Rocks

Since the time I was little, I’ve always liked rocks.

(If that isn’t a captivating intro, I don’t know what is. And now that I think about it, this could have something to do with my struggles in social settings…)

When I was a kid, I was like a little geologist. I have deeply entrenched memories of one of my favorite vacation activities growing up—mining for rocks!

(Once again, the implications for my social life are becoming clearer and clearer.)

As a kid, our family vacations often included trips to places like Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Brown County, Indiana. We often went there so my Mom could do lots of shopping and so my Dad and I could do…well, anything but shop.

No matter the destination, Mom and Dad always made our family vacations so special. As an only child (the social struggles continue), I was fortunate enough to often be the center of attention for my Mom and Dad. Looking back, I realize how truly lucky I am for that. My parents both worked very, very hard to provide for our family. They really deserved a vacation to be able to relax and unwind, but they always made sure to keep me bouncing from one fun activity to the next to make our vacations memorable. They obviously did their job, as those trips are still some of the happiest moments of my life.

Back to the rock obsession. Many cities like Gatlinburg often have a rather simple attraction for individuals like me who are interested in rocks. These little makeshift mines are all over the state of Tennessee for would-be-gemologists like me. You walk in and it feels like a real mine. Running water troughs, mining buckets, lanterns, mining carts. Often on display are huge geodes with beautiful purple crystals sparkling inside when they’ve been halved.

I have so many childhood vacation memories of my parents taking me to these little amateur mines and watching me as I explored the store. Then I got a chance to become a real miner, which was the most exciting part of the trip. Mom and Dad would walk up to the counter and buy a bag of dirt…

Wait…we actually paid for dirt?!

Stay focused, Bradshaw.

What made the dirt valuable was not the dirt itself, but the shiny gems that lay nestled within it. When I was little, I always daydreamed that my bag of dirt would include the scoop fresh from the mine that had a huge chunk of gold in it. Looking back, I see how gullible I really was, but what kid isn’t?

My favorite part of the day was when I would get to slowly pour my bag of dirt into a miner’s box with thick, screen netting across the bottom of it. Then, I would take my miner’s box and jewel-filled dirt over to the flowing water stations, and I would slowly rinse away the dirt to reveal the treasures underneath. I would then pick out the gems from the box and place them into a bag so I could take them home and…stare at them? I really don’t understand my fascination anymore, but I’m sure it was probably super cute.

As a kid, I always mined for rocks slowly and deliberately to maximize my time. I would pour tiny clumps of dirt into the box bit by bit and wash them away, because there was something super exciting about watching these dirty rocks turn into stunning gems with just a rinse of water. I wanted to milk the excitement for as long as I could. I remember going on vacation one time with my Mom’s side of the family when my little cousin (more like a little brother) Jake went mining with us. Always a bit impatient, he dumped his entire bag of dirt into the box at once and plunged it into the water, finishing everything in about thirty seconds flat. Rookie…

More than any rocks I ever found, I remember my Mom and Dad always being there with me and making the day even better. Mom and Dad would always sit on the bench next to me in front of the water troughs as I sat up on my knees and mined for gemstones. Mom’s face would light up anytime I found a purple amethyst, as that always seemed to be her favorite color. Dad, always a bit of a nature enthusiast, would use the charts on the wall to try and help me identify the rock names. One year, he even bought me a sectioned container that the gentleman at the store helped me label so I could sort my rocks accordingly. Wow, just writing that sentence made me realize what a little nerd I truly was…

Dad was also really good at finding the little, tiny gems that I likely would have missed. I can still picture his fingers crushing little clumps of dirt to reveal a shiny piece of gold (of the fool’s variety of course) for me to take home. Next to swimming in the hotel pool, mining for gems was always one of the highlights of my vacations as a kid, and I had my Mom and Dad to thank for it.

Those childhood trips are long gone, but the memories are still there. Now, I can put those memories in perspective when I think about the sacrifice my parents must have made for those vacations, and I can appreciate them even more.

After losing Dad, I worried that I’d never be able to enjoy another vacation or trip again. But I knew that vacations and trips were inevitable.

My job as a recruiter at Miami takes me to some pretty unique places. I’ve had the opportunity to recruit all throughout Ohio, but I’ve also been fortunate to travel to places like New York, Colorado, Texas, and most recently California to talk to students about their college dreams. I’ve had the chance to go to cool locations for professional conferences as well. I am also fortunate that God has given me the personal resources to travel and see and experience many amazing moments.

Although each trip is a little different, I often find myself saying the same thing over and over again…

“Boy, Dad really would have loved to see this.”

When I first started traveling after Dad’s death, I didn’t know how to handle this sadness. Oftentimes, I couldn’t. I would be in the middle of doing something touristy and I would just breakdown and sob. I would completely fall apart anytime I saw something cool that I wished I could have shown my Dad. There were numerous moments in the immediate aftermath of his death when I would actually take my phone out of my pocket and begin to dial his number before realizing he would never be able to pick up. It would tear my heart apart every time this would happen. As sad as I would feel, I would also feel extremely guilty. Guilty that I had never made enough time to see all of these things with him while I still could. The pain was paralyzing.

On one trip, however, an unexpected new tradition started that’s helped me cope with Dad’s loss. I had travelled to Aspen, Colorado and had some time to do some exploring of the natural beauty there. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that some of God’s most beautiful handiwork is evident in the hills of those mountains. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any landscape that can take my breath away like that of Aspen. The views are beyond stunning, and it only takes one visit and a hike to the top of a mountain to realize how truly small you are in light of God’s entire creation.

I decided to take one afternoon to hike up a mountain whose foothills were right behind my hotel. The guest services representative at the hotel warned me that the altitude would be a bit of an adjustment, and to give myself plenty of time to stop and breathe on the way up. I smiled and assured him that I had been working out pretty intensely recently, and started my trek.

As I sat on a rock huffing like a multi-decade smoker about seven minutes into the hike, I silently cursed the hotel representative for not warning me more vigorously of the pain I was going to endure.

Eventually (and very, very slowly) I made it to the top of that mountain. I looked down over the valley and the town of Aspen, and I couldn’t look away. I felt closer to God on that day. I felt closer to my Dad. And I said to myself, “Boy, Dad would have loved to see this.”

And I cried. I wept. I thought about all the good times we had and all the good times we wouldn’t. I wanted him there with me, even though he always has been. I wanted to feel his presence.

As I looked down at my shoes to wipe the tears from my eyes, I remembered seeing a rock. It was nothing fancy. Just an everyday rock at the top of a mountain. It was yellowish and a bit oddly shaped. When I held the rock in my hand, it looked like a little mountain. It was the type of rock that my Dad, a sometimes-annoying nature enthusiast, probably would have noticed.

And I felt Dad saying, “Hey, Bub. There’s a good one.” Just as he had said to me on so many of our rock mining expeditions together.

I picked up that rock, put it into my pocket, and eventually made my way down the side of the mountain. And ever since then, on every trip I go on, I’ve been picking up rocks for my Dad.

I have rocks from many different states. I grabbed a bright stone in Denver at Red Rocks Amphitheater. I picked up a rounded stone at a recent trip to the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama that had been weathered smooth by the crashing waves. And just this past week, I snagged a yellowish rock from the craggy shores of a beach in Santa Cruz, California to commemorate the first time my feet ever touched the waters of the Pacific. This particular piece had broken loose from the large rocks that made up the shore, and taking it with me made it feel like I was holding onto something much bigger than a tiny stone. This was a piece of a huge and beautiful shoreline puzzle, and that piece was mine.

(Note: I have not investigated the legality of taking rocks from these areas, so if there are any environmentalists or rock cops reading this blog, please forgive me for my thievery.)

I have these rocks scattered around my house and, for the most part, I can look and tell you where each one came from. I remember the trips, and I remember the feeling of wanting my Dad to be there with me.

Those rocks remind me that he is—and that he always will be.

My Dad absolutely loved nature, so I think it’s only fitting that one of my testaments to him would harken back to something so primitive and so basic. It might be crazy, but I think about these rocks as being placed there for me to find by God and by my Dad. I think about them working together to design rocks that will grab my attention and placing them in cool spots that they want me to see. I think it’s their way of telling me not to feel guilty for living life without my Dad.

More than anything, these rocks help me cope. It might sound stupid, but we all grieve in our own unique ways. For me, those natural rocks are a connection to my Dad. They harken back to the days when my family, complete with him, would sit on a wooden bench in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and mine for little tiny gems to study in the backseat of the car on the way home. I would eagerly get home and show people the rubies and emeralds and pyrite and obsidian pieces I had discovered, and my Mom and Dad never made me feel nerdy or ashamed (maybe the should have!). These rocks are tangible reminders of my Dad. They remind me that his memory lives in on my life each and every day, and like a rock, they provide a strong foundation.

I have a feeling that I’ll be grabbing rocks until the day I die. It’s simple, and to some it may not seem like anything spectacular, but it helps me feel at ease. It’s helped me defeat the guilt that Satan wants me to irrationally experience. Yes, my Dad is gone, but all of the rocks—his rocks—are still here. They are scattered across the world, waiting for me to discover them. As he did many times when I was a kid, my Dad is beckoning me towards adventure. He’s telling me to live and to enjoy the living. He’s telling me that there are beautiful things we might not have seen together, but that we will get to experience the most beautiful scenery ever when we reunite again.

For those of you who are suffering and hurting and dealing with loss of any kind, I encourage you to find your rocks. Find the tangible thing that allows you to hold onto your loved ones and that reminds you that those individuals are always with you.

And parents…if your kid has a thing for rocks, rest easy. They’re cheaper than video games.

dad-and-me-in-pool-with-sb-logoDad, I have such fond memories of my childhood because you and Mom always made them so special. I remember all the wonderful trips we went on together, and I remember all of the things we used to do together that made those moments so memorable. I loved mining for rocks when I was little, and as nerdy as it might have been, you always encouraged me and kept the excitement at an all-time high. Dad, there were so many things I wish we could have had the opportunity together. I hate that we can’t do them now, but I am thankful that I’m able to remember you simply by grabbing a rock off of the ground. You are an amazing Father, both in life and in death, because you always made life worth living and you left an impression on everyone who knew you. Thank you, Dad, for always being my rock. Thank you for giving me the love I needed every day. Until I can thank you in person, seeya Bub.

“God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.” Psalm 62:6 (NLT)

Dad Days

There are some days when it’s just too much.

The loss is too much.

Life is too much.

There are some days when the magnitude of losing my Dad just becomes too much for me to handle.

I think about my Dad and losing him every day—every single day. But every day is completely different. Some days, I can think positively about my Dad and move on to whatever I need to accomplish. Other days are a bit heavier, emotionally speaking. These easy days and tougher days aren’t predictable. I can’t forecast them. They come and go as they please.

But then, there are the big days. The extremely dark days. The days where the thought of losing my Dad and his absence are just too much for me to bear. These days completely paralyze me. Personally, I think it’s all the little days compounding on one another. Eventually, the create such a heavy burden that the breach the dam of emotional stability and everything falls apart.

Those are the days I feared would come when I started to imagine my new life in this post-Dad chapter. Those were the days that I knew might keep me in bed, unable to interact with my life and my world. These days would be full of distraction—no matter what would be going on in front of my eyes, behind my eyes there would be a complete obsession with having lost my Father so unexpectedly and so unnecessarily. I knew that there would be days when I would be inconsolable. I would cry with reckless abandon. I would again hear the sounds and see the sights of police sirens on our front lawn and being told that there had been an accident involving my Dad. I would flashback to the horror of hearing that he was gone, and in those moments years removed from his death, I would feel as if I’ve progressed no further from that initial sorrow.

Yes, I’ve had those days since losing my Dad on July 24, 2013. Yes, I’ve had many of them.

And although it isn’t perfect, I’ve learned that my best way to deal with the pain of losing a man I loved so deeply is to have a Dad Day.


A Dad Day is a day in his honor. A Dad Day is a day when I do some of the things (or all of the things) that I know my Dad would love. These are days full of Dad’s memory. These are days full of love and and treasured moments. These are days that I desperately need.

A Dad Day is exactly what it sounds like. When I find myself missing my Dad to the extent that I can’t even function, I know it’s time to find some rejuvenation doing the things that remind me of him and his unique zest for life.

So, I hop in my truck (actually his truck), roll the windows down, and go for a ride on those days. I turn on a playlist of country songs and play them entirely too loud as the breeze blows through the cab. Anyone who knew my Dad well enough to be in a truck with him knows that he believed what I believe about driving: that speed limits are merely a suggestion. Like my Dad, I let my foot get a little heavy. I find a straight road that has more power lines than street lights, and I let the road take me where it will. After all, Dad loved a good ride regardless of the end point.

