I have met many people since my son David died 8 years ago who have struggled with the death of a loved one. We have all have had different challenges in moving forward with our lives afterward. It is especially difficult when the person who has died was taken early in their life, when they still had so much to give the world and those they loved.

David was only 10 when he died. Tragically a short time after David died, our dear friends and neighbors, as close a friends as we had, who have children the same ages as ours, and who we spent many family adventures with, lost the father of the family to cancer. He was only in his early 40’s, and his children were 7 and 10. It was a devastating one, two punch to our families’ happy little universe, losing two such young and vital members of our wonderful world.

I am happy to report, that even though we are no longer physical neighbors, both our families have endured these losses, stay in regular contact, and today are happy, thriving families, who still love, and laugh, and enjoy life as it is meant to be enjoyed. But, and this is why I’m sharing today, we have never “gotten over” the deaths of these two wonderful people. Anyone who believes that any of us have “moved on” is not really paying attention, or more likely, has never experienced this kind of loss, and simply chooses not to see how untimely death affects those left behind.

I got up this morning like I do most days, I got Abby (David’s little sister who is now 15, learning to drive, and taking her finals exams in her sophomore year of high school) up and off to school the same as any day. I came home, sat down at my computer, and wasted some time before starting to work.

Then a post popped up on Facebook. It took my breath away and brought immediate tears. Now, I’m very aware from all the recent posts I have seen that all of David’s old friends are graduating from high school this year, and thoughts of who he might be today, as a strong young man heading off to college, have been swimming around my head for some time.

It’s not unusual for these questions to be constantly on my mind. Every step on the road to being fully grown his sister Abby takes also reminds me David is not here, and he should be. The whole “learning to drive” thing has me constantly thinking about the fact he never got to experience the joys and freedom of driving a car (though I do have an old picture of him at 9 driving a go-cart with intense concentration). Those thoughts and ruminations are all part and parcel of being a grieving parent (yes, 8 years down the road I am still an actively grieving parent). But what really delivered the emotional punch and threw the “waterworks” switch this morning on Facebook was a very specific post.

June 8 was the day David would have been graduating High School in our old town. Our old neighbor posted a picture of her daughter’s graduation robes hanging on a hanger, all ready to be slipped on so she could do the graduation march with all her friends and gather their diplomas. The only picture we have of David from a “graduation” is from pre-school when he was 5. Along with her picture of her daughter’s robes, her post also paid tribute to the fact her daughter’s father was no longer alive to experience the day. But she also spoke of David, and how he should be there, too. She remembered. She wrote his name. She expressed her love for David, and how much he is missed.

Of course, neither of those two things are a surprise. I can still hear her wail over the phone the night we told her David was not going to survive his accident. Outside of our immediate family there was no one that felt David’s death more acutely than her. But this morning as posts popped up on my computer, I was not expecting her post and her tribute to David. It caught me in a moment when my grief defenses were not at the ready. And suddenly it was all right there again, at the very front of my mind, and the tears were streaming down my face.

Now, don’t misunderstand, these were good tears. Yes, you read that right. “Good Tears.” In fact, I thanked my dear friend, and told her “I didn’t realize I needed that cry until it happened.” And that is the truth, for though I am still an actively grieving parent, I am also a “seasoned” griever. My tears are old friends. They are as much a part of my life as laughter and love. And though, as this morning proved, they can still show up sometimes when I don’t expect them, they are never unwelcomed. My tears for David, and for my old friend and neighbor, are simply the love for them that I no longer have any other way to express. I have come to that understanding. I know that after they flow I will feel lighter, and relieved, and more at peace than I was before. I will be filled with love and memories. The tears remind me that the love I have for them has not died as they did. If the tears were no longer there, it would mean that I had indeed “gotten over it.” And being David’s dad, or a good friend, is something I never want to get over. I am David’s father. I always will be. I will never stop missing my boy.

Peace, Light, and Laughter to you.


Bart Sumner

Bart Sumner is an actor, screenwriter, and improvisational comedy teacher and performer currently living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with his wife Leslie, daughter Abby, and two dogs. Originally from Union County New Jersey, he is a graduate of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey with a BA in Theatre Arts. He spent over 20 years chasing the Hollywood dream in Southern California. He is a proud member of The Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and has performed in films, television, musical theatre and some of the most prestigious comedy clubs in America. He is also a produced screenwriter and television writer. His son, David, died in 2009 from a severe brain injury suffered while playing football. He is the founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit HEALING IMPROV, which provides no-cost Comedy Improv Grief Workshops to people struggling with finding the road forward after loss. Since beginning his work to help others find a path forward through grief, he has spoken and presented nationally on the subject of grief with The Compassionate Friends USA and the Bereaved Parents of the USA. He authored the book HEALING IMPROV: A JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF TO LAUGHTER, which shares his own grief journey and details how Healing Improv Workshops work while sharing some of the improv exercises used in the workshops. He has been a contributing writer for www.TheGriefToolbox.com and www.HelloGrief.com as well as writing the blog "My Stories From The Grief Journey" at the Healing Improv website. He enjoys pizza and making people laugh.

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