Waiting

If you’re an impatient kid, the wait for Christmas can always be a bit of a struggle. If you have a parent who is slow to get out of bed on Christmas morning, however, that struggle escalates to an epic, herculean test of the human will.

For as long as I can remember, Christmas morning in our family home was always tremendously special. As an only child, Christmas was particularly fun because…I didn’t have to share it with anyone else! Nothing says “Season of Giving” like relishing in the fact that you get to keep everything for yourself, am I right?! As an only child, there was never that moment of frantically grabbing a package only to have the smile fade from my face after seeing a sibling’s name. On occasion, our family dogs might have got an interesting package, but because my parents wanted to make Christmas so special, they always had plenty of gifts around the tree for me. I felt like a little prince on Christmas, but in all honesty, my parents made me feel loved and valued every day.

In my childhood, I was always a bit of an early riser. I would often wake around 6:30 or 7 on most days—what I wouldn’t give to rise with that same ease and energy as I had as a child. Nonetheless, I learned early on that it was always best to let my parents—both of whom had jobs and worked hard—sleep in a little later if they wanted to, especially on those precious Saturday mornings. Being an only child often teaches you how to entertain yourself, and I got pretty good at that on those early Saturdays. I would turn on the TV and watch Saturday morning cartoons, play with toys, draw and color, or entertain myself with any other activity that was quiet enough to not disrupt my slumbering parents. I was a good kid, and I knew my parents worked hard and deserved as much time to rest as they wanted, so I tried my best to make as little noise as possible.

On Christmas morning, however, there was no chance I would ever sleep in to a reasonable hour, and there was an even lesser chance that I would let my parents sleep in either. The excitement and nervous anticipation would wake me up long before the sun would rise in the hopes I might catch a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh has he scurried to the next home. Sometimes, I’d lay in bed and try to force myself to go back to sleep so the hours wouldn’t drag on at a soul-crushingly slow pace. On most Christmas mornings, I would give up and head downstairs immediately. I would turn on the TV and watch Christmas shows and movies until I heard movement from my parents.

Let me rephrase that: I stayed out of their hair (or the spot where Dad’s hair should have been) until I heard the slightest movement from my parents, and that would serve as excuse enough to wake them up. If I heard a cough, a tussle, or a snore that I could mistake for a parental foot stepping out of the bed, I would bounce up the stairs, stand in the doorway, and stare at my parents as they lay there, still sleeping. Then, after a few minutes of realizing they were still asleep, I would make some type of innocuous noise that I thought might be enough to wake them up. Oftentimes, a repeated heavy sigh was my course of action. I’d fake a cough, or a sneeze if I was feeling particularly ambitious. I might be able to get a door or floorboard to creak loudly to create enough noise that I couldn’t be blamed for.

No matter what mechanism of noise-creation I used, Mom was always the first to wake up. She would always come down the stairs, wish me a Merry Christmas, and kiss me on the forehead or on the cheek as I played in the family room and pretended not to know where all those disruptive noises had come from. For as long as I can remember, Mom would usually head straight to the kitchen on Christmas mornings to whip up a special breakfast for all of us. Her famous breakfast quiche was always a tradition, with a nice big glass of sparkling cider poured into our family Christmas glasses that were decorated with red and green holly berry. Meals which are that good always leave an impression, and those flavors will always taste like Christmas morning to me.

But after she got a good start on breakfast, the waiting game would often continue because Dad was always the last one up on Christmas morning. Always. I can’t think of a single Christmas when my Dad was the first person to wake up. Don’t get me wrong—my Dad wasn’t lazy, and he wasn’t usually a late sleeper. When it came to work, my Dad worked very difficult schedules his entire life, laboring as a steel plant maintenance technician. His shifts would change from first to third and back again, yet he never complained about having to rise or fall at these different hours. But when Dad did have the opportunity to sleep, he savored it—just like he savored everything in his life. He enjoyed sleep, and if he had the opportunity to sleep a little later, he was going to enjoy it, Christmas morning or not.

The mind of a child, however, doesn’t recognize that perspective on Christmas morning. The mind of a six-year-old child is screaming “Why are you not waking up?! There are presents to be torn apart and insanely complex toys that need to be put together and broken within minutes of receiving them!” Dad’s leisurely pace on Christmas was infuriating for a child who enjoyed opening presents.

On Christmas, and in life generally though, Dad operated on his own clock. Dad reserved speed for the times when he was behind the wheel in his truck; in most other segments of life, Dad rarely sped things along. He took his time doing the things he loved, because why rush happiness to simply get on to something else? If Dad ate a good meal, he ate it slowly and drank a second can of Coke so he could linger a bit longer. If Dad was at a family get-together, he was always one of the last ones to leave the company of a family he loved. If Dad was at a baseball game, there was rarely a time when he left before the last pitch was thrown. And especially when wrapping Christmas gifts, Dad took all the time he needed to make sure the gifts were intricately wrapped, creatively inspired, and adorned with just the right mix of bows, ribbons, and other decorative elements. In all things, Dad took his time—and on Christmas morning, he took his time to make his way down to the tree, which drove me absolutely bonkers.

Dad would sleep in for a bit on Christmas morning. Looking back, I realize just how few days he had to actually sleep in, but Christmas creates an unbridled impatience within the heart of a child that is difficult to squelch. On those Christmas mornings when he slept in past 8:00, I would sit on the couch with my arms folded, huffing and puffing as loud as my young lungs would allow, hoping my sighs of frustration would drift up the stairs and cause such guilt that my Dad would immediately come downstairs and encourage me to rip open every gift and a few of his while I was at it. When the aggressive breathing technique failed to work, I’d simply yell up the stairs. “Dad! Are you ever going to come down here?”

“Maybe by next Christmas,” he’d joke back, turning over to see if he could squeeze out another few minutes of rest.

As the minutes ticked on, each one seemingly more painful than the one before, I would roll my eyes and shake my head with fury, channeling the impatience of a man 80 years my senior. Even as a child, I was a bit of an old soul—an old, cranky, impatient little soul.

Eventually, after much pestering that didn’t affect him whatsoever, Dad would eventually come down the stairs. Every year, regardless of how much pestering I had done, it was largely the same image. Same dark, matching sweatsuit. Same thick, woolly socks. Same oval-rimmed glasses. Same wide smile when he saw the tree, his wife, his dog, and his red-faced, annoyed son eager to become a human gift-paper shredder. Dad would hug us, and he would keep smiling, and he would soak up every single moment of time we spent together on Christmas morning.

And then, after all of those presents were open, I’d start waiting for the next Christmas.

And now, here I am, many years removed from those Christmases of my childhood, and I’m still waiting. I’m waiting on something I know I’ll never have on this Earth again.

