The Broken Places

I was watching a promotional ad on television recently for the show “Intervention” and saw a quote from Ernest Hemingway, which read: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Actually, this quote is a passage from Hemingway’s novel: “A Farewell to Arms.” Hemingway was one of the great American writers of his time, who died in 1961 as a result of suicide. As an aside, Neil Peart of Rush wrote the lyrics to a hauntingly beautiful song called “Losing It” which in part alluded to the rise and fall of Ernest Hemingway.

The first part of this quote: “The world breaks everyone,” may seem on the surface to be both morbid and fatalistic. The reality is that if we live long enough, we will become broken by events in the world that are tragic and painful beyond belief. I believe that loss breaks everyone to one degree or another.

When my daughter Jeannine died in 2003, at the age of 18, many parts of me were broken. My faith, my trust in a greater good, my values, my hopes for the future, were all shattered beyond recognition. During my early grief, I never fathomed that the broken parts of me could ever be fixed. I could not visualize experiencing joy again.

I am in the ninth year of my journey as a parent who has experienced the death of a child and I have been able to find joy and meaning again. In essence, I became stronger at the places that were broken after Jeannine’s death. I did it by reading about other parents who became stronger at their broken places after their children died, and finding out how they did it. I also availed myself of the support of other parents who understood my pain and together we discovered how to fix the broken places.

Fixing the broken places of our grief does not mean that our world returns to the way it was before our children died, or that the pain of our loss ever truly goes away. What I believe we learn to do is fix the broken places of our grief in a way that allows us to find significance in a world that is different without our children. Understanding that our relationships with our children continue after they cross over and that they communicate signs of their presence has also helped fix the broken places of my grief.

There is no time frame for fixing the broken places of our grief. It will take as long as it takes. As long as you are willing to work through your pain of loss, you will eventually learn new ways of dealing with it. Also keep in mind that hope for the promise of a new world after the death of our children, can come from the most unlikely of sources. Just be open to it happening and embrace it when it does.

David Roberts 2011

David Roberts

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David J. Roberts, LMSW, became a parent who experienced the death of a child, when his daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. He is a retired addiction professional and an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Utica College in Utica, New York. Dave is a featured speaker, workshop facilitator and coach for Aspire Place, LLC ( He is also the chapter leader for The Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley. Mr. Roberts has been a presenter at the Southern Humanities Council Conference in both 2017 and 2018. Dave has been a past workshop facilitator for The Compassionate Friends. He has also been a past workshop facilitator and keynote speaker for The Bereaved Parents of the USA. Mr. Roberts has contributed articles to the Huffington Post blog, The Grief Toolbox, Recovering the Self Journal and Medium. One of Dave's articles, My Daughter is Never Far Away, can also be found in Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories of Healing and Loss. Excerpts from Dave's article for The Open to Hope Foundation, called The Broken Places were featured in the 2012 Paraclete Press DVD video, Grieving the Sudden Death of a Loved One. He has appeared on numerous radio and internet broadcasts and Open to Hope Television. Dave was also part of a panel in 2016 for the BBC Podcast, World Have Your Say, with other grief experts, discussing the death of Carrie Fisher. Dave’s website: is devoted to providing support and resources for individuals experiencing loss.


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  • Thanks for pointing out that grief does not have time frame, Dave. Since my daughter died in 2007 I have worked hard to fix the broken places of my grief. Though my sense of humor has returned I’ve noticed that I’m not as funny as I used to be. Maybe that broken spot will mend itself in time.

  • You are welcome Harriet. Our grief journeys are marathons and not sprints. I am a firm believer that with continued grief work, the broken places that don’t mend today will mend tomorrow.

  • Laurie Dreier says:

    Dave, this is so perfectly said! You nailed it! Thank you so much for sharing this wisdom. I feel better knowing that I’m not the only one that felt like everything I knew and trusted, was shattered. Well, now I know that the pieces remained and could be put back together in a new way, like a stained glass window. Some pieces didn’t fit anymore, so I let them go, but the sun does shine through the new “window” to reaveal things I didn’t know I would see in this new way.

  • Julie Aikens says:

    Thank you for the wonderful article, it touches the very place I stand. I know it takes time, good days and bad ones. The so many emotions felt a onetime could never be understood by just anyone except those who live it. Bless you and everyone who needs to mend the broken places in our lives.

  • @ Laurie and Julie. Thank you so much for your great feedback. Your comments and insights will resonate with me as I continue my journey. I wish you both peace

  • June Erickson says:

    Well done, thanks for give those of us newly greived hope and a hand up on this journey! As you probably know so many people walk away….

