Don't Let My Smile Fool You

           My 10-year-old son died over 4.5 years ago. My wife and daughter and I have done a very good job of moving forward, holding his memory close, and building a legacy of helping others in his name.  We are lucky that our love is strong enough for us to be able to do that. From a casual observer’s point of view, it might appear that we have “gotten over it.”


NOTHING could be further from the truth. For though we appear to be completely fine on the outside, there is still a raging river of sadness that moves within all three of us. We are not “Over it,” nor will we ever be. We have adjusted, and learned to live with the gaping hole in our hearts, but it has not, and will not, ever heal. And if you want proof, please allow me to relate a few moments from the past week that illustrate that point.

            My wife and I were flipping through the channels on TV last night, and I momentarily stopped on a movie on HBO which has been critically praised, and in fact we have recorded and look forward to watching at another time. But the moment we happened to tune into was a medical emergency, where someone was suddenly in extreme distress. My unease grew exponentially as the scene began to unfold. As I scrambled to grab the remote and change the channel, my wife, with notable distress filling her voice, requested I change the channel immediately. We both are prepared to watch this important and touching film when we are in the right mindset, but at that moment we were unprepared for an emergency medical scenario to unfold in front of us. Our boy died in a sports accident, and ever since, seeing scenes of people in medical distress, especially unexpected and graphic, throw us for a loop. It’s as if the only thing we see on the screen is our boy laying in the emergency room, breathing tube down his throat keeping him alive. As with the majority of our lives, we were in balance and the demons of having lost our boy were in balance and under control, but those sudden unexpected images brought it all back in an instant, and neither one of us could get that channel changed fast enough. It was painful. Sharp. Troubling. Certainly signs that neither of us are “Over” a damn thing.

            Perhaps the thing that really drove home the fact I am not “Over it” though was having a co-worker suffer an unexpected loss about a week ago. This wonderful woman, I’ll call her “Susan,” lost her 30-year-old son in an incident that happened in another state. He was there for some fun with friends when tragedy struck. I don’t know the details, and it doesn’t matter why, I just knew Susan was going through the worst thing anyone could. I instantly made myself available to others at our place of work for questions about what she was going through, and offered some advice on what we could do to help. The amazing people at our work rallied to provide meals and support in several ways. I also advised our co-workers of what kind of things they should avoid saying to Susan. Platitudes about being in a better place, or with God were not what she needed to hear. Susan just needed people to share stories about her son, share love, and listen to her express her loss. Many were very thankful I had offered up my tragically earned understanding. I felt I had really done some good in helping our group help Susan. And then unexpectedly, Susan showed up at work to offer her thanks for all we had done for her. I hugged her long and hard, and told her that right now there were lots of people around who were supporting her, but that when the people went away, back to their lives, that’s when the hardest part starts, and that I would be available for her then, just to listen if she needed. It was with these words that my grief and sadness came rushing back to me. My voice crumpled under emotion. Tears filled my eyes and ran down my face as she looked at me and simply said, “He was such a sweet boy.” Every thought and moment of loss I had suffered with my David was suddenly right in front of me, and I was reeling from the emotion. We hugged, and at that moment, this poor woman who had just lost her son gave me as much support and aid as I was giving her. Two lost souls who had suffered the unimaginable, free and honest to share what we knew only those who have been there understand.

            I was lucky, because for me, I was able to regain my emotions and continue moving forward with my day. For Susan, I know all too well that there are months and years ahead before she is able to channel that loss into a place where she controls it more often than the other way around. Through my nonprofit and my book, I am helping others who feel lost in their grief, and it feels good. But don’t look at the good I have been able to do, and the laughter that is always around me, and make the mistake that I have gotten over anything. I miss my boy every minute of every day. I just don’t let you see it.

            Peace, Light, and Laughter to all us “Susan”s out there. We need all we can get.

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About the Author
Bart Sumner's book, HEALING IMPROV: A JOURNEY THOUGH GRIEF TO LAUGHTER is available in the Grief Toolbox Marketplace. He is the founder & President of HEALING IMPROV, a nonprofit charity in Grand Rapids, Michigan that provides no cost Comedy Improv Grief Workshops to people struggling with finding the road forward. He lost his 10 y/o son David in 2009 to a sudden accident. He is an actor and writer who writes the blog MY STORIES FROM THE GRIEF JOURNEY at the website for
I'm Grieving, Now What?