Living without partner or children is such a huge privilege. At one point several years ago, a neighborhood boy who was helping me with garden chores expressed astonishment that I had my whole house to myself. I have understood for some time how rich I am in comparison to people in other parts of the world, but until that moment I had not considered how privileged I was in the context of my own neighborhood of mixed single-family and multi-family housing. For all I knew, the child shared a bedroom with a sibling, as I did for four years before my dad added a bedroom, laundry room, and storage room at the back of the four-room house where I grew up.
As my mother begins to find her way through living alone herself, I am beginning to appreciate a different kind of privilege I have enjoyed for the past decade or so. This is less about the luxury of unshared physical space than it is that of responsibility only for myself, the emotional space my father gave me through his care for my mother. Mom is independent, and she is a model of coping as she learns a new way of being in the world without Dad. But I feel a responsibility for her that occupies a much bigger space in my life than was required while Dad was alive.
Thus I have lost the privilege of responsibility only for myself. My new cares are small compared to those of others with elderly parents whose needs are greater than Mom’s. And yet my life has changed significantly, and I know I was not ready.