Grieving Well for Father’s Day

Cooper Jasper

Cooper Jasper

After the sudden, accidental death of our five year old son, Cooper, it didn’t take us long to realize that holidays only seem to amplify the pain and anguish that you’re already experiencing. We were warned to brace ourselves for the first birthday, the first Christmas, etc… We quickly learned that all the “firsts” would be nearly unbearable even the common ordinary ones. We were ambushed by grief on our first trip to the store, the first church service, the first anything with the painfully obvious empty seat.

To the men who are facing your first Father’s Day after the death of your child let me say I am so very sorry for your loss. My guess is you are feeling helpless and hopeless as Father’s Day approaches. That’s certainly how we felt early on. I experienced the feeling like having a tight band around your chest. I know about the difficulty of eating, sleeping and sometimes even being able to breathe. It was all we could do in the raw early stages of our grief to just put one foot in front of the other. For many months we just stumbled forward in a haze of shock and denial. I made it through the first Father’s Day and by God’s grace you can, too. May I offer some suggestions to help?

Allow friends near:

When we are mourning, often we are tempted to isolate ourselves. But that will cut us off from the grace that God wants to impart through our loved ones.

The grieving process is intensely personal and often unique:

Please don’t do anything rash or dangerous in your effort to cope. My wife, Melanie, and I learned that everyone grieves differently and on his own timetable. Please take as long as you need and grieve in a way that is appropriate for you as long as you are not harming yourself or others.

Seek a qualified counselor:

A pastor or mature Christian friend is a good place to start, but grief this severe may require a licensed professional. They can help you navigate through Father’s Day and hopefully give you a road map to give assistance with other difficult days ahead.

Know that you will recover:

Be encouraged, there is hope. If your struggle is in the very raw stages you may not believe it or even want to hear it but help is on the way. The dark clouds will eventually part to let rays of sunshine peek through. As God allows time to pass the awful suffocating waves that crash over you will be more spaced out. Believe me you will even laugh again one day. Joy will overtake you and your good days will outnumber the bad ones.

Please trust me on this. I couldn’t imagine things ever getting better when I was given that same encouragement at our lowest point, but it’s true. God will make a way where there is no way. He was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. He was with Daniel in the lion’s den, He was with Joseph in the pit and He will be there for you. Against all hope, Abraham in hope, believed God. Even with all the circumstances against him, Abraham gave glory to God declaring that God was able to do what He had promised.

Some of the most honest advice we received came from the minister at the graveside of our little boy. He said, “In the next few weeks and months people will come up to you with good intentions and tell you that in time you’ll get over this. They mean well, but it’s simply not true. You’ll never get over this. This is not a wound that heals, it’s an amputation. Just like someone who’s lost an arm or leg or a hand, you have to find a new normal. You’re going to have to find a new way to do life without Cooper. You’ll never get over this…but you will get through it with God’s help.”

Lastly, with Father’s Day on the horizon let me encourage you to place your trust in the God of all comfort who can help you, sustain you, and give you strength to grieve well. We continue to ask “why” but I caution you to not allow questions, bitterness, or anger drive you away from the one who loves you most. There was no magic bullet or secret formula when Melanie and I were grieving. It was just going back to the basics, going to the root of what every believer knows will keep you on course or will help you keep your sanity. You get up, you read your Bible whether you feel like it or not, you pray even when you don’t want to, and you stay connected to a community of believers. Those were the lifelines for us.

Please don’t give up. Don’t stop. Don’t give in. Please don’t throw in the towel. Continue to breathe and just try to make every effort to put one foot in front of the other. Then get up tomorrow and do the same. With God’s help you can do this. Author and pastor Max Lucado puts it this way. “You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. Don’t be foolish or naive. But don’t despair either, with God’s help, you’ll get through this.”


Veteran morning on-air radio personality, best-selling author, comedian, inspirational speaker, dedicated Christian and family man. He is the author of Losing Cooper: Finding Hope to Grieve Well; Moses Was A Basketcase and a children’s book, When I Grow Up. JJ and his wife, Melanie, along with their four children live in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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  • Kathy Wescott

    Thank you so much for sharing! We know exactly where you are coming from. We lost our oldest daughter to cancer in June of 1991. Unfortunately, the anniversary of her death sometimes coincides with Father’s Day. Grieving truly is a unique process for everyone and and when we are talking about the loss of a child…that adds a whole other dimension! It is not natural for us to bury our children! We have often compared the experience to post traumatic stress disorder, even after all these years, a song, a scent, a movie (Little Mermaid in particular) or for me, the sound of a child crying in the E.R. of the hospital where I work, can reduce us to tears! We do get through it,sometimes gracefully, sometimes kicking and screaming all the way! But always with the hand of our Savior leading us. I thank God everyday for her life, for the the lessons she taught us, for her great sense of humor and her old soul. (I truly think that God gives the children He takes home early, an insight that others don’t seem to have.) Our hearts broke for you all when we learned of Cooper’s passing! Thank you again for your willingness to share and help those facing the same pain! May God continue to bless you all richly! The Wescotts

