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JJ Jasper holds up a copy of his book.
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JJ Jasper holds up a copy of his book.

How do you grieve well after the death of a child?

Q&A

Radio talk show host JJ Jasper had a great life. He was a syndicated radio personality, a successful author, and a happily married father of five. His life was so good he could tell jokes about it as a standup comic. But then the unthinkable happened. Following an accident on his family farm near Tupelo, Miss., Jasper’s only son, Cooper, died. It sent Jasper and his wife, Melanie, into the depths of a grief from which they’ve never fully recovered, but which, over time, Jasper has been able to talk and write about.

Today, five years after Cooper’s death, Jasper’s account of that terrible time and what happened afterward has been published in the book Losing Cooper: Finding Hope to Grieve Well. I had this conversation with Jasper in Atlanta at the recent International Christian Retail Show. 

Would you just tell everybody who you are and what it is that you do? JJ Jasper, a morning on-air personality from American Family Radio Network. We have almost 200 stations in 36 states. I’m also a speaker and an author and, of all things, a comedian, so, I stay very busy.

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Would you talk about Losing Cooper? I’m married to Melanie, a Proverbs 31 woman. I’m the father of five children. We had a charmed life on the radio, bought a farm, had horses, … and just life is picture-perfect for us. And then, five years ago, I was riding in a dune buggy with my only son, Cooper. Platinum blonde hair, bright blue eyes, big dimple, always smiling. We’re riding in a dune buggy on a level there on the pasture, up and down the dirt lane. After we had ridden and had fun—a father and son, a daddy and his boy making memories—I decided to head back to the house. I was just going to turn the wheel and just do what we always called a donut, just turn the wheels, spin it around, and head back to the house. 

When I turned the wheel and floored it, it spun around. The dune buggy rolled over and the unthinkable happened. Our little boy, the rollover broke his neck and he died in my arms five years ago this month.

Clearly that’s not what anybody wants to happen, a parent losing his own son, especially in circumstances like that. It’s every parent’s nightmare. It’s the unthinkable. … I don’t have words today to describe the shock and the horror and how we just stumbled forward like zombies for weeks and months after the accident.

And yet, you did find words eventually and you are now here talking about Losing Cooper: Finding Hope to Grieve Well. A couple of months into our grieving, American Family Association approached us, and they said, “You haven’t turned to drugs or alcohol, you’re not mad or angry at God, your marriage is still intact.” I did not realize that 89 percent of marriages fail when there’s a death of a small child. … They said, “Your story needs to be told. ” … We agreed to do that, we made a documentary called Flame On, and we gave away over 50,000 copies. Over 100,000 people have seen it online. Losing Cooper: Finding Hope to Grieve Well is the … movie in book form, with much greater detail.

You said there were no words to describe what happened. How did you get to the point where you could talk about it? The hero of our story is Jesus. We’re a Christian couple, and we would wake up each day, and we would read our Bible whether we wanted to or not. We would pray even though we didn’t feel like it. We had a wonderful network of friends and family, a great community of believers, a local church where we were members and still are. … 

You read Matthew 7 where Jesus talks about the wise and foolish builders, and you build your house on a rock or you build your house on sand. He talks about the storms that come and the rains come down and the winds blow and the flood comes up. It’s not a matter of if bad things will happen, it’s when, because you cannot go from cradle to grave without some trouble, without some difficulty, trials, and temptation. The tragedy did not take God by surprise. It certainly took us by surprise, but we were able to draw from the reservoir of knowing Jesus and loving him and knowing that he loves us. It’s because of the cross; it’s because of the empty tomb. 

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