Usually, I try to let that truck take me to one of his favorite restaurants where I’ll eat a meal that makes me think of him. I remember my Dad through the meals we shared together so many times, especially at some of his favorite spots. When I was ten or so, my Mom and I met Dad at a restaurant he ate at often near his workplace in Middletown called Grecian Delight. It’s home-cooked Greek food at its finest, and my Dad loved everything about it. There are many things that I love about Grecian Delight, but I’m most thankful for the fact that I can walk into this restaurant and go right back to the first meal I ever shared with my Dad. So, to remember him, I grab a Chicken Gyro and waffle fries. I chat with the owner, Maria, just like my Dad used to, and I give her a hug on the way out—a hug like the one Dad would have given her. My Dad loved a good meal prepared by good people, so I eat a meal there and remember all the meals I shared with him over the years at those very same tables.

My Dad always knew the value of slowing down, so there are many times when I use my Dad Day for something relaxing. Whenever I walk into my parent’s house and make my way into our family room, I can still look to the corner of that room and picture my Dad sitting in his favorite recliner, a cold Coke in one hand and the television remote in the other. I always envied Dad’s ability to disconnect from all the negative things on television and find something to make him laugh. For a long time, I resisted The Office. I told him that I just didn’t think it was funny, even though I had rarely seen more than five minutes of an entire episode. One day, in a moment of weakness, I gave in to Dad’s requests and agreed to give him five minutes. Dad chose to show me the cold open to Stress Relief from Season 5 (Dwight’s fake fire drill test), and I never looked back. Ever since then, I’ve been a complete fanatic. Dad and I shared many good laughs over an episode of The Office. I wish we could have shared more.

Sometimes, my Dad Day looks rather deceptive. I sit in front of the television and I binge watch a half-season of the show Dad and I shared so many laughs over. It might not look like much, but as I watch those episodes, I can hear my Dad laughing. I can feel him on the couch next to me. I can laugh, even though it hurts sometimes, because I know that Dad would want me to laugh.

On a gorgeous day, I’ll hop on my mountain bike…which is actually Dad’s mountain bike. Of course he decked it out with every gadget known to man, because that’s what my Dad did with everything he owned. But I don’t need any of those things to remember him. I leave the headphones at home, grab a bottle of water, and pedal away, admiring the beauty of God’s creation with each mile. I’m really intentional about soaking up the world around me when I go on these bike rides, because that’s what my Dad always did. My Dad loved nature. He loved natural beauty, and when I’m on his bike, I try to find that same level of appreciation. I don’t pedal to log miles, but I pedal to dredge up memories. I pedal to remember all the great moments we had together, and all the bike rides we shared when I was growing up.

I’ll do these things and I’ll do other things because every Dad Day looks a little different. Sometimes I’ll do yardwork—not because I like it (and I really don’t), but because my Dad always did, and if Dad did it there must be something therapeutic about digging up weeds and planting flowers. I call up family members and have conversations that don’t have a purpose, simply because my Dad was a talker and that’s what he would have done. I go to the store and get a pint of Graeter’s black raspberry chip, retreat to the couch, and eat the entire thing with reckless abandon (by the way, I’m super stoked to have an excuse to do this now). Dad was so good at finding the lovely things in life, and even though he’s not here anymore, he’s still helping a shortsighted and sometimes-stubborn son find those moments when I need them most.

For a long time, I couldn’t give myself permission to do these things. I couldn’t just let myself do the things that I know Dad would have wanted me to do—the things he enjoyed most. In fact, I would avoid doing the things he loved altogether, afraid that I might actually experience joy without him. The guilt I felt in living and loving life without Dad was tremendous. It was paralyzing. It was nauseating. It was crippling.

Death, loss, and grief can make us think some pretty irrational things, and this is a prime example of the power of grief. Of course my Dad would want me to do the things that he enjoyed, whether he was here or not. That’s why he enjoyed them. But it took a long time to get over that guilt and have a day without Dad that was for Dad. Eventually, thankfully, I got there.

Because he lived with such a positive zest for life, Dad Days are not bad days for me. Yes, the emotions can be overwhelming. But now, I can cry while simultaneously laughing about a joke he would have enjoyed. I can feel loss while experiencing a tremendous sense of gratitude for having had such an amazing father. I can hurt, and yes, I can heal. I can live life the way Dad wanted me to.

Even though he isn’t here to enjoy these things with me, he is here in another sense. He’s here every time I find joy in something he taught me or showed me. He’s here every time I laugh at a Michael Scott antic that made him laugh. He’s here with everything I do, but especially on those Dad Days. He left an amazing legacy behind on that July morning a few years back. He left a legacy of love—for life, for people, and for God. I feel my Dad in all these moments on my Dad Days. I feel him right beside me smiling when I hop in his truck or eat a meal he would have enjoyed. And I think I always will, no matter how long I live. And I know I’ll feel that way because my Dad left behind a legacy that endures for all the right reasons. His love knew no time limits. The type of love my Dad had for life just can’t be contained by a grave and a headstone.

From here on out, as long as I live, I know that I’ll have bad days—but I also know that I’ll have my Dad’s memory that can help turn those bad days into Dad Days. Because my Dad loved me, and he still does.

Dad Holding Lucy in Chair with SB LogoDad, There are so many days when I wish I could snap my fingers and have my old life back. The life when you existed here on Earth. I wish that I could have lunch with you, or go on a bike ride, or listen to country music together, or sit by the bonfire. I wish I could hear your laugh again. I wish I could feel you rub my head when you left for work in the morning. I wish that these memories weren’t memories, but instead were real life. But I know life is difficult, and I am amazingly grateful that I can look back over the twenty-six years we spent together and know that you gave every ounce of love you had, each and every day. Ironically, you being in my life prepared me to live life without you. You taught me to enjoy life in spite of hard circumstances or difficult moments. When times get tough, especially when I think about losing you, I’m able to resort to the things you taught me. I’m able to remember the appreciation you had for life’s little moments. And I smile. Sometimes through tears, but I’m smiling nonetheless. I have you to thank for that smile, and so much more. Until I can thank you again in person and experience a new Dad Day that will last through eternity, seeya Bub.

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45 (NIV)

Regrets

“Tyler, you can’t blame yourself for what happened to your Dad. You can’t live with any regrets. Your Dad loved you so much.”

In some variation, I probably heard this hundreds of times in the days and weeks and months following my Dad’s death. As friends and family members poured through the visitation line, most of them said something to this effect. When I would talk with fellow Christians in deep conversation about my sorrow, they would always reassure me with this truth. Over and over again, whether from those who had lived close to grief’s shadow or those who were far away, I heard the same encouragement to press on and to live without regret.

And I’m glad I heard this, because the regret and the questioning entered my thoughts moments after hearing that horrible news of my Dad’s death. I immediately started to second-guess myself. I panicked that I had not done enough to save my Dad from the darkness that invaded his mind. I quickly grew nauseous over the thought of all the missed opportunities to spend time with my Dad, knowing that these would likely haunt me for the rest of my earthly existence.

I tried to convince myself, deep down, that I had done all I could. That I had lived life, in every moment, to the fullest when my Dad was around.

But it’s only natural to have regrets. Yes, regrets are natural, and I think that although it may not be easy to think about your regrets when you’re grieving, it’s completely okay to do it when you’re ready. In a perfect world, we would all live lives without regrets, but everyone who reads this blog knows that life isn’t perfect. It’s messy, and complicated, and extremely difficult at times. As a result, we don’t always do things perfectly, which makes regret natural in the aftermath.

I think that the intensity of our regrets are often amplified in the immediate aftermath of a tragic loss. Naturally, we begin to ponder a desired alternative—and in order for that desired alternative to come true, we often envision ourselves making different choices.

Suicide amplifies these regrets to another level. Suicide, above so many death mechanisms, is preventable. It is unnecessary. I’m not saying it’s any more or less tragic than any other type of death, but I do think suicide is unique in that it brings with it an entirely unique set of circumstances.

I live with these regrets, each and every day. I live with the questions of what I could have done differently. And I pray that both God and my Dad might forgive me, in the hopes that I will, someday, be able to forgive myself.

I regret not doing more to let my Dad know that I didn’t blame him for his depression. I know that my Dad was ashamed of his depression. I know that it made him feel weak. I know that he didn’t want to admit that it was getting the best of him. And although I grew to have a more mature understanding of mental health and depression as I aged, there were many times when I, whether consciously or not, failed to recognize the severity of Dad’s depression or the lack of control he had over it. I expected him, as he did with so many things in his life, to find a way to control the way he felt. I didn’t always understand that, of course, if my Dad had the ability to change the way he felt, he would have done it in an instant.

I think back to the times that my Dad’s depression would get the best of him. I’m thankful that there were moments when I let him know that I cared deeply for him. That I understood the nature of his depression was intense, and entirely not his fault.

But there were other times, like the first time I learned of my Dad’s depression, where I was ruthless, unforgiving, and even cruel. I expected him, unwisely, to find a way to “snap out of it.” I regret that I ever considered my Dad weak because of his depression, because I know looking back that he showed tremendous, unbelievable courage to fight for as long as he did. He was unbelievably strong—and definitely stronger than me.

Eventually, I found the proper lens to view my Dad’s depression through. I realized that someone with depression, just like a victim of a physical illness like cancer, should never be blamed for the problems they are plagued with. But I regret those moments, in my immaturity and stubbornness, that I wasn’t more compassionate to a Father who was nothing but compassionate to me whenever I needed it—even though I didn’t always deserve it.

I regret not being more forceful in my plea for Dad to find help. My Dad was a fixer. He was a man who built things with his hands, and as a maintenance technician at a local steel plant, his job was to fix things—huge machines, specifically. Big, complex, very complicated machines. Most people would look at those machines and be immediately overwhelmed and intimidated—but not my Dad. He could take the most complicated problem and break it down, piece by piece, arriving at a solution quicker than most. Dad was smart, intelligent, and very talented. There were very few problems that could whip my Dad.

And I think it was exactly that fixer’s mindset that made depression so difficult for my Father to cope with. If he could fix huge, multifaceted, million-dollar machines with nothing more than his brain and his own two hands, I’m sure he wondered, then why couldn’t he figure out the solution to his own depression?

Of all the regrets I live with, I think what I regret most is failing to encourage my Dad to seek appropriate medical attention from a counselor to help him cope with his mental illness. As I’ve written about before, the one thing my Dad always resisted was going to speak to a mental illness counselor or therapist. I think that his resistance was part pride, part embarrassment, and part a lack of knowledge for what a therapist actually is and the difference this person could have made in his life and thinking.

The first time I really encouraged my Dad to go speak with someone and shared my own experiences with my counselor was, unfortunately, on the last day of his life. I wish that my Dad and I could have had more honest, deep, and heartfelt conversations about our struggles with mental illness. This would have given me the opportunity to share with him how helpful my therapist, Jeff, had been to me. And maybe, just maybe, it would have encouraged Dad to find a counselor. And maybe that counselor would have helped my Dad avoid his untimely death.

I regret not asking my Dad if he was feeling suicidal tendencies. In our final conversation together, I asked my Dad a lot of questions about how he was feeling and why he might be feeling the way he did. Some he could answer, but others he couldn’t.

But there’s one question that I couldn’t bring myself to ask him—partly because I didn’t want to know the answer, and partly because I already thought I knew. But I was wrong on both accounts.

I regret not asking my Dad whether or not he was feeling so depressed that it might lead to suicide.

It’s so tough to even write that question because of the regret I feel. As much courage as I might have been able to muster on that morning, I don’t think I could have ever have built up enough strength to ask him that question—but it doesn’t change the fact that I wish I would have. And now that I know how he died, I definitely would have asked him.

Yes, so much of this is Monday-morning quarterbacking, because in all of my Dad’s struggles with depression, he had never once attempted suicide or led us to believe that suicide would enter his mind. So many people who knew my Dad were utterly shocked at his funeral because they never suspected he might succumb to something so tragic. Those who lived closest to him, like me, were just as shocked.

I wonder if I would have behaved differently that morning had I asked that question. I wonder how Dad would have responded. Would he break down and confess that, indeed, he was feeling suicidal? And would I have been able to save him? Call a doctor? An ambulance? Anything? Or would he have masked his inner sadness as he had done so many times before, unable to tell his son the true answer? Would me asking that question have opened up a new avenue for our conversation on that day? Would I have been able to convey to my Dad that life would be almost unbearable without him? And whether it was guilt or responsibility, would either of those emotions or thoughts been enough to deter him in those final moments?

I live with regret because I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. And, unfortunately, I never will. But I know, given the opportunity to live my life over again, I would have at least asked. Yes, it would have been the toughest question I would have ever asked my Dad—but it would have also been the most important.

I regret not living life more with my Dad. I am fortunate to live in a country of surplus, but no matter what tangible blessings I might accumulate in my life, I will never, ever be able to accumulate more time. And more than anything, I regret all those moments where I chose less meaningful things over precious time with my Father.

There were so many things that Dad wanted to do with me, and that I wanted to do with him, that we never got a chance to do. Dad wanted to go to a country concert together, but we never got the chance to make that happen. Dad had always wanted to go on a kayaking trip together, but we never got that opportunity. Dad would often beg me to go watch UFC fights with him. I would stop dead in my tracks, roll my eyes, and then tell him how much I hated UFC fights more than…anything else in this life (that’s right UFC fans, you heard me). There were so many times when my Dad would ask me to do something with him, and I would be too busy or too preoccupied to make it happen. And boy, do I regret ever saying no to him.

