Peace in Eight: Friends, Rituals, Time Lessen the Pain of Child-Loss

March 1st marked my daughter Jeannine’s eighth angelversary; on that date, Jeannine became forever eighteen. The last seven years have been characterized by intense grief during the days and months leading up to the date of her death. Since Jeannine died of cancer, I would consistently relive the excruciating pain of the last months and moments of her life.  I have gradually learned to manage the pain of my loss more effectively over the years. I also believe that reliving the pain of losing our children is another reminder that our love for them never dies.

During the eighth year of my journey as a bereaved parent, I found myself being more at peace with Jeannine’s physical absence than I was during the previous seven years. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when the pain of her absence is as intense as it was in my early grief, but overall I have felt less emotional turmoil than in past years.

In addition to being able to better manage the emotional roller-coaster of my grief, I have developed a greater understanding of the wondrous spiritual relationship that I enjoy with Jeannine, which is ongoing and dynamic. I always felt that I had an ongoing relationship with Jeannine, but my experiences during the past few months have brought to a whole new level of insight.  And for that, I am grateful.

I am also grateful for the wonderful people who have graced me with their presence on my journey. I have discovered that the support network I have during the eighth year of my journey is different than it was in the beginning. Many of the people who offered their support in the beginning are not a part of my current support network now.

In my early grief, I would have lamented their absence. Today, I realize that they were just as important to my adjustment to life without the physical presence of Jeannine. I have come to believe that the connections that I made with them were destined to be for a short period of time.

It is unrealistic to believe that our support network will always stay the same. What is important to me is that we continue to recognize the need for ongoing support and stay in relationship with those individuals who can best support us in our journeys.  We may make lifetime connections or not, but any quality support we can avail ourselves of is all good.

I have also learned about the power of rituals. Jeannine and I always enjoyed music, separately and together. On March 1st, I put on my iPod for an hour  and listened to a playlist of songs that Jeannine and I both enjoyed.  During that time, I kept her in my thoughts and eventually felt her presence.  Whatever rituals you develop, make sure that they reflect the unique relationship that you had with your child.

Change’ll happen whether we are still or moving.” -From the song, “Little Heaven,” by Toad the Wet Sprocket

David 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 of The USA beginning in 2008 and 2009 respectively. 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 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 radio show as well as on 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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  • Jo says:

    I am just beginning the re-living of my daughters last few weeks on earth a year ago. She went through a long medical ordeal in ICU where we never knew from day to day, almost moment to moment what the outcome was going to be. I know at least one of my friends does not understand this process in my mind this year, so it is good that I am hearing how people have the same process,even 8 yrs later who are grieving. I have dreaded this part as we passed each anniversary date, BDs, holidays, etc. This was going to be so fresh and so painful. I do long for my daughters physical presence, but our connection spiritually is strong too I believe.

  • Donna says:

    I love that you call it her “angelversary” that’s a beautiful way to put it! My son, Albert, died Feb. 18, 2008. Forever 21. He left a wonderful piece of himself, though, his beautiful daughter, and she is now about to turn six. It has helped tremendously to have her in my life. She is so much like her daddy. The perfect combination of her mom and dad!
    The actual pain of his loss still takes my breath away at times. I never realized what a PHYSICAL pain it was until it happened to me. Like you and your daughter, music was a huge part of our lives and I/we find much comfort in that now. I feel like I am just NOW waking up from a horrible nightmare. The kind that stays with you for days, ya know? I thought that somehow, magically after 3 years it would get easier. In certain ways I guess it has in a sense, although easier isn’t exactly the right word… familiar would be more appropriate… i have given myself permission to grieve when and how I need to without apology. The only people I am “careful” with my grief around are my own children and grandchildren, and esp. his daughter…and I do grieve around them, just not the raw gut wrenching emotions that I sometimes HAVE to let out.
    I get afraid. That i will forget what he looked like (without having to look at a photo). Or how his voice sounded, esp the way he said “i love you, momma”. Or the way he felt and smelled when I hugged him. These things torture me sometimes.
    I am hoping to complete his story in the next year. It is HARD. but healing. I was able to tell his story to some young men and their parents on the day before his 3rd year “angelversarry” and that helped SO much.
    Thank you for sharing your story. For it truly is part of the healing process.

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Hi Jo. Please accept my heartfelt condolences on the death of your daughter. As Jeannine died as a result of cancer, I can identify with reliving the last days of her life as I approached her angelversary date. Particularly, in early grief,that constant reliving is very common. Also, I have discovered that as long as Jeannine remains a part of me, that our spiritual connection will always be strong . Thank you for sharing your journey to date Jo

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Hi Donna.
    Please accept my heartfelt condolences on the death of your son. I am glad that having your granddaughter in your life has been a comfort to you. I believe that the spirit of your son and her daddy will be forever alive in her. You are also right about grief becoming more familiar. It never gets easier, just more manageable. There are many reminders of our loved ones that do take us back to the pain of our early grief, no matter how long it has been since the death of our children. What I have discovered in year eight is that the pain we experience is a reminder that our love for them never dies.
    Thank you for sharing your story Donna.

  • Jo says:

    Thank you Dave,
    I like the term angelversary as well. Our beloved children are angels right now and I like to wear my angel pin on my shoulder, as my daughter is watching over me I believe. She was 34 yrs old, disabled and lived with us her whole life. We were her primary caregivers, she went almost everywhere with us. I miss her presence so much, and like Donna I am afraid I will forgot special things. I have started a list along with my journaling of special things she did and said during her life, so I don’t forgot later. I have a video of her graduation, but I am too fragil to watch or listen to her on it yet. I also feel that grief is so physically painful as it is mentally devastating. I could not believe when she first died how much my heart physically hurt which I believe is a mind/heart connection. It’s hard to describe to other people who have not gone through these emotions. I am not even one year through the grief process and I fear years and years of this feeling. I read the Open to Hope messages every day because I know the people who write on here have gone through similar experiences as I have. Jo

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Hi Jo:
    I agree, we physically feel the pain of loss as much as we experience it emotionally. That is very common during our early grief. I am glad that you have started a list and are journaling about the special things that your daughter did. Journaling helped me tremendously during the early years after Jeannine’s death. If you don’t have the emotional strength to face a particular situation, that is ok. You may find that strength later on. There is no time frame ;it is when you are ready. As time passes, we learn how to better manage the emotional roller coaster of grief and experience joy amidst the sadness of living in a world without the physical presence of our children.