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Full Time, All the Time

with Britt Reints

Forget the 9 to 5; the demands of a working mom aren’t limited by a time clock. Full Time, All the Time is a blog about balancing the many roles of a modern woman - and maintaining your wellbeing while doing it. I am a writer, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and sometimes volunteer living in Pittsburgh. Oh, and I think you look pretty today.

You can also find Britt on Twitter and at

How losing a parent made me an adult

Categories: break from reality


With my dad, sophomore year of high school.I became a grown up on Thursday, October 18, 2012, at about six thirty in the evening.

I’m 32 years old and I have two children, including one in middle school. I’ve been married for over a decade. I’ve bought and sold three homes, paid off two car loans and purchased an appropriate amount of life insurance. None of those adult milestones, however, prepared me for the rapid aging I experienced last week when my stepdad died.

We found out my dad - that’s what I called the man who raised me through my teenage years - had lung cancer this summer. I spent the next several months trying to make up for the months and years that I had not told him how much I loved him. I told him thank you as many times as I could. I took my mom, his ex-wife and the indisputable love of his life, to see him and make her own peace. I took my baby brother to do the same.

Still, I was unprepared.

I was in Mexico on a press trip when I received the text that a routine biopsy had gone horribly wrong. A major airway and artery had been punctured. He was on a breathing tube. I flew home from my work trip Sunday evening and by Monday night I was on a Greyhound headed for Iowa. I walked straight from the bus station to the hospital, where I saw an old man in a hospital bed who bore an uncanny resemblance to my dad.

He couldn’t talk, but he knew who I was. He turned his head to see me and reached for my hand, which he would squeeze in response to my questions. Again, I told him that I loved him and that I was thankful for all he had given me. I would continue to tell him that even as his cognition waned. I spent the next two days putting Vaseline on his lips; swiping his mouth with a sponge; and meeting with doctors, his son and his sister to talk about “options”.

On Thursday, I held his right hand and stroked his hair back from his forehead as a nurse injected morphine into his IV and a respiratory therapist turned down the ventilator that was pushing air into his battered lungs. I held my face next to his and said “I love you, I love you, I love you” over and over again until his breathing stopped. I sobbed like a baby, and then I became an adult.

I’ve heard that losing one’s parents changes a person; I thought it was because of the disappearance of that buck-stops-here lifeline that our moms and dads often represent. But, I still have one dad who is very much alive and an active part of my life. My mom is, too. There are still plenty of people to call in the event of that hypothetical disaster (and my stepdad couldn’t have offered much more than a plate of food in a crisis.) It’s not that.

When I think back to my high school years, my dad is present in every single memory. Now that he’s gone, it’s as if the book has been closed and the key turned on that part of my life. My childhood is forever sealed away as past. The only thing left is adulthood, a time in which my parents look like old people and I use a loud voice to speak short sentences that I hope can be understood.

My mom brought me to her house after Dad died, and I’ve been spending the last several days helping her. I’ve swept her floors and baked banana bread. I asked her to sit down while I cleared the leaves from her deck. I helped her make laundry soap.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked while I was vacuuming her living room.

“I just want to help out while I’m here.”

She eyed me suspiciously. I’ve never helped out during a visit; trips to my mom’s house are a chance to let her take care of me. She cooks my favorite foods and I sleep in. But I can’t do that now that I’m an adult.

“I’m sort of hyper aware of your mortality right now,” I admitted.

She nodded and let me get back to vacuuming, unfazed by my fear of her imminent death. After all, she already knows that death is coming someday. I guess that’s what makes us grown ups.

Do you feel like a real grown up? If so, when did you make the mental leap?

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14 comments so far...

  • I’m so sorry, Britt. Thank you for reminding us to be aware and to tell our loved-ones that we are here if they need us.

    Momo Fali  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 9:30 am

  • October 20, 2009 when I found my mom after her fifth and final suicide attempt (I found her the other 4 times as well)

    Kristina  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 10:02 am

  • The moment Charlotte was born.

    Roger  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 10:11 am

  • Peace & healing to you, Britt.

    I’m not sure when I first felt like an adult, but lovingly witnessing my grandpa’s death almost 2 years ago definitely stands out as a milestone.

    Heather Koshiol  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 10:30 am

  • Having lost my dad when I was 8, it wasn’t losing a parent that did it for me. I felt like a real adult the moment I became a mom and, six days after her birth, had to make decisions for her after her unexpected readmission into the hospital. Realizing that you are responsible for someone else’s life really hit adulthood head-on!

    Peace and grace to you in your grief, Britt.

    Rachel  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 11:16 am

  • Like you, it was a death that turned me into an adult. When my first husband died, and I was solely responsible for our son, I felt grown up for the first time. Before that, even though I was responsible, I was as aware.

    Sherry Carr-Smith  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 11:27 am

  • This is painfully, beautifully written. So sorry to hear of your loss.

    I still don’t feel like a real adult and I’m 38.

    el-e-e  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 11:40 am

  • I’m not sure if I do - I’ve watched both my grandfather and my father die, yet my Nan and my Mum are still very much holding open that chapter of my life. I’m 39 and still don’t think of myself as grown-up…

    Dee  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 1:41 pm

  • I was too busy wishing desperately for a miracle to truly say goodbye in the manner I now know would have been more meaningful (Poignant? Satisfying? Powerful? Peaceful?) to me, but I have no doubt how much I was loved. And Mom certainly knew how much she meant to me, even if I could do nothing except hold her hand or simply be in her presence.

    Yet I really, really hate being an adult.

    I am grateful that you have this time of mourning without need to rush back to another state. Do me a favor and fuss over your Momma some more…for the both of us.


    hello haha narf  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 8:22 pm

  • Also, that photo is fantastic.

    hello haha narf  |  October 22nd, 2012 at 8:27 pm

  • I don’t think there was any one event for me. It was a slow realization. Or maybe it was when I first noticed that my mom started to look old, which has only been in the last few years.

    Megan  |  October 23rd, 2012 at 12:08 pm

  • I know the feeling. My mother was hit by a train and died last year while riding her bike.

    Hayley  |  October 25th, 2012 at 4:56 pm

  • I’m so sorry about your dad. My mom had an artery clipped as part of a routine liver biopsy last winter and we almost lost her.

    I’ve never felt like a grown up and I wonder if losing a parent will have the same effect. i do not look forward to finding out.

    Sheryl  |  October 28th, 2012 at 10:29 am

  • I’m so, so sorry for your loss. Though completely different circumstances, I too became an adult the day I lost my dad to a terrible car accident. I was 26. I’ll never forget that phone call, my oldest sister screaming, telling me that our parents had beeninitial head-on and we’re hurt badly. I was several hours away, and as I was driving frantically to try to get to them, I got the call from my twin sister that changed my life as I knew it. My mom was critical, but it looked like she would be ok. But dad…. He was gone. I’ll never forget the hurt in her voice when she told me, and I’ll never forget my screams. Almost 11 years later and I still get sad when I think back on the day, but I’ve got an amazing family–we celebrate his life often and chose to live in joy.

    Becky  |  November 14th, 2012 at 11:21 pm