Now, instead of doing those things with my Dad, I do them in his memory. I do them because I know he would have wanted me to do them. I had never kayaked before Dad died, but about a year after his death, I bought a kayak and I’ve fallen in love with being on the water. The rowing calms my mind and the beauty of the surrounding nature soothes my soul, but all the while I usually think about my Dad. I think about how much he would have enjoyed being out on the water with me. I think about all the great laughs we would have enjoyed together, especially the first time I ever got in my kayak and abruptly tumbled into the water on the riverbank and flopped around like an idiot for a few seconds. I laugh about how many times he would have pointed out a certain type of tree on the riverbank or a bird that would fly overhead. I wish I was doing things like this with Dad, not in his memory. I regret that we never had the opportunity to do it together in this life, but I’m hopeful for an Eternity where we can do them together, forever.

But this regret, as powerful as it is, would be there no matter how fully I had lived life with Dad. As much as I regret these specific things, I know that there were so many times when I did live life to the max with my Dad. When death strikes, the one thing we all wish we had was more time with our loved one—even if we had spent every single waking hour with that person. Coupled with this regret is an appreciation for all the dinners we had at LaRosa’s, all the hours we spent in the truck together singing country music, the trips to the beach, the zip-lining excursion together for Father’s Day, and all the episodes of The Office we watched together on our family room couch. Yes, there would have always been other times I could have spent with Dad, but I’m thankful that looking back on our lives together, we were there for each other more often than not. I don’t necessarily regret the opportunities which I said no as much as I long for more of the opportunities when I did say yes.

I think that regret can only be natural if a deep, abiding love was there at one time—and I’m tremendously grateful for that. I’m thankful that life with my Father was so good and so amazing for 26 years that it made me desperately yearn for more and more of it. Yes, when we look back on our lives we would all make changes—some minor, and some significant. And although I try my best to live without regret, it’s a natural part of the grieving process brought on, only naturally, by the love I have for my Father.

And as much as I may do in his memory…I think I’ll still pass on those UFC fights.

Dad in Hoodie with SB LogoDad, Even though I know you would tell me not to feel regret, I do wish that I had the chance to hit the “do-over” button on so many things in my life. I wish I had been more of a support to you when you needed me. I wish that I had spent more time with you doing the things you loved to do. I wish that I could have done more to help you find peace and solace in the tumult of your depression. I don’t know the answer to why this terrible tragedy happened, but I do know that God has a plan to make something good out of it. I often wonder what could possibly be better than more time with you, but I know that although I feel a horrible separation from you in these moments, there will come a day when you and I can both live completely free of regret and goodbyes. I long for that day, but until then, seeya Bub.

“No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am brining all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13 (TLB)

Years Go By

Four years.

Four years today.

It’s been four years since that really painful day. Four years since I saw my Dad for the last time. Four years since I heard the fateful words that my Dad was gone forever.

I was recently having a conversation about losing my Dad and I was asked “Does it feel like it’s been four years since he died?”

Yes it does. And no, it doesn’t.

Feelings are complex. And they feel even more complicated in the aftermath of losing my Dad. Questions that I could have once answered easily are so much more difficult now.

I responded to that complex question with a complex answer—the only way I knew how. The only way I honestly felt.

In some ways, it feels like the hours and days drag on, especially during that first year that Dad was gone. Immediately after Dad died, it felt like the hands on the clock had stalled. Days would drag on because my heart hurt so bad. There were times when life felt like a life sentence. I felt like I couldn’t escape the heartbreak of losing my Dad, and there were days when I felt like I was just living to run out the clock. So, yes, I feel the pain of those four years in each and every moment.

In these four years, I’ve had many sleepless nights. Many nights where I lay in bed and stare at the ceiling wondering, questioning, and obsessing over the fact that my Dad is no longer here with me. The pain of those moments is all too real.

But on other days, it feels like the trauma of losing my Dad happened just yesterday. At any given moment—sometimes in conscious wake and other times interrupted with the terror of a bad dream—I can be right back in that moment. I can remember walking towards my parents’ and seeing the police lights. I can hear the sirens. I can see the EMT’s and paramedics rushing around the yard and into my childhood home. I can still hear the terror of my Mom’s cry when we heard the news. I can feel the grass when I fell into the yard. I can remember the sights and sounds of that moment as if it just happened.

I wish I could escape it.

That trauma will be with me for as long as I live, and even though it’s been four long years since losing my Dad, the vividness of that tragedy is still just as sharp as it’s ever been. I expected the vivid feel of those immediate moments to fade and numb with time…but they haven’t. At all.

And then again, I feel like my Dad has been gone for so, so long. I haven’t had a conversation with my Dad in four years, but it feels like it’s been ages since I’ve seen his smile. It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve felt the strong embrace of one of his hugs and his beard would brush against my neck. It feels like its been a lifetime since I’ve felt the calloused skin of his hands as he would rub my hair when he saw me. It feels like eternity since I’ve heard him say “Seeya, bub” to me as he left for work or hung up the phone.

And when I think about that, it causes me tremendous pain because it’s only been four years. Four brutally painful years have felt like an eternity of separation, and that worries me. I have a long life to live on this Earth, God willing, and if the pain of losing my Dad is already this intense, how will it feel in eight years? Or twenty? Or fifty?

How will that pain feel when I get married? How will that pain feel when I have children of my own? How will that pain feel when those children are old enough to ask me about my Dad, their Grandpa? How will that pain feel in all those moments, big or small, when I need my Dad the most?

I can’t answer, because I just don’t know. But I know that the common denominator in all of this is a feeling of loss. A feeling of being robbed from a life taken too soon.

I know this truth: You can only feel tremendous pain if you’ve lived in tremendous love. You can only feel this absence if there’s love that is missing. You can only feel loss because of love. And my Dad loved me. And I loved him.

Yes it’s been four years, but I was fortunate to know that for 26 beautiful years, I lived on this Earth with the shining example of what a Father should be. And I’m thankful that I didn’t just have him here for those 26 years, but that I truly lived life with him for those 26 years. He was more than a Father. He was a Dad.

When I think back over those 26 years, I can’t think of a time where I went for more than a week without seeing him or talking to him. I went to college locally and stayed in my hometown after graduation, so I’ve had a privilege that I know not everyone has in this life.

But there was always one constant when you saw my Dad after a period of absence, be it short or long: a warm welcome home. A smile. A hug. A tender greeting delivered straight from his ridiculously caring heart.

It brings tears to my eyes to think that I might not have always appreciated those welcomes. It hurts my heart to know that I haven’t had one of Dad’s greetings in four years.

But it renews my soul and gives me unbelievable hope to know that the greatest greeting is yet to come.

Yes, I believe that my Dad will be waiting there for me when I eventually reach the paradise that God has promised me in Eternity. I’ll recognize my Dad, but he will be perfect in every way, even though he already seemed perfect to me when he was here on Earth. God promises the miraculous on the other side, so who knows…maybe my Dad will even have a full head of hair?! Selfishly, I hope he’s still bald when I get there. Because that’s how I remember him. I’m sure we will have a good laugh about his head either way.

I look forward to that good laugh. I look forward to seeing my Dad again, and I have each and every day over these past four years.

And I look forward to never, ever having to say goodbye to him again.

When I visualize the journey over these last four years as a physical terrain, I see what God means when he talks about life being full of hills and valleys. The valleys have been numerous and they have been deep since that awful July morning. They have been full of darkness and doubt and anger. And yes, as hard as it may be to imagine, there has been wonderful mountaintops where life has seemed happy again. Of course these moments have been tinged with sadness, but to think that life after loss is always hopeless just isn’t true. Life still has tremendous moments of beauty, thanks to the God I serve.

But there is a common theme in all these four years, whether I slogged through the valley or stood at the peak: God rules over both.

It’s no coincidence that God knew I would need this message on this anniversary. Today, when I got in my truck (always Dad’s truck), I made the decision to abandon my usual morning-news routine and listen to some music. And a song given to me by a friend a few weeks ago came through just when I needed it to remind me that God is always with me, both at the foot of the mountain and at its peak.

The song is Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells, and I’ve included the video here. Would you take a moment this morning, on this anniversary of my Dad’s death, to honor his memory by listening to this song? It would mean the world to me, to my family, and to all those who loved my Dad.

The reality for me is that God has been with me through these four years. And He will be there with me for all the years to come. And I’m thankful that my Dad is with him, and that all the pain he felt on this Earth is completely gone. My Dad is on the hilltop, and he will be there forever and ever.

So yes, it’s been four years. There are days when it’s felt like four days, and there are days where it’s felt like forty years. But the time here on Earth pales in comparison to the eternity I will spend with my Dad. I will never stop living the life he would want me to live for as long as God wants me to live it, but I know that all the pain of these past four years will wash away when I see that smile again.

Dad and Lucy in Pool with SB LogoDad, I hate that I ever had to say goodbye to you. It’s been four years since I said goodbye to you for the last time here on this Earth. I feel the pain of losing you each and every day. I would give absolutely anything to have you back, even if only for a day. For 26 years, you were always here for me, and now that you aren’t I feel the awful heartache of losing you. But I know that I could only feel that heartache because you touched my heart in ways no one else could. You taught me so many important lessons in this life, but more than anything you taught me that love matters above all else. In every moment of every day, I never doubted your love for me, for my Mom, for our family, and to all who mattered to you. You didn’t just tell people that you loved them, you showed them. And I’m thankful for that. The days stretch on without you, Dad. There are days, like today, when it’s all I can do to get out of bed at the thought of losing you. But I know that all of the wonderful moments we shared in our time together here will be completely outshined by the life we will live together in the glory of God’s grace. Thank you, Dad, for everything. I’ll never be able to tell you how much I loved you, but until that day when I try, seeya Bub.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)

Killing a Snake

I believe that in our darkest hours, when despair surrounds us, we are put in situations that show us how courageous and brave we truly are. Even if those situations are not fun or easy to deal with.

I believe this because God has shown me that it’s true.

It was hot and I was tired. It had only been 3 days after Dad’s funeral when I set out to cut the lawns for the first time. I did not enjoy cutting the lawn as a general rule of thumb, but the idea of cutting two lawns was very, very tiring. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I live next to my parent’s house, our yards adjacent to one another. Compared to the newer subdivisions that offer a backyard the size of a postage stamp, our neighborhood offered very spacious and comfortable yards for each resident. But with a bigger yard comes bigger responsibility…and on a hot day comes a bigger pain in the rear end when you have to cut your grass in the stifling July heat and humidity.

My Dad did a great job of taking care of the lawn. In fact, unlike his son, he actually enjoyed yardwork (there are so many better things to enjoy in this life, but I digress…). My Dad was always planting new trees, adding new pots of flowers, building patios and firepits, and doing something to improve the essence of our backyard at my childhood home. It was a backyard paradise, and I think I often took it for granted when he was around. When I bought my own home, I definitely had a greater appreciation for his green thumb.

But now, the thought of increased yardwork combined with the trauma I felt in my heart after Dad died was difficult to bear. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that my Dad had finally lost his battle with depression, a victim of suicide, and the reality and weight of that truth was still setting in. I was exhausted, emotionally spent, and questioning everything—including my ability to be successful in this new chapter of my life.

I was feeling overwhelmed and very scared—how was I going to manage not one, but two huge lawns all by myself? And would I have to do it forever? It might sound like a trivial concern in the context of the larger loss we were suffering, but when you are in the midst of a family crisis, you tend to amplify all of the minor obstacles into major challenges. Life seems unbearable without your loved one, so molehills always look like mountains in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic loss.

Fortunately, some friends from our old church were buzzing around my lawn and my Mom’s lawn. They had shown up on that day to help me take care of the lawns, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been more grateful. I remember feeling so relieved when they all showed up with a trailer that hauled three riding lawnmowers. I had dispatched them to different areas of our yards, and I had taken on the unpleasant task of trimming with a weedeater.

Let me preface the rest of this story by saying this: If I hate mowing the lawn, I utterly loathe and despise trimming with a string trimmer. It is probably my least favorite lawn chore of all. I’m constantly being pelted with rocks and sticks that get caught in the whipping strings. My shins get whacked over and over again, and I usually mumble unsavory words under my breath and curse Mother Nature. And I am in a constant, ongoing battle with how to properly load string onto the head of the string trimmer without it getting tangled (I’ll gladly take any suggestions from my green-thumbed readers).

Reluctantly I took on the trimming, starting with my yard first. As I was walking through the yard, my mind would not stop racing. I felt overwhelmed without my Dad. I had cut my yard many times, but there was something about doing it knowing that I wouldn’t see my Dad smiling and waving from the yard next door. I wouldn’t get to see him stop over and chat about things I could do to improve the landscaping. My face was streaked with both sweat and tears. He had taught me how to mow the grass and how to maintain the yard, and now I had have to do it without him. I didn’t like this new reality.

Then, as I was getting ready to trim around a large boulder in my side yard, I looked down at my feet and nearly fainted.

