Robin Roberts made made me grieve but, strangely, it was a happy grief

Robin Roberts of ABC’s Good Morning America made me grieve and sob Monday when she accepted the Walter Cronkite Excellence in Journalism Award. Strangely it became a sort of happy grief.

Roberts has navigated the same journey as my wife Jean–cancer and then a Myelodysplastic syndrome blood disorder (MDS). Roberts survived. Jean did not.

Grieving spouses I have talked to candidly tell me “I found it hard to hear about people who made it.” I admit I initially had the same feeling. I was often incredibly jealous when I heard someone had survived cancer or an MDS. I also found myself doing a slow burn when I would see a happy couple in their 60’s and 70’s. I just couldn’t help but ask “why did they make it so long and I will never see a 40th wedding anniversary.” I am ashamed to admit those feelings but I would be surprised it it’s not a pretty common characteristic of grief.

Yet, as Roberts told her tale of triumph I cried for Jean and felt joy and happiness for Roberts. Roberts survival has clearly meant so much to her fans with her platform and her inspirational messages. She has done a lot of good. She tells her fans she has been molded by the three D’s taught to her by her parents. “Determination, drive and da Lord.” She is a clear believer and the crowd noticeably buzzed when she advised “When fear knocks, let Faith open the door.”

I had a chance to say a few words to Roberts in a private conversation. I told her that Jean’s journey was similar but she had lost. Roberts was generous enough to say “but her journey had value too.”

That is a hard message to appreciate because my wife is gone, but if  I am honest with myself I think it is true. I have been struck by the number of people over 60 who have told me that Jean’s death provoked conversations between spouses about the possibility of losing each other. That makes me proud. It’s a small victory if  Jean’s passing and my grief have forced couples to confront hard questions about their future, but it is a victory.

The other emotion that overwhelmed me as I listened to Roberts inspirational words is that life is for the living and I must make the most of every day.

I am certain I heard Roberts Monday in an authentic way which I would have been incapable of 30 days ago.