Ghosts of Memory: Integrating Our Loss Through Remembering

I recently read a book called: Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, by Neil Peart. Peart is the lyricist and world renowned drummer for the Canadian rock band, Rush.  His daughter Selena, age 19, died on August 10, 1997, as a result of a car accident and his common-law wife, Jackie died on June 20, 1998, of cancer. Peart became a bereaved parent and a young widower in the space of ten months.

One year after the death of his daughter, he embarked on a 55,000-mile, fourteen-month journey on his motorcycle across Canada, the United States and Mexico. He rode “to try to figure out what kind of person I was going to be, and what kind of world I was going to live in.”(Peart, 2002. Pg 10). The book describes his travels, grief experiences and the intense emotional pain associated with constantly reliving his losses.

Peart’s personal tragedies resulted in a four-year hiatus from Rush. When he returned, he wrote the lyrics to an album called “Vapor Trails.” In his book, he described Vapor Trails as “an off –handed reference” to the ghosts of memory.

Following the completion of his book, I began to give some thought to the specific ghosts of memory that we experience and the roles that they play in our grief journeys as bereaved parents. This is what I came up with:

1)    Memories of a life that no longer apply: Before Jeannine was diagnosed with cancer, I was preparing to graduate from SUNY Albany with a masters in social work, do private practice part-time and go on with my life as I knew it. After she died, memories associated with school and dreams of my past life were foreign to me and contributed to the disorientation and alienation that I experienced early in my grief. These types of memories challenged me to redefine my assumptions about life and my worldview.

2)    Memories of our loved ones that are unique to us: A friend of mine who is also a bereaved parent recently recalled that she cried because she didn’t remember an aspect of her son’s death the way that her husband remembered it. She came to the conclusion that it is more important to remember the essence of our children, and that our memories are a product of our own creations.

3)    Memories of the promise of a future: When my youngest son graduated from high school in 2006 (three years after Jeannine died), the school band played “I Hope You Dance,” by Lee Ann Womack. This song was played as a tribute to Jeannine’s life at her funeral mass. In the midst of my sadness, I saw a brief vision of Jeannine as a child, smiling and dancing under a blue sky. I interpreted this memory to mean that Jeannine was ok, and that I was going to be ok in the aftermath of the worst loss of my life.

I believe that we can use memories of our past, present and future to learn to adjust to life without the physical presence of our children and to find meaning and hope in our forever changed worlds.

David Roberts

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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( 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: is devoted to providing support and resources for individuals experiencing loss.

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