Teri Orr: The Dead Parents Society
In the natural order of things we all eventually arrive as members in The Club/Society. One or both of our parents usually precede us in death. And for many people -that is a sad day- followed by other sad days.
My friend and I flipped that script years ago.
We have known each other since the late ’80’s when she moved to town. I had already been here for about a decade. She is younger- maybe a dozen years or so but kindred spirits don’t keep score. We were/are both writers and our paths would weave back and forth in the small town- working in press rooms for ski races…covering film festivals…restaurant openings and real estate ribbon cuttings on developments. Yes, it was a long time ago -we were excited to report on such mundane things- those were the only things here for a very very long time.
Over the years -my kids graduated and went to college and got married and settled in Salt Lake City. She had children later down the road and they have now left the nest and are living in different parts of country …or will be soon.
Sometimes we would just meet up for a drink and lament the state of the news here. Who was covering which stories and beats as we stayed more distanced- more freelance. She had great clients- notable ones here in the state and nationally. My writing – which had fed my soul- happened less and less as my full-time job kept sucking up my time and my brain. There was little room for much more than this column.
A few years ago we met and she told her father had passed away. The details don’t matter. It was not a tearful pronouncement. What does matter is that he was not a terrific guy much of the time. I was going through my mother’s long goodbye of dementia which did not make the mother-daughter connection closer and did not make Mean Jean any less unkind. When Bob died- my friend had said the drinks were on him- her father. A few years after that Jean, my mother died. Soon drinks were on her. And for reasons I don’t fully remember we would have them take turns buying drinks…Bob’s turn to buy tonight she would say…Or Jean wants to pick up the tab this time I would offer.
And somehow the Dead Parents Club/Society was born. It has been so many years now, we just text sometimes- Bob thinks its time for a drink. Or Jean has something to say and needs an audience. For those of you who had/have loving parents and strong supportive relationships with them- this club is not for you. It is a space for the rest of us.
A few days ago the text came…she had read something in my column and maybe she had read between the lines. It was time for Bob to host, she texted, and I said Jean needed to participate too. Only this time we planned -well, she said a walk- I countered with… a stroll. We met in the parking lot at Willow Creek and then took the trail down past Copper Moose and along the creek all the way to the back of the Temple. Then we headed back and she found her favorite bench and we unpacked our picnic and our current lives. The warm afternoon turned into the cool dusk by the time we headed back to our cars.
“Did you learn any good toasts when you were in Ireland,” she wanted to know. I confessed I did not. Well, here’s one my Irish grandfather used to say, she said- though it sounds Scottish… ”Up your kilt,” she says to me… and then she prompts …now you say… ”Up yours!” Which I said with great gusto just as some folks appeared around the bend walking their dog. We were deep in the girlish giggles when the sideways glances came.
In those few hours we shared some secrets and heartfelt desires for our adult children and stories about a man I loved and she did too but in a more professional way -related to his job. Don’t ask- it makes perfect sense to us. We are both surprised to realize after all our other jobs and positions we are still- at our core -storytellers.
I am not certain if we got better at all that when we created the Dead Parents Society but it was a shift. It was an admission of our own mortality and giving up on some story of origin that never fit our slightly disfigured self image. Mean Jean and Bad Bob gave us gifts of endless story material and a toughness to bounce life’s messy stuff back into the universe. We give each other a safe place to be our actual persons without varnish. We don’t get together with any pattern or place but when its time- one the other of the Dead Parents seems to nudge us to reach out…And that is a gift enough I am grateful for… all days of course but certainly as cause for gratitude Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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