Book Review: The Orphaned Adult

One of the most interesting things about the book The Orphaned Adult is the very notion that adults, when they lose both of their parents, do fall into a largely unexamined class of people. After all, as the author, Alexander Levy noted, “Parental loss is not the province of an unfortunate few. It is the ultimate equal-opportunity experience, requiring nothing other than children not predeceasing their parents.” So the dearth of literature he found prior to writing this book, published in 1999, is not at all surprising.

The book is an amalgam of stores of Levy’s patients and his own loss of both parents, and how it changed all involved. I’ve written elsewhere about my favorite story in the book.

Early on, he challenges the notion of the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross tidy five stages of grief, while recognizing that the structure served a purpose at a time when many avoided the topic of death and grief altogether. As I’ve noticed myself, grief is nonlinear. And grief, Levy argues, is good; “by illuminating life’s impermanence, grief alerts us to pursue those important goals that we otherwise tend to postpone in the naive belief that our time is enduring.” In fact, he suggests that there are serious hazards in avoiding grief, and offers ways to express it.

The death of both parents changes the “I am” sentences of one’s life, from being your parents’ son or daughter to “I am an orphan.” Yet Levy talks about the ongoing relationships with parents after they die, and how one’s relationships with others can change as well.

Recommended for those who have lost both parents or who are involved with people who have. I have suggested the book to a guy at church who lost his second parent, his mother, about two months after I lost mine.