By Dave Roberts

Musical Serendipity

Since my daughter Jeannine’s death in 2003, the music of Tom Petty, The Counting Crows, The Wallflowers, Rush, Sting and Jackson Browne have allowed me to sit with the many emotions of grief and has provided clarity and created awareness, in the aftermath  of her death. 

There were many times that my daughter signaled her presence to me through the music that we shared. One memorable experience, was during her eleventh angelversary date of March 1,2014. That morning I spent some quiet time inviting Jeannine into my sacred space and sharing my gratitude for the relationship that we shared (and continue to share today) and the teachings that she revealed to me about life and death. 

I  burned some incense and shuffled a playlist of songs that I had created  for my iPod ,prior to the 1st of March. The first two songs that came on were by the Gin Blossoms and The Goo Goo Dolls. The first concert that Jeannine and I went to was at the New York State Fair when she was 13. The Goo Goo Dolls were the opening act for the Gin Blossoms.

We also shared other memorable concert experiences until her death at the age of eighteen.

Born to Fly

I was recently reminded that Sara Evans was one of my deceased daughter Jeannine’s favorite recording artists. In fact, I recall seeing her album, “Born to Fly” among Jeannine’s collection of compact discs. I added this album to my Spotify playlist and once I began listening, quickly understand why she liked Sara Evans so much. These three lines from the title track sum up my daughter’s philosophy on life quite nicely:

And how do you keep your feet on the ground
When you know
That you were born, (you were born, yeah), you were born to fly

Scattered and Scarred

With any music that inevitably strengthens the eternal bond with my daughter, I pay close attention to song lyrics that either promote further reflection and/or has something more to reveal about loss:

Cause when we’re torn apart
Shattered and scarred
Love has the grace to save us 

This passage is from the second song on Sara Evans’ “Born to Fly” album, called Saints and Angels and is one of the more powerful ballads on the album.

This passage precipitated a return to my early days of grief after the death of Jeannine. Reflecting on memories past, can be an uncomfortable process for many in early grief. I was no exception. In early grief, reflecting on my past with Jeannine led to intense emotional pain because of her physical absence in the present, and because of a future that I could not envision without her.

I was definitely torn apart after my daughter’s death. In fact ,most days I felt as if someone had ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped all over it. The rules that helped make my world safe, orderly and predictable were shattered into millions and millions of little pieces.

Today, a return to  the early days of grief does not have the same effect on my psyche. I have learned that ,if we let it, our past can be a rich source of information for us in the present. Looking back allows us to retrace our steps and conceptualize the progress made after life-altering loss. Our past is undeniably a part of who we have become in the present, and its influence can’t be denied. Revisiting our pain in early grief also serves as a wise mentor, if only to remind us of the fact that we possess the resilience to work through it.

Also, as Saints and Angels suggests, Love has the grace to save us. This is unequivocally true following the death of a loved one. When we embrace love for ourselves and others, our passion for service, and life returns, and our loved ones legacies live on for eternity.

Pain Demands to Be Felt

There is a great line from Gus Waters, one of the main characters in a brilliant book by John Green, called: “The Fault in Our Stars.” Gus utters this line to his girlfriend Hazel Grace Lancaster, both of whom are dealing with the challenges of cancer:

“Pain demands to be felt.” 

There were many times in early grief after Jeannine’s death that I did not acquiesce to pain’s demands. It was only when I could honor my pain that my metamorphosis began.

The scars that I have developed as a result of the challenges with my daughter’s death are not visible to the naked eye, but are a reminder that ,if we live long enough, tragedy will , at some point, become us. We can choose to let tragedy overwhelm us, or we can choose to rise above it .

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. He is also the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley.

Mr. Roberts has contributed articles to the Huffington Post blog, Open to Hope Foundation, The Grief Toolbox, Recovering the Self Journal and Medium. To find out more about Mr. Roberts’ work please visit www.bootsyandangel.com or email him at : bootsyandangel@gmail.com   

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