Next week, my wife and I will gather with several hundred bereaved parents in Orlando, Florida for the annual TCF, “The Compassionate Friends” conference.  We have been asked to serve on a panel with other bereaved parents. The theme:“As We Begin to Thaw.” 

Dave and Lora Krum will lead this panel discussion and are the very ones who chose the title. They understand how the loss of a child can fast-freeze your emotions and your entire sense of being.  The Krums have lost not one, but two young adolescent sons: Dylan and Gavin.

As I have been preparing for and pondering this subject (thawing out) I have been thinking back across the early years of our grief journey that began in 1991 when our eighteen-year-old son, Denny, suddenly died. In those days, both my wife and I had no desire to go on living. For all we knew, our lives were over. It was as though our hearts had been ripped from our chests. We muddled through each day like frozen zombies.

Sixteen years after his death, I was working on the manuscript of my first book, “Living After the Death Of My Son.”  In the chapter, “I Didn’t Cry This Morning,” I listed thirty “signs” that indicate a grieving parent might be thawing out.

  1. You don’t feel compelled to tell everyone–even strangers–about the death of your child.

  2. You don’t cry yourself to sleep every night.

  3. You sleep well and can awaken feeling rested.

  4. You can walk past his or her room and not be reduced to tears.

  5. You can go to the grocery store and not be upset when you see his or her favorite food on the shelf.

  6. Your food starts to taste good again, and your appetite returns.

  7. You have the desire to get out of bed and face the day.

  8. You can walk or drive past the place where he or she died and not be consumed by the pain of your loss.

  9. You’re no longer overwhelmed with sadness when you hear the lyrics to certain songs.

  10. You can place flowers on his or her grave and not be overcome with sadness.

  11. It becomes easier to face his or her birth and death dates on the calendar.

  12. You really do want to try to live again.

  13. You enjoy going to the place of worship and begin to feel renewed in your soul.

  14. You start noticing flowers, birds, the sky, and all living things in a new way.

  15. You have a strong desire to redeem your child’s death by using it to help others.

  16. You start to take an interest in a hobby or an interest you had before your child died.

  17. You have empathy for someone else who’s suffering a hardship.

  18. Your short-term memory starts to gradually return.

  19. You can look at your child’s picture and remember the good times instead of the pain of his or her death.

  20. You can talk with others about your child and laugh about the funny and interesting things he or she did.

  21. You look forward and plan for the holidays instead of dreading them.

  22. You can go to favorite restaurants and eat without thinking of the empty chair and the person who used to sit across from you.

  23. You can attend the milestone functions of your child’s friends and actually be happy for them instead of crying over what you’ll never have.

  24. You can look at other people’s children or grandchildren and actually be happy for the parents and grandparents.

  25. You have forgiven–or are trying to forgive–the person you feel is responsible for your child’s death.

  26. You can forgive yourself for things you said or things you should have said and didn’t.

  27. You have forgiven God for not stepping in and saving your child’s life.

  28. You have forgiven your child for his or her part in the death, especially if the child died by suicide.

  29. You catch yourself singing once again.

  30. You cherish your family and friends in a new way and find new ways to express your love for them.*

    Ask any bereaved parent and they will tell you that you never “get over” the death of a child. The late actor, Paul Newman once said, “You close on houses, not on the death of a child.”  He understood. He was also a part of this club of which no one wants to belong.

The grief gets, “different” and the edges around the hole in our hearts softens, but the hole is still there. 

In a future blog post, I will share the very first time the three of us (our son, my wife and I) laughed after Denny died.

Life After The Death of My Son…what I’m learning  Author: Dennis Apple
Published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, MO