It’s strange to wait on a Christmas that I know will never come. I’m waiting on a Christmas when my Dad comes down the stairs in his elastic-ankled sweatpants and takes way too many pictures on his camera. I’m waiting on a Christmas that occurred so many years ago—a Christmas I likely took for granted as a child. A Christmas that I likely thought would occur forever and ever and ever, but was suddenly and unfairly ripped from my life forever. It’s absolutely maddening to know that, when we are young, we beg for time to move on; but once we age and lose the things that really matter in this world, we beg for God to turn back the clock.

That guilt of taking those Christmases for granted tears my heart into pieces every time I think about it. I think of all those Christmas mornings where I would get annoyed with Dad’s extra 15 minutes of sleep, or his obnoxious obsession with taking pictures of our family dog opening gifts. I would give just about anything to spend another Christmas with him, and even though we had 26 wonderful holiday mornings together, I desperately yearn for 26 more.

This will be my sixth Christmas without my Dad. I keep thinking that Christmas without him will get easier, and more normal, but it never does. There’s always an awkward absence when he doesn’t come down the stairs. There’s always a longing to give him another gift, to share another laugh, to just be in his presence once more. On certain years, that sadness and waiting for Christmas with him again has completely overtaken and overwhelmed me to the point when I couldn’t enjoy the things that were right in front of me. During certain years, those moments of sadness have paralyzed me.

But there are also beautiful, loving moments when I’m able to remember him again and smile happily as I think back on those splendid Christmas mornings we spent together. Mom still uses tags that my Dad wrote out in his precise, all-capital print, so I still get a gift labeled from my Dad every Christmas. Just seeing his handwriting soothes my soul in ways that are hard to describe because it reminds me how real he was. I’ll look around the tree and see ornaments that he always hung, like the Elf Carpenter, and it reminds me how much humor and personality he brought to all of our lives. I’ll hear a song from the Christina Aguilera Christmas album—yes, you read that right—and I’ll laugh thinking about how much he enjoyed listening to that while he decorated the tree (he said he just listened to it because Mom liked it, but somehow he mysteriously knew all the words and ridiculous runs in every single song). There are lots of wonderful memories around this time of the year that, fortunately for me, have yet to fade.

Coupled with those happy recollections, however, is an extreme pain. There is a pain every time I look at the staircase leading to my parents’ bedroom, knowing that he won’t come bouncing down the stairs on this morning or any other. There is a pain knowing that I won’t be able to watch A Christmas Story six or seven times with him, and knowing I won’t hear his bellowing laughter every time Flick sticks his tongue to the flagpole. There’s a pain knowing that I won’t be able to see him unwrap gifts and eat Christmas cookies and nap on the couch. There’s a pain knowing that, no matter how many gifts might be under the tree, the only gift I really want is one that I’ll never have in this life.

There’s joy, however, in knowing that we will celebrate a more perfect Christmas once this life is over. That day is a long, long time away, and I won’t let the anticipation of a Christmas to come completely overtake my desire to experience the life I’m living. My Dad’s death has taught me that I can live in the moment, simultaneously experiencing happiness with the people I have in my life and sadness with he ones who are gone. I can know that there is a joy to be experienced in the life to come and joy in the here and now. Life is not divided into purely happy and purely sad—and neither is Christmas. Life after losing a loved one is perpetually characterized by that dichotomy: a happiness rooted in the memories that fill our hearts, and a sadness that those same memories will fail to come to life again. That balance between legitimate joy and deep despair has been difficult for me to navigate in the years since losing my Dad, but it’s especially tough on Christmas morning.

For these past six Christmases, I’ve tried to slow down. Partly to honor my Dad, and partly to give myself the time to experience Christmas in the moment, just like my Dad always did. I know that Dad wouldn’t want Christmas to be less enjoyable for his family, but the reality is, he lived a life that was so big that it inevitably leaves a gaping hole now that he’s gone. There will always be a tremendous sadness in a season known for joy, but joy will always prevail. And joy will prevail because, although I’m waiting for a Christmas with my Dad now, there is a promise in Heaven that, someday, I’ll never have to wait again.

Dad Lucy and Me at Christmas with SB LogoDad, I really miss Christmas with you. I miss so many things about the Christmas mornings and holiday seasons we spent together. I miss seeing your smile as you opened tools and other gifts that Mom and I bought you. I miss watching you laugh at and take videos of Willow or Lucy as they tore open dog bones and puppy toys wrapped in shiny paper. I miss the elaborate and precise details of your gift wrapping, and I really miss watching you try to explain why you bought Mom certain gifts that puzzled us all. You showed all of us how to find joy on Christmas, and you never took a moment for granted on those special holiday celebrations. For that matter, you never took any moment in life for granted, and I’m trying to do that more and more each day. Thank you for teaching me, in the way you lived your life, how I should live my own. Thank you for helping me remember, even in your death, that the moments we have in this life are meant to be savored and enjoyed. Dad, I’m really looking forward to that first Christmas that we will have together in the life after. I’m looking forward to a reunion unlike any other. And I’m so excited to see you again, that I might even let you sleep in an extra fifteen minutes. Thank you for being a great Dad on Christmas, and a great Dad every single day of the year. Thank you for continuing to watch over me, and thank you for always reminding me what matters most. Love for God, love for family, and love for life are lessons you’ll never let me forget. One of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received is having a Father who made life count each and every day. I love you, Dad. Merry Christmas, and until we can celebrate again, seeya Bub.

“As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. ‘Let’s get over toe Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.’ They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby living in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. But Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” Luke 2:15-19 (MSG)

Trees Will Tip

“What the heck is wrong with the tree?”

I stood a few steps down the staircase, pajama-clad and ready to make my Dad regret the hours he spent perfectly wrapping all those presents. I was seven or eight years old, still in love with our new house, and just as excited for Christmas as I was each and every year.

I was excited because Mom and Dad always made Christmas so special. Mom would spend hours unpacking the 37 boxes of Christmas decorations that she had Dad lug down from the spare bedroom (who needs a sibling when you can have a room filled with box upon box of Christmas decorations?!). Mom had a perfect spot for each and every decoration that she owned, and there was no spot in the house that didn’t have a decoration. Even the bathroom had decorations! It’s always a little bizarre to look over and see a smiling Santa while you are….expelling your eggnog.

The kitchen was where my favorite Christmas tradition was cooked up. The house was always filled with the smell of Christmas cookies around the holiday season. Mom would bake. And bake. And bake and bake and bake. Every type of Christmas cookie known to man would be delicately crafted by my Mom’s gentle hands. And Dad and I? Well, we would eat! We definitely preferred the eating over the baking, and we were glad to do our part.

Decking the halls would eventually extend to decking every inch of the outside of the house as well. Dad would spend hours on a usually-frigid November Saturday stringing lights across the façade of our family home. The strand lights eventually evolved into icicle lights. And twinkling lights. And bubble gum lights. It was always interesting (and rather expensive) to hear about the difference in the electric bill for the month of December, but my Mom and Dad always said it was worth it.

