REVIEW: Life After The Death of My Son

LIFE AFTER THE DEATH OF MY SON is the title of a new book by Dennis L. Apple. He is a pastor at College Church of the Nazarene in Olathe, Kansas. Their son Denny lived from 1972 to 1991, when he died unexpectedly in their home from complications of mononucleosis.

Though this book is very different from the previous book I reviewed, it offers a less theological response and hope. There were many tears as I read this account of the effect of Denny’s death on the Apple family. I identified with the author as he attempted to serve as a minister to others while suffering from a broken heart. I noted differences in the way that he grieved and the way that I am grieiving, but as most authors note – everyone grieves differently.

One thing I liked about LIFE AFTER THE DEATH OF MY SON was the raw and honest journal entries that permeate the chapters. Not only has Mr. Apple included many of his own journal entries and poems, but those of his wife and Denny’s younger brother Andrew. The goal of the book is to present ten of the most important things he learned as they struggled through this agonizing loss. The book comes seventeen years after Denny’s passing … which is a long time and offers a deeper perspective than I could ever hope for at this point in our tragedy.

Chapters include:

*Will it always hurt this much?

*Will our marriage survive this?

*Am I losing my mind?

*Where is God?

*I don’t want him to be forgotten

*His birthday is coming…

*I love my church – but sometimes it hurts to be there

*I didn’t cry this morning

*I’m beginning to live again

*A wounded healer?

Each chapter contains journal entires, examples of events that happened through the grief journey, and concepts to help grasp what has happened. It is not a Bible study nor does Apple supply verses of Scripture in his presentation. It is, however, a presentation of faith under extreme duress.

There are several practical helps in the book including a discussion of ways to commemorate the one who has died, things to notice about yourself to measure how your heart is healing, and a chapter describing things to do that accommodate the grief process (not to try to extinguish it, but to “empty the cup of grief”). There are also mentions of The Compassionate Friends and the Legacy website.

I recommend this book to my fellow strugglers on this journey. I think it has a lot of practical information in it that will be of help in the daily experiences.

I particularly liked the way that his church used a Christmas service to commemorate the losses of those for whom the holiday season is a struggle. I will quote one of the ways that they organized to remember Denny called Christmas Night of Remembrance.

Grievers meet in a smaller chapel and take some unhurried time to meditate about the life of their loved ones. The service is usually led by people who have lost someone during the last year. There are songs, Scripture readings, and prayer. The highlight of this night of remembrance comes when each person is invited to stand, say the name of the deceased person, and share one thing he or she will always remember about him or her. ‘Silent Night’ is played softly in the background as the grievers stand to their feet and tell their stories. After the service the grievers are given opportunity to take a luminary and place it on the sidewalk near the street by the church and are given a commemorative Christmas tree ornament with the name of their loved one and the date on it. Later, in the large sanctuary during candlelight communion, there’s special recognition at the end of that service for those who are grieving. After communion has been served and before the benediction, someone will step forward and light a special candle of remembrance. The pastor then invites all persons who have lost someone by death to come forward while everyone sings ‘Silent Night’. All the grievers stand together while the pastor prays the benediction.

This might be a difficult kind of service to attend, but none of us who have lost our loved ones can run away from grief, we must experience it and acknowledge it. Mr. Apple managed to speak to the college graduating class that Denny would have graduated with. He and his wife Beulah have set up numerous support groups for different kinds of strugglers and continue to minister to others out of their pain. I’m so glad there are pictures of their family in the book and a means to communicate with them.

I feel that this book was helpful to me and I recommend it to you without reservation.

Thanks for reading,

John

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