What Breaks Your Heart?

Stephanie Grandestaff Road Maps

Shawn Askinosie knows about heartbreak. When he was 12, his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. At 13, he learned to give his father the injections of Demerol required for pain management. When he was 14, his father died.

During the period of his father’s declining health, the leader of a well-meaning prayer group suggested there should be “no talk about death.” To do so, the leader said, indicated a lack of faith in their prayers for healing. After his father died, Shawn said he spent the next 25 years overcoming every obstacle in his path and accomplishing every goal presented to him as a means of dealing with his untreated adolescent grief.

Shawn Askinosie, his father Lawrence, and brother Jason
Photo courtesy of Shawn Askinosie

The conclusion of a successful murder trial where Shawn served as the defense attorney, eventually led to a personal recognition of an “out of balance life.” The book Tuesdays with Morrie was also a big influence during this period. What occurred next is what Shawn refers to as a “time of physical and emotional reawakening.” Five years after the trial’s conclusion, he found himself choosing an entirely new life associated with chocolate. He also reports coming to see heartbreak, including his own, as a necessary ingredient to a full life.

“If you love,” he explains, “you will know the grief and sorrow of loss.”

Today Shawn is the CEO of Askinosie Chocolate, a small batch, award winning chocolate factory in Springfield, Missouri. Askinosie Chocolate has been named “One of the 25 Best Small Companies in America” by Forbes and featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, on Bloomberg, MSNBC and various other national and international media outlets. Shawn also serves on the board of Lost & Found Grief Center of Southwest Missouri, an organization he helped start to assist children in dealing with grief and loss.

Shawn and his daughter Lawren (named after his father, Lawrence) now work together at Askinosie Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Shawn Askinosie

Today Shawn sees heartbreak as a necessity for a full life. If this is so, then how does a thoughtful parent handle this tender topic? Shawn offers these considerations:

1. Avoid trying to inoculate or prevent all heartbreak for your child. Loss and grief are inevitable. Offer support and empathy, but try not to prevent or rescue.

2. Model healthy grieving. Allow your child to see what brings you great joy and deep sadness. A child who sees healthy grieving modeled by a loving parent learns to handle loss. 

3. Help kids learn that broken hearts are meant to be tended, not fixed. Embracing a loss, versus avoiding or denying, helps children grow in compassion.

There was a time when Shawn Askinosie was a fearsome trial attorney. These days he speaks in a different voice, emphasizing and encouraging language of hope and compassion for our children and others.

This article was written by Dr. Jennifer Baker, Founder and Executive Director of Good Dads, following a podcast with Shawn. To hear the full interview, download part 1 and part 2 of his Good Dads podcast.