My Father's Gift: A Context for Grief

As Father’s Day approaches, I remember my father not so much for the memories that we created when he was alive, but for the memories that he is helping me create now.  My father, Austin Marion Roberts was only in my life for 5 years, after which time he left me and my mother Sadie. I never heard from him again and at age fourteen discovered that he had died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when he was only 40 years old.  Though my father was only in my life for a short time, I love him more now than I ever have.  Human law can’t measure what he has taught me and continues to teach me.


During the last three years of my life, I have looked at my father’s choice to leave from a different perspective. What I once viewed as an act of abandonment, I now see as an act of love.

Reclaiming My History

You must embrace your past, if you want to change your present- Debbie Ford, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers.

What I have discovered is that what we disown or try to separate ourselves from, usually resurfaces, demanding to be addressed. Until we choose to address it and/or transform it, it will not go away.  After my mother’s death in 1994, any history of my father and his family died with her. I also chose not to explore further, particularly after my mother told me, a year prior to her death, that my father had challenges with substance abuse and infidelity. She also told me that I had a stepbrother, Patrick, from a previous marriage of my father’s.  In retrospect, I was angry because she held onto this information about my father. I used that anger as justification for abnegating my father and his family history.

However, twenty-two years later the universe had a different plan. Through pure serendipity, I discovered on April 6th of this year, that I have a first cousin, three generations removed, on my father’s side of the family.  In one of the e-mails Jo Anne sent me she told me that there were several in our family including my paternal grandmother whom were married more than once. They also led nomadic lifestyles and danced with alcohol abuse, gambling and mental illness.. As a human service professional, I encountered many individuals with these kinds of challenges. Though I didn't embark on the same life path as my father and his family, their history is inextricably woven into my DNA, and for me, explains, in part why I was able to develop an almost immediate rapport with individuals from dysfunctional backgrounds. I also further understood the decision my father made to leave.

Teachings From My Father

Here is what my father’s life and afterlife has revealed to me so far:

  • 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 and my family.

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

  •  Not to leave any stone unturned in our own personal quests to redefine ourselves after catastrophic loss or life altering transitions.
  • That what you do doesn’t define who you are.
  • If we look beyond dysfunction, we discover the hidden gifts within. Behind the mask of alcohol abuse, gambling and nomadism that characterized my father’s family were there belief in free will, non-conventional thinking and adventurism. These are qualities that can certainly enhance our life paths regardless of what those paths may be.
  • Everything is truly connected.  Jeannine and my father never met in their lifetimes, but Jeannine’s death compelled me to look at everything in my life differently including my ancestral relationships.  Jeannine’s death, taught me about my father’s life .  I  also cannot overlook the influence of “The Billy Factor,” in my recent life discoveries. The Afterlife of Billy Fingers by Annie Kagan was strongly recommended to me approximately two years ago by a friend who is not one to make spontaneous book recommendations.. I discovered that the book was released on March 1,2013, the 10th angelversary of my daughter Jeannine’s death.  Though I had long believed in the existence of an afterlife, the connection of this book to Jeannine’s angelversary date necessitated that I read it.  Billy danced with addiction during his lifetime. After his death, 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 paths that my father and his ancestors chose to walk.  I was able to fully embrace the gifts of their dysfunction and reclaim a part of my history that I thought was forever lost.  


About the Author
I became a parent who experienced the death of a child after my daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. I am a retired addiction professional and am also an adjunct professor in the psychology and psychology-child life departments at Utica College. In 2007, I established Bootsy and Angel Books, LLC( The mission of Bootsy and Angel Books is to provide information, support, and services to individuals and families who have experienced the death of a child or other catastrophic losses. I have presented workshops at national conferences of The Compassionate Friends since 2008 and at gatherings of the Bereaved Parents of the USAin 2009 , 2011 and 2012. I have been a keynote speaker for national gathering of the Bereaved Parents of the USA in both 2011 and 2015. I am also the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley. I have contributed articles to Living with Loss Magazine ,We Need Not Walk Alone, Hello Grief and Recovering the Self Journal. I have co-authored two books with Linda Findlay of Mourning Discoveries on navigating through grief during the holidays and pet loss. I am a contributing writer for the Open to Hope Foundation and have also appeared on Healing the Grieving Heart and the Open to Hope Television show.. I am also a featured speaker, workshop presenter and coach for Aspire Place( You can also find me on Facebook at:
I'm Grieving, Now What?