The Importance of Transient Angels in our Grief Journeys

 The Power in Moments

I  believe that some people were meant to grace us with their presence for a brief moment in time… never to be heard from again. However, the effect that they had on us in that moment helped us negotiate a moment or series of moments during a difficult transition in our lives. I want to introduce you to the “transient angels” who were an inspiration to me in the early phase of my  journey after my daughter Jeannine died on March 1, 2003, at the age of 18.

Divine Intervention

Before I proceed, I need to backtrack just a bit. I began to teach part time in the psychology department at Utica College in January of 2003, two months before Jeannine crossed over. I had applied for teaching positions in the summer of 2002, which was a period during Jeannine’s illness where she seemed to be responding positively to chemotherapy. I was eventually hired by Utica College in September of 2002. 

Before Jeannine’s illness, I knew that I wanted to teach at the college level after completing my graduate studies. I believe now that divine intervention contributed to me being hired at Utica College.  

Utica College has not only been my employer, but a community whose faculty, staff and students have inspired me to find meaning in the aftermath of catastrophic loss. Spirit determined that I needed a community of support established before Jeannine crossed over.

My Transient Angels

Approximately a week after Jeannine’s death, I was sitting in the Continuing Education office at Utica College talking with the staff. They were also aware of the challenges that Jeannine’s illness had presented to our family, and of her death.  I had cancelled my evening class  the week of Jeannine’s death and did not want to cancel a second class. 

It would have been impossible to make up for lost time; a second cancellation would not have been fair to my students. Simultaneously, I was wondering how I would muster up the energy, concentration and enthusiasm to get through the material for that evening’s class. My gas tank was beyond empty. 

At that moment, the chairperson of the psychology department walked into the office and simply said to me: “I am so sorry for the loss of your daughter.”  I was moved by the warmth and genuineness behind his words. His kindness and acknowledgment of my family’s loss, and mine, energized me enough to get through my three- hour class. I didn’t have contact with him again for eight years, but when I did, I told him how much his kindness touched me and inspired me.

My other transient angels have been the many Utica College students who enrolled in my classes and touched me with their love, validation and support. There were days that I didn’t have the energy to do much, but they allowed me to feed off of their energy. The love that I have for Jeannine, spilled out to my students, and as a result my life had renewed focus.

I haven’t had contact with many of my students since they have graduated, but their impact on me will last until I enter eternal life. Each semester, my students became a part of my community of support that helped me survive my early pain and eventually thrive in the face of catastrophic loss.  The faces may have changed, but the impact was the same.

Four White Stallions

She had four white stallions coming around the bend

Four strong angels at her command descend

Four more seasons for all that’s broken to mend.


From the song “Four White Stallions” by Tender Mercies

Written by Kurt Stevenson and Patrick Winningham 

Recently, I heard a wonderful cover version by The Counting Crows of a song originally performed by Tender Mercies, called “Four White Stallions”. The lyrics do not specifically address the impact of transient angels during our journeys, but I believe the above passage can be applied here.

Our transient angels can materialize in the form of animals whose momentary appearance reveal long-lasting teachings can provide us with insight and clarity in our journeys.  I have discovered more often than not that any animal that has crossed my path represented a teaching that was relevant to me in the present moment.

These angels can also appear in the form of people who show us gentleness and compassion at the moment we need it most, during any season of our grief.

All that is part of the universe can help us mend or transform what is broken due to the death of our children. All that is required for this to occur is to embrace the possibility that the support of transient angels can take many different forms; at our command they will descend.

The length of time that our transient angels of support are present is not significant.  The impact that they have on our journeys is the true measure of their value.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Dr. Seuss

David Roberts

More Articles Written by David

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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