The Gifts From My Past and “The Billy Factor”

Since the first week of April, my life has been a whirlwind of events which has redefined my history , my present and perhaps my future.  These events and teachings are summarized in this piece titled : The Quest for Wholeness  that I recently submitted to the Huff Post Blog . Following is some additional thoughts that  have  come to mind since then.

  • For me ,living in the present moment is an illusion. The teachings of my past, particularly as it relates to recent discoveries about my father’s side of the family have helped me understand my present choices more fully. It has also helped me to understand the paths that I embraced to get to where I am today.
  • When we choose to learn from our past and let our history become a teacher to us in the present, a rich part of our life experience has been restored.
  • Having a context or set of conditions to understand our present day path is crucial to redefining ourselves after catastrophic loss. I have discovered that there has been a history of both child loss and sibling loss on my father’s side of the family. As I have also experienced the death of a child, I  believe  that this teaching from The Afterlife of Billy Fingers by Annie Kagan, truly applies to me:

We signed up to do this dance together before we were born

  •  Don’t leave any stone unturned in your own personal quest to redefine yourself after catastrophic loss or life altering transitions. The recent  rich teachings from my ancestors have really reinforced this point for me.
  •  Truth exists before we become evident of its existence in our own lives.
  • I am blessed to discover that I have living family on my father Austin Marion Roberts’ side .I look forward to creating new family memories with my cousin Jo Anne. Before I was simply content to be around my “soul family” or those individuals who have had a profound influence on redefining my perspective after my daughter Jeannine’s death in 2003.
  • The universe’s plan is always better than ours.
  • My father was only in my life for five years ,but I love him more now than I ever have. What he taught me can’t be measured by human law.
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Me and my dad ,Austin Roberts circa 1955. I know that I was truly loved.

  • I can not overlook the influence of “The Billy Factor,” in my recent life discoveries. The Afterlife of Billy Fingers  by Annie Kagan was recommended to me by a friend who walks a very sacred path. As she is not one to make spontaneous book recommendations, my curiosity was automatically aroused. I discovered that the book was released on March 1,2013, the 10th angelversary of my daughter Jeannine’s death.Billy  danced with addiction during his lifetime. After his death(or rebirth to a new existence) ,he ascended to the status of a highly evolved and  wise spirit ,communicating divine truths to his sister on earth. The book validated all of what I believe about the afterlife, but in retrospect did much more. Understanding the context of Billy’s life path prepared me to embrace without judgment the life path that my father and his ancestors chose to walk. In fact ,I was able to fully embrace the gifts of their dysfunction and reclaim a part of my history that I thought was forever lost.  

I would rather be whole than good- Carl Jung

Behind Every Face: Some Thoughts For The New Year

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Here are some things that I have been thinking about since before the start of the New Year:

1) The older I get, the more my past has to teach me. Because of that I don’t label a moment that I experience, as a present moment. It is simply a moment.

2) I was at dinner this past New Years Eve with some friends , when I was asked if I had any resolutions or new things I wanted to experience in 2015. I simply said no,much to everyone’s surprise. I have gotten away from trying to script any experiences for myself, because of the limitations that imposes. I simply prefer to be open to any experience that continues to be a teacher to me.

3) In the 27 years that I worked in substance abuse counseling I never came close to being a victim of physical violence. I think it was because I was respectful in all of my interactions with individuals with substance use disorder and tried to understand what motivated their actions in certain situations.

4) I was in New York earlier in December, at the time that protests were occurring over the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner case. I was walking in Rockefeller Center on Friday evening with my friend Patty Furino when we came across a black security guard with whom we immediately struck up a conversation. In the course of 15 minutes, we discovered that in the last six years of his life he had challenges resulting from homelessness and the death of his mother due to cancer. Yet he transcended those challenges through hard work, determination and an indomitable resolve. We can discover beauty and grace in the midst of challenging circumstances, all we need to do is commit to discovering it.

5) My encounter in New York reminds me of a line from a song by The Wallflowers: “Behind every face is the mask of another” and that regardless of outward appearance ,we are all cut from the same DNA. We are all truly one.

6) I had a brief dream visit from my daughter Jeannine last night. We were in the kitchen of our home. She looked beautiful and radiant, as I always remembered her . All she said to me is that : “We need to be up tomorrow by 4:00 am.” I haven’t yet searched for the meaning or symbolism of her words. If there is any meaning to her words,  it will be revealed to me in time. I was just happy that she wanted to visit.

