Keeping Perspective During the Grief Journey

Egocentric Grief

On several occasions in the almost eleven years since my daughter Jeannine’s death, I have attended calling hours for several friends whose loved ones have died. If the deceased is not a child, I will sometimes get comments like, “I know it is not the same (death of a child), but I feel so horrible (about my loss).”

In some way, I appreciate these comments because it is validation of Jeannine’s death as unthinkable and unfathomable. To me however, these comments also serve to unwittingly trivialize the significance of the loss of their loved ones. Death permanently changes the landscape of those individuals left behind. The death of anyone significant in our lives, whether it is a child, parent, grandparent or spouse, compels us to reevaluate our values and priorities, compels us to redefine who we are. Because the grief I experienced after Jeannine’s death was so egocentric and the support I sought was primarily from other parents, it was easy for me to temporarily lose sight of the fact that life-altering loss could occur with anyone.

 A Stone Encased Heart

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A dear friend of mind sent me a picture of a rock that she found while walking on a beach near her home. There was a distinct shape of a heart on the left side, which is small in comparison to the rock in which it is housed. As we embrace the journeys of all who have experienced death and commit to compassionate presence as their stories unfold, the heart becomes bigger than the rock in which it is encased. As our heart becomes the center of our being, love, compassion and mercy for others will govern our actions, define our path and determine our legacy.

“No matter what… I will continue to live from the center of my wide open heart.” – Anonymous

Taking the “Worst” Out of Loss

One of the things that has helped me during my ongoing transformation following Jeannine’s death, is not categorizing my loss as the worst I have experienced in comparison to other losses that I or others have experienced. I look at Jeannine’s death as being the loss that was most life altering and redefining. Embracing this perspective has allowed me to open bear witness to and be enriched by the stories of all bereaved individuals who have crossed my path. In the process, my commitment to service in honor of my daughter Jeannine has expanded, giving me greater purpose on my journey.

“We must choose mercy; it is our only course. Though its cause may be dark, and though we may not sense it at the time, it makes us a vessel of grace. It fills us with unbounded love that pours forth without judgment on all it sees, because it knows that every life, no matter how flawed or humble, is precious beyond measure.” — From the chapter titled “Candles on the Grave… Love in Action,” found in the book, Calm Surrender, Walking the Hard Road of Forgiveness, by Kent Nerburn.

 

 

 

 

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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  • kristin scott says:

    We lost our 22 yr. old very loved son Jonathan Alexander Baer (my family name – last one to have it) 2004. Straight A student graduated w/ honors, friend to all, all adored him, a gentle soul and heart like his parents, great Faith in God, would see any friend who needed him. He swung on a rope to jump into a river, slipped off the rope, landed his head on a rock, unconscious for 3
    weeks, couldn’t speak. Day before used word cards he died in his sleep. I miss him so very much and still hurt. I’m sitting here misting up trying not to cry…..I miss his strong long arm hugs! He was 6’2″ and cared for me in ER’s when I developed Diabetes 2 and A Fib. He didn’t sign up for the Army cuz he wanted to stay home. I feel guilty cuz he didn’t. Lord, how I miss him. His older brother had to grow up. Since then his Dad’s had lung cancer, needs eye surgery, I’ve had a concussion/brain bleed. We know he’s w/ us and we’ll see him. Have faith. It gets easier.

    • Hi Kristin: Please accept my condolences for the death of your son Jonathan. You are in my thoughts as you navigate the challenges presented by your son’s death and your dad’s and your own life challenges. Thank you for your kind words to me and I wish you peace.

  • Tonya Tighe says:

    A truly thoughtful article and inspiring, thank you. I have wondered why we think in terms of loss as ‘worse than’ or ‘not as bad as’ another persons. To try and define a loss in such a way demeans it, both to the giver and receiver of those words. Loss is not a competition.

    My husband died three years ago and in the very early days some people thought they could lessen my pain by saying things such as “It could be worse. At least your children are grown up”. “I know a woman who has lost her husband and she has four children under 10” I was given this type of ‘support’ on several occasions. I also knew that people saying these things had been fortunate enough to have not experienced such sorrow and were trying to help, however clumsily they issued their words.

    It did however make me doubt my compassion. At that moment I did not need to hear of someone else’s sorrow and that caused me even more distress. I feared that I would never, ever find compassion for another human soul. I realise now, that in the middle of all our pain my compassion was there, protecting and covering our children whom we had brought to adulthood, and at that moment it was being preserved necessarily, for me and mine.

    Three years later and your words resound in me. Yes, our loss of Husband and Father was life-altering and redefining. I find that rather than losing my compassion I have found a deeper way of being with people. We, as a family, have supported other people in their loss because we understand a part of their pain. We have found ways of moving along this new path and although I would give anything to be on the familiar path with my husband, I am starting to move along it with a level of peace that I doubted I could achieve.

    • Hi Tonya: Thank you for your kind words about my article. Your comments resonated with me as well. And yes, there were days that ,particularly early in my grief journey after Jeannine’s death that i could experience compassion for another. For me ,it was always there, I was just too wrapped up in my grief to express it. I wish you peace.