Pain May be an Ally in Our Grief Journeys

I think if we all had a choice, we would want to live our lives without emotional pain. Considering that we do not live in a Utopian society, the avoidance of pain is impossible. Pain and loss is and always will be a part of our existence.  Many bereaved individuals that I know have been able to thrive in the midst of catastrophic loss because of their ability to use their pain to learn how to become better people and help others.  They have also learned to transcend their pain into unconditional love for others who have experienced loss and to those individuals who are reminders of their deceased loved ones.

As I have mentioned in previous articles and posts, our grief journeys are circular. We can experience the pain of loss at any time, depending on what is happening to us in the present. I still periodically experience the pain of my daughter Jeannine’s physical absence in my life. Today, I do not shy away from it, but rather try to ask: “What is my pain trying to teach me about my journey?” 

A few months ago, I came across a speech Jeannine did when she was a middle-school student. Finding it brought up fresh feelings of emotional pain. However, as I read her speech, I found that it contained a simple, valuable lesson that I will use in the future as a step that the bereaved can take to build communities of love and support, where connections to their deceased loved ones are celebrated.  Jeannine’s lesson simply stated is: “Say hi, make friends.”

In early grief, we are usually too consumed by the emotional pain resulting from the physical absence of our loved ones to view our pain as a teacher of life lessons. The emphasis (at least for me) was to survive it and to blindly keep looking for a ray of hope.

But now I have tried to see my pain as an ally, something that will eventually help me to see new paths or learn new lessons on my journey. Some days I am better at it than other days, but such is the imperfect nature of our journeys.  But perfection is not something to strive for in the midst of unbearable loss; resilience is, however.I encourage all of you to look at pain from a different perspective. Each time you experience and eventually detach from the pain of loss, additional truths about your journey or other directions to explore, may come to light.

Dave Roberts 2011

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(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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  • lucie says:

    Thank you
    What a beautiful piece you wrote.
    Really encouraging and transcending in such a troubled world.

  • Thank you for taking the time to read my article and for your kind words Lucie

  • Deb Kosmer says:

    Hi Dave, Excellent article.Jeanine’s lesson was so simply stated and profund.She sounds like the kind of friend everyone would like to have. Deb

  • pam says:

    my daughter went into labor last year, 2010, on july12. . . during labor it was discovered that she had an advanced form of leukemia and was not expected to survive . . . she gave birth (thankfully a week early) to a healthy baby girl . .two weeks beforehand my daughter was perfectly healthy . . she survived the first few days, underwent 3 1/2 rounds of chemotherapy, had a bone marrow transplant and died 4 months after giving birth . . . she had just completed her masters degree in social work, was a happily married woman and celebrated her 27th birthday in the hospital . . . She had only 1 week at home after giving birth and spent most of her time in the ICU . . . her husband has buried his grief . . . . i embrace the pain as a healing step with many more steps to take before i complete my journey . . . thank you for your article . .it gave me a newer insight . . . my daughter meg was a light to the world. . it’s been so very very hard . . .

    • Pam, please accept my condolences for the death of your daughter Meg. I know how hard early grief was for me. There were days that the raw pain and emptiness were too much to bear after Jeannine died, but because of the support of others , I have been able to adjust to my reality and find meaning again. I am glad my article gave you some new insights to consider. I wish you continued enlightenment on your journey.