And then, there was the tree. A real tree. My Dad absolutely refused to give into the trend and ease of an artificial tree. He wouldn’t even call them trees—it was against his religion. “That’s a fake,” he’d say with a voice of disdain each time he saw one of those holiday imposters. Each year, Mom and Dad would spend hours on the day after Thanksgiving searching for the perfect Christmas tree. For a period of years, we went to a Christmas tree farm and cut our own down. Then, probably during my annoying, “too cool” teenage years, Mom and Dad would go out on their own and find the perfect tree for our home, scouring Lowes after Lowes to find the right evergreen.

The problem with finding a perfect tree? There is no perfect tree. No matter how good a Christmas tree might look, there will always, always be an imperfection. It leans to one side. It isn’t symmetrical. It has a weird bare patch in the back that is eerily reminiscent of Grandpa’s bald spot.

And even the tree that starts out perfect doesn’t always stay that way for an entire month. The best looking trees can be water hogs—always thirsty and unusually dry. The best looking tree might shed its needles faster than a bad gambler sheds money. Or it starts out bright green and turns brown within a few days. I thought pine trees were resilient—how is it they only seem to last a few weeks around Christmas?!

Even after many years of observing the fragility of a real tree, my Dad refused to give in. He accepted the imperfections. He and Mom had fun looking for the perfectly imperfect tree. Any fights over trees (these trees even cause conflict!) always faded quickly when our family started stringing lights and ornaments across this decorative fir.

But this year, as I came down the stairs, something was very, very different about the tree I saw in front of me. The imperfection of this particular tree was a little more noticeable than other years. It was a story our family would tell for many, many years. And the remnants of this particular Christmas morning would be more permanent that we ever thought.

The night before Christmas, Mom and Dad were staying up late wrapping presents for the next morning.

READER’S NOTE: If you are younger than 12 and reading this post, ignore the last sentence and replace it with “Mom and Dad were downstairs waiting to help Santa get down the chimney.”

They sat there talking and wrapping in the glow of our cozy family room, when all of a sudden their conversation was interrupted with a tremendous….CRASH!!!

“Please tell me that’s not the tree,” one of them said to the other.

They stared at each other with wide eyes and open mouths, and eventually threw their wrappings to the side and scrambled up the stairs. They looked in horror at the scene unfolding in front of their eyes: A tree, once standing tall and proud, now lay horizontal and weak across our living room floor. The bright lights had darkened. Family ornaments had crashed and smashed. The water from the tree base now stained the carpet, and I can just picture my Mom, always a meticulous housekeeper, thinking about the hours she would now spend picking ornament shards from the carpet.

“Well, we can fix this,” my Dad said.

I’m sure my Mom could see the wheels turning in his head, growing anxious of the plan he was bound to cook up. No repair job was ever simple with my Dad. His solutions could not be temporary. They needed to be strong and soundproof. My Dad was a builder, and he refused to build anything weak or small.

So, my Dad did what any Dad who has watched too many episodes of Home Improvement would do. He went to the garage, grabbed a (more)power drill and his tool belt, and set out to make sure that our tree would rue the day it had ever began to lean.

Just like one of Santa’s elves equipped with a DeWalt, Dad set to work fixing our family tree. And that next morning, standing at the top of the staircase, I saw the end result of Dad’s overnight labors.

With a premium on functionality and a complete disregard for visual appearance, Dad had taken two thick, black, metal cables and drilled them into the trunk of our Christmas tree. Then, he took those black cables and ran them back to the wall where (I’m sure to the vehement objections of my overly-neat Mother) he screwed the cables into the wall using oversized bolts. Yes, emanating from our Christmas tree were 2 six-or-seven foot black cables that took away the elegant charm of a free-standing Christmas tree.

It wasn’t pretty, but the tree was standing. And I had a feeling we could leave it there for thirty years and it would still be standing tall thanks to my Father’s ingenuity.

When the tree came down that year, the bolts did not. They were actually plugged into the wall for about ten years or so until my Dad decided to paint the living room. Mom, rightly so, would complain about the bolts in the wall regularly. Dad would just smile and say “What if I need them again if our tree ever falls?” You can’t argue with holiday preparedness like that.

This year as Mom and I sat around the tree opening gifts along with her pup, Sadie, I stared at the areas of that front wall and pictured the spots where the bolts used to be. I thought back to that Christmas and the metal cables sprouting from the trunk of that Christmas tree. It made our Christmas tree look like it had arms, and I could picture that morning as clear as any other.

And I sat there, many years removed from that date, and I chuckled.

I couldn’t help but think of that Christmas-gone-by, and laugh about how perfect it was.

Like all of our Christmases, it was perfect. Perfectly imperfect.

The reality is, Christmases are never 100% perfect. Lights would go out, and Dad would spend hours trying to figure out which strand caused the outing. Ornaments and decorations would break. Toys would be bought, but batteries would be forgotten. And oh, the assembly. My poor Dad would spend hours attempting to decipher instructions and put together ridiculously complicated toys so I could play with them for an hour, get tired of it, and move on to something else.

But those Christmases, with all their imperfections, were absolutely perfect for our family. When Christmas trees came crashing down into the floor of our living room, Christmas was still perfect. When bolts and cables had to hold up our Christmas tree, Christmas was still perfect. When my Dad would buy my Mom ugly pajamas that I knew she didn’t like, Christmas was still perfect. When Dad would take forever to come down the stairs and I would have a near meltdown as I yelled up the stairs and threatened to put myself up for adoption if he didn’t come down within the next seven minutes, Christmas was still perfect.

And although Christmas is so much emptier than it has ever been in the years since losing my Dad, Christmas is still perfectly imperfect.

This year, I experienced my fifth Christmas without my Dad. There are more tears than those other Christmases. There are more unexpected moments of solitude where I have to peel myself away from the frivolity of a family function to cry on my own because of the heartache that I feel. There are moments when the pain is almost unbearable when I think about losing my Dad, and there are moments when I wish that I could give up every gift I’ve ever been given if I could just have one more Christmas with him.

But in spite of all that sorrow and pain, there are also moments of tremendous joy that still exist amidst the grief each and every year since losing him. This year was no exception. There was the excitement I felt when I opened a precious and beautiful nativity scene that my Mom gave me this year. There was the fun of getting to spend Christmas with my girlfriend, Paige, and establishing new traditions, like going to see Christmas plays and coincidentally buying each other the same exact book. There’s the happiness of getting to spend time with each of our families and realize how blessed we all are to have one another. There’s still the twinkling glow of Christmas lights, the sappy songs that play on the radio, and the beauty of an Advent candle burning. Yes, Christmas is different now, and at times it’s very sad. But there are also glimpses of the happiness that once was that I realize still exist and always will.

Perfectly imperfect.