A snake slithered its way between my feet. Right in between my legs.

I hate snakes. I hate them. I hate snakes more than string trimmers. I hate snakes more than anything. Folks, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it was a snake that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden causing the subsequent Fall of Man. Those animals are pure evil, and they have been since the day God created them. I haven’t liked them since I was a kid and that one snake, Kaa, tried to hypnotize poor Mowgli in The Jungle Book. I used to be attracted to Britney Spears. Then she did that thing with the snake at the MTV awards, and I could never look at her with the same admiration that I once did. They are corrupt, vile, sneaky, horrible creatures, and in my opinion are the embodiment of the devil on earth.

The snake that slithered through my legs on that day was a massive, hulking, likely-venomous son-of-a-gun that could probably swallow a small child with one gigantic gulp. Okay, I’m embellishing slightly because I think it was a common black garden snake…but that’s how they get you! They look all small and get you to let your guard down and before you know it….BAM! They’ve got their fangs in your neck and you’re a goner. I had no doubt this snake was out for the kill.

I needed a plan. I had nearly dropped the string trimmer when I saw the snake, and I was frozen, unable to move as I watched it raise its sneaky little snake head off of the grass. Suddenly, panic set in. When I thought to myself “What do I do?” the first thing that came to my mind was “Go get Dad!”

In the past, anytime I had encountered a snake, I would run to my Dad and have him catch (and hopefully kill) it. He would laugh at my fear of snakes and tell me that it wasn’t going to harm me. I would then tell him that he was not a snake mind reader and he had no idea what it was going to do to me. In most cases, my Dad would catch the snake and release it in the canal by our house, laughing and shaking his head the entire way.

But in that moment, the gravity of the situation suddenly washed over me. My Dad wasn’t going to be there to catch that snake. He would never be there again to catch that snake. To help me with anything. My Dad was gone, and he was gone forever.

I wanted to collapse. I really wanted to give up. I felt a pit in my stomach that is very hard to describe. The weight of all of my emotions was triggered by a seemingly mundane situation in the yard. If I couldn’t handle this, I thought, how would I handle all of the challenges that would face me in the aftermath of losing my Dad?

As scared as I was, I wasn’t about to let my Dad’s death defeat me. I knew that I had to use that moment to start taking a step up the mountain. I knew what Dad would want me to do.

*Note: If you are a snake lover, you might want to skip this next part of the story because it gets a little graphic.

**Note About the Note: If you are a snake lover, you should also have a psychological evaluation or an exorcism to take care of that problem.

I found an untapped source of fury and an anger that bubbled up from deep within me, and I found a courage to face my fear. Rather than run from the snake, I ran towards it. I took the string trimmer, gave it some gas, and got the strings spinning at full speed.

I hit the snake with the string trimmer. And then I hit it again. And again. And one more time, just to make sure the strings were doing their job. #MowglisRevenge

After that, I threw the string trimmer down onto the ground, and I sprinted into the greenhouse in my backyard. I grabbed a shovel and returned to the area of the attack, and just to make sure that snake was good and gone, I gave him a few nice little love taps with the shovel. His slithering days were done. His reign of terror had ended. Our long national nightmare was over.

I sat on the boulder nearby, and cried from exhaustion. For some reason, I just fell apart. There was something about not having my Dad by me to help me face one of my fears that made the situation very overwhelming.

Then, I looked to the Heavens, and I cried out with a decent sense of anger and frustration. All I could think in that moment was “God, why are you doing this to me? In my darkest hour, why would you let me see this snake which you know I fear?” I’ll admit that I felt anger towards God in that moment. “Isn’t it enough that my Dad is dead?!” I remember yelling. “Isn’t it enough that I’m hurting? Now you have to scare me, too?” It felt like God was kicking me when I was down. When everything already seemed so scary and so hard to deal with, God threw a snake into the mix.

But I sat there and thought, and I began to pray and talk with God as I tried to collect myself. In the conversation that ensued, I started to see my encounter with the snake in a new light. I started to understand that God was showing me that I was stronger than I thought. By bringing that snake into my yard, God was showing me that I could face my fears, and that I underestimate my abilities. God was showing me that I will be able to survive without my Dad. And there were many days after his passing where I thought I wouldn’t be able to. Satan wanted me to be afraid of that snake, throw in my cards, and give up in that moment. But God was helping me place a foothold on the mountain. God knew my breaking point, and he wanted me to overcome it.

By allowing me to go after that snake, I think God was not kicking me when I was down, but that He was allowing me to experience a victory when I needed it most. He was showing me that, yes, life was going to be difficult in the days and weeks and years to come. There were going to be snakes that slithered into my life and moments that seemed completely unbearable. But God was showing me that he would always be there to give me the courage and strength I needed to kill those snakes and tackle my fears.

I think God was also showing me that it’s okay to release my emotions when I feel them. I had heard so many people tell me during the funeral that I needed to “stay strong” for my Mom and my family. But I just didn’t feel strong. I wanted to cry and I wanted to yell and I wanted to throw things. God knew these emotions were real, and he knew I needed an outlet to let them escape. I think God was showing me that it’s okay to grieve, and that in my moments of desperation he actually wants me to cry out to him. I did on that day, and I’ve been doing it many days since then.

I needed God to push me to the limits so I would realize that all my weaknesses and emptiness would be completely fulfilled through Him. I am stubborn, and God has to work a little harder with me than He should have to in order to get the truth to set in. God was telling me all throughout my Dad’s death that I would get through it, and I refused to believe Him. So He showed me, in a small, seemingly simple encounter with a snake, that I would do more than just get through it. I would thrive. I would conquer. And I would win.

I sat on that rock in the yard, and the defeat I felt began to give way to a new sense of empowerment and inspiration. I began to feel a wave of bravery wash over my heart—not because of my own strength, but because of the strength of the God I believed in. When I was too afraid to chase after the snakes, God would give me the courage (and momentary insanity) to do it anyway.

As days gave way to weeks and weeks gave way to months, I continued to experience those little victories. I found little victories when I least expected them, and in moments of darkness and despair, I would find ways to put on the armor of God and fight on through the storm when I never thought I could. I constantly thought about that day after Dad’s death and my battle with the evil snake. I remembered that when I am weak, my God is strong, and that when I ask for the courage to overcome the heartache I felt, God would provide. In my Dad’s absence, my Heavenly Father would always provide. I’m still reminding myself of that each and every day. And I think I’ve been able to chase the devil away. And I’ll point out…I haven’t had a single snake in my yard since (that I know of…).

I imagine that God and my Dad are in heaven having a good laugh watching me pound on this snake with a shovel more times than I needed to. But after their laughter, I also imagine that they look at each other and say how proud they are of their son—and that gives me a really, really good feeling. I am thankful to have a Father on Earth who fought the snakes when I couldn’t, and I’m glad to have a Father in heaven who reminds me that I can.

Dad on Porch with SB LogoDad, There have been so many days when life has seemed unlivable without you in it. There have been moments when I’ve completely collapsed under the weight of my own worry and troubles, and I wish more than anything that you were here to encourage me in those moments of doubt and frustration. But in a sense, you are here with me. The lessons you taught me throughout my life were always lessons of empowerment. You taught me that I am always stronger than I think I am, and that when I am weak God is strong. You also showed me that it’s okay to have feelings and emotions and that I can express those when I feel them. You showed such bravery in your life, and I hate that in your final moments you doubted your own courage. Dad, you were the most courageous man I’ve ever known. You fought so hard for so long, and I’m glad you’re not fighting anymore because that enemy that you faced is defeated once and for all. I’m so thankful that you are completely at peace, completely healed, and completely perfected in God’s love and image. Dad, you deserve eternal rest in paradise (hopefully free of snakes), but boy do I wish you were still here with me to help me in this imperfect world. Keep giving me that courage when I need it most. And until I can thank you in person, seeya Bub.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Ephesians 6:10-11 (NIV)

A Letter From Dad

A good teacher will teach you something that you didn’t previously know. A great teacher will teach you how that knowledge can make your life better.

And a spectacular teacher will change your life in ways you might not immediately recognize.

I’m thankful that in my many years as a student, I’ve had some pretty spectacular teachers—and one absolutely spectacular teacher who gave me an assignment that has helped me hold onto my Dad, even after I can’t hold on to him in person.

Of all the nicknames my Dad enjoyed giving to me over the years, I think he probably enjoyed my 9th grade school year more than any other because for an entire year, he was able to call me “Freshie.” Nearly every day when I was getting ready for school, I can remember Dad calling me “Freshie.” He loved it, mostly because I hated it. He could see the annoyance on my face every time he said it…which basically encouraged him to keep saying it. My Dad had a thing for nicknames.

I have many memories of that year as a Freshie. My first struggles with Algebra and Spanish happened that year. I met friends that would last far beyond my high school graduation. That was the year I started playing golf, and also the year that I would learn some fancy new adult words on the golf course that I would never use around my Mom! My freshman year of high school started in 2001, and I remember being in Art class when another teacher ran in and turned on our television, and for the rest of the day in every class we watched as the horror of September 11, 2001 unfolded before our very eyes. I knew on that day that my world would change, and it was probably the first time I really felt the pain of death, even though I didn’t personally know any of the people who died. My year as a freshie, in many respects, was extremely monumental.

But of all the things I remember from that freshman year, I remember and am eternally grateful for an assignment in my Work & Family Life Class.

My third block of first semester was Work & Family Life with Ms. Schultheiss. Ms. Schultheiss was a caring, personable, and relatable teacher who I immediately knew that I would like right away. She taught with a simple kindness and a sense of humor that made her immediately endearing. Having been pretty nervous about my first semester in high school, I was so appreciative that I would have a teacher who could help calm my nerves and validate me when I needed it most. Over the semester, Ms. Schultheiss would help me learn many things: how to cook, how to sew (I made my own stuffed lizard), and how to prepare for my journey after high school. These were all extremely valuable skills that I draw on quite often…well, maybe not the sewing as much as she would have hoped. But I remember walking away from that class with a feeling that I had grown tremendously as a student and as a person.

As the summer before that year drew to a close, I was extremely nervous about the anticipated academic difficulty of life as a high schooler. Not having an older sibling or any older friends, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard horror stories about hours and hours of homework, papers that stretched on for pages, and material that was difficult to grasp and comprehend. And then there was that whole Shakespeare guy. As a naturally nervous and neurotic little freshie, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations of my teachers and parents.

That’s why I was surprised when Ms. Schultheiss shared our first assignment in Work & Family Life. It was not what I had expected high school work would be.

And I was thankful because…I really didn’t have to do much!

Ms. Schultheiss gave us a simple handout that explained our assignment. We were to ask a few adults in our life to write us a letter. Simple as that. These loved ones were to write us a letter that would share why they loved us. They would highlight our character, our good qualities, and why they thought we were special. Our loved ones would put the letters in an envelope, seal them, and give them to us. We would then bring the letters into class, show them to Ms. Schultheiss, and the assignment was complete. She wouldn’t even read the letters—we just had to show her that we received them.

I immediately knew who I would ask to write me a letter. I asked my Grandpa Vern and Grandma Sharon to each write a letter, which they readily agreed to. I also asked our neighbors and close family friends Shawn and America to write a letter. They both joked about all of the embarrassing things they would share in their letter, and they too agreed to write.

And, of course, I asked my Mom and Dad.

A week or so later, I collected the letters from each of my loved ones, took them into class, and showed them to Ms. Schultheiss. She checked my name off of the list indicating I would receive full credit (score!), and I returned to my desk, probably in my Nike sandals and a shortsleeve plaid button down, with six little envelopes in my hand. Ms. Schultheiss then told us that she was going to give us some quiet time to read our letters to ourselves at our desks.

I opened my Mom’s letter first, and if you know me well, you can probably guess what happened next…I began to cry. Yes, that shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m an emotional guy, and I’ve always been pretty sensitive.

But this was no time to be sensitive! I was a freshman in high school! The cool freshman weren’t sensitive. I could already tell that my sense of style and natural tendency to get lockjaw any time an attractive girl so much as stared at me were already going to make it difficult to make friends. If I started crying in class during my third week of high school, I would need to start lifting weights quickly to fight off all the butt-kickings I would receive over the next four years.

So I did what any mature, wise, and confident high school freshman would do…I became a complete coward. Like I’m sure many of my classmates did, I opened each of the letters, stared at the blank space in the corner of each page and pretended to read, and put the letters in my binder completely void of any tear stains.

But when I got home that afternoon, I could hardly contain the excitement of reopening each letter and reading the words my loved ones had written about me. I went through each letter and let the tears I had successfully contained in the classroom earlier that day pour freely.

I’ll never forget getting to my Dad’s letter. Always the jokester, Dad had even taken the envelope as an opportunity to show off his humor. In his familiar and precise all-caps handwriting, Dad wrote his full name and address in the return corner of the envelope. Then, he addressed the envelope to “Tyler S. Bradshaw (Same Address).” And if this wasn’t enough, in the postage stamp corner of the envelope, Dad wrote “No postage required if mailed to same household.” Typical Dad. #dadjokes

IMG_2987

I opened the letter to find a typed page from my Dad, emblazoned with the header “A Letter to My Son.” I read through his letter, and I cried like a baby at the words he shared with me.