  • Elizabeth Garrison

    Haven’t read your book. Don’t want to. Just want you to know, not everyone can grieve well.
    My beloved little brother died on Labor Day weekend, 46 years ago. I am not the stereotypical crying female. I only cry twice a year, with an occasional exception. His birthday was November 24th. Every year, on September 4th and November 24th , for 46 years, my family and I have cried.
    Here’s the difference. You are a Christian family, you know where your son is, you know you loved and treated him well while you had him, you know what happened, you were there, you did your best to save him, you had a body to bury. My parents hated each other, but they stayed together for the sake of the children. We wanted them to get a divorce. After the last of their 5 children was born they took separate bedrooms, in opposite ends of the house. My father had no interest in his children. He only yelled at us when we were bothering him. My mother’s memory of my little brother with our father was when he would follow his daddy around the yard and father would place his hand on his forehead and shove him away. David was a talented artist and musician. He could play any tune on any instrument after hearing it once. He was 15 years old. He had attended his first week of high school, before the 4-day holiday weekend. September 4, 1970 was a hot Friday, 100 degrees. That morning David’s friends tried to talk him into swimming in the Potomac River. He said no, it’s polluted and dangerous (a very strong undertow, there have been as many as 100 drownings or rescues in a year; we had known several of them). Later that afternoon they asked him again, but, again, he declined. Around 5 PM they asked him one more time. He said, “I will go with you, but I am not going in the water.” Peer pressure got the best of him. After the other 3 jumped in he followed. Minutes later two returned to shore. Each had a story to share, neither had realized that two, not just one, had drowned. Timmy had tried to save his brother, but he was being pulled under, too. (Later he said to his parents, “I should have tried harder.” His mother replied, “We didn’t need to lose you, too.” This is one of the exceptions, I can’t repeat her words without crying). The other boy tried to save my brother. Timmy lost his brother and his best friend (David) on the same day. He lost his father a year later, who died from a broken heart. A few years ago a friend of my older brother said he saw Timmy in Austin, Texas, a homeless drunk, still blaming himself for the deaths. Family members began gathering at my parent’s home that night. My father came home from his night-shift job. His pastor came. Our youngest sister came home and asked why they were there. Unable to accept it yet, I said, “We think David drowned in the Potomac.” Christine burst into tears, saying “You’re a Christian, pray! Do something!” I answered, “I don’t know how to pray.” I had thought I was a Christian. In fact, I had only gotten wet (by baptism) and joined a church earlier that year, but knew nothing about getting saved. I had tried to share Christ with my family, but I didn’t even know the plan of salvation. This was the worst in a series of traumatic events that year, with more to come before the end of the year, including being married to a cheating husband, nearly dying in childbirth, and having an older brother hospitalized with hepatitis due to drug addiction. Around 11 PM, the parents of the other drowning victim came to tell us that their son’s body had been found. They were able to have an open coffin. David’s body was found 4 days later. My husband volunteered to go to the morgue and identify him. (Here’s where I lose it again). An hour or so later I could hear the wailing from a block away. His car pulled up, but the friend who had accompanied him was driving. My husband was too shaken to drive. I began wailing, because I knew all hope was gone. We questioned him but he had no answers, except to say that after 4 days at the bottom of the river, with fish and other marine life, his body was beyond recognition. “What color were his eyes?” we asked. “Gone” he replied. “His hair?” “Gone” When he said he couldn’t identify him, the coroner said, “His mother will have to come.” My husband cried louder, “No give me one more chance. He had the tip of his finger cut off in a bicycle spoke as a child.” The coroner opened the black body bag and looked. “It’s him,” he said. My husband and I have been divorced for many years, but I will be forever grateful to him for sparing my mother from such pain. The mortician had promised her that he could make any body presentable for an open coffin. But when she asked him after he saw it, all he could do was shake his head.
    I was so embarrassed by my father’s behavior when his pastor and the other boy’s parents had come to the house. He was laughing and joking. Then he burst into tears and said “He was a wonderful boy!” My mother was so angry. “Why did he have to wait until he died to realize that?’ she asked.
    Quarrels began over funeral arrangements. My mother did not want it at a funeral home. Since none of us agreed on religion, we all had different opinions. My father wanted it at his Lutheran church. Our older brother said it should be at the Episcopal church where David had occasionally attended a youth group. I tried to mediate by saying, “I would like to have it at my church, but it’s not about me. We should decide what’s best for David.” My mother said, “You children will have to live with this longer than we will, you should have some input in this.” Then my older brother suggested the Methodist church where we had been christened as infants and my mother had been a member. David had watched with fascination when the church installed a new pipe organ. We all agreed.
    Once, while visiting a church for the first time, there was an announcement about a child who had drowned in a different river. I burst into tears and ran out. It happens every time I hear the words: child, drown, river, combined. “Adult drowning in a pool” does not affect me that way.
    My mother quit church when I was 5, before David was born. My father went to church sporadically, and was only a Sunday morning Christian. I don’t know if I will ever see David again.

  • Tim Hall

    Elizabeth, I’ve been a minister for 40 years and have conducted hundreds of funerals, walking through the valley with families who lost loved ones in different ways, but I must say to you, that your words are the most descriptive and powerful of any I’ve ever read regarding the dark underside of grief. Thank you so much for allowing me to get a glimpse of your heart and of your journey. I’ve been studying grief for many years and you have reminded me, that there are yet chapters to be written. I read your story a few days ago and it has continued to visit my thoughts. I have hurt and silently wept inside with you. If you would be so kind as to recognize you’ve read this, I would be grateful.

  • Elizabeth Wroe Garrison

    Thank you so very much for understanding.

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