I think that’s the message that God is trying to teach me—the message that he tried to teach all of us two thousand years ago. Think about all the things that were imperfect about the birth of Jesus Christ. “Hey Mary, you’re pregnant. How about a ridiculously long trek on the back of a donkey for a few days?” Hotel after hotel flashes a “No Vacancy” sign until the young, scared, yet faithful couple find refuge in a manger. That’s a fancy was of saying barn. All the usual manger amenities are there—donkeys, sheep, and their “remnants” are scattered across the hay-strewn manger floor. And there, in that imperfect manger, the perfect Son of Man was born, given to the world as a gift—a perfect sacrifice.

Perfectly imperfect.

Just like that first Christmas, every Christmas that came after was full of imperfection. Trees will tip. Cookies will burn. Toys will break. Family members will fight. The lonely will grieve. And in spite of all that imperfection, goodness still exists. Happiness can still be found. Joy still reigns.

God is using the lesson of His Son’s birth, the tipping Bradshaw tree, and every other unplanned and imperfect moment to teach me that, yes, Christmas will have lots of sorrow without my Dad, but it can never put out the light of love that He has given us.

I’ve done my best (not always successfully) to keep finding happiness in these past five Christmases without my Dad. I miss looking over and seeing him on the couch smiling from behind his glasses as he watched me open gifts. I miss Dad laughing at the same parts of A Christmas Story as he watched it on a loop all throughout the day. I miss how much he enjoyed eating the breakfast quiche Mom always made and drinking a few ice cold Coca-Colas to wash it down. I miss his laughs in the morning, his snores during the midday nap, and his “Night, bub. Merry Christmas” as I went off to bed.

I miss those Christmases because I miss him so.

After losing my Dad to suicide, I think about how Christmas may have helped my Dad cope. I’m sure there were many years when his depression was particularly overpowering around Christmas. I also know, in my heart of hearts, that there were many years when a family function, a beautiful Christmas tree, or some delicious Christmas cookies may have helped him overcome that darkness. That’s how powerful a perfectly imperfect Christmas can be. I bet that’s why my Dad loved Christmas so much.

I’ll always miss my Dad. When I am celebrating Christmases in my nineties, I will still cry whenever I see Ralphie shooting his eye out on the screen because I’ll wish my Dad could be there to see it too. I will long for those Christmases when trees fell over, because even in the disastrous moments my Dad and our family always had the faith to find happiness. His untimely and unnecessary death has rocked me to the core, but it will not defeat me. Like that toppling Christmas tree, my Dad would want me to get back up, find my strength, and shine in the midst of tremendous tumult.

During this Christmas I found my own unique ways to grieve, and in all the Christmases to come, I will undoubtedly grieve, and I will cry, and I will hurt. But I will also smile at the memory of a Father I miss desperately, and a Heavenly Father who still gives me reason to celebrate each and every year.

Family Christmas at Church with SB LogoDad, Christmas hasn’t been the same without you. I have such wonderful memories of the special Christmases we spent together as a little family. You bought thoughtful gifts for all of us. You laughed as our family pup would open up gifts, just like you always taught them. You put amazing detail into the wrapping and the decorating, and you had a smile on your face no matter how hectic things got. You made us especially happy around Christmas, but you honestly did that each and every day. Now, your memory and your spirit get us through the tough times and remind us to continue celebrating in spite of our grief. Dad, please continue reminding us how we can make the Christmas season special. Continue watching over us as you rest among the angels. I miss you so much, Dad. I know that I still have many wonderful Christmases ahead of me, but I desperately long for that first Christmas with you in heaven. Until that day when we can celebrate together again, Merry Christmas, bub.

“ So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:4-7 (NIV)

The Portrait

“Of course, Tyler. I’d be honored to do it.”

I couldn’t believe it. I simply could not believe what I was hearing.

My side-gig as a sports announcer has given me some pretty amazing opportunities, and my work with the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields has taken that to a whole new level. As a result, I get to connect with some pretty amazing people. I’ve had the opportunity to become friends with some of my broadcasting idols. I’ve had chances to meet Cincinnati Reds players that I grew up cheering for….and a few that I may have booed at one point or another (I’m from Cincinnati, it’s what we do). I cherish all of the wonderful folks I’ve met over the years, but there are none more special than renowned illustrator C.F. Payne.

CF Payne PhotoWhether you know it or not, you’ve seen C.F. Payne’s work. You’ll find his art on the covers of Time MagazineReaders DigestSports IllustratedThe New York Times Book ReviewMAD MagazineU.S. News and World ReportThe Atlantic MonthlyTexas MonthlyBoys Life and more. He has illustrated popular children’s books, and his art hangs in art museums all across the country.

CF Payne Obama CoverIf you’re somebody, C.F. Payne has likely captured you in one of his illustrations. President Barack Obama, Joe Nuxhall, Magic Johnson, Albert Einstein, President Ronald Reagan, David Letterman, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Andy Griffith, Katie Couric, President Thomas Jefferson, the Pope…heck, he’s even done Santa!

 

CF Payne Santa

His style is beyond recognizable. I’m not an art expert, and I am probably not using the right terminology, but C.F. Payne’s work is Americana to me. He takes an image, adds emotion to it, and let’s that emotion shape his representation. He uses wonderfully bright colors, and the texture pops off the page. C.F.’s portraits have such depth and such character. There is no other artist who can do what he does. His gift is simply breathtaking.

But his heart is even greater than his gift.

I’ve come to know C.F. Payne through the work he does for the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields. C.F. has done a number of wonderful illustrations for us each and every year, including portraits of Marty Brennaman, Sean Casey, Anthony Munoz, and others. Just last year, C.F. created one of my favorite pieces when he did a waving illustration of my broadcasting idol, Joe Nuxhall, that was installed on the monster wall of the Miracle League Field complex. Joe is smiling and waving as he watches over the baseball facility that bears his name. I know that Joe has been gone for ten years, but when I look at that illustration, I feel like he’s there with us. C.F.’s work warms my heart.

CF Payne Joe Nuxhall Cutout

On this particular night, though, my heart was racing. I was standing across from C.F. before our annual Miracle League benefit, and a crazy idea had just crossed into my mind.

I wanted to ask C.F. to do an illustration of my Dad.

The event was in early November, and for a few months I had been thinking frantically about a gift that I could get for my Mom that might help her remember my Dad. For a few Christmases, my Mom had given me unbelievable gifts to commemorate my Dad: the phenomenal quilt made of his old shirts, gifts with tags that he had written with his own hand and that she had saved, and ornaments that had reminded me of my Dad to grace the branches of my Christmas tree. Each and every year her gifts got more thoughtful as my heart continued to grieve. I missed him all the time, but I especially missed him at Christmas. Being able to have a gift that celebrated my Dad gave the pain a different feeling. The unbelievable hurt was still there, but there was a warm comfort in the presence of his memory that helped me cope.

I was standing across from C.F. before the event began when the idea came to me.

Tell him your Dad’s story. Tell him how much you miss him. Ask him to do a portrait.