7) There is truth and the illusion of truth. Both are crucial in shaping our life path.

8) There are individuals who disguise service to others as service to themselves, and there are individuals who are truly about the message and not ego. Learn to know the difference.

9) With the passage of every year, I am increasingly grateful that Jeannine chose me to be her father. With the passage of every year, I am increasingly grateful that my sons Dan and Matt,and Jeannine’s brothers, chose me to be their father.

10) I will end with a great quote that I discovered from a Facebook site called: Let the Wolves Run Free: ” Unless you learn to face your own shadows, you will continue to see them in others,because the world outside of you is only a reflection of the world inside of you.” I will continue to peck at my shadows.

Taking The Bereaved Out of Parent

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

An Undeniable Thread of Connection: Mother, Daughter, Sting and Thomas Cole

Sadie and Sting

My mother Sadie Roberts died at age 77, on March 11, 1994 of a massive bacterial infection. For  some time after her death, I listened to an album by Sting called The Soul Cages.  He wrote the lyrics and music to grieve the death of his father. Listening to it was a cathartic almost surreal experience. Sting’s music and singing allowed  me to get in touch with the visceral experience that accompanied my mother’s death. Beyond that ,I saw no other connection with anything past or present in my life at that time. However as has been the case for me recently, I have looked at my past  experiences through a lens that has been altered because of my daughter and Sadie’s granddaughter Jeannine’s death in 2003. I felt it was time again to revisit The Soul Cages.

Jeannine and my mother shared a close bond. Jeannine was almost 11 when my mother died and she took it very hard. Little did I know , on 3/1/03 Jeannine would be reunited with my mother for all of eternity.

End of Life Synchronicities

Two priests came round our house tonight

One young,one old,to offer prayers for the dying

To serve the final rite

From the song “All This Time”, by Sting

From the album: The Soul Cages

On the day of my mother’s death, she was administered the prayer of the sick and last rites on two separate occasions by two priests, one young and one old.  A few days before Jeannine died a young priest and older deacon administered the prayers of the sick to her.  I had always ,before today, viewed my mother’s and Jeannine’s end of life journeys as separate ,because they occurred several years apart. However, the similarities of their end of  life rituals indicated there was a teaching or teaching yet to be discovered.

The Voyage of Life

And all this time

the river flowed

endlessly to the sea

From the song “All This Time”, by Sting

I shared my observations with my wife Cheri about the almost identical rituals that were conducted at the end of life with our mother and daughter. She immediately directed my attention to four portraits on our wall, depicting The Voyage of Life by Thomas Cole. The following information has been retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Voyage_of_Life

The Voyage of Life, painted by Thomas Cole in 1842, is a series of paintings that represent an allegory of the four stages of human life: childhood, youth, manhood, and old age.Allegory is a literary device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. The paintings follow a voyager who travels in a boat on a river through the mid-19th-century American wilderness. In each painting, accompanied by a guardian angel. The voyager rides the boat on the River of Life. The landscape, corresponding to the seasons of the year, plays a major role in telling the story.  In childhood, the infant glides from a dark cave into a rich, green landscape. As a youth, the boy takes control of the boat and aims for a shining castle in the sky. In manhood, the adult relies on prayer and religious faith to sustain him through rough waters and a threatening landscape. Finally, the man becomes old and the angel guides him to heaven across the waters of eternity. 

The River of Life manifests differently in each of the paintings as  the voyager progresses through the four stages of life: 

To the child,the river is smooth and narrow, symbolizing the sheltered experience of childhood. To the youth, the calm river becomes rough, choppy, and full of rocks. In manhood, the youth has grown into an adult and now faces the trials of life. The river has become a terrible rush of white water with menacing rocks, dangerous whirlpools, and surging currents. The warm sunlight of youth has been clouded over with dark and stormy skies and torrential rains. The trees have become wind-beaten, gnarled, leafless trunks. The fresh grass is gone, replaced by hard and unforgiving rock.The final painting Old Age, is an image of death. The man has grown old; he has survived the trials of life. The waters have calmed; the river flows into the waters of eternity. The withered old voyager has reached the end of earthly time. In the distance, angels are descending from heaven, while the guardian angel hovers close, gesturing toward the others. The man is once again joyous with the knowledge that faith has sustained him through life. 