And I still cry today every time I read it.

Yes, I still have all six of those letters that my loved ones wrote to me, but obviously my Dad’s letter took on a whole new meaning after his death. I remember going to the keepsake box where I kept some of my most valuable personal mementos shortly after Dad’s death. In the constant buzz and coming and going of family and friends in the days after Dad died, I knew that I would need to find a moment to myself to uncover that letter and read it before I said goodbye at Dad’s funeral.

So, one evening a few nights after Dad had passed, I locked myself in my home office, threw open the closet door, and took out my box of mementos. I shuffled through cards and drawings and photos, and then my chest tightened when I saw it.

Dad’s writing on the outside of the envelope. His message to me. Right there in my hands.

I cried before I could even get the letter open. Just seeing his handwriting there and knowing that his hands would never write those words ever again on this earth made the pain of his death impossible to comprehend.

There was lots of hysterical crying that night on the floor of my home office, but I was eventually able to collect myself enough to open the envelope and read the words my Dad had written to me.

In the midst of all the heartache and all the loss I felt in that moment, I also felt like my Dad was still there. Like he was still speaking to me. And that he was there telling me that, although my heart was bursting at the seams with pain right now, I would get through this.

Of course, Dad couldn’t just contain his humor to the envelope. He would have to make some jokes inside the letter too, and as I sat there with tears streaming down my face, I also couldn’t help but laugh. He told me that he liked me because two-thirds of my name was also two-thirds of his name. He also pointed out that I had captured many of his physical features and, as a result, had become a “fine-looking young man.” I would point out to him after first reading it that I still had a full head of hair, but that’s not the point…

Dad then went on to share how he admired me for my ability to be compassionate, and how he admired my intelligence. Dad also told me how he admired the fact that I was different from most children of my age.

Dad shared a lot of other things with me in that heartfelt letter. I could tell he had taken a lot of time to think through what he would write and how he would write it. His letter had touched my heart, and now it would continue to do that long after he was gone. I hugged the letter close to my chest, and rocked back and forth as I continued to cry, wishing he was next to me.

When I made the decision to start this blog, I knew that I would have to abandon the nervousness that had plagued me as a young freshie. I knew that I would have to become extremely vulnerable and share pieces of my life that I hadn’t previously shared before; all in an effort to help people who are suffering.

In that midst of that drive for vulnerability, however, I also knew that there would be areas of my life that would be off-limits. There would be things that I would not share. There would be things that were private and stories that would be just between my Dad and I. And to respect the intimacy of the letter he wrote to me, I’m choosing not share the content of that letter (and I hope you can respect my decision). Dad wrote that letter to me, and I’d like to keep it that way. I hope you can respect that.

And I’m also making that decision for this important truth: What matters is not what’s in the letter. What matters is that I have the letter.  

I am so thankful to Ms. Schultheiss for giving us that assignment. I am so appreciative that she found a creative way to teach us a lesson, while at the same time giving us a priceless artifact, a family heirloom that would be much more than a simple assignment. Ms. Schultheiss, you gave us a touchstone that we could come back to when times got tough and when life seemed unlivable. I’m sure that this particular assignment doesn’t satisfy a governmental decree or a requirement of No Child Left Behind, but it’s an assignment that every student should be fortunate enough to complete in their life. I’ve written many papers and essays throughout my life as a student, but I’ve never read and re-read an assignment even close to the amount of times that I’ve read my Dad’s letter and all the other letters I was written on that day. What I got in that assignment was even more important than the self-esteem boost that I’m sure Ms. Schultheiss had intended. I got a piece of my Dad that I could hold onto forever and ever. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough for that gift from a loving, wise, and brilliant teacher.

Even though I’ve chosen not to share the entirety of my Dad’s letter to me, I will share the closing sentences of my Dad’s letter, even though it’s so very, very difficult for me to read those sentences and write about them.

At the end of my Dad’s letter, right before he told me that he loved me, Dad wrote “I hope that sometime you will have to write a letter to your Mother and I for extra credit. It’s nice to see it on paper so that you can read it from time to time.”

Yes, Dad, it certainly is. And I’m sorry that I never wrote you that letter.

I’m ashamed to admit that in the midst of my self-absorbed freshiness, I never got around to writing my Dad a similar letter. It hurts my heart to know that the letter I would write to my Dad was not the one he hoped for, but one to include in his casket at his burial many years later. Amidst many of the regrets I have in my life, I think that not writing my Dad a letter is chief among them.

Nevertheless, and a bit selfishly I might add, I am grateful that my Dad was as mature and compassionate as he was. Compassionate enough to sit down and type a letter, even though I’m sure it took him longer to type it with his “hunting and pecking” approach. I’m thankful that my Dad was loving enough to be emotionally vulnerable to tell me, in words, exactly what I meant to him. I’m unbelievably happy that my Dad encouraged me to be who I was and live a life consistent with my values and faith.

I will cherish that letter for as long as I live. I hope to be able not only to pass that letter on to my future children who will never get to meet there Grandad, but to someday write them a letter—hopefully without the provocation of one of their teachers. I want to write them a letter to make them feel the way I do when I read my Dad’s. I want to be able to give them the words they deserve to hear. It’s amazing how a simple letter can touch one’s heart in such a profound way. Although depression might have taken my Dad, nothing could ever take away his love, his memory, and the words he wrote to me that day.

And in this post, I encourage you to write letters to those you love. Even if you don’t have a teacher who was as awesome as mine was, take the time to write letters to your loved ones. Let them know how much they mean to you…and when it’s in writing, it will be there forever.

I’m thankful for the teacher who assigned the letter, I’m thankful for the Father who wrote it, and I’m thankful that even though he might be gone, I can hear him speaking to me each time I read it.

dad-in-easter-suitDad, In lieu of the letter I should have written to you before you died, I have been writing letters to you ever since. Letters that share my love for you and my sadness that you are no longer here. There isn’t a single day that goes by when I don’t miss you. You writing such an honest and authentic letter to me as a young freshie is just one of the many spectacular gifts you gave me as your son. I read your words, and although they still bring tears to my eyes as they did on the first day I read it, they also bring a sense of gratitude that I had you as a Father here on earth for all the years I did. I wasn’t just lucky to have you as a Dad—I was blessed beyond belief. Your words in that letter are so important to me because I know they aren’t just words. They are reflections of your innermost beliefs, and you lived and loved me in a way that made those words come to life. Thank you for writing that letter, Dad. I’m sorry that I never wrote you the one you deserved to read. It breaks my heart knowing that I never handed you a letter in return, but it gives me hope knowing that I’ll get to tell you exactly how much I love you face to face someday. Until that wonderful day, seeya Bub.

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:34-35 (MSG)

When You Aren’t Here

“We had no idea.”

It was a constant refrain in the days and weeks after my Dad’s death. People had no idea he was suffering. People had no idea how much he was hurting. People had no idea that my Dad was so sick that his life could be in danger.

I was one of those people, too.

Families that are unfamiliar or untouched by suicide often have misconceptions about depression and mental illness—I know that I did before it hit home for me.

Those who are unfamiliar with suicide often believe that there are unmistakable warning signs. They believe that family members must have missed something along the way, or that they weren’t paying attention to the needs of their loved one. Wrongly, they believe that in circumstances involving suicide, there are always major and apparent signals that should send up a red flag.

Well I’ve been there, and I can say this with the utmost certainty. There may be instances where warning signs are there, but in my scenario, there were none. There was no red flag. There were no sirens and flashing lights saying “Save your loved one before something terrible happens.”

And this might be hard to understand, but I firmly believe this: my Dad didn’t see them either.


When I bought my home at the age of 25 (there’s more stories about this experience in earlier posts here and here), I knew that there would be some significant do-it-yourself projects that I would need to take care of. Virtually every room needed to be painted. Television sets needed to be hung. Furniture needed to be assembled. The pond needed to be cleaned out and the pumps needed to be repaired.

There was one problem (big is an understatement). You see, I bought the house knowing that these things needed to be done…but I didn’t know how to do any of these things. I didn’t know how to paint rooms. I didn’t know how to hang television sets. I didn’t know how to assemble furniture. And I wasn’t crazy about the idea of cleaning out a pond that hadn’t been touched in nine years.

But I bought the house knowing this because I had an ace in the hole: my Dad. My Dad knew how to do all these things—and a whole lot more. I’m confident that I’m a terrible do-it-yourselfer because my Dad inherited all the genes necessary for home repair and a builder’s mindset, leaving none of those genes left for his only son. My Dad could do anything—and I really mean anything. Small projects were easy for him, like hanging a shelf or assembling a piece of furniture. The shelves in my room as a child that hung on the walls were actually handcrafted and built by him. No childhood toy was victim to complete destruction, because Dad always had a way to repair them. Christmas morning was always a joy because the “some assembly required” warning that frustrates and frightens so many Dads was a welcome challenge to mine.

But he made the big projects look easy too. He constructed a beautiful deck that entirely surrounded our backyard swimming pool that was the envy of our neighborhood. The deck had a beautiful grand staircase and meticulously-arranged spindles all around it. He built a garage and foyer addition onto our house, completely changing the look, feel, and functionality of my childhood home. From drawing plans and pouring concrete, to constructing frames and roofing the addition, Dad knew how to do it all. When it came to building and repairing, my Dad was a true Renaissance man.

For my entire life, I had really relied on my Dad (sometimes unfairly) to just take care of all these things for me. I took for granted that I had a live-in Bob Vila at my home who could fix anything I needed. But when I bought my own home, something in my soul changed that told me I needed to start taking some responsibility. No, I didn’t know how to do…well, anything. But my Dad did. And I could learn from him.

Upon a closer review of the house after I took ownership of it, more and more problems began to appear. One day, I noticed a rather large crack down the wall above the sliding glass door in my family room. I called Dad one day to tell him about the crack, and he used a bunch of words that I didn’t understand to basically tell me that he could fix it. He said he would come over later that night to fix everything. Not only was Dad talented, but he was always reliable.

Dad came over later that night with his toolbelt on—it was a look that he wore well and had been wearing for as long as he’d been my Dad. Whenever I picture my Dad, I usually picture him in that outfit—a dark blue work t-shirt with his name above the pocket, light and worn carpenter’s jeans, steel toed work boots, and a rugged brown toolbelt. That toolbelt had everything he needed—and if he needed something else, he could easily buy another pouch to fasten onto the belt.

Dad looked at the crack, ran his hands over it a few times, and then ran back to his truck to get all the additional items he would need to fix it. He came back with a ladder, a jar of drywall patch, and a smile on his face—“This is an easy one. I’ll have it fixed in no time.”

Dad climbed up on the ladder and began to work, and I sat behind him watching intensely. I watched him work in a way that I never had before. I wanted to watch him closely, because I knew there were going to be other drywall cracks in the years to come, and I wanted to be able to fix them on my own.

After a while, Dad could feel the glare of my stare, and he looked over his shoulder hesitantly. I think he was a bit surprised because, and I’m ashamed to admit this, I had never really taken a big interest in his work and any type of physical labor before this. I just smiled at him, and Dad just kept on working.

He sanded the portions of the wall that were near the crack, and then he took out a netting material to…well, I really don’t know what he was going to do with it. So, I asked him.

“So, what are you going to do with that netting stuff you’ve got there?”

At that point, Dad must have thought I had been drinking or that his son had been abducted by aliens and replaced with a Tyler-twin who was actually interested in carpentry and home repair.

He told me what he was going to do, as my Dad was always a great teacher. But then, his curiosity got the best of him.

“Why are you asking me that?”

“Well, I want to know how to fix it on my own, you know…in case you’re not here.”

Dad smirked, shook his head, and turned around and went back to his work. As he resumed the job at hand, I’ll always remember his response:

“I’ll always be here to help with stuff like this.”

That moment stands out to me for so many reasons, but I always think about this simple fact: When my Dad promised made that statement, it was less than one year from the day that his life would end from suicide. Less than a year.

You see, people might think there are warning signs for loved ones and close friends to observe, and in some cases those signs may be there. But they aren’t there in every case. Even the person at the heart of the storm can believe that suicide will never affect them. Even the person who is suffering most might not see the warning signs. Even the victim of suicide believes with all their heart that suicide will never be their end.

I firmly believe that my Dad honestly believed he would always be here. My Dad had plans for his life that stretched long after July 24, 2013. This wasn’t something that he put on a calendar or contemplated. This was something that, I’m sure, shocked him as much as it shocked everyone who loved him.

We must start realizing that suicide is a decision made when the mind is in a malfunctioning state. Those who die from suicide do not make this decision in the right frame of mind. They want to be here with us forever, but something in their mind tells them that being here forever will bring tremendous pain—not just for themselves, but for the loved ones they feel they will be a burden to. There is a malfunction at the brain level that warps the thought process so severely that rational thought seems irrational.

