One Whole and Perfect Day has some really sad stories of broken families, but Rose's is probably the most tragic of all. When she was just starting college at the same university as Clara, her parents went on a trip to visit their hometown in Malaysia and were killed in a ferry accident. Yikes.
In the wake of the tragedy, "Rose never finished her degree. The high marks she'd earned in those first exams had seemed like a taunt […] Her friends had been afraid to congratulate her—how could you congratulate a person whose parents had just died?" (21.38). College and family, then, are totally tangled up for Rose.
Much like May's childhood as an orphan, losing her parents at the young age of seventeen has made Rose appreciate her family. For one thing, enduring such pain probably explains why she has such patience with Charlie, even though he's kind of a bully sometimes.
It's so easy for Clara to say she should leave Charlie, but the idea of loss is too overwhelming for Rose. "The young were so hard," she thinks when Clara proposes the idea. "They saw everything so sharply […] like traffic lights: red meant stop and green meant go and the amber one they had no patience with" (18.26). For Rose, family isn't something to just be let go—Charlie may be difficult, but having lost her parents, Rose sees the nuances to leaving her husband, too.
Rose's past also deeply overwhelms her when it comes to her relationship with her daughter. As Clara leaves home to go live at school on her own, Rose is fearful that Clara will be as lonely as she was when she suddenly found herself on her own for the first time. And it can't help that Clara is at the same college Rose was when her parents suddenly died.
This is why Rose so desperately wants to see Clara's dorm room. Rose is haunted by the hollow sound "echoed by her footsteps on the shiny wooden floors of the empty house where the three of them had lived together, and later […] in her small flat near the library school" (21.41), and fears that Clara experiences the same emptiness she knows too well. When she finds Clara doesn't, though, needless to say, Rose is super relieved.