The Orphaned Adult: Confronting the Death of a Parent by Marc D. Angel (Insight Books; Human Sciences Press, 72 5th Ave., New York, N.Y. 10011: $19.95). Recovering From the Loss of a Parent by Katherine Fair Donnelly (Dodd, Mead: $16.95).
"Thou know'st tis common; all that live must die, passing through nature to eternity," commented Hamlet with a calm and elegant insight that, unfortunately, is missing in these two coping guides. Though similar in structure and burdened with a heavy obviousness, they still may prove helpful.
In the more rigorously written "The Orphaned Adult," Marc D. Angel, a rabbi serving at a historical New York Sephardic synagogue, describes his cross-country flights to be with his beloved mother during her final days. He sees the death of a parent as wrenching the bonds of "tradition and continuity." Though most achieve a new maturity when parents die, Angel cites numerous instances when negative emotions--anger, guilt, remorse--militate against reasonable acceptance and adaptation.
Americans, the author says, experience a "tamed death," occurring in increasing numbers in hospitals or nursing facilities and whose sting is lessened by contemporary funeral practices. Classical Judaic references and literary allusions make for a thorough exploration of the subject on Angel's part. But to call people of all ages whose parents have died "survivors" and to label them "orphans" is to demean the experience and lend a silly note to his otherwise worthy book.