I get anxious every time I sit down at my laptop, because every time I do my mind immediately flashes back to the reason this blog now exists.
It was crunch time, and it was extra crunchy this particular year. I had been juggling multiple responsibilities all summer: full time college admission professional, part time graduate student, and local sports announcer. Summer was drawing to a close, and so were the deadlines for my graduate school research assignments. On July 24, 2013, I had taken a day from work to stay home and work on a presentation about student athlete development that I was to present the following day on campus. Looming in the distance was another article to be written, and yet another approaching recruitment cycle. I thought the work might never stop, but to my surprise, it would all come to screeching halt within just a few minutes.
The phone rang with an unfamiliar number. On the other line was my Mom’s (Becky) boss, Tom. Immediately, I knew something would be different about that day, because in all the years my Mom had worked for this company, her boss had never called me. Nor did he have a reason to. Until that morning.
He asked me where I was, and after confirming I was home he told me I needed to make my way to my parents’ house as soon as possible. Fortunately, my parents lived in the house adjacent to mine. Yes, I had ignored the not-so-subtle advice of all Everybody Loves Raymond episodes and purchased the home next to Mom and Dad. Having my parents next door had plenty of benefits, and on this day, I was beyond thankful to be a short walk away. I grabbed a hat and made my way out the door…and immediately knew there was something horribly, horribly wrong with the picture in front of me.
The driveway that had hosted so many childhood basketball games was bathed in the flashing light of police sirens. An ambulance was parked on the street where I had ridden my bike on so many summer nights. The lawn I had mowed countless times as a teenager had unfamiliar intruders: a police officer, an EMT, and other strangers. As much as I’d like to say I ran towards the unfolding scene in front of me, I can’t. Both my breathing and my pace slowed, because I had a haunting suspicion that I knew what tragedy I was getting ready to walk into.
I met Tom in the front doorway, and he came out of the house. His blank expression told me everything I needed to know. “Tyler,” he said to me solemnly as he grabbed my shoulder, “I need you to be brave with what I’m about to tell you. Okay?”
I nodded yes, not knowing whether I actually agreed I could.
“There’s been an accident with your Dad…”
My Dad, Scott Bradshaw, was a Dad unlike any other. All the behaviors that a good father should possess, my Dad had in spades. Selfless sacrifice? Unconditional love? Slow to anger? Physical and emotional provider? Lover of his family? Yes, he had all of those things. But my Dad took them to the next level. He was a man who cared deeply. He was a man who worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met. He was a man who had all of the attributes men need: honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, and an unyielding love for his family.
But as much of a “Superman” as my Dad was, he was a hero with a weakness: depression. For a long time, I had no idea he suffered silently, because how could a man who created such a vibrant and wonderful home for his wife and child possibly be unhappy? It didn’t add up to me. I just couldn’t conceive of the idea that a man who was so happy almost all of the time could also live in such a deep and solitary darkness during particular seasons of his life. The disparity between the Dad I knew and the hurting man underneath just didn’t coincide.
Earlier in the day, I had witnessed that darkness first hand. My Mom had called me early that morning to ask me if I would come to the house. “Your Dad is having a bad day today, and I’m hoping you can talk to him,” she said. I knew immediately that this was more than a momentary trouble or seasonal illness. Mom was using our informal code word: “bad day” meant that the depression he occasionally fell into had overtaken him. I agreed without hesitation, woke from my bed, and walked across the yard.
When I came down the stairs and saw him sitting in his recliner, I immediately knew this was a “bad day” to top all others. He had the same look that our family dogs had had so many times before when they had done something bad. His eyes looked vacant, and were fixated on the carpet of our family room floor. He looked sad—sadder than I had ever seen him. But what breaks my heart even more is that he looked ashamed. I knew, above all else, that I had to let him know there was nothing for him to be ashamed of. I walked down the stairs, and his glazed eyes met mine.
I had heard it so many times before, but I must admit that it felt better to hear it on that morning than many others. “Bub” was Dad’s affectionate name for me. And I knew that even if he didn’t appear to be himself that morning, the Dad I saw in the chair was definitely still my Dad because he knew my name—the name we would use for each other.
Dad and I were always good at talking with one another, but today was different for all the wrong reasons. I would ask Dad a question, and his answers were short and unusual. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, but instead stared a hole through the berber carpet that had been home to so many wrestling matches of my childhood. I tried to talk to Dad in that moment, but there wasn’t much that was setting in. There was a sort of vacancy behind his eyes that I had never seen before. Eventually, I seemed to break through, and we had a great conversation about how he was feeling and why he felt the way he did, but I could tell he didn’t want to talk about it. My Dad was a strong man, and I don’t think he wanted to show me, his only son, that an enemy like depression was getting the best of him.
Not knowing what to say anymore, I stood up from the couch and walked towards Dad. As I walked toward him, it was as if the Dad I had always known returned to his body. Always eager to reciprocate a hug, Dad stood up from his recliner and moved closer.
“I love you, Dad,” I said to him through tears.
“I love you, Bub,” he said back, as he wrapped me in his arms.
How is it that only an hour or so later the man who had given me my life was clinging to his own? I paced nervously across our front yard as I began to sweat and shake. I had so many questions in that moment. What had happened? Were the paramedics working to save his life? Who was in the house? Where was my Mom? Where was our dog, Lucy, and was she hurt? My mind could have erupted at any moment as I tried to comprehend what was actually happening.
