Happy Sunday, Journeyer!
You know how some people come and go from our lives, while others seem to spark something new in us or place a little footprint on our heart? About a year ago I met someone of the latter. Dave Roberts and I crossed paths in many different cyber-circles and though I recall not how we actually came to collaborate, I will always remember how his quiet, unassuming nature is anything but, for you see, Dave is constantly working to bring healing to others through awareness, reflection, and inspiration.
Journeyer, I am thrilled to bring some of this neighbor’s story to you and am honored Dave agreed to share some of the ways he finds happiness in the face of adversity.
Without further adieu, I give you Dave Roberts…
Finding Joy In A Changed World
My world, as I knew it, permanently changed on March 1, 2003. At 12:30 pm, my 18-year-old daughter Jeannine died at home, approximately ten months after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. As an addiction counselor with a masters degree in social work, I dealt with many challenges presented by a variety of different individuals whom requested services from me. My training and background didn’t even remotely prepare me to deal with the death of my daughter. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. It is not only unthinkable, but unnatural. One of the first books that I read after Jeannine’s death was: Give Sorrow Words: A Father’s Passage Through Grief by Tom Crider, written after his only child Gretchen died. This excerpt from his book, perfectly captured my state of mind after Jeannine’s death:
“I am not who I was. My reason, judgment and all of my defenses have dissolved, leaving me confused and terrified in a world turned suddenly strange.”
For the first two-and-one-half years after Jeannine’s death, darkness and despair were my constant companions. I could not comprehend how I could live in a world without the physical presence of my daughter. I was able to compartmentalize my grief enough to take care of my daily responsibilities at work and to attend to other matters in my life. Eventually, I was able to make a decision to wallow through the muck of my grief and to honor my daughter’s memory through service to others.
As I approach the fourteen year angelversary of my daughter’s rebirth to a new existence, I have learned to live in a world where my daughter exists in spirit. I have also learned to live in a world where joy coexists with any fleeting moments of sadness that I still have, and will continue to have until I am reunited with Jeannine for all of eternity.
I wish to conclude my piece with ways that I have cultivated joy in the aftermath of the most catastrophic and life-altering loss of my life. For me joy is my preferred term to describe the things that have helped me navigate my grief and embrace a new perspective on life and death. So here are some things that have helped me cultivate joy in my life.
Transient angels: This is my term to describe those individuals who provide us support for a brief moment of time, when we need it the most. A week after Jeannine’s death, I was sitting at Utica College, waiting to teach my evening class, and wondering how I was going to be able to get through it. At that moment in time, one of my colleagues came by and told me how sorry that he was to hear of Jeannine’s death. His gesture not only put a smile on my face, but gave me the energy to get through my class. There have been other transient angels that have crossed my path since Jeannine’s death, and they have all given me moments of joy as well as inspiration.
The recognition that we are eternal: Shortly after Jeannine’s death I began to receive many signs of her presence. Butterflies and pennies would appear when she was foremost in my thoughts. A song that we both liked would play on the radio. One of the more magnificent signs of her presence occurred on 2/25/13, the week of her tenth angelversary, when this heart image appeared on my kitchen room floor.
The signs that I receive today reinforce the strength of the bond that I share with my daughter and gives me joy because of my belief that she shares the same desire to continue the relationship with me, as I do with her.
“When you realize that other dimensions exist, you’ll never think of life, death, yourself or the Universe in the same way again.” – The Afterlife of Billy Fingers by Annie Kagan
Find your passion for service, with your deceased loved one by your side: I have embraced bereavement support, undergraduate college teaching and writing/blogging as vehicles to find purpose after loss. In doing so, I have incorporated the best qualities of Jeannine into the best qualities of me. It is my way to not only continue my relationship with her, but to integrate my grief.
Pet therapy: One of the best ways that I have discovered to turn sadness into joy is by demonstrating your love for an animal. I have two beautiful cats Zoey and Nitske, who willingly let me shower them with affection and who give me unconditional love in return. It is challenging, particularly in the early phase of grief to love ourselves. Our pets remind us of its importance.
Spending time in nature: Taking walks, sitting outside in the quiet have helped to not only given me joy but has, in the aftermath of Jeannine’s death increased my awareness of self and my relationship to the world around me.
It is my hope that wherever you are today in your journey, that you can embrace a perspective that not only enables you to find joy and happiness amidst the sadness of loss, as well as renewed purpose and meaning.
David J. Roberts, LMSW, became a parent who experienced the death of a child, after his daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. He is a retired addiction professional, an adjunct professor in the psychology and psychology-child life departments at Utica College, Utica, New York, and the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley.
Dave is a national, grief and loss workshop presenter, a keynote speaker, and performs many roles at Aspire Place. He is a contributing writer on the Huffington Post and The Open to Hope Foundation, and has been published in numerous online grief sites and in Recovering the Self Journal. Learn more about Dave on his Website, Facebook and Twitter.