Historian Allyson Hobbs Writes Personal Essay for NY Times on Parents DivorceHistorians in the News
Dr. Hobbs is a professor at Stanford.
After 60 years, my parents’ marriage is ending. The house where I grew up — our sanctuary for 40 years — is falling apart and will be sold soon.
I won’t go back. I’ll remember my bright pink bedroom with curtains that my mom made from Benetton sheets. I’ll remember my dad putting up the volleyball net in the backyard, securing the swing set and carrying home kids who had taken hard falls on the Slip ’N Slide.
I wonder if my parents’ marriage would have survived if my sister Sharon hadn’t died from breast cancer at 31 in 1998. When a child dies before a parent, such a loss “defies the expected order of life events,” leading many people to “experience the event as a challenge to basic existential assumptions,” a 2010 study by the National Institutes of Health explained. The study found that 18 years after the death of a child, bereaved parents “were more likely to have experienced a depressive episode and marital disruption” than other parents.
After my sister’s death, there were an intolerable number of losses in our family — grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins — but somehow, my parents pulled through. They seemed to grow even closer as our once large family became smaller and summer family reunions petered out.
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