Originally published November 2013.
“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere,
you find yourself.” – Author Unknown
As a parent who has experienced the death of a child, there were many days that I found myself in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t need to leave my house to find the middle of nowhere.
Nowhere was a state of mind for me in early grief, after my 18-year-old daughter Jeannine died in 2003. I didn’t know where I was, where I was going or how I was going to get there. My life was characterized by profound darkness and gloom. Eventually what I discovered is that if you sit with darkness long enough, you begin to see some light amidst that darkness. Once we begin to see light, hope for a present and future without the physical presence of our children begins to take shape.
Stittville Travels and Lessons Learned
There are still days when darkness seems to find me. I have accepted these intermittent returns to the land of nowhere as an inevitable part of our transformative journeys following the death of our children. I have also given thanks to the teachings darkness has revealed to me.
Recently, I went to church services at The Stittville United Methodist Church. Stittville is a little hamlet in Upstate New York located about eight miles from my home. Our Compassionate Friends chapter meets at the church on a monthly basis.
Many people in our area believe that Stittville is located in the middle of nowhere, because it is such a small and rural town. However, I would like to think that many of our families are beginning to find themselves … in the middle of nowhere.
“There is trouble in my mind, There is dark, there is dark and there is light.”
From the song Empire of My Mind, lyrics by Jakob Dylan
After church services I drove home, because of the little traffic that I encountered, I began to survey the scenery. Here is what I discovered:
- Though it was a dark, overcast day, there were definite discernible, brilliant patches of brightness. In early grief, it is a challenge to see any ray of hope amidst the profound sadness and pain that we experience. For me, it was my ability to see the light in darkness that helped me begin the process of redefining myself.
- Fall in Upstate New York, means that leaves on the trees change colors. There was a colorful array of red, orange and golden brown leaves that caught my eye. Native American culture encourages us to discover the teachings that are a part of the world around us. Ted Andrews, a brilliant Native American Teacher, alludes to the positive qualities of colors in his book, Animal Speaks. When I got home, I consulted his book to see what teachings I could discover from the colors that I observed. The color brown’s qualities are grounded and new growth. Orange is indicative of warmth, joy and creativity. Red signifies passion and strength. Certainly as a result of the challenges presented by Jeannine’s death I developed and nurtured many of these qualities during my journey. The messages I received from nature that day seemed to validate the path that I have chosen to take. How we interpret what we see in nature is always a product of our unique experiences and to what is transpiring with us in the present.
- In the quiet of nowhere, we learn to trust our intuition and inner voice. In the middle of nowhere, the process of transformation begins. The process of transformation is unique to the individual. I have discovered invaluable teachings by witnessing without judgment, the transformative journeys of others affected by loss.
Dealing With Darkness
In the 11th year of my journey as a parent who has experienced the death of a child, I still experience dark moments and days, but I have no desire to let darkness consume me like it did in early grief. I strive to discover meaning in darkness; teachings that can enrich my journey.
I also believe that I have developed more spiritual awareness in the last few years of my journey. I have felt empowered by my willingness to look for and embrace the connectivity and synchronicities in my life. I have also come to understand that there is reasons beyond the obvious that contribute to the paths our journeys take.
Acknowledging My Humanness
Spiritual awareness hasn’t made me less immune to the challenges presented by Jeannine’s death. Embracing the ethereal has allowed me to learn from my humanness. Acknowledging our limitations without judgment and stating our intent to address or manage them over time is a sign of spiritual growth. The absence of self-judgment translates to the presence of self-love and the hope that in the middle of nowhere, we can find ourselves.
David J. Roberts, LMSW, CASAC, became a parent who experienced the death of a child, after his daughter Jeannine died of cancer in March 2003 at the age of 18. He is a retired addiction professional and is also an adjunct professor in the psychology and psychology-child life departments at Utica College, Utica, New York. You can read more of his work here.