After Loss: Pecking at the Shadows of Our Past

Some where in Upstate New York © Dave Roberts
 Some where in Upstate New York © Dave Roberts

Some where in Upstate New York © Dave Roberts

To Be Mindful

During my twenty-seven years of employment as an addiction counselor, I routinely addressed the importance of mindfulness with my clients. From my  experience, mindfulness is a tool that, among other things, serves to slow rapid and intrusive thoughts, reduce anxiety and facilitate better lifestyle choices. Mindfulness is essential in helping us focus fully on the present moment. It is important however, to acknowledge the role of our past in orchestrating our present, particularly when dealing with the aftermath of catastrophic loss.

To wish away our past is to wish ourselves out of existence. – Frederick Nietzsche

I have discovered the value of the past, following the death of my 18-year-old daughter Jeannine in 2003 due to a rare form of cancer. Following her death, I engaged in a  life review to determine what values, beliefs and priorities needed to change in order to live in a world whose landscape was permanently altered. In part, because of my willingness to embrace my past, I was able to navigate my grief in the present and to adopt a different perspective on both life and death.

One of the first teachings that I discovered about the importance of our past was during a small mountain climb that I did with a friend of mine, a few years ago. As we were descending the mountain, I had a revelation that it was easier going down than it was going up, but not for obvious reasons. On the climb up, the territory and terrain were unfamiliar to me. I approached the climb with uncertainty and some trepidation. On the way down, I saw the path that I clearly took to reach the top and as a result, was able negotiate the terrain more easily. It is essential to look at where we came from; the past roads that we took. For me, every decision I made in the past contributed to the road that I have now chosen to travel. Looking behind has allowed me to look forward and embrace transformation after the death of my daughter.

Crow Medicine

One of my favorite crow pictures © Dave Roberts

One of my favorite crow pictures © Dave Roberts

For approximately 7 years, I have embraced the Native American teachings of nature and animals, as described by Jamie Sams and Ted Andrews. Their teachings have allowed me to develop clarity, empowerment and greater awareness, following the death of Jeannine.

Crow medicine is significant for a variety of reasons. Paraphrasing from Medicine Cards by Jaime Sams and David Carson, crows : a)  are omens of change, b)  represent sacred versus human law, and c)  help us overcome fears and obstacles. There is another significant teaching that is attributed to crow:

There is a medicine story that tells of Crow’s fascination with her own shadow. She kept looking at it, scratching it, pecking at it, until her shadow woke up and became alive. Then Crow’s shadow ate her. Crow is Dead Crow now. –Jamie Sams

To conclude this piece, I will discuss the discoveries that I made when I became willing to peck at the shadows of my past, and how it empowered me to find my peace in the aftermath of my daughter Jeannine’s death. In the process, sacred law will be integrated:

• In the early phase of my grief after Jeannine’s death, I was haunted by the memory that I was the last person to see her alive. Today, I see myself as the first person to witness her rebirth into a new existence.

• Another memory that haunted me was my father, Austin leaving me and my mother Sadie, when I was 5 years old. I was angry and felt robbed of having a father figure in my life. I thought he left because he no longer loved us. Today, because of the work that I have done following Jeannine’s death, I realize that my father’s leaving was an act of unconditional love. I discovered that he was not suited for life in a traditional marriage. I concluded that he left because he knew that my mother and I could not thrive in his presence. Today, I love my father as much as the mother that raised me.

Crow medicine is a reminder that we can define how we let our past influence our present and shape our future. We can either stare at our past or we can peck at the shadows of our past and embrace its teachings so that we can become empowered in the face of seemingly insurmountable life challenges. The choice is ours and ours alone.

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( 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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