Do I Ever Stop Being a Bereaved Parent?

I was asked by a friend of mine if we ever stop being bereaved parents. My friend is also a bereaved parent. It was an interesting question, because approximately two years after my daughter Jeannine died, I decided that I didn’t want to be a bereaved parent anymore. The daily pain and suffering became too much for me. I wanted my life to be the way it was before Jeannine died. I stopped going to my parental bereavement support group and tried to not think about the pain of losing my precious daughter.  I became more miserable as a result of my conscious decision to stop being bereaved.

I decided to ask my support group facilitator for help. After a few sessions with her, she helped me realize that I needed to embrace my identity as a bereaved parent in order for me to adjust to the physical absence of Jeannine. Embracing my identity as a bereaved parent means doing things to find meaning and joy amidst the sadness of my loss, while being of service to others. Here are some of the things that have helped me find joy and meaning following Jeannine’s death.

  • Listening to others stories – I am honored and humbled when bereaved parents shares their stories of their deceased child’s life and death because it is one of the most intimate events that is shared between two people.   I identify with their pain, but I also feel joy when some wonderful memories of their loved ones are shared.
  • Making a conscious effort to brighten up someone’s day – This can be anything from holding a door open for another person to sending a note or an e-mail to let someone know that you are thinking of them.  I supervise six staff at my place of employment, and I make it a point to ask about their personal lives and families at least once a week.
  • Writing – For me, this has taken the form of articles on Jeannine’s story, to revelations that I have experienced during my grief journey. Writing can also take the form of a personal journal or poetry that bereaved parents feel captures the essence of their children. A bereaved parent recently sent me a book that she made identifying the positive qualities of her son that she wanted to integrate into her own life.
  • Learning gratitude for the present moment – Early in my grief, I was angry and bitter because of the cruel injustice of losing a child.    Now, almost seven years into my grief, I have learned to have gratitude for those who are with me in the present.  The present moment is all that is guaranteed to us. Knowing that my relationship with Jeannine is ongoing has also helped me appreciate the present moment more.

We don’t stop being bereaved parents. As we adjust to our new reality, we are able to find joy with and without a connection to our bereaved parent identities.  As long as we are willing to ride the emotional roller coaster that is our grief, we will be able to learn to live once again.

David Roberts

More Articles Written by David

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 and is also an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Utica College, Utica, New York. Dave has presented workshops at national conferences of The Compassionate Friends and Bereaved Parents ,as well as local and regional venues. Dave was also the keynote speaker at both the 2011 and 2015 national gatherings of the Bereaved Parents of the USA. He is also a featured speaker,workshop presenter and coach for Aspire Place(www.aspireplace.com) Dave is a HuffPost contributor and has also written articles for several other grief and self-improvement publications. He has co-authored two books with Linda Findlay of Mourning Discoveries. One is on navigating grief during the holidays and the other is on pet loss. One of Dave's articles” My Daughter is Never Far Away" can also be found in Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories of Healing and Loss. Excerpts from Dave's article for The Open to Hope Foundation, called The Broken Places, were featured in the 2012 Paraclete Press DVD video, Grieving the Sudden Death of a Loved One. Dave has also appeared on Healing the Grieving Heart and the Advocacy Heals U radio shows , and the Open to Hope television show . Dave’s website: www.bootsyandangel.com is devoted to providing support and resources for individuals experiencing loss.

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  • Arlene Kosakoff says:

    Dear David,

    Thank you for your post. It is making me think about what I can do to help myself. Like you say, we can never “get over” being a bereved parent, but we can forge a new identity as a bereved parent and being to “accept” ourselves. What you say about helping other grieviing parents, helping others we encounter day to day, journeling, and connecting with others and sharing feelings are things that can help.

    Thank you for sharing from your heart, David.

    Arlene Kosakoff….lost my son on 10/2/07….he was 35 years old.

    • Dave Roberts says:

      Hi Arlene:
      Thank you so much for your kind words about my article. My heart aches because of the death of your son. I wish you well in your quest to find meaning.

      Take care

  • Hi David,

    Your thoughts touched me in my grief journey. Embracing our new identities is challenging. We want our old lives back. We want our beloved child back again but we know that will not happen and that we must accept our new definition of ourselves if we are to go on and have anything that even resembles a life.

    And there are others in our lives who depend upon us. Your work and your family show you that and me, too.

    My brother is a hard working and practical man. When our Katie died he said, “Mary Jane, some day we all will die.” Now if someone else had said that to me I might have been offended, let me take that back, I would have been offended but he and I had lost our father when we were young so he had earned that right to say that to me. And in some place deep inside of me that very day I embraced my new reality.

    Your Jeannine will inspire you all the days of your life as she did when your wrote this beautiful article.

    Kind regards,
    MJ

    • Dave Roberts says:

      Hi MJ:
      Thank you for your kind words. Your comments have given me further food for thought on the concept of “earning the right” to say certain things because of past experiences with loss.

      It is my hope that Jeannine and Katie have found each other on the other side

      Take care

      Dave

  • vanessa says:

    I dont think we ever get over the loss. Its been three years since i lost mu son things dont seem to have changed much.

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Hello Vanessa

    Please accept my heartfelt condolences on theloss of your son. Three years is not a long time to begin to even come to grips with the worst pain we feel as a parent. I do hope in time you do find some joy and happiness amidst the pain of grief.

    Take care

  • I lost my son Danny to an overdose of alcohol and prescription drugs on July 1, 2008. He was 22 years old. It has been devastating. The only thing that has helped me at all is my knowledge of the spirit world and the ability to “connect up” with Danny through thoughts, feelings, signs and of course, reputable mediums. Because Dan has made me aware, (through communications with medium Glenn Dove) that he feels and is uplifted by our prayers for him, I have started a Prayer Registry for parents who have lost children. In this way many of us can link up in thought and send group prayers out to each child registered on the anniversary day of their passing. The registry has not yet been in existence for a year and already we have heard from some of the kids, (through mediums) that the prayers are very helpful. My Danny describes it as “catching rides”. The families on this side also report feeling supported by these prayers. Please read about the Prayer Registry, for which there is no charge, at my website: http://www.sheriperl.com and please help me to spread the word. I’d like to see this open up to a much larger group. Thank you!

  • Sheri Perl Migdol says:

    THE PRAYER REGISTRY
    I lost my son Danny on July 1, 2008 to an overdose. He was 22. In dedication to him I formed The Prayer Registry for parents who have lost children.

    Please see my website http://www.sheriperl.com and read about The Prayer Registry. This free website service is dedicated to all of the families who have lost children, whatever age that child was when they passed. This site registers the anniversary day of our children’s crossing. The members of this online community,the Prayer Team, have the opportunity to honor their child’s legacy, connect with other bereaved parents, and participate in world-wide group prayer for every registered loved one on the anniversary day of their passing.

    Please email Sheri at theprayerregistry@gmail.com to register your loved one on The Prayer Registry. I need only your child’s full name along with the date that he or she passed to insure that your child receives prayer every year going forward on the anniversary day of his or her passing.