Through My Own Lens
For several years after my 18 -year- old daughter Jeannine’s death in March of 2003, I commonly referred to myself as a bereaved parent . Today, as I embark on my 12th year of negotiating my world without Jeannine’s physical presence, I am no longer comfortable referring to myself as a bereaved parent. According to Robert Kastenbaum author of Death,Society and Human Experience,the actual definition of bereaved or bereavement is: “The status of having lost a family member, friend,colleague,or other significant person due to death.” This definition also brings to mind ,one who is constantly distraught and powerless due to experiencing the death of a child or significant person in their life. I can honestly say that I was in that state of mind in the early phase of my grief , but that doesn’t apply to me now. As we make a choice to look at things differently, so should how we view ourselves. I am no longer a bereaved parent in the sense of the word. Jeannine’s death is a part of my experience as a father, husband, teacher and friend. Her death was truly the most life altering event I have experienced in my life. I now celebrate her presence in different ways, knowing that who she has become and will continue to become ,will always be a part of me. Choosing to look at myself differently empowers me to be the author of my own life experience, and enables me to look at life through my own unique lens.
We Are Not Our Diagnoses
I am no stranger to the use of terms that attempt to label our experience as human beings. I worked in the human services field for 27 years and diagnostic labels were a big part of that world. Diagnosis, if done correctly, allowed human services professionals to develop accurate treatment interventions for individuals served. Diagnostic labels, if we allow them to, can also contribute to us defining individuals as their diagnosis. Because I am assessed as depressed ,doesn’t mean that is who I am. Any person has individual gifts and strengths that transcend their diagnostic labels. In other words, being depressed or chemically dependent is a part of that person’s experience, it is not the totality of their experience. Being a bereaved parent once defined my entire experience as a human being; it no longer does, nor will I let it .
Freedom to Discover
Does that mean, that I no longer yearn for the physical presence of my daughter nor choose to acknowledge the impact her absence has had on my life? Of course not; the yearnings will always be there and the impact of Jeannine’s death on my life always profound. I just choose to conceptualize Jeannine’s death in a way that fits how I now perceive my life experience. Choosing empowerment liberates me to continue to discover teachings as a result of the challenges presented by Jeannine’s death, without the traditional expectations attached to being bereaved.
We All Have Choices
Of course, we can choose to not grow from our challenges and stay stuck in an endless cycle of pain ,despair and self-pity. We can also choose to not avail ourselves of support and resources that will promote transformation of self. After all, we do possess free will. I believe however,that it is crucial for us to take ownership of the consequences we are willing to experience, good or bad. Ownership of our experience can also be a catalyst for change.
It is my hope that all of us who have experienced the death of a child or other catastrophic events can at some point make the choice to embrace a path of transformation,empowerment and continued evolvement .
“It is not how life is treating me, it is how I am treating life.”
Words of wisdom spoken to me by my deceased friend and mentor, Donald Kapes