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Coping With Death of Parent

October 29, 1987|ROSELLE M. LEWIS

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.

A columnist for the publication Thanatos, Katherine Fair Donnelly stresses psychological responses of grievers over 18 who, each year, number more than a million. Adult sons and daughters often harbor painful memories of a parent's demise during the first years, particularly on the anniversary of their passing and on birthdays and holidays.

Mourning, Donnelly says, can become excessive when parents die young or due to unexpected circumstances such as heart attacks or accidents. Warning against loneliness or allowing overly painful emotions to run their course without counseling, she concludes with a sample "Role Model for Bereavement Support Program" and a list of special organizations to aid bereaved families, alphabetized by states.

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