“Ty…” I don’t remember where she came from, but I remember hearing my Mom’s voice. I spun around, and her face was red and tear stained. I had seen my Mom cry before, but never like this. I knew her heart was bursting from the pain of what was happening. We hugged, and we cried, and we waited. We had no other choice.
Suddenly, my Grandpa Vern emerged from the house. His face said everything his voice could not. He walked toward us, his daughter and grandson, slowly. As he walked, he would look at us, mouth agape, and then quickly look to the ground the moment our eyes connected. He came up and wrapped us in his long arms, pulling us both into his chest. He shook us gently in an effort to show his love, and maybe to wake us up and prepare us for the news to come. And then came the two words that changed everything:
It’s been 1,195 days since Dad died. And I feel the pain and heartache of every single day. Yes, some days are easier, and yes, some days are completely debilitating. There are days where I laugh about the memory of my Dad and the wonderful life he gave me, and other days where I do nothing but cry thinking about the time that was stolen from us. But in those 1,195 days, I’ve done a lot of thinking about more than my Dad. I’ve thought a lot about mental illness, and suicide, and how to deal with the grief of losing a Father who meant everything.
This is Seeya, Bub. A blog where I’ll talk about what it’s like to be a son who loses a loving father unexpectedly. What it’s like to wake up every morning and have to say goodbye to your Dad in new ways. I’ll discuss the heartache, but I’ll also share the moments of light God let peek through my life in the aftermath of this terrible storm. And the good things He is going to do in the lives of His people, even when their circumstances aren’t so great.
I am a survivor of suicide, and I think about that label a lot. But ultimately, I’ve survived—and I feel that God has placed a calling on my life to make something good come of this experience. After a lot of thought and a lot of prayer, I decided to start this blog in the hopes that it will help so many different people:
For those suffering from mental illness, I’m writing to let you know you matter. My Dad was a strong man with a terrible illness that overtook his mind, and that’s exactly how I view his death. Unfortunately, in my Dad’s experience and in the lives of so many others, mental illness is something we are ashamed of. We refuse help. We deny we’re sick. We hold everything inside until we can’t function. I started writing in the hopes that someone suffering from these same struggles might read my Dad’s story and realize that it’s okay; it’s okay to talk about your struggles, and it’s okay to get help when you need it.
For those who have lost a loved one to suicide (or death at all), I’m writing to encourage you. It takes my breath away to realize that every day in America, on average, 117 other families receive the same heartbreaking news that I received that July morning. Every experience is completely different, but we all share the common theme of feeling as if our loved ones are ripped away from us too soon. I will not give you step-by-step instructions for how you should properly grieve your loved one’s death. There’s no manual for any of this, and there are definitely no easy answers. I’m simply here to share my story, and hopefully in sharing that story, you’ll find comfort in the fact of knowing that you are not alone. We suffer uniquely, but we suffer together.
For Jesus Christ, I write to say thank you for never letting me go. People often ask me how you survive losing a loved one to suicide, and I simply want to tell them “Don’t ask me. Ask Jesus.” On paper, it seems impossible. But the pages of my Bible and my conversations with God through prayer have reassured me and strengthened me. Every morning, I feel God walking right beside me or even carrying me when I’m too weak to walk on my own. I firmly believe that God can take bad situations and do unbelievably amazing things through His followers, and this blog is my way of sharing how His love and grace have helped see me through.
For everyone who loved me and supported me in the aftermath of my Dad’s death, I write to say how thankful I am for you. God positioned so many wonderful people in my life in the years that led up to losing my Dad. In their own unique ways, each of these people helped me survive the pain and heartache that came after Dad’s death. I felt God wrap his arms around me through all of the people he had put in my life to help guide me and support me. This blog is like a virtual thank you card to all of those great people, but also an opportunity for them to share their experiences. No two people can suffer identically. Periodically, Seeya, Bub will feature guest blogs from all the people within my circle of connections; from friends and family members, to pastors, teachers, and coworkers. As I was hurting, so were they. Their story is just as important as mine.
For myself, I write to continue saying goodbye to my Dad. Every morning, usually within the first few moments after my eyes open, I wake up and think about my Dad. Some mornings, I will wake up laughing about a tremendous memory we had together. Other days, I might wake up crying, wishing I could talk to him just once more. Either way, those thoughts continue throughout the day. Yes, it’s been over three years; but I’m still saying goodbye to my Dad every day in new ways. As much as I hope this online community will help others who are struggling, I selfishly hope it will help me as I continue to deal with the heart-wrenching loss of an amazing Father and friend. The goodbyes never end, but neither does the love.
For my Dad, I write to say I love you. Dad, you were the most amazing Father a boy could ever ask for. You loved me unconditionally, but you never shied from the task of teaching me right from wrong, and everything in between. Even though you worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen, you were never too tired to play catch or wrestle in the family room. You were never afraid to laugh too much or cry when life called for it. You loved Mom and treated her the way all husbands should treat their wives. You provided for us and made our life comfortable, fun, and full of energy. You showed me what it meant to put other people first. You were never too busy to help out a family member or friend who needed it, no matter what the job required (even if you didn’t always know what you were doing and had to “wing it”). You talked with every single person you passed (oftentimes to my impatient frustration), and you had a way of making people feel happy and feel that they mattered. You were an amazingly talented carpenter, builder, and all-around repairman, and the things you made for me over the years have become my most valuable possessions. You were everything God created a man to be, and more than anything else, I am writing to tell you that life was better when you were in it, and that I’ll always, always love you. It may be “Seeya, Bub” for now, but I’m glad it will be a “Hey, bub” again someday…
Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5 NLT)