The Musical Journey of Grief

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember; music has always helped me navigate major transitions in my life. After the death of my daughter Jeannine in 2003 due to cancer, music helped me put words to her illness and the aftermath of her death. Later in my grief journey, music assisted me (and continues to assist me) in redefining myself due to my struggle with her physical absence.

The lyrics and music of The Wallflowers, The Counting Crows, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty were very instrumental in my grief Journey. Figuratively, these musicians and others became a part of my community that helped me adjust to my new reality and allowed me to maintain my connection to Jeannine.

I want to show you how this process worked for me through the lyrics of two songs by the Wallflowers. The first set of lyrics is from a song called “Here in Pleasantville:

I need to tell you now

As we leave

That it’s much worse than you would believe

And no matter how far you think you’ve been

The beginning is where you are

So I am using my last match

To put a fire up on every hill

And burn down Pleasantville

From the song “Here in Pleasantville,” by The Wallflowers

Lyrics by Jakob Dylan (2002)

These lyrics represented how I felt when Jeannine was first diagnosed with cancer. Her diagnosis and poor prognosis for recovery shattered the foundation of my values that kept me safe and my world predictable.

I was terrified of losing my only daughter whom I loved more than life itself. I felt like a toddler that had to learn to walk all over again and was faced with the unenviable task of learning to negotiate a world that was becoming increasingly scary and uncertain to me. Pleasantville, as I knew it, burned to the ground.  In retrospect, it had to burn down because the values and assumptions that were sacred to me no longer applied to a battle of life and death.

The second set of lyrics is also from another song by The Wallflowers called The Beautiful Side of Somewhere :

I am ready to wake up

There in the exodus

On the beautiful side of somewhere

I am ready to come down

And see us both somehow

On the beautiful side of somewhere, someday

From the song, “The Beautiful Side of Somewhere,” by The Wallflowers

Lyrics by Jakob Dylan (2006)

Until Jeannine died, I never believed in ongoing connections with the spirit world. The concept seemed too abstract to me.  If I could not fully experience something with my senses, it simply did not exist in my world.

After her death, there were several events (butterflies, hearing a song that we both loved when I was feeling sad) that radically changed my views and convinced me of her everlasting presence.

As I progress in my journey, I have learned that there is a beautiful side of somewhere; a world where relationships endure after death and a world where life continues. I hope that the lessons I have learned go with me for eternity when my life on earth ends.

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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