C.F., in typical C.F. fashion, came up to me with a hearty hello and handshake and asked me how things were going. We had met numerous times at the Miracle Leagues, and it was so good to see him again. At some point, our conversation crossed the topic of the impending holiday, and I told him how hard it was to enjoy Christmas after losing my Dad. We began to talk about my Dad, and what impressed me most was how caring and sympathetic C.F. was as I told my story. He listened intently. He asked me questions about my Dad, and his sorrow was palpable. He genuinely wanted to get to know my Dad, to understand what happened, and show me that he cared. I felt a kinship with him in that moment because of the compassion he showed me. We talked about mental illness and my Dad’s suffering, and how his life had ended so unnecessarily and so prematurely, and we talked about the horrible impact of suicide on families like mine. All throughout, C.F. made me feel like my story mattered. He made me feel like my Dad mattered. He made me feel loved.

I don’t know how I ever got the courage to ask a world-renowned artist to create an illustration of my Dad, and I’m sure I did it nervously, but I told C.F. about the wonderful gifts my Mom had given me over the past couple years. As my hands began to sweat, I thought about backing out. But I wanted to do this for my Mom. I cushioned my statement by saying I wanted to ask him something, and that he could feel free to say no if he was too busy, but I wondered, just maybe, if he would be willing to do a portrait of my Father.

C.F. looked at me with the tender smile of his I’ve seen so many times before and he touched my shoulder.

“Of course, Tyler. I’d be honored to do it.”

I immediately began to tear up. This Christmas would be different. Yes, it would still be sad and emptier without Dad there, but he would be there with us in a very different way.

Over the next few weeks, I sent C.F. pictures of my Dad. I told him about the things he liked and his character so he could get a feel for the type of man he was.

I loved getting to see inside C.F.’s mind and how he approached his work. Early on when I was sending him photos, C.F. asked me to make sure I sent photos of my Dad from a variety of different settings so he could get to know his life, and he also asked me to send more than just my favorite pictures of my Dad. He asked me to send photos that were imperfect and candid because they would capture all of my Dad’s features—including his imperfections. I thought this was so fitting, because it was those very same imperfections that had made my Dad who he was. When I think of my Dad, it isn’t glamorized. It’s real, and that’s what I hoped this portrait would be. I had seen the whole picture of my Dad, and I wanted that whole picture to be captured in his portrait.

As the calendar drew closer to the end of December, I began to grow more and more anxious in anticipation of the gift C.F. would give to my Mom and my family. C.F. sent me a few of his initial sketches, and I cried each and every time I got a new message from him. In his studio, C.F. was toiling away as he tried to capture my Father’s likeness.

Then, one day, I got a message from C.F. that he had finished the portrait and couldn’t wait to show it to me. That weekend, I drove to Lebanon and C.F. invited me into his lovely and historic home to show the finished product of his hard work. We walked across the hard wood floors into his dining room, and I saw a white cardboard portrait frame sitting on his table. My heart grew tight when I saw the frame, knowing what was inside it would be so special. We approached the table together, and C.F. opened the frame, pulled back the tissue paper, and revealed his most recent creation—a piece of artwork that would breathe life back into my Father’s memory.

CF Payne Illustration of Dad

I looked at the portrait, into the bespectacled eyes of the man who had given me life and guided me through it, and I saw the smile that I had missed for so long. There, on the table in front of me, was my Dad, illustrated by the caring hands and compassionate heart of the greatest artist I’ve ever known.

I crossed my arms and raised my hand to my mouth as tears began to well up in my eyes. C.F. reached over and grabbed me by the shoulder.

“Well, did I get him?” he said.

“Yes, C.F. You got him, and more. This…this is my Dad.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off the portrait. It was stunning and captivating. My Dad felt so alive when I stared at that piece of paper. I wanted more than anything for him to be alive again. This was my way of still holding onto him. He had even taken the care to include a picture of Lucy, our dog that we had tragically lost just a year earlier, into the picture because he knew how much she meant to us and how much my Dad loved her. I looked at both of them and wished for those Christmases we had spent together as a family.

C.F. hugged me. We talked about my Dad. We talked about how this Christmas would be different. I thanked him as much as I could. And when I got in my truck, I lost it. I completely fell apart. The fact that someone as talented, busy, and important as C.F. Payne would take the time to help me and help my Mom hold onto my Dad was just overwhelming. There are so many people who are talented in this world…but how many of them are kind? Kind to the point that they will give of their talent to help hurting hearts in the world around them?

I know of at least one.

C.F. Payne is just that man. His portfolio runs deep, but his heart runs deeper. He is an inspiration and Godsend for my grieving family, and nothing proved that more than the Christmas morning that would follow a few days later.

I am horrible at keeping secrets, and I had a better chance of playing third base for the Reds than I did to keep this under wraps for those few months. By the grace of God however, I did it. I showed the portrait to only a few folks, and like me, they all cried when they saw it. But they also smiled because it reminded them of the happiness my Dad always sent out into the world. I told them the story and I told them about C.F., and they were amazed by his talent but even more impressed by his generosity.

On Christmas Eve, I hid the portrait behind the couch. I was terrified that this priceless artifact would somehow get damaged before I could give it to my Mom. I had a nightmare that Sadie, Mom’s new dog who can be a bit rambunctious and squirrely, would chew it up. Thankfully, she couldn’t fit behind the couch.

I had a great plan. I was going to wait until we had opened all of our gifts, and then miraculously pull the portrait from behind the couch pretending I didn’t know what it was. I would then hand it to my Mom with a look of complete surprise. This was a good plan. I knew I could do it.

So about halfway through our gift-opening, I’m handing the portrait to my Mom. You can’t be surprised by this if you know me.

Christmas is no time for perfect plans (ask Jesus about that whole manger deal). I just could not contain my excitement and nervousness. I wanted Mom to feel the way I felt when I saw it. I wanted her to be able to smile when she looked at Dad as he smiled back. She deserved that.

She opened the portrait, and her tears burst forth. In that special moment, I could see the pain and anguish in the heart of a grieving widow. I could feel the weight of longing for Christmases of yesteryear. In an instant, I could see how happy my Mom was to see my Dad immortalized, but how sad she was to no longer have him on the couch next to her as we basked in the glow of our family Christmas tree. There was pain in losing him, but tremendous joy in his memory.

mom-with-dads-portrait.jpgMom slowly ran her hands over the paper. “Oh, Scott…” she said. She cried as I put my hand on her shoulder, and I recounted the story of how that portrait came to be.

My Mom must have stared at the image of my Dad for so long without taking her eyes off of it. I admit I did the same. It was hard not to because the portrait had such character, such vividness.

And now, this Christmas, things will be a little different. For the past few years, the living room of our family home has always had that eerie absence. My Mom and I both know it’s there, but we try not to focus on it. We miss my Dad coming down the stairs (usually after we had been yelling at him to do so for quite some time). We miss how excited he would get watching our dog open presents (he was definitely more excited than that than watching me. I had thumbs. Dogs didn’t. Their feat is immediately more impressive). We miss how he would lounge around all day watching Ralphie almost shoot his eye out. I miss the days when I was little and he would spend all day playing with me and the toys I received. He never complained about having to put something together or install batteries. He just enjoyed the day with his family. And now that he’s gone, we desperately miss his excitement.

