Coping with the Death of a Child is undoubtedly the worst experience a parent will go through. David J. Roberts, LMSW, CASAC, 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.
David has kindly agreed to share his experience of coping with the death of his beautiful daughter Jeannine and we hope that his experience might help you if you have gone through a similar experience.
I Had A Plan
My life up until 2002, was fairly routine, probably even boring by many people’s standards. At age 47, I had been married for 20 years, had helped raise three beautiful children, and was employed as an addiction counselor for the State of New York. I completed the requirements for my Masters in Social Work degree during May of 2002. I intended to continue to work, teach and do private practice counseling part-time. The plan for the rest of my life seemed to be clear. However, my plan changed dramatically due to circumstances that were beyond my control. My 18 –year-old daughter Jeannine died on March, 1,2003 due to a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
Learning to Cope
Jeannine’s death presented a unique set of challenges for me. The values and assumptions that made my world, safe and predictable were shattered beyond recognition. It has been a process for me to rebuild a world without Jeannine’s physical presence and will continue to be. My grief journey as well as those of other parents who have experienced the death of a child is life long and circular as opposed to finite and linear.
With that being said, I want describe some of the ways that I have coped with my daughter’s death to date. This represents my personal blueprint for progressing from the raw pain of grief to finding meaning again in a world that has been permanently changed for me. There are many paths to knowing; it is important that bereaved parents discover the path that resonates best with them.
Focused Initially on Survival
Shock, raw emotional pain, disconnectedness from my self and others were constant companions during the first two-and-one-half years after Jeannine’s death. During those years it was about survival, a day, sometimes an hour at a time. I kept putting one foot in front of the other; with the blind faith that eventually I would find a reason to want to live life without my daughter.
“To get through the hardest part of the journey, we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on walking.”- Unknown
Told My Story
I was able to tell my story about my relationship with Jeannine over and over in a community that supported it. That community was other bereaved parents, who understood my pain. Telling our stories help us eventually adjust to a world without our children, while simultaneously celebrating our ongoing connection with them. If there is not a bereaved parent’s support group in your community, online support through The Compassionate Friends (www.compassionatefriends.org) is available.
Being Gentle With Self
Our grief journeys are marathons and not sprints. Some days, the raw pain of grief can be triggered without warning. Such is the emotional roller coaster of grief. I honor it, learn from it, and above all, don’t suppress it.
Not Taking Anything Said or Done Personally
Many individuals, in their attempt to comfort us, say things to us that undermine our grief experience. We are also urged to stop grieving after a period of time and “get on with our lives.” In early grief, I became angry when I perceived that someone’s actions or words were insensitive. Today I realize that many do not know what to say, or have erroneously subscribed to the belief that all grief is time-limited. I choose today to focus on those in my support network that do understand; it is both empowering and comforting.
Embodied the Best Qualities of Jeannine
Jeannine was among other things determined, playful, honest, compassionate and heartfelt, during her brief life on earth. By embodying those qualities of my daughter, she became a partner with me in the service work that I now do with parents who have experienced the death of their children. Doing this has also helped me develop a pure, spiritual relationship with Jeannine, as well.
Discovered The Power of Ritual
On the eighth angelversary of Jeannine’s death, in 2011, I developed a ritual involving music that we both enjoyed and which brought back fond memories of our relationship on earth. I spent an hour with Jeannine in the early morning and felt her presence for the entire day. I encourage parents to develop rituals around activities that represented their relationship with their child, and to do them anytime of the year. Ritual is another way that we stay connected to our children.
Found Comfort and Clarity in Signs
Jeannine has communicated her presence to me since her death in a variety of different ways. Any sign I have received has always been related to my thoughts of her in the present. The above heart shaped sign appeared on my kitchen floor on 2/25/13, four days before Jeannine’s 10th angelversary. Her ongoing communication with me in different forms of energy leads me to conclude that we survive death and that in even the most challenging of times…love prevails.
“Stating our intention to the universe and being open to what comes is both a most powerful form of prayer and demonstration of faith”- Dave Roberts
Copyright David Roberts of Bootsy & Angel Books, LLC (www.bootsyandangel.com).
Updated: August 26, 2013