Awestruck

I am in awe that both young and old were represented in almost identical fashion during both my mother’s and daughter’s end of life journey. There is an undeniable thread of connection between their transitions from life to death. There is also no denying that my mother’s and daughter’s voyages of life contained many moments of joy as well as many significant challenges, which at times made their waters rough .  I also believe that their faith in God or a higher power sustained them until their earthly time ended and their eternal time began. Jeannine’s voyage of life was short in terms of human law, but not on the depth of her experience.

I also discovered insights regarding life and death through Sting’s 20th century music and Thomas Cole’s 19th century art, two different forms of expression in two different eras.  When there is that much clarity between the past and present, the past not only becomes our teacher,but experienced almost simultaneously in the present.

 

“I know this much: that there is objective time, but also subjective time, the kind you wear on the inside of your wrist, next to where the pulse lies. And this personal time, which is the true time, is measured in your relationship to memory.”  

Julian Barnes- The Sense of an Ending

 

Perhaps the insights we develop when revisiting past events in our life is not due to recalled memories but evolved memories. Because of the teachings that I  have continually discovered during my journey following Jeannine’s death, memories of past events have different meanings for me   As more teachings continue to be revealed , my past memories will develop additional or totally changed meanings for me.Recalled memories in its pure form can at times, be painful because of the trauma that is attached to them. Evolved memories come from a greater understanding of the synchronicities in the universe and help an individual develop clarity during his/her life experience, while dealing with the challenges presented by death or other life altering transitions.

A Day of Rebirth

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Unconditional and  Never-Ending Love
Today(3/1/14) marks the eleventh angelversary date of my daughter Jeannine’s death. In this moment, I look at her death as a rebirth into a new life in a world that is governed by unconditional, never-ending love, bliss and the absence of malice and rancor.  Jeannine and I share a pure spiritual relationship that embodies all of those positive qualities that are in her world.  I do at times yearn for her physical presence, and I believe she at times yearns for mine. Whenever I receive a sign from her ,I like to believe it is because she yearns for my physical presence, as well as the physical presence of my wife and two sons.  When a spirit makes themselves known to you, they are making themselves known to all that is a part of you.

The Gift of Peace
This morning I spent some quiet time inviting Jeannine into my sacred space and sharing my gratitude for the relationship that we continue to share and the teachings that she continues to reveal to me about life, death and the value of a life.  I also encouraged her to continue to evolve spiritually and if she so chose, to make herself part of the universal intelligence that guides all who walk in awareness to do so with honor and integrity and to help them  inspire others to do the same. To empower Jeannine to continue to evolve in her new life, is the greatest gift that I can continue to give her as her father. It is the greatest gift that I can give to myself,  for it is the gift of peace.

Changing our Inner Landscape

I had an appointment to get my hair cut( actually to get all of them cut), when I looked at the landscape around me and commented to Jeannine that not much changed since her day of rebirth,but that it was OK, nonetheless. That is the cool thing about nature, that there is a consistency in landscape, a landscape characterized by unconditional beauty that we can find anywhere we look. Of course, after our loved ones cross over, the pain ,anger,  and disconnectedness that we experience clouds our perspective and contributes to us overlooking  the magnificence of nature. However, once our inner landscape is transformed because of our desire and intent to see death differently, we again begin to appreciate nature’s splendor and beauty. So our transformed selves, allows us to see the same things differently.

Starting Year 12

Jeannine crossed over on 12:30am on March 1,2003. As of 12:31 am, I started year 12 of my new life path without her physical  presence. Here are my thoughts as I begin year 12:

  •  I can’t believe that it has been 12 years.
  •  I look forward to the day when I can begin eternity with Jeannine and with my ancestors who have entered eternal life before her. I am not however in a hurry to begin that next phase of my existence. I am inspired about what Jeannine has taught me in spirit. I want to continue to be inspired and to inspire others for as long as I am permitted to do so. I also have a wonderful wife and life partner and two amazing sons, whose lives I want to be a part of for as long as I am permitted to do so.
  •  My present moments become more enriched when the past serves as my teacher. My future will also be  enriched as long as I continue to be mindful of this truth.
  • There is a great line from one of the characters in a book by John Green, called : The Failure in Our Stars.  The line is : “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.
  •  Every emotion that we experience , both positive and negative, is a crucial piece in the mosaic that comprises the path we walk after the death of our loved ones. We can learn from everything.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me ,validated me and loved me during the past 11 years of my life. Without you, I could not embrace the path I currently walk and will continue to walk.

Wishing you peace.