Had we known my Dad was hurting so severely that it would threaten his life, we would have moved heaven and earth to save him. My Mom and I would have done anything we could to help him weather that storm and the ones that might have followed. We never would have left him alone at the house that day. But we never would have thought that suicide was within the realm of possibility for my Dad.

And I believe this: Had my Dad thought that his life was seriously in danger, he would have done everything he could to save it. For himself. For me. For my Mom. For everyone he loved.

That’s why I can’t, and I never will, hold my Dad responsible for his death. I know his true heart. I know where he wanted to be. I know he wanted to be here with all of us. He told me that he would. And my Dad never lied to me. He told me on that night, and so many others, that he would always be there to help me when I needed him. He told me how much he was looking forward to me finding someone to spend the rest of my life with…and how much he wanted to be a Grandpa. He had plans for things he was going to do to our house and for things he wanted to do, like going to certain concerts or going on unique trips. Do these sound like the plans of a man who welcome death? No, they don’t. Because my Dad didn’t want to die. He wanted to be here for as long as God would allow him too.

Even though I strongly believe that my Dad gave no indication that he was suffering so severely that it could lead to suicide, I still feel tremendous guilt. Guilt for not knowing what could happen. Guilt for not seeing what was happening in his mind and heart. Guilt for not doing more to protect the man who had always been my protector.

I know this “survivor’s guilt” is irrational, but it’s there and it’s real. There are days when it weighs me down so severely that I can’t function. It hurts me that I couldn’t do more.

But maybe, just like the crack in the wall and the other home repairs, I wasn’t equipped to fix that problem. I wasn’t prepared to heal the hurt and illness my Dad suffered from. Either way, I’ve struggled to come to terms with the fact that my Dad is no longer here, even though he should be. The tremendous guilt and the overwhelming sorrow are a hallmark of the survivor’s life, and I never quite understood just how intense this was until it affected my life. It’s expanded my heart to be more empathetic to others. It’s made me feel better prepared to help other people.

And even though I still can’t fix any cracks that appear in my wall, I’ve got the memory of an inspiration and a great Father that will motivate me to pay attention to my own emotions.

Dad with Baby Lucy and SB LogoDad, I never thought I’d have to experience life without you so soon. I had images of you growing old, and I was excited to see you enter new chapters of your life, because you always had a sense of adventure. There are days, many days, when I feel helplessly lost without you. It always feels like something is missing when you aren’t around—it’s like there’s a gaping hole that can never be filled perfectly, even though good things are happening all around me. You brought such life to my life, and now I try to use your memory to fulfill that. I look forward to life in Eternity when the “you aren’t here” times are simply a thing of the past. Until that day, I’ll continue honoring your memory and loving you with all my heart. Seeya, Bub.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

Yes, He Loves Me

The tiniest, simplest books are often the best books.

Love Is CoverWhen I was a kid, one of my favorite books was one that my Mom bought for me at a library book sale called “Love Is Walking Hand in Hand.” The 1965 book is about as simple as you can get. Written by the famous illustrator Charles Schulz, the book features the Peanuts gang (Charlie Brown and Snoopy and all your other favorites) with simple but practical examples of what love can look like in our everyday lives. Each page features a new example: “Love is walking hand in hand,” “Love is having a special song,” “Love is messing up someone’s hair,” “Love is wishing you had nerve enough to go over and talk with that little girl with the red hair,” “Love is letting him win even though you know you could slaughter him” (There’s more awesome gems from this book at brainpickings.org).

I loved that book because it was easy. I loved that book because it took a complex and nebulous idea, like love, and made it easy for me to see and understand. That book put hands and feet on love for me. That book didn’t just tell me what love was—it taught me how to love other people.

Isn’t it funny how we often come back to those simple little lessons as we age to deal with some of life’s most complex issues?

It’s true, my life after Dad’s death has been vastly more complicated, but the answers to those complicated questions can sometimes be beautifully, wonderfully simple.

Lately, I’ve been reading and revisiting a number of different books and articles written by survivors of suicide. Some of these books resonate really deeply with me, but others describe scenarios that I’m truly unfamiliar with. And it should be that way. The experience of each survivor of suicide is entirely different, and we all struggle with different feelings at different seasons. There’s no manual or “right way” to grieve. There’s no perfect way to do this because each person who suffers is imperfect in their own way.

One thing that we all have in common as survivors of suicide loss, however, is dealing with questions. And one of the worst ramifications of a suicide involves the many unanswered (and sometimes unanswerable) questions it creates in the lives of those left behind.

There is one question in the “life after your loved one” that is particularly haunting. It’s a question that gets to the roots and the motivations of suicide in general.

Oftentimes, whether reasonable or not, suicide survivors often wonder “If my loved one died by suicide, did they ever really love me?”

It’s heartbreaking for me to even write these questions down, mainly because this is a question that I’ve always been able to answer easily. Yes, I know that my Dad loved me. I know that he suffered from a debilitating brain illness that warped his mind and hacked his thought processes. I know that his decision was not a reflection of his love or lack thereof. It was uncontrollable. It was out of his ability to handle. He loved me so much that he couldn’t bear the thought of letting me (and the rest of his friends and family) down.

But even the most rock-solid faith in God and love can be subject to temptation and doubt. No matter how strong my belief, I have to admit…there have been moments in the three-and-more years since Dad passed where Satan has gotten the best of me. There have been moments so sad and heartbreaking that it’s made it hard to function, physically and emotionally. And yes, although I hate to admit it, there have been moments where (even temporarily) the pain of losing my Dad so suddenly and tragically have called into question everything I believe.

Alright, I’ll say it…I’ve always been the guy who rolls my eyes a bit at a wedding whenever the minister says “Our reading is from the 13th chapter of the book of 1st Corinthians…” Mainly, I used to think that people chose this particular passage because it’s the easiest one to understand. It’s easy to reprint on a coffee mug or desk sign. (Don’t act like I’m the only one who’s thought this.)

But suicide changed my life in dramatic ways, and that particular passage of Scripture took on a whole new meaning after Dad died. You’ve heard it before, and just to help you prepare for the Summer wedding season, you’ll hear it again here:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV)

I think people love this verse because, just like my Charlie Brown book from my childhood, it makes love a tangible thing. It puts hands and feet to love. We can look at any scenario in our life, evaluate it against these standards, and judge accurately whether or not love is there.

For this reason, I often go to the version in The Message (MSG) that I think puts a perfect “Charlie Brown” picture with the original text:

“Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 (MSG)

So, like I’ve done so many times when the storms have come upon my soul after Dad died, I did just that to help reaffirm and strengthen my beliefs. Did my Dad really, really love me? Of course he did. Did he love me even though he died from suicide? Yes, undoubtedly. Even though life might have seemed unlivable to him, did he still love me?

Yes, yes, yes. I can answer that question with the firmest of faith. And it’s not just a whim or a feeling. It’s a fact. I can evaluate my Dad and his actions as a father against this beautiful, poetic Scripture, and I can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved me…and loves me still.

“Love is patient…” (v. 4) Boy, was my Dad ever patient…with me and with everything in life. All throughout my childhood, my Dad never tired of doing things that I’m sure weren’t all that exciting for him. I think specifically of the hours we used to spend each night wrestling on the floor of our family room. Much to Mom’s chagrin, I would often jump off of the stairs or the arm of a couch and Dad would catch me and body slam me. I think of all the times that Dad would take me to the playground or toss me off the deck of our backyard swimming pool. I’m sure that there were other things he would have rather done as an adult. But he always took the time to let me be a child. He was always patient with my constant pleas for entertainment. He was patient in everything he did, but I never once felt like I was a burden or distraction for my Dad.

“Love is kind.” (v. 4) I remember from a very young age, that my Dad always taught me how to be gentle. He didn’t tell me what being gentle was; he simply showed me in the way he lived his life. My Dad had a heart for other people. In my opinion, kindness is often judged by how you treat people who can’t ever pay you back for your kindness. My Dad had a heart for those people—especially the physically disabled. I remember how special his relationship was with Madelyn, a young girl from our church who suffered from Down’s Syndrome. He loved seeing her and each time, he would bend his neck to let her rub his bald head as she smiled. My Dad also loved pets and animals of all kinds. Dad was never too busy to pet a dog or play fetch with it. He got so much enjoyment giving joy to other people (and many four-legged creatures as well).

Whenever I think of my Dad’s kindness, I think most about the times when I was hurt or injured as a child, and how he could make me feel safe, secure, and steady again. Dad often took me and my friends on bike rides to Rentschler Park when we were kids. My friends and I loved it, because Dad would often take us on the most challenging trails, encouraging us to pop wheelies, ramp small hills, and navigate particularly treacherous trails. One evening, I rode down a very steep hill, and the overgrown grass had concealed a rather large and raised manhole cover. I hit the manhole cover hard, went head over handlebars, and landed on top of the manhole cover on my back as the bike slammed down hard into my chest. I got the wind knocked out of me, and I had a lot of cuts and bruises to show for it. Without blinking, my Dad threw his bike down, came and scooped me up in his arms, and carried me all the way home. He enlisted my friends to help push our bikes so he could carry me. That’s kindness. That’s love. That’s my Dad. I miss feeling the kindness of his hug.

“Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant or rude.” (v. 4) The message translation of this portion says “Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head” (v. 4-5). I love that! My Dad was one of the most humble men I’ve ever met, and his entire life was centered around telling people how proud he was of me—sometimes to the point that it embarrassed me! Although he didn’t have much to brag on when it came to athletic achievements, there were the few miraculous Saturdays where I had a good day in the net as the keeper and he would tell everyone about my achievement. Whether it was a great report card, an award I won at the school, or a particularly strong drawing I had made as a child, I always knew that Dad was my biggest fan. He loved me for who I was, and he loved telling people about the things I was doing. It made me feel important. It made me feel special. My Dad’s love was always, always about other people.

“It does not insist on its own way.” (v. 5) My Dad always gave me the freedom to figure things out on my own. He loved me by letting me make mistakes. Ultimately, he loved me by letting me be me. Dad and I were similar in many ways, but we were also very different. Dad was a stellar athlete. I was…less than stellar. Dad was a builder and knew how to work with his hands. I complained about most physical labor and threatened to call Children’s Protective Services if he forced me to work. Dad enjoyed riding dirtbikes and motorcycles, and although he bought me my own to ride many times, I was often too nervous to ride them well. But Dad, in spite of all these differences, always loved me. He never made me feel inadequate because I enjoyed books or puppet shows or coloring or things that I’m sure he didn’t have an interest in. I think Dad loved that I was like him in many ways, but I know that he also loved me because I wasn’t a carbon copy of him.

“It is not irritable or resentful.” (v. 5) I am a lucky child in that I can’t really remember my Dad ever losing his temper with me. I look back on my life, and yes there were times where he was upset with me, but I never felt unloved. For the most part, I was a pretty good kid—but even the best of kids do something every now and then to send their parents into the stratosphere. Even when I made mistakes, Dad never let those mistakes influence how he felt about me or how he perceived my character. My Dad was the parent who could get his point across just by saying he was disappointed in me and the way I behaved. He loved me, and yes he disciplined me when I needed and deserved it, but he never lost his temper. I strive to be more like him in many ways, but especially in this way. I know I need more of his coolheadedness.

“It does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.” (v. 6) In everything he did and taught me, my Dad encouraged me to be a good person. I know that sounds simple, but because he loved me, he wanted me to love other people and do what was right by them. Dad’s actions were always evaluated in the context of how it might affect other people. It might sound like a minor lesson to some people, but my Dad refused to litter. And he also refused to let his son do the same thing. At the time, I didn’t understand how throwing a gum wrapper out the car window could be a big deal, but Dad cared too much about the planet and other people to make his garbage their problem. And yes, if I threw down a candy wrapper or Coke can behind my Dad’s back, he would make me walk all the way back and pick it up. In even the minor, day-to-day actions of life, my Dad taught me to think about other people. He loved me by helping me love others and care for their well being.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things…” (v. 7) The Message translation from this portion of the passage says that love “always looks for the best” and “never looks back.” My Dad was an eternal optimist, especially when it came to seeing the goodness in other people. I’m thankful that my Dad always saw the best in me, even when I didn’t always show him my best. When it came to emotions and arguments that happen between a father and son, my Dad had an unbelievably short memory. If Dad and I had a disagreement on Friday night, Dad would be completely back to his normal, smiling self by that Saturday morning. He never, ever withheld his love, because he knew love could solve all of our problems. He knew that he could reach me by loving me, not by shunning me. He let love cover every interaction we ever had. I wish I had always done the same.

“Love endures all things.” (v. 7) I can think of few things that could have devastated my life more than losing one of my parents, but strangely enough I still felt that the love my Dad showed me each and every day could carry me through the pain of losing him. Strangely, the love he showed me helped prepare me for eventually losing him. I watched the way my Dad treated me when I was hurting, and in turn I learned how to better comfort my Mom and other family members when they were grieving. My Dad had the uncanny ability to nurture me authentically, and when he died I knew that one of the central callings of my life would be to love people the way he did.

