Grief Lessons from the Wal-Mart Truck

I have used many analogies and metaphors to describe my grief journey in the seven years since my daughter Jeannine died.  During my early grief, I frequently described feeling, on a good day, like I had been consistently pummeled with a baseball bat. On an excruciating day, it felt like two baseball bats were simultaneously pummeling me.  As my journey has progressed, my analogies are not so much related to the pain of Jeannine’s death, but rather on what her death has taught me.

Late last week, I was driving to a baseball game. As soon as I pulled onto the highway, I found myself behind a very slow moving Wal-Mart truck.  I have never been a patient driver, and most of the time experience extreme frustration when I am behind a slow moving vehicle.  There were also two other cars in front of me.

None of us could pass the truck because a solid yellow line divided, for the most part, the two-lane highway.  Since it appeared that I was not going to be able to pass, I decided to just settle back and enjoy the scenery, enjoy the present moment.

During the next three to four miles of my ride, here is what transpired and how I feel it relates to our grief journeys:

* The car directly in front of me attempted to pass the Wal-Mart truck, realized that he couldn’t and got back behind it.  During my early grief, there were days that I wanted to get around my pain or just simply avoid it. When I attempted to do that, it just made my emotional pain worse. I learned that the only way to deal with my pain was to ride it out, until it became tolerable. Also, the driver recognized his limitations in that situation. At any time during our grief journeys, we need to recognize that there are certain situations that we may not be able to handle. Recognizing our limitations is a key ingredient in learning to take care of ourselves during our lifelong journeys.

* As I continued to enjoy the scenery around me and the present moment, the truck suddenly pulled onto the shoulder of the road and let us all pass.  I appreciated his thoughtfulness, particularly in this day and age where chivalry is sometimes an afterthought.  His action reminded me of two very important lessons that I have learned since Jeannine’s death. The first relates to the importance of dealing with our own pain by doing something nice for others.  Using our pain to help others is a key component of service work.  The second lesson relates to the importance of taking care of the present and letting the universe take care of the rest.  When I have been able to accomplish this, I have been able to find joy, meaning and develop a greater appreciation for those around me.  Being present-minded has also allowed me to appreciate the connectedness that I still have with Jeannine and her continuing influence in redefining who I am.

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 ( 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: is devoted to providing support and resources for individuals experiencing loss.


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  • Ruth says:

    all articles are a help to me now. my son passed Monday. it is fresh, it is raw i am reaching out whereever i can. i do not know what to do. your article is good. maybe it will help at some point. can you list resources you used to help cope

    • Dear Ruth,

      I am so sorry for the loss of your child. Go to Compassionate Friends. They are everywhere. Also, seek out a community with a spiritual center. Stay in nature. Take yourself to the sea and read every resource available. Talk to us here at Open to Hope.

      It’s a terrible place that you are in right now, so painful, crippling; and I remember it well.

      Kind regards to you,

      • Dave Roberts says:

        Hi Ruth:
        I also want to express my condolences to you for the death of your son. I know that I gave you my thoughts in an e-mail to you, but would also echo what MJ said to you as well. Any resources that you can reach out for will help you adjust to a new reality and find joy and meaning again.

  • Hi Dave,

    Yes, surrendering to the present moment. It’s a challenge some days to let it all be and I think more for those of us who have lost a child for we see the futility of trying to control things that we simply could not with our own child’s death. It’s a primary reason I’ve been doing yoga for the past year.

    Thanks for helping us to remember to pause, breathe and trust a little more each day and to reach out to others. You do that so well, Dave.

    Here’s my little story on “Summer Love” with some suggestions of how to help others at the tale’s end

    Warm regards,

    • Dave Roberts says:

      Hi MJ:
      Thank you for your kind words on my article and for your validation in general. You do a great job reminding us of the importance of mindfulness in helping us navigating through grief and reaching out to others as well. You are right about the challenges of staying in the present moment. I have found massage therapy and acupuncture to be helpful in facilitating mindfulness for me.

      Thanks for all that you do to provide hope and support for the bereaved.

      P.S. I loved your Summer Love article
      Take care