But in that same living room that has felt less full for the past few years, life is a little bit different. Now, when I miss my Dad, I need only look over at the wall by the window. There, in a beautiful frame, hangs a picture of my Father and his pup looking over all of us smiling with that familiar smile that we long to see again. He watches over everything we do, and you can feel his presence there with us each and every time you look at it.

In the months that have followed, I’ve told C.F. how thankful I am for the art he created for my family, because that portrait has become one of my family’s most cherished heirlooms. You could put my Dad’s portrait next to the Mona Lisa, and I would choose my Dad’s portrait each and every time…and not just because my Dad had a better smile. It’s more valuable to me than the most expensive painting or sculpture that has ever existed, because the man depicted in that illustration meant so very much to me and everyone whose life he touched.

In the time between C.F. giving me the portrait and me giving it to my Mom on Christmas morning, I would talk with people (very secretly) about what I was doing and show them a picture of the portrait on my phone. The week before Christmas at my church, I showed the portrait to my pastor, Dave. Like everyone who knew my Dad and saw the portrait, Dave began to tear up and smile simultaneously (which is a testament to C.F.’s great talent). I remember shaking my head in awe as I told Dave about C.F. and the work he did and how thoughtful he was to me all throughout, but also at my feelings of unworthiness.

“Dave,” I said, “This is a man who has illustrated Time Magazine covers. He has illustrated American presidents. Celebrities. Hall of Fame athletes…”

“And now,” Dave said without missing a beat, “He’s doing someone even more important.”

He was exactly right. My Dad was a tremendous man, and now he had a tremendously deserved commemoration on behalf of the most talented artist I’ve ever met.

The true talent of an artist resides not in his hands, but in his heart. And as valuable as C.F.’s artistic talent might be, it’s his heart that is made of pure gold. I will never, ever be able to say thank you enough to C.F. How do you say thank you to someone who gives your family such a priceless gift? You cherish their work. You appreciate the beauty they’ve given to your life. You gaze upon their art and you thank God for the talent they have, but more importantly for the talent they share.

This Christmas, I’ll look forward to seeing that portrait near the tree on Christmas morning. I’ll say a silent thank you again to C.F., and I’ll wish his family the Merry Christmas that they deserve to have. As we open presents, I’ll look over my shoulder, and I’ll see those familiar glasses. I’ll see that familiar bald head. I’ll see that familiar smile.

And in those moments, I’ll love my Dad and the artist who has helped me hold onto a little bit of him forever and ever. It’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given and had the pleasure to give, and I’ll never stop admiring that portrait.

CF Payne Illustration with SB LogoDad, Christmas mornings aren’t the same without you. We miss your smile. We miss your silly Dad humor and goofiness. We miss everything about having you there with us. But deep down, in our hearts, we know you’re there. And now, we have a beautiful portrait to remind us that you’re always there. I know what a humble guy you were here in this life, and I’m sure you would feel completely undeserving of having your own portrait done by C.F. But Dad, this is exactly what you deserved. Your life was more important and consequential for me and those whom you loved than most people could ever hope to have. Your life was incredible. Your character was impeccable. And you made people feel loved each and every day. And now, I can gaze upon a beautiful portrait of your face and remind myself that those things have never left us. Keep watching over me, Dad. I miss you terribly, and I long for another Christmas morning like the ones we used to have. I know it’s going to be a long time until we have that again, but oh what an amazing day that will be. Until our first Christmas morning together again, seeya Bub.

“Each of you should give whatever you have decided. You shouldn’t be sorry that you gave or feel forced to give, since God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7 (GW)

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Bringing Back the Magic: Guest Blog by Christian Morrow

Ty: We were standing near a weight bench, and I couldn’t help but feel tremendous sorrow as Christian talked. He was thanking me for the blog and sharing his deeply personal story—one that I had never known in the interactions we had with one another. It broke my heart to watch him try and fight back tears. His heart was grieving intensely, and I could tell his mind desperately searched for an explanation for his grief. Like so many people I encounter, I had no idea he was carrying such pain. In all of our previous exchanges, I never knew that he had been impacted by such unfortunate trauma and loss.

Christian Morrow is one of those friends who comes into your life in a very unexpected way. One of those friends that walk into your life seemingly by happenstance, but you realize later through divine intervention. One of those friends that God knows you will need down the road when you can’t see for yourself.

And in this case, God connected me to Christian over my need for a Chrysler 200.

My job requires that I do a lot of traveling and driving, which has also led me to be a frequent customer of the local Enterprise. I get to know the local Enterprise folks pretty well…I mean, they’re the people who pick you up. I usually try to get to know the people who work at Enterprise and treat them as kindly as possible because…I really don’t want them to give me that lime green Kia Soul.

Christian knew I worked at Miami, and when he asked me how I liked my job. In the conversation that followed, he shared with me how he, too, hoped to someday work in student affairs. I handed him my business card and told him to call or e-mail if I could do anything to help, and unlike so many people, he took me up on it. It was amazing that our paths hadn’t crossed before: we graduated from the same high school, went to the same college, had the same undergraduate mentor, and lived just a few minutes away from one another.

But God connected us at the right moment. At the moment we could help each other most.

And it’s in this moment that I hope his story and his example can help you as much as it’s helped me, especially for those of us who are grieving during this holiday season.


Christian: Here I sit, at my parent’s cherry wood roll top desk, a tear-stained piece of college ruled sitting in front of me on this fall morning. As I search for the strength and courage to write this, the steam from my mom’s favorite Christmas coffee cup rises into the brisk air that inhabits the top floor of my modest Cape Cod home. This very desk is the same in which my mother built an empire, where my mom spent countless hours doing payroll for her staff of teachers at her school, paid bills and relentlessly navigated Christmas as a single mother every year.

“Thanksgiving is over and I can’t run away from the fact that Christmas is right around the corner.” I think to myself.

More than two years have passed since I lost my mom, yet every year I still have to invest every ounce of energy and focus into mentally preparing myself for this time of year. It can be anything from the simple smell of a cinnamon-scented candle at Yankee, to a cheesy rendition of a Christmas classic from The Carpenters that can send me into one of those heart-sinking, jaw tightening moments of: “Okay, don’t cry. Your daughter is watching you.” You know the kind.

Life can be hard for a single parent like my Mom, but I can only imagine it’s especially hard during the holidays. My mom lived for Christmas, and if we’re being completely honest here, I think Christmas was designed especially for her. She went all out for Christmas every year and not in a tacky, load your house up with hodgepodge decorations-kind of way. I’m talking a 12 foot tree that my sister and I ceremoniously topped off from the balcony…on the second floor, garland wrapped around every inch of the banister going upstairs, and of course the crystal angels and deer that I was never allowed to touch. If there was some sort of holiday activity happening, we were there; Christmas ranches, the zoo, the waterpark and of course, Fountain Square for the tree lighting. It was all so vibrant and cheerful, just like mom.

