Grief stricken: Surviving the death of a loved one

By Barbara Pierce


“Darkness and despair were my constant companions. I couldn’t comprehend how I could live in a world without the physical presence of my daughter.”
This is how Dave Roberts describes the time after his 18-year-old daughter died of cancer.

“I thought my life was over when she died. My world was shattered beyond recognition,” said the adjunct professor of psychology at Utica College. He is also a licensed master social worker as well as a writer specializing in grief and loss. “I was wracked with guilt and anger that I did not prevent her death.”

We fear our death, but we fear even more that death will take a loved one from us. “For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by, and leave us there alone,” says author Fredrick Bachman.

“You learn to live day by day,” Roberts said. “You learn to manage your grief. There’s finally a time when your grief becomes softer and more manageable. I had to wallow in the muck of grief before I could wallow through it.

“For two years after her death, the daily pain I experienced was identical to the pain that occurs when a scab gets violently and repeatedly ripped off of an arm. Trying to figure out why my daughter pre-deceased me further intensified my emotional pain. It is unnatural for any parent to bury their child.”

Each of us must find our own way in our journey through grief. “You will get through it because you have no choice really,” says David Kushner in his book, “Alligator Candy,” about the death of his brother. “No matter what you may feel now, there’s something built-in that enables most human beings to get through this.

“The death cannot be undone. You will continue to live and you will return, a different person, to the life others define as normal.”

“Perhaps the most important thing I have discovered is the need to be gentle with ourselves,” Roberts said. Accept your pain; pain is a partner to healing. In time it will lessen.

“There’s no getting over loss,” Roberts commented. “We can, however, learn to live with meaning in a world that is different after loss.” Roberts shared how he got through the muck of grief:

“Transformation after loss begins with simple intent and the courage to move forward,” he suggests.

Anger toward God

With intent to move forward, Roberts attended a bereaved parents’ support group. A transition came when he expressed to the facilitator, Sister Rose, the anger he felt toward God for taking his daughter away.

“At that moment, my eyes filled with tears. It was a relief to unload a burden that I’d been carrying with a trusted person. Sister Rose simply said: ‘What if God is just as sad as you are?’”

Find your passion for service, Roberts recommended. As chapter leader for the Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley, a support group that offers friendship, understanding, and hope to bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings, Roberts says, “We provide support to those who have lost a child of any age, and we provide tools to get through grief.”

Grief groups help many. They provide a place where you can show your pain and suffering to others who genuinely understand. It’s a place where you can begin to heal.

“Surrender to the need not to know,” suggested Roberts. For a long period of time after my daughter’s death, I asked a lot of ‘what if?’ and ‘why?’ questions. I never got an answer that satisfied me or changed the fact that she died. Once I stopped asking the questions, I got the clarity that I needed.”

“One of the best ways I’ve discovered to turn sadness into joy is by demonstrating your love for an animal,” adds Roberts. “I have two beautiful cats who willingly let me shower them with affection and who give me unconditional love in return.

“Spending time in nature, such as taking walks or sitting outside in the quiet, has helped to give me joy.”

Roberts said not to wait for signs of your loved ones’ presence to experience moments of peace.

“Create your own peace by inviting them into your world,” Roberts advised.

“We need not walk alone,” says The Compassionate Friends website. “We reach out to each other with love, with understanding, and with hope. Your pain becomes my pain, just as your hope becomes my hope.”

The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley has no religious affiliation and no membership fees.

There are two meetings each month — at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday at Stittville United Methodist Church, and at 6 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday at The Good News Center in Utica.

The next meeting dates are May 9 and May 23.

“We try to make everyone feel welcome,” Roberts said. “It’s a discussion format. People share to the extent they feel comfortable. It’s normal to feel drained after the first meeting, because you hear so much sadness in other’s stories.”

For more information, see the website To contact the Compassionate Friends, email or call 315-736-8684.