Father Learns How to Deal with Holidays After Daughter’s Death

In early grief, it is difficult to find any meaning in pain. After my daughter Jeannine’s death in 2003, the pain I experienced in early grief was raw and something that I feared. If I had a choice, I would have avoided it at all costs.  However, as I have learned, we need to work through pain in order to be able to find greater meaning in our lives.

During the holidays, our grief and pain tends to become more intensified.  The stress of holiday shopping and get togethers is stressful enough. The stress of grief makes these holiday events more stressful. Early on, I just wanted to fast forward to January, and skip the holidays all together.

In the ninth year of my journey as a parent who has experienced the death of a child, the holidays still present unique challenges for me. Thanksgiving and Christmas will be forever associated with the period of Jeannine’s illness where I knew in my head and my heart that she was going to die. My expectation is that the pain of my early grief will continue to resurface during the holidays and will continue to until I cross over.

So what is different for me now? I have made a conscious choice to deal with my pain differently. During Thanksgiving dinner at my sister- in law’s this year, I was missing the physical presence of my daughter. After dinner, I decided to take a walk to clear my head.  I went to my  deceased mother’s former apartment which was less than a mile away. As I got closer to her apartment, I consciously introduced into my thoughts some positive memories of the relationship that Jeannine and my mother had. I immediately began to feel a sense of peace again.

Shortly thereafter, the sky was lined three wide with a hundred or more crows flying west to east above me. I have recently begun to embrace Native American teachings about the power of animal medicine and the lessons that they teach.  From reading both Jaime Sams’ Medicine Cards  and Ted Andrews’ Animal Speaks, I have discovered that crow medicine is about, among other things, sacred law as opposed to human law and that unexpected help with problems and obstacles is at hand to bring relief.

After Jeannine died, I realized that conventional wisdom or law was not going to help me adjust to my new reality.  I needed to look at relationships as occurring beyond the physical realm and be attuned to what the universe and all it has to offer was trying to teach me. Once I was able to do this, I began to find a new level of fulfillment in my life, and looked at pain differently. 

In the ninth year of my journey after Jeannine’s death, I have discovered that allowing myself to be totally debilitated by pain is not going to improve the quality of the life that I am now destined to lead. I need to continue to evolve as a result of my experience with it.

I am wishing you all peace this holiday season.


David Roberts 2011


David Roberts

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David J. Roberts, LMSW, became a parent who experienced the death of a child, when his daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. He is a retired addiction professional and an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Utica College in Utica, New York. Dave is a featured speaker, workshop facilitator and coach for Aspire Place, LLC (www.aspireplace.com) He is also the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley. Mr. Roberts has been a presenter at the Southern Humanities Council Conference in both 2017 and 2018. Dave has been a past workshop facilitator for The Compassionate Friends. He has also been a past workshop facilitator and keynote speaker for The Bereaved Parents of the USA. Mr. Roberts has contributed articles to the Huffington Post blog, The Grief Toolbox, Recovering the Self Journal and Medium. 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. He has appeared on numerous radio and internet broadcasts and Open to Hope Television. Dave was also part of a panel in 2016 for the BBC Podcast, World Have Your Say, with other grief experts, discussing the death of Carrie Fisher. Dave’s website: www.bootsyandangel.com is devoted to providing support and resources for individuals experiencing loss.


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  • Laurel says:

    What a powerful piece you have written, with so much wisdom-learned in it. May your journey be sweetened by the peace you have found within. Warm regards, Laurel

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Thanks Laurel for your great feedback and best wishes.

  • Robin Craig says:

    What a beautiful article that exudes wisdom. We learn through our losses that life is fragile and a gift. As time passes and the grief process progresses, we think and feel more deeply. Holding on to precious, happy memories as you mentioned, help us feel better. Finding our way is not easy, but sharing the lessons learned are a positive way to move forward. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Thank you Robin for your kind words. I always get up in the morning and thank God for giving me another day, because I have as you have learned that there are no guarentees and that life is indeed a gift. The challenges will always be there for me but as long as I keep working and look at life and death differently, I will find meaning.

  • wanda n. yates says:

    David, I was happy to find your wordds of wisdom. I just lost my son in May of this year and this will be the “first” holidays without him. I have been a single mom for 20 years, he was only 31. I struggle everyday, and now, at this particular time, it seems so much more difficult. I know we learn from suffering and suffering does not go away. I can only pray that it eases and I can learn to live the rest of my life with God by my side. I will pray for you to David. I worked in the psychiatric field for about ten years, and it hurts that I could not help my own son. It is hard for me to find meaning to my life right now, but I do know that at some point, God will show me. Peace be with you.

  • Hi Wanda. Please accept my condolences for the death of your son. The thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing at this time is normal. I have found that over time, the pain of losing our children becomes more manageable. I have found that making time to spend with my daughter during the holidays has provided me with a measure of comfort and peace. At times, I sense her presence. The fact that you have faith that God will show you ways that you can find meaning in your life and that you desire this is positive.

    Wishing you peace.