Please welcome guest blogger, Dave Roberts!
I don’t know if I can point to the one most important lesson that I have learned in my life, thus far. Since my daughter Jeannine died on 3/1/03 at the age of 18 of a rare and aggressive form of cancer, many teachings /lessons have made themselves known to me. All of these lessons/teachings have helped me progress from the raw pain of my early grief to adjusting to a world without the physical presence of my daughter. These teachings have redefined me and in the process allowed me to develop a relationship with Jeannine based on pure, unconditional love. I have also been blessed with a supportive group of family and friends who have supported the expression of my experience as I see fit. They don’t view it as good or bad and neither do I. One of the lessons that I have learned in my journey following Jeannine’s death is that labeling an experience prevents us from appreciating fully the lessons inherent in that experience. Labeling someone’s grief experience as good or bad does not allow us to fully appreciate and learn from the challenges that they have encountered along the way.
I have been an addiction professional for 27 years and have also observed the impact of diagnostic labels on how we view clients/patients that we encounter. If we buy into the stigmas associated with labeling, our resulting biases will never allow us to get a complete picture of how the client sees the world and the inherent strengths that they bring to therapy.
Here are some other lessons that I have learned in the years since Jeannine’s death
Doing what we perceive to be the right thing does not guarantee a life that is pain free: Before Jeannine’s illness and death, I always thought that if I worked hard and did the right thing, that God would protect me and my family from harm. However, as God and my experience as a bereaved parent has taught me there are no guarantees in life. Life isn’t about being fair and unfair; it is about learning to negotiate the many challenges that are presented along the way. If we can successfully negotiate these challenges, we develop resiliency and a renewed sense of purpose. We learn to get stronger at the broken places.
There is a difference between entitlement and gratitude: In the early part of my grief journey, I regularly questioned God as to why He chose me and my family to bear the burden of burying one of our family members at such a young age. After all, we had always done the right thing in our lives; because of that we were entitled not to bear this burden of grief. I soon discovered that there were many more parents whose children predeceased them. Connecting with them helped me learn gratitude for having them in my life and gratitude for the present moment.
There is spirit in everything and in everything there is spirit: Many parents that I know have been graced with signs from their children (as have I). Let the signs that you experience not only validate that our children are with us in a different from of energy, but allow you to see yourself as a truly spiritual being. If we can commit to this way of life, it allows us to see life and death differently. We can change our perspective on life and death, if we choose to do so.
All of these lessons have changed how I view the world. I am not the person I was before Jeannine’s death and frankly I don’t know if I could identify with that person. I have become a more loving, spiritual and centered individual as a result of the struggle with Jeannine’s death. Does it mean that I miss her physical presence any less or that I have achieved closure (a process that doesn’t apply to our journeys after the death of our children)? Absolutely not! My journey as a parent who has experienced the death of a child will be life long. I know that I can revisit the emotional pain of Jeannine’s death at anytime. Today, I don’t have the same dread about re-experiencing it. I am, however, more conscious of it and try to discover what my pain is trying to teach me. We can learn from everything, if we are open to it.
David J. Roberts, LMSW, CASAC, became a bereaved parent after his daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. He has been employed in the addictions field for 27 years and is also an adjunct professor in the psychology and psychology-child life departments at Utica College, Utica, New York. Mr. Roberts also developed a topics course on Parental Bereavement issues, and teaches a Death, Dying and Bereavement course for Utica College. He is a volunteer for Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc, in New Hartford, New York and a member of the All Inclusive Care for Children Coalition.
Be sure to check out Dave’s website: http://bootsyandangel.blogspot.com/