You never want to lose that feeling of joy and wonder when you’re staring out the car window, in awe of the millions of colorful lights. Or driving home from the grandparents’ Christmas Eve dinner and looking up, hoping to catch a glimpse of reindeer and Tim Allen…oh yeah, my childhood image of Santa was Tim Allen. Go figure.

For some time I lost that feeling. I resented Christmas and, selfishly, I grew very bitter and cold when I saw other families experiencing that same feeling that my Mom and I shared for so many years. Every time I begin to experience one of those Hallmark-induced breakdowns, a vicious series of moments play in my mind, as if they happened just yesterday. “She’s gone.” Those words are perpetually affixed into my subconscious, those two words will forever penetrate my soul and bring me to my knees.

Depression is one of those things that can’t be explained. We don’t know that it’s coming and we don’t really know how to stop it. It’s ironic to think that someone as cheerful and caring as my mom, especially during the holidays, was harboring a dark and crippling feeling of sadness and grief during the happiest time of the year. As I became a teenager, I started to pick up on my Mom’s sadness. I’ll never forget the time my I caught my Mom crying in the kitchen just after we opened our presents.

“What’s wrong, mom?” I said.

“Nothing, I’m okay. Did you have a good Christmas?”

Even in her sadness she was more worried about my happiness and whether or not I was happy with all my presents that year.

When we think about someone taking their own life, often times we think about the “whys” and the “how’s,” as in: “How could she do this to herself, she was the happiest person I’ve ever known?” or “Why did she do this?” These are two of the most common questions I get asked, two years after my mother’s death. That’s the thing about depression and mental illness, it raises many questions and offers little answers.

I’ve never been a drinker, but one night just before Christmas last year I found myself sitting in a sports bar that I had never been to before. I told myself that I would watch a little bit of the Red Wings game, have a gin and tonic and call it. After more than one, I found myself looking around at all the cheerful patrons, some in festive sweaters and others wearing Santa hats. I took note of the colorful lights around the windows of the bar and I realized, once again, that the magic was gone—she was gone. There I sat, alone and in a dark corner of some place I had no business being in. It was at that moment that I lost it, I lost it more than I had ever lost it before in my life. I sat in the dark and cried for hours. No one could see me in the dim lighting. Well, no one except for the poor waitress, who I might add was incredibly kind and even sat down at my table at one point to “talk.”

Despite my outward, stoic appearance, I’ve always been a sensitive guy. I cry at the ending of Marley & Me for Pete’s sake. But my pride gets the best of me this time of year and I’ve had ample opportunities to perfect the art of holding back the tears. I can never bring myself to just cry when I really need to. It’s easy to do when you’re alone, but it takes a brave man to do it in front of loved ones. I think that’s the danger of being sad. We never want to be judged for it so we suppress those feelings. Unfortunately for my Mom, she had suppressed them for too long and I often times blame myself for not doing more to change that.

A few months ago I decided I didn’t want to dread Christmas anymore. I certainly don’t want to forget my mom and all her wonderful traditions, but I was ready to enjoy this time of year again.

When I was younger my Mom had this one decoration that I absolutely adored; a Mr. Christmas “Rock & Roll Christmas” holiday scene. It played music and featured ice skaters circling a magnetic pond with accents of 1960’s imagery, like a diner and some old hot rods situated around the pond. I would play with that thing for hours, taking the ice skaters off and putting them back on while listening to the cheerful music coming from it. It got to the point where my mom wouldn’t even put it on an end table anymore because I would damn near drop every piece trying to relocate it to the floor. Eventually some pieces went missing and it became outdated so we donated it to Goodwill and I hadn’t seen it for about 15 years.

Out of nowhere something sparked in me, I remembered the decoration and decided I was going to have one of my own so I could share it with my daughter. After some extensive research and diligent Ebay shopping, I finally found it! I was a little disgruntled that this almost twenty-year-old decoration still had quite a hefty price tag, but I didn’t let that stop me. I would’ve paid just about anything to relive just one of those Christmas memories. When it finally came in the mail, my daughter and I ripped it open and put it together straight away. I now have to move all the little ice skaters to higher ground or Charlie introduces them to a different kind of pond (the toilet). I’ll catch her just staring intently, the same exact way I did, mesmerized by the busyness of it all and taking in the holiday joy.

Christmas is still a tough time for me, but as a father sharing those wonderful experiences the same way they were shared with me, I have something to look forward to each year. I worry less and focus more on my daughter and bringing the magic back into our home.

Christian Morrow Guest Post GraphicMom,

Thank you for giving me the warmest memories of Christmas. You managed to make it magical and exciting every year. I wish more than anything you were here to see your granddaughter’s face light up as she stares at the lights on the tree or as she watches the ice skaters dance around the pond. Thank you for teaching me how to bring home the magic of Christmas.

Love Always,

Christian


Ty: I’ve said this many times, but it’s worth saying at this moment.

Although we may grieve uniquely, we never grieve in isolation. And although I would give anything for to have my Dad back and for Christian to have his Mom, I find myself experiencing God’s grace in my friendship with this amazing man. I had no idea on that day I met Christian at Enterprise that we would both be bonded over something as tragic as the loss of a parent to suicide. Although I would give anything for both of us to escape this hurt and have our loved ones back, I am beyond grateful to have Christian as a friend as we walk this difficult journey together.

The Christmas season can feel so lonely and dim for those whose hearts are enraptured with grief and loss. The magic that once filled our hearts is replaced by a deep longing for the past. That longing can lead to desperation. To heartache. And for some, it can lead them to turn away, turn inward, or turn off the heart entirely. Christian had a choice to let his grief beat him, or to fight his grief with love. He’s winning that battle, and so can you. We all can.

Christian has given me and everyone who watches him an amazing gift this Christmas season. Christian is not oblivious to pain. He’s suffered, he still suffers, and he will have moments throughout his entire life where the pain is just as real as it was the day he heard of his Mom’s death. But Christian has persevered in spite of his suffering. He’s been able to find the gifts, to appreciate them, and thrive in spite of his pain. It hasn’t been easy, but the good stuff never is.

On that day standing near the weight bench when Christian shared that his Mom was a victim of suicide like my Dad, he thanked me for writing the blog. Now, a few years removed from the pain of that conversation, I know I am the one who should be thanking him.

I struggle at Christmas, but I am not as much afraid of the present-day Christmases as I am of the ones that will come in the future when I have children of my own (a terrifying thought for all who will come into contact with these little heck-raisers). I worry that the intensified grief I feel around this time of the year might ruin their holidays. I often wonder how I’ll explain to my future children why I’m so sad around the happiest time of year. I wonder how I’ll tell them why their Grandpa isn’t there to give them presents and read them stories and eat cookies with them. I dread that day, and I think about it every year around Christmas. My Dad loved Christmas, but I know he would have loved it even more with his grandchildren.