  • June I am glad my article gave you hope . And you are right, many people walk away, and that used to frustrate me so in my early grief. What I have discovered today is that for everyone that walks away there are others who won’t and will be there with you for the long run.

    Thank you for your support and validation.

  • Diana Cullett says:

    Your account did hit the nail on the head about being broken. I lost my youngest son Jonah 1-1/2 yrs ago to an accidental drowning at the age of 16. I am still finding it very hard to even think about starting to fix any broken pieces. I am not even sure where to begin or sometimes even if I want to. He was my world. He is my world. I know I am to go on for my other children and grandchildren but at this point it just does not seem like it is even conceivable to think about at this time. So if you have any further pointers on how to starting fix the broken pieces I would sure love to hear them.


  • Eileen says:

    Thank you for your words of encouragement. I lost my son to AML just about 12 weeks ago. I am finding it very difficult that life seems to be moving on as it was before for almost everyone around me. Most people don’t even say his name. This part I find so hard. He was such a huge part of our lives and will never be replaced.

  • Hi Diana:
    Please accept my condolences for the death of your son Jonah. I know during the first year to two plus years of my grief,I never thought the broken parts of me would be fixed. In addition to what I wrote in my article, the power of rituals has provided me comfort. As an example, on Jeannine’s angelversary date in March of last year, I played some music that we both enjoyed and kept her in my thoughts. I felt at peace for the rest of the day. Rituals that uniquely connect us to our children, keep their spirits alive and eventually help us find meaning again. Whatever rituals you develop should uniquely reflect the relationship that you had with him on earth.

  • @Eileen. Please accept my condolences for the death of your son. Our worlds are not and never will be the same after our children die. Many people do not say our child’s name I think for fear that they will upset us. But many do not understand that it is a gift for our children’s names to be mentioned and for them to be remembered. I suggest to parents when they are ready to go to a Compassionate Friends or Bereaved Parents of the USA support group meeting. There all childrens’ names are mentioned and the stories of their lives celebrated

  • Alicia says:

    Hello David. Your words always touch the love that I have for my son and the pain that I have for his passing. I am new in this grief journey, about one and a half years. I am learning every day and trying to stay invested in living. I have experienced amazing things and wonder if you can elaborate on what you mean when you say your relationship with Jeannine has continued. I have some ideas but would like to hear from a parent that is further along in this journey than I am. Prehaps this is too private a request and if so I apologize for intruding. If it is not , I look forward to the light you can shed. Thank You, Alicia

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Hi Alicia:
    Thank you for your kind feedback and validation. Please accept my heartfelt condolences for the death of your son. I would be happy to go more in detail with you on examples of how my relationship with Jeannine has continued. I will e-mail you within the next few days to share that information with you as I have several examples.

    Take care and I will be in touch soon.

  • Cathy Seehuetter says:

    David, A pleasure, as always, to read your writings – you say what we are all feeling so well. BIG hugs, Cathy

  • Dave Roberts says:

    Thank you Cathy. Your support and validation is much appreciated.

  • Alicia says:

    Dave, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to share some of your experiences with me and everyone at Open To Hope. Since my Dylan passed, I am much more sensitive to connection. People have come from so many different directions to help me by sharing their experiences and their ways of grieving. Previously, I read your article on how you try to honor Jeannine by living her special characteristics. I tried this by sending out invitations to do random acts of kindness on Dylan’s birthday and this wave traveled around the world! I also experience ongoing connection to Dylan in my soul and in my physical world. Sometimes I need help to trust and believe and this is the encouragement you have given me, Thank You, Alicia

  • Dave Roberts says:

    It was my pleasure Alicia. I have as you been more sensitive to ongoing connection with Jeannine and acknowledging that has allowed my life to be more spiritually fulfilling as a result of my struggle with her physical absence. I think that was so great that the invitations you sent to do random acts of kindness on Dylan’s birthday spread worldwide. The ripple effect of acknowledging and honoring our ongoing relationships with our children is a great sight to behold.

  • Kirk Johnson says:

    I have also been broken in pieces. My mother died May 17th, 2015. I do believe that I am becoming stronger at the broken places but it sure is happening slow. I have availed myself to therapy, support groups, and my own study of others healing. I am aware that life will never be exactly the same but it is a process of remembering and embracing my present state. Believe it or not, my daughter, who is 13 years old, provides much of that support to me. Thank you for sharing this truthful and sobering part of your life. I needed that.