. My father, being the typical bully that he was, stormed away. Yes, I understand the grandparents thing.

My grandmother died when I was 18 and my grandfather when I was 20. I was devastated and thought I'd never recover. Now I'm the age my grandmother was then and I'm a grandmother and a damn good one - because she taught me how to be a good one.

The pain will last for awhile, and the sense of loss, the lack of a place to fit - just go ahead and cry and grieve and make no excuses for that. But do remember that your grandparents wouldn't want you to put your life on hold indefinitely in order to mourn them - they'd want you to make a good life for yourself, to stand up and be strong, to do for others as they did for you; you've made them proud already and they'll always be proud of you.

Time will ease the rawness and you'll make your own family eventually, which is as it should be. I send you hugs and best wishes for ease in your heart and a new and happy chapter to open in your life very soon.
posted by aryma at 9:57 PM on February 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

You need to feel needed. That's why you don't give a rat's ass about your parents -- because they don't seem to give a rat's ass about you.

Adopt (unofficially) some other people who need family. Make them your emotional family. These could be old people, young people, sick people, homeless people, recent immigrants, etc.

And don't forget other species. There are plants and animals that need you. There are even inanimate things -- architecture, art, neighborhoods, landscapes -- that need your care. And when you start caring for these things, you become friends with other people doing the same things.
posted by pracowity at 6:54 AM on February 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

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