“Love never ends.” (v. 8) My Dad’s life here on Earth might have ended, but I know that his love never has. It’s still with me. I feel it every single day. On certain days, I can still feel him talking to me. I don’t know if it’s Scripturally or theologically sound, but I’ve felt messages of love from my Dad numerous times since he died—especially in the dark moments where I needed them most. I think this is the greatest reflection of a person’s capacity to love—the body may be gone, but the heart and the soul are still here when you need them. When I lack confidence or feel nervous, I can still picture my Dad standing there with a huge smile on his face saying “I’m proud of you, Bub.” That’s all I need. That’s all I’ll ever need.

I’ve often heard that the best way to fight the Devil and the doubt he creates is to attack him with Scripture. This battle tactic isn’t a speculation…it’s directly evidenced when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4 or Luke 4). When Satan tempted Jesus with food or power, and even pushed him to test God’s love for him by jumping from the Temple and calling on Angels to rescue him, Jesus fought back by quoting the word of God. Satan tried to create doubt, but Jesus relied on the unfailing truth of God’s Word to bolster his spirit. And it worked.

Doubt is, unfortunately, natural in the life of a suicide survivor. When something as unthinkable as a suicide happens to someone we love, it’s easy to question everything that previously seemed to be real or true. “If that could happen,” the suicide survivor says, “then how can I trust anything else I’ve ever believed?” It sounds dramatic, but I’ve experienced it myself…as have millions of others who are left behind with this heartache.

I’m so thankful, though, that in the midst of all my heartache and doubt and confusion I can know without question that, yes, my Dad loved me and that, yes, he still loves me.

My Dad’s death from suicide was not a conscious decision, but one that occurred in the middle of a terrible storm and illness that took over his thought processes. If anything, I think my Dad’s love for us might have been so strong that he didn’t want his illness to be a burden to me or Mom or the rest of our family. I wish that I had told him that he would never be a burden, and that one of the greatest gifts in my life was receiving his love.

Why would I ever let one defeat like my Dad’s death erase a lifetime of evidence that proves he was loving and caring and kind? One moment does not define a person’s entirety. Suicide, although permanent and irreversible in this situation, does not tell my Dad’s story. The love he showed is what defines him. The love he gave made him the man he was. It’s making me into a better man even though he’s gone.

So yes, amidst all the doubt and confusion that a suicide creates, I know my Dad loved me. I know that he still loves me. It’s there in the pages of my Bible. It’s reflected in the moments of my life. It’s in everything I do, and it always will be.

Me Dad and Lucy at Picnic with SB LogoDad, I hate that the confusion over your death would even lead to any doubt about whether or not you loved me, but I’m glad that I can quickly rely on the truth of God’s Word and the example you gave me each and every day to reaffirm your love. You were the epitome of a loving Father. I try each day to love people the way you did, and no matter how hard I try I know that I’ll always fall short—that’s how high you set the bar. You made love your mission. You made love your calling. You let God show you how to love, and then you showed God’s people how to love in everything you did. I pray that I’m able to become more and more like you as days go by. As those days pass, I rest assured knowing I will get to see you again. I’ll get to feel your hug and see your smile and know that everything about you is right, even though your circumstances here on Earth weren’t. Keep loving me, Dad. Keep watching over me and pushing me to be a better man. I’ll never stop loving you. Until I can tell you in person, seeya Bub.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

Words Matter

“How do you tell people…how your Dad died?”

I sat across the table at a Panera from a good friend of mine. Unfortunately, we sat at that table together as victims of a similar tragedy, having each lost a parent to suicide. We talked that night about many things, especially the difficulties we encountered as grief stayed constant while life moved on.

I closed my eyes and nodded my head, because I remember asking myself this same question. I remember struggling to find the words when people asked why my Dad died so young. When I looked across that table, I saw a man walking through the same horrible questions and doubt that I had been dealing with. I would have done anything in that moment to take his pain away, because living a life after suicide makes even the most simple moments ridiculously complex. It’s hard to find the words to describe the death of a loved one when suicide enters the picture.

I thank God that, although eventually and painfully, I found the words I needed.


“My Dad committed suicide.”

“My Dad took his own life.”

“My Dad died from a suicide.”

I just didn’t know how to say it.

In the week or so after my Dad died, as crazy as this might sound, I would stand in front of my mirror at home and I would practice saying these things aloud. I would look at my own eyes, often swollen and tear-stained, and say these words to myself. Each and every time, they would break my heart.

No matter what variation I came up with, however, I just couldn’t find a way to do this. I couldn’t bring myself to say these words, mainly because they felt so unnatural. I never, never convicted my Dad of his death. I never, at any moment, held my Dad responsible for what happened to him in his battle with depression. I know that every survivor of suicide can’t say this (and that’s completely okay), but I was never at any moment mad at my Dad for what happened to him. He was not responsible for his death—depression was. Depression, a horrible and difficult to comprehend illness, stole him from his family and everything he loved. My Dad didn’t “commit” anything.

During my years in graduate school, I learned many things about life that extended far beyond the training I was receiving for a career as a college educator. One of the lessons that our faculty members constantly tried to drive home is a rather simple one: words matter. The words we choose to use each day matter. The words we use to define other people and their identities are important. It seems like a simple lesson, but I don’t think I realized just how meaningful this truth was until it hit home with my Dad’s death.

Now, in the midst of the greatest turmoil of my life, I found myself struggling each and every day to tell people how my Dad died.

I didn’t want people who didn’t know my Dad to have a wrong impression of the man he was. I didn’t want all the negative stereotypes and stigmas typically associated with suicide to discolor my Dad’s memory and legacy. If anything, I wanted people to know that even the strongest amongst our midst still suffer and still succumb. I wanted to convey this in a simple phrase—and like I do in so many areas of my life, I turned to a good book to help.

The gift of a good book is one of the most precious things you can give someone, in my opinion. I’m thankful that members of my family feel the same way. My grandmother, Pat, is an avid reader like me, and a thoughtful reader at that. Pat was my Dad’s step-mother, and in the aftermath of my Dad’s passing, Pat was extremely gracious and loving as my Mom and I continued to grieve. At the same time that she was suffering, she made sure to watch over my Mom and I, helping any way she could.

Grieving a Suicide BookOne of her most thoughtful gestures during that time came in the form of a book that has helped me in more ways than I’ll ever be able to thank her for. In an attempt to cope with her own sadness after losing my Dad, Pat came across an amazing book written by Albert Y. Hsu called Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers & Hope. Pat was kind enough to read the book and recognize how helpful it was, and she bought two more copies: one for me, and one for my Mom. (For this book and others that helped me cope with my Dad’s death, visit the “Library” section of Seeya Bub.)

As soon as I received the book, I stopped reading what I currently had on the docket and made this my priority—and I’m so thankful that I did. This book was sent from Pat, but I know that it was also sent from God. I received the book from Grandma Pat right in the midst of my struggle to verbalize my Dad’s death. Like all good books, it came at just the right time.

In the understatement of the century, I’ll say this: Albert Hsu’s book is a real blessing and an inspiration—especially for everything I do on this blog. Hsu lost his father, Terry, to suicide. On an everyday Thursday morning, Albert received a call from his mother that is all too familiar for so many families in our country. Albert’s Mom had discovered Terry’s body, cold and lifeless, in their family home. In such a perfect way in the pages that follow, Albert describes each and every emotion that he felt and still feels and all the unique struggles he encounters as a survivor of suicide. His story is one of the most helpful things I encountered in the aftermath of my Dad’s death, for so many reasons.

And just as I was struggling with how to describe my Dad’s death, I came across a section in the book titled “How To Talk About Suicide”. It was like a message sent directly from God through another loyal follower. It was exactly, exactly what I needed in that exact moment.

Forgive the long passage, but understand how vitally important these words were for me in my struggle to grieve. Hsu wrote:

Survivors are hypersensitive to the topic of suicide. It punches us in the gut if someone jokes, “If this doesn’t work out, I’m going to kill myself!” One survivor told me that she challenges coworkers who say things like that, asking them if they’ve ever considered how painful those flip comments might be to others. Suicide is no laughing matter.

How should people describe the act of suicide? This has been an ongoing debate for some years. The traditional phrase has been to say that someone “committed suicide.” Survivors reacted against this, saying that it implies criminality, as one would commit murder. Is suicide a crime that is committed, like a burglary? In some cases, perhaps, but in many cases, no.

In the past few decades, psychologists and suicide survivor groups have moved toward saying that someone “completed suicide.” In this parlance, suicide is not a single act but the final episode in what may have been a period of self-destructive tendencies.

The problem is that in many cases, suicide is a single act, not one of a series of attempts or part of a larger pattern. Furthermore, to say that someone “completed” suicide sounds like noting a laudatory accomplishment, like completing a term paper or college degree. It also comes across as somewhat clinical and cold.

So more recently, grief organizations and counselors have suggested that we use more neutral terms: for example, someone “died of suicide” or “died by suicide.” The Compassionate Friends, an organization dedicated to helping families who have lost children, officially changed its language in 199 so that all its materials reflect this. Executive Director Diana Cunningham said, “Both expressions [‘committed suicide’ and ‘completed suicide’] perpetuate a stigma that is neither accurate nor relevant in today’s society.”

I resonate with this. I find it difficult to form the phrase “My dad committed suicide.” And it seems wholly unnatural to say that “my dad completed suicide.” It is somewhat easier to tell someone that “my dad died from suicide”… (Hsu, 2002, pp. 145-146)

I put the book down, and in that very moment I knew that I would never say the phrase “committed suicide” when describing my Dad or other people who suffered the same fate he did. I just couldn’t do it, because it didn’t accurately describe what happened to my Dad. “Committed” gave the impression that my Dad did what he did willingly and with a sound mind. That he welcomed death, even though I knew he fought against it each and every day of his life. Even though I have many questions about his death, I knew this was not the case.

I wanted to find language that reflected the fact that my Dad’s life was stolen. Stolen by a terrible disease that attacked his mind and his well-being. People don’t commit death by cancer. They don’t commit death via car accidents or strange and inexplicable illnesses. And they don’t commit suicide either. They suffer, and there’s no guilt to be felt by those who suffer from diseases that we don’t quite understand—whether physical or mental. I liked these phrases that Hsu suggested, but I still found myself searching for the perfect phrase.

And then, in the midst of all these thoughts, I heard someone say it for the first time. I don’t remember where, and I don’t even remember who said, but I heard someone refer to their loved one as a “victim of suicide.” Their loved one was a victim. A victim of a horrible illness that attacks and hijacks our thought processes to make life appear unlivable.

I knew, in that moment, that would be the phrase I used to describe my Dad’s death. I knew that that particular phrase captured the way I felt about my Dad’s death. It would send the most accurate message about my Dad’s death—that his life was cut short by a terrible disease and illness that stole his life prematurely. That I didn’t hold him responsible for that July morning in 2013. That I never, in any moment, blamed him for what happened.

So, whenever I would speak publicly about my Dad or talk to someone who asked why he died, my phrasing was always consistent and purposeful. My Dad, a strong, sturdy, and stable man was a victim. A victim of suicide. It didn’t remove the tears or the hurt, but using that phrase helped me honor my Dad each time I shared his story.


Sitting in Panera a few years after my Dad’s death, I found myself speaking passionately and purposefully to another young suicide survivor about this very topic. And I realized, in that moment, that God led me down that journey to describe my Dad’s death for a reason. I realized that words, no matter how innocuous or mundane, matter more than anything.

I admit, both selfishly and with regret, that before suicide impacted my life I never gave a second thought to how this language might bother or hurt those who were suffering. Before Dad’s death, I had a very different understanding of suicide. I would have willingly and readily used the phrase “commit suicide” without giving it a second thought.

But now, in this new life of mine, just hearing the word “suicide” causes me to stop dead in my tracks. I get goosebumps, still, every time I hear it. Because suicide has touched my life. And now, those words are personal.

To some people, this is nothing more than semantics and mental gymnastics. A meaningless attempt for someone who is hurting to cover their wounds with a bandage until the next wound surfaces. But to me, it’s everything. I believe words hold a unique power, because both the richest and poorest people in our world, separated by miles of inequality, still have stories and still have words to describe them. The psychologist Sigmund Freud said “Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.”

And I hope, with the words I choose, that I can sway someone else from meeting the same unfortunate end that my Dad found. I hope that the words I use, even those so seemingly simple as the way in which I describe his death, will cause someone to think differently about suicide, mental illness, and the need to fight against depression with everything we have.

This may sound simple, but the fight begins with the words we choose regarding suicide and mental illness. Our biggest obstacle in this battle, one that I hope you’ll join me in, is helping fight the shame and stigma of mental illness—and in order to get people to talk about how they feel, we have to make them feel that it’s okay to talk.

My words, your words, the words of hurting people—our words matter.

