Life does not progress in a predictable or orderly fashion. We are confronted with a series of challenges that present us with two choices: 1) To do nothing and stagnate emotionally and spiritually; 2) to allow those challenges to transform us and help us find meaning and enlightenment. This is the story about the loss of my daughter, Jeannine.
I remember recently looking at a picture of my late mother and me, which was taken about thirty years ago at my wedding reception. I was smiling and looking forward to a future with my wife Cheri that I envisioned being filled with happiness, children and grandchildren to fuss over. I felt that my life would follow the typical script of many newly married couples in America. Pain or tragedy was never a part of the picture that I had of married life. I was aware that tragedy and hardship could hit anybody and when it did, I felt badly but simultaneously grateful that I was just a casual observer.
Our marriage produced three wonderful children, two boys and a girl. We had some ups and downs, but fortunately my wife and I addressed those “bumps in the road” through communication, respect and love. The challenges that our marriage presented, in my mind, followed the natural progression of events in any relationship.
The beliefs, assumptions and values that comprised the foundation of my world came crashing down around me in May of 2002. My only daughter Jeannine was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Six rounds of chemotherapy only put her cancer in 80 per cent remission. Eventually, her cancer spread to all areas of her body. She died at the age of 18 on 3/1/03 at home, with Hospice. Ten months prior to Jeannine’s death, she gave birth to a daughter and our only grandchild Brianna. Brianna and her father lived with me, Cheri and our two boys for four years after the loss of my daughter, Jeannine. Brianna and her father still remain a part of our lives today.
I was terrified after Jeannine’s death. I was not sure, after the loss of my daughter, where I fit into a world that seemed to be moving in spite of what happened to our family and me. I struggled to rebuild a belief system predicated on values that allowed my world to be safe, predictable and orderly. Jeannine’s death changed that; children are not supposed to die before their parents. The intense emotional pain that I had experienced was like no other that I experienced during other losses in my life. My pain consumed me, it defined me, it was me.
For two-and-one half years following Jeannine’s death I was able to perform the routine functions of my full time job as well as maintain a part-time job teaching. On the outside, I appeared to be fine, but I was a train wreck on the inside. I was wracked with anger and guilt because I felt that I did not do enough to protect my daughter from cancer. My job, as her father, was to protect her from harm and in my mind I failed miserably.
A bereavement support person, who facilitated the bereaved parents group of which I was a member of in early grief, helped me work through the anger and guilt that I experienced after Jeannine’s death. I then made a conscious decision to embrace my identity as a bereaved parent by finding meaning through helping others in Jeannine’s memory. Also though the support of other bereaved parents and some wise spiritual teachers, my perspective on life and death has continued to undergo metamorphosis.
In the tenth year of my journey, the raw pain of Jeannine’s physical absence is a thing of the past. I still experience painful moments and always will because my journey is circular without closure or a defined end point. However, rather than let my pain define me, I try to determine what lessons I can learn from the experience. I know that who Jeannine is and continues to be is a part of my experience as a human being. The essence of who she is is embodied within me; she has become my partner in the service work that I do with other bereaved individuals. Death has not ended our relationship; it has redefined it. My journey today is not about grieving her death as it is about honoring the relationship that we had on earth and continue to have today.
I will never be the same again; I am not the person I was in the picture that I took with my mother 30 years ago. I could never go back to being that person with the same hopes and dreams; too much has happened. However, I am happy for the person I am becoming in the aftermath of Jeannine’s death. There are days that I wish I could have become redefined without experiencing catastrophic loss, but it was not meant to be. I have concluded that in the eyes of sacred law, 18 years was what Jeannine needed to learn the lessons in this life and to teach others through her human experience. As a result, I am leading a life that I would have never chosen for myself. It is however, now the life that I am destined to lead.
Copyright David Roberts of Bootsy & Angel Books, LLC (www.bootsyandangel.com).
Updated: October 10, 2013