Dad and Lucy at Pumpkin PatchDad, Each day I wrestle with telling your story and making sure people who never knew you know the type of man you were. I want them to know you were strong. I want them to know you were thoughtful. I want them to know you were caring and loving and everything a Father should be. I hope that the words I choose to use convey the love I have for you and the love you gave to all of us each and every day here on Earth. You never inflicted pain with the words you chose. You built people up by telling them and showing them how important they were to you. You and I had many wonderful conversations together, and we shared so many words. I’m sorry for the moments that my words may have hurt you. I wish I had spent more time telling you the words you deserved to hear—that I loved you, that I was proud of you, and that I was always there to listen when you were hurting. I know that we will have these conversations again. I wait longingly for that day. But until our words meet each other’s ears again, seeya Bub.

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

Just Talk

When I spoke in public, I rarely stood behind a podium. I’m a roamer. I’m pretty animated and I like to have free range of the stage.

But on this particular day, I had never gripped a podium more tightly in my entire life. My knees were buckling and my legs felt weak, and I had a white knuckle grip on the lectern to prevent myself from collapsing. I felt like I could fall over at any moment because every time I looked down from that particular podium, I didn’t see the 500 faces in the audience.

Instead, I saw a casket. A casket which carried my Dad’s body.

It was Monday, July 29, 2013—the day of my Dad’s funeral.

I wanted to speak at the funeral, even though every physical sign told me that I probably shouldn’t. I hadn’t been able to eat regularly since finding out my Dad was dead. My nights were tormented with sleeplessness and nightmares, reliving the sights and sounds of that tragic day. A short time standing caused me to feel lightheaded. My body reflected the way my mind and my heart felt—everything was completely broken. But I knew I had to speak.

Since college, I had overcome a fear of public speaking that had once paralyzed me. In high school, I dreaded public speaking. My hands would shake and my voice would quiver. Thank goodness for Miami University and an amazing public speaking professor named Carol Shulman. She gave me the confidence I needed during each and every class, even entering me in a public speaking competition where I had to present to a jam-packed auditorium on campus. In my first year of college, I grew to love any opportunity to speak in public. It became my modus operandi. I loved it. I craved it.

But on this day, I despised it. I would have done anything to avoid it.

Even the best college courses in public speaking don’t always prepare for the magnitude of speaking at a eulogy—especially for a parent. I knew that, if our lives had played out naturally, I would someday have to pay tribute to my Father after he passed. But I never imagined I would be delivering his eulogy before I hit the age of 30. I imagined I would be old and gray (hopefully not bald like my Dad), delivering a tribute to a man who would live into his eighties or nineties. But life didn’t play out naturally. Everything about this moment was unnatural. Real life, but completely unnatural.

I knew why I was speaking. I wasn’t going to the pulpit in an effort to console people, because I was hurting too much myself to do that. I wasn’t going to the pulpit to answer anyone’s questions about why this had happened, because I was struggling with those same questions and still am today. I wasn’t going to the pulpit that morning for any reason but this—I wanted to honor my Dad. I wanted to tell him I loved him, even though he wasn’t there to hear it. I wanted to say thank you for all the times he had sacrificed for me and loved me when I didn’t deserve it. I wanted to say thank you to a man who had given me everything and who had exemplified every aspect of strong fatherhood.

My motivation was clear, but my notes weren’t. Actually, they didn’t exist. For better or for worse, I decided to go to the pulpit that day and speak from the heart. I attempted to sit down and map out my thoughts many times, but I just couldn’t do it. I would sob uncontrollably every time I thought about having to deliver his eulogy. It seemed impossible—mainly because I didn’t want to admit that I would have to say goodbye.

But how do you prepare to eulogize your Father? I might have been prepared if he had died at a ripe old age of natural causes, but in the blink of an eye at a beautiful season in his life, my Father was tragically and suddenly gone. I couldn’t prepare for his death, and as such, I couldn’t prepare for his eulogy. I’m not saying it’s easier to give a eulogy in particular circumstances—saying goodbye at any age is no fun at all. But I envisioned something like this happening many years down the road. I knew I would eventually have to say goodbye to my Dad—but not when he was 50 and I was 26. That just didn’t seem right. Again, it felt unnatural.

But deaths rarely seem right or natural. In fact, they usually always seem wrong. And they should. We should desire for Eternity. God has put that longing in our hearts. But in an imperfect world, we try and take horrible messes, with God’s hand over us, and turn them into something useful.

I hoped I would be able to do that at my Dad’s funeral.

Flanked by my cousins, I made my way to the front of the church. I walked up the carpeted stairs in the dimly lit sanctuary, with a chorus of sniffles behind me from the family members, friends, coworkers, and loved ones who had come to say goodbye and support my family. Everything in my line of vision seemed somewhat blurred. I didn’t feel like myself. I was living a life that was now mine, but my mind refused to accept it.

I was able to give a somewhat coherent eulogy, telling a few stories about my Dad’s humor and thanking the people who had loved him over his life and who had loved Mom and I when they heard the news of his death. I don’t remember much of what I said that day, but I do remember feeling like God was calling me to say something to the folks who had gathered to say goodbye to my Dad. I didn’t know who or what, but I knew there had to be people gathered in that church—just like my Dad—who were suffering from mental illness or depression but were just too ashamed or too embarrassed to ask for help. I didn’t want my Dad to have to be the sacrificial lamb, but I also didn’t want him to die in vain. Although I would have done anything to have him back, I wanted his death to be a reminder that mental illness is a really, really debilitating disease. And I wanted people to know that their fate could be different.

“Just talk,” I said. “If you’re suffering or if you’re hurting, just talk to someone. To anyone. You don’t have to suffer like this.”

It wasn’t profound, but it was heartfelt. A heartfelt plea to anyone sitting in those pews who, like my Dad had done for so long, put on a mask to try and hide their own depression, anxiety, and fear. I wanted those people to see a heartbroken family torn apart by a disease that can be treated but often isn’t. I wanted those individuals to feel compelled to fight back against the dark thoughts they might have. I wanted those individuals to live a different ending than the one that stole my Father.

Oftentimes, the best solutions are not the profound ones, but instead are the solutions that are so simple we often don’t do them. And when it comes to fighting mental illness, we all just need to talk.

We need to talk about how we are feeling. We need to ask for help when we need it—both from friends and professionals. We need to talk about what we are feeling, no matter how irrational, without fear of embarrassment or shame.

One of the best weapons in the fight against suicide is talking to someone when we are feeling suicidal. And although we know this and acknowledge its truth, it’s often much more difficult for us to live this out.

I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball, and I’m not naïve enough to believe that had my Dad simply talked that everything would have been different. I simply don’t know the answer to that question, and I never will. But I know this:

It couldn’t have hurt.

It couldn’t have been any worse than how it ended.

It might have been different.

I pray that I never experience another tragedy as heartbreaking as the death of my Father because it has completely torn me apart. There have been sleepless nights where I can’t quit thinking of him, and sleep-filled days where I’m so paralyzed by hurt that I can’t function normally. There have been moments of regret filled with a desperate longing to talk with him just one more time. I miss him more and more every single day.

So today, and in everything that I do, I’ll honor the talkers. The people who aren’t afraid to come forward and say “I need help,” “I’m hurting,” or “I just don’t understand.”

People like Prince Harry. Yes, that Prince Harry—the royal one. It’s fitting that I’m writing this post as a Dateline episode plays about the death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana. I remember watching the news coverage with my Mom when I was a young boy. I remember my Mom’s sadness, and I remember watching those two little boys at their Mom’s funeral—not knowing someday I would experience a similar pain of tragic and inexplicable loss.

Diana’s death was the impetus of a very dark period in Harry’s life—a period that has gone on for 20 years. Diana died 20 years ago when Harry was only 12. Now, at age 32, he’s just beginning to talk. But he’s talking nonetheless. And he’s inspiring millions.

A recent article in USA Today recapped an amazingly candid and recent interview when Harry began to talk about his own struggles with mental illness spurred by his mother’s death. Here’s an important excerpt from the article that I’d like to share with you:

“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” Prince Harry said. “And it was only three years ago — funny enough — from the support around, and my brother and other people saying that, ‘You really need to deal with this. It’s not normal to think that nothing’s affected you.'”

Harry said instead of processing his grief for The People’s Princess, he stifled his emotions.

“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?” he shared. “It’s only going to make you sad; it’s not going to bring her back. So, from an emotional side, I was like ‘Right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything.’ So, I was a typical sort of 20, 25, 28-year-old running around going ‘Life is great’, or ‘Life is fine’ and that was exactly it.”

Harry said that when he began having the conversations he previously avoided he began to understand, “‘There’s actually a lot of stuff here I need to deal with…’”

“It was 20 years of not thinking about it and then two years of total chaos,” Harry recalled. “I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I just didn’t know what was wrong with me.”

Harry also revealed he’s “probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions” which he attributed to “all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions” that come with his royal title and public platform. He said during his trying years he began boxing, which he shared “really saved me because I was on the verge of punching someone, so being able to punch someone who had pads was certainly easier.”

During the interview, Harry said he is now “in a good place” and seemed grateful that he was finally able to process his mother’s death in a healthy way.

“… Because of the process that I’ve been through over the last two-and-a-half to 3 years,” he said, “I’ve now been able to take my work seriously, be able to take my private life seriously as well, and be able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference…”[1]

I commend Prince Harry for what he’s doing, especially his founding of a mental health advocacy group called Heads Together. But more than the public work he is doing, I am thankful that he is vulnerable enough to share his own story. It’s making life easier on a lot of people, and it’s making me feel even more normal as I continue to grieve for my Father.

When you’re a Prince, I would imagine people of many expectations of you. Expectations of perfection. As a Prince, everyone’s eyes are constantly on you and they are expecting you to make the right step, every step.

But Prince Harry is giving the rest of us the freedom to make mistakes when we grieve. I’ve said it numerous times, but there’s no manual on how to grieve because everyone grieves differently. Because there’s no manual, there’s also a strong likelihood that those who grieve won’t get it right every single time. Prince Harry’s story proves that.

And he’s also proving that when we talk, we begin to heal.

Prince Harry’s story reinforces an important point that has helped me come to terms with my own Father’s death: Depression is an illness that can invade our lives at any point, even when things are seemingly perfect.

Imagine the life that Prince Harry most likely leads. As a member of Britain’s royal class, there’s never a concern about money. Want a vacation? You can take one. Anywhere at any time. Want to buy a car? Why stick with just one when you could buy 47? You have influence over anyone. Unmistakable power and fame. Every material thing that most people dream of is right at his fingertips. And you can walk around in a crown and no one will think you’re dressing up. They know you’re a prince. And I’m sure they treat you like one.

But in the midst of a seemingly happy existence, there is a level of grief and depression that invaded Prince Harry’s life because he bottled up his emotions. No matter what cultural definitions of happiness were met, “sticking his head in the sand” led to a place of darkness and inescapable grief. Depression, then, has a unique and extremely frightening way of clouding and contorting our lives into something that seems completely overwhelming.

That is, until, he began to talk.

Once he began to talk, he began to be freed from the tight grasp depression held on his life. The stranglehold was loosened. And it probably saved his life.

I don’t fault my Dad for his death—I never have. My Dad suffered from a terrible disease that took over his mind, clouded his thoughts, and made the worries of this life seem inescapable. I would never blame him for his death, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things I wish we could have changed about this experience. I would give or do anything to change the outcome of that fateful July morning. Chief among those? Just talking with my Dad in the hopes that he might talk when he needed help.

Whether it was fear of embarrassment or trying to attain an unattainable societal expectation of perfection, my Dad couldn’t bring himself to talk about his struggles with depression. He did exactly what Prince Harry has admitted to doing. He bottled up his feelings. He stuck his head in the sand. He felt that showing weakness wouldn’t have helped. And I hate that, in his final moments on this Earth, he probably felt more alone than anyone.

I wish there was more I could’ve done. And ultimately, I wish I had done more to encourage him to talk.

But now, I’m in an unfortunate but redeemable place. It’s too late for me to talk to my Dad and encourage him to talk. He’s no longer here. So, instead, I am trying my best to encourage others to talk. In a sense, it’s my way of trying to change the lives of others, since I can’t change my Dad’s. I may not have the influence of Prince Harry, but I’m not concerned with numbers here. If I can impact one person—just one person—and encourage them to talk with someone, it will all be worth it in the end. If I can change one life, I will have made the difference God is calling me to make. We will suffer, yes—but we are never expected to suffer alone.

My Dad’s funeral was over three years ago, yet I find myself saying the same thing now that I said that day:

Just talk.

To someone.

To anyone.

About anything. And any feeling.

Because you matter. Your life matters. And you are loved.

But please, for your life and the lives of those who love you…just talk.

Dad at Beach with SB LogoDad, I wish each and every day that you were here with me still. I wish that I could hug your neck. I wish that I could ride in the truck with you. I wish, each day, that I could hear your laugh again. But more than anything, I wish I had done more to help you feel like it was okay to talk. I wish I had encouraged you, even forced you, to get the help that you deserved. In lieu of being able to tell you that now, however, I’m trying my best to use your story to save other people. I’m trying to do what you always did—help those who are down on their luck and need it most. Dad, you may not be here with me, but I hope you know that your story is making a tremendous impact. I can’t wait to just talk with you again. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2017/04/17/prince-harry-talked-about-his-grief-following-princess-dianas-death/100556842/