Watching Christian interact with his beautiful little daughter Charlie gives me every bit of inspiration I could ever hope for. It invigorates my soul in a way I have trouble describing. I see Christian, a young man with maturity far beyond his years, acknowledging his own grief while simultaneously celebrating the joy of life in his new family—celebrating the way his Mom taught him to, and preserving her memory each time he does. I see him making new memories and traditions at Christmastime, and the smile on his daughter’s face says it all. Yes, Christian is grieving. Yes, Christian is hurting. Yes, Christian is suffering. But he’s thriving in spite of it all. One of the greatest gifts I’ll receive this year is his unbelievable example in courage.

Those conversations about Christian’s desire to work in student affairs led to something great. I’m fortunate to also call Christian a colleague, as he started his higher education career in admission at Miami just a few months ago. It’s hard not to smile when I see how he’s taken the hurt in his life and refused to let it defeat him. But as much as I’m smiling at the success he’s having, I know there’s someone out there with an even bigger smile watching over him this Christmas season. I’m proud of you, Christian, and this Christmas, I know your Mom is even prouder. Thank you for teaching all of us that our pain is real, but so is the faith we have in our hearts to bring back the magic and overcome it.

“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” Proverbs 17:17 (NLT)

Christian Morrow

Guest Blogger Bio:

Christian Morrow

Christian was born and raised in Fairfield, Ohio. Following graduation from Fairfield Senior High School, he went on to study at Miami University, obtaining his Bachelor’s degree. Christian currently works for his Alma Matter, Miami, serving as a college admission counselor. “I find immense joy and fulfillment in being on the other side of the college admittance process, advocating for student success and higher education within our community,” says Christian. He plans to pursue his master’s degree in education in the summer of 2018.  As a Fairfield Township Citizen Police Academy alum, Christian is able to remain an active and involved member of the community. “I have a one year old daughter named Charlotte “Charlie” Sue, who is a spitting image of her beautiful mother, Jacqueline and has given me incredible strength and hope in her one short year. On any given day you can find me riding my bike around downtown Hamilton/Oxford, enjoying the farmer’s market, participating in a ‘Tough Mudder Marathon’ or simply spending time with my beautiful family,” says Christian.

Of his Mother, Connie, Christian says this: “On the morning of April 10th, 2015 I was serving on a college committee when I received the news that my mother had passed away. The news was earth-shattering for me, as she was truly my best friend, role model and hero. Connie Morrow was incredibly spirited and passionate about life, she owned and operated Tiny Tots Childcare Center for 25 years and touched the lives of countless families in the Fairfield community. Despite my mom’s altruistic and warm-hearted nature, she suffered in silence for most of her life. My goal in sharing her story is to uncover the vicious and covert nature of depression and mental illness. It can manifest itself in the most vibrant, successful and seemingly positive people. I encourage you take a second look at your loved ones, recognize the signs and reach out—you could save someone’s father, daughter,  brother or mother.”

Always Thankful

Dad,

It’s always this time of year that I get really, really homesick.

I know. I still live in my hometown. I’m home with family every holiday. That’s not the home I’m talking about.

I get homesick for the home I used to have when you were here. It’s not that life isn’t good. Thankfully, there are so many wonderful, wonderful moments and occurrences that happen to me almost daily. There are so many tremendous loved ones and friends who still make life special. God still speaks to me and directs me, and most importantly He still loves me. And on account of all these things, I shouldn’t feel a need for anything. I shouldn’t want.

But I do. Each and every day. Each day since you’ve been gone, I wake up and wish that you were still here. I wake up thinking about what home used to be when you were around.

And even though it hurts tremendously to think of those moments, I’m thankful. Always thankful. Always thankful that you created such a splendid life for all of us. That you gave us something we could long to have back again. In order to experience the pain I feel now, there had to be some point of reference that was pleasurable and filled with joy. And for 26 years of my life, you gave me that. For 26 wonderful years, you set the bar so high for what life should be. That’s why I’m always thankful, even though I long for those days again.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who feels your absence. I think of Mom and how different the holidays must be for her without her life partner, and how she must long for those first holidays that you spent together. Even though you didn’t have much when you first got married, you made the most of the love you shared and always made one another feel so special.

I think of your family members who have known you since you were a child, and I think of how different the holidays must feel for those individuals because you aren’t in them. As loved ones leave us, the traditions we once had are tinged with an unyielding sadness. You always made the holiday traditions so bright, and now that you are gone, so is some of the glimmer that made those traditions what they were. We’ve tried to enjoy the holidays in your absence, but I think everyone who loved you would say that they just aren’t the same without you here smiling, and laughing, and loving.

I even think of all the people that you came into contact with. I can picture your smiling face as you wished them a “Happy Thanksgiving.” I can vividly imagine the sparkle in your eyes, hidden behind your wire-framed glasses, as you asked people about their holiday plans with a genuine concern for their answer. I can think of all the times when you would share with extreme happiness that you would be spending time with your family during the holidays. You didn’t care about meals or football games or shopping advertisements. You enjoyed all of those things, but you knew there was more to life and love than that. What really mattered to you on those holidays was spending time with your family…okay, and maybe the occasional post-turkey nap.

My feelings of homesickness are only outweighed by one other emotion, and that is a deep sense of gratitude. I’m thankful for you, Dad. Always thankful.

I’m thankful that you and Mom taught me how to say “thank you” in the first place. From the time I was little, I remember the constant prodding. Each time I was given something by a friend or family member or acquaintance, I remember you and Mom both asking me “Did you tell them thank you?” As a kid, it just seemed like the thing that all parents did. As I’ve grown, however, I see just how few parents encourage a level of gratitude and a heart of thankfulness in their children—probably because they don’t feel it in their own hearts. I’m thankful that you never stopped telling me to tell people thank you. And if I didn’t tell you then, I’d like to say it to you now. Thank you, Dad.

I’m thankful for all those years that you and Mom made Thanksgiving so special. I know (only now) that we didn’t have much when I was little—but I never would have known that because you made our family feel like royalty. You made sure that we were never, ever in need of anything. You were a provider, most times at your own expense. Dad, I have never seen or met anyone who worked harder than you did. Always with a smile on your face, you worked long hours and late nights and countless weekends to make sure that you provided for your family. You didn’t do this out of obligation. No, you did this out of love. And if I didn’t tell you then, I’d like to tell you now. Thank you.

I’m thankful for all those times you brought a turkey home from work to share with our entire family. I think of how fortunate we were to always have a Thanksgiving meal together. I think of how much you enjoyed Mom’s cooking, and Thanksgiving was the perfect chance for you to celebrate her talent. You always told me that you had married a woman who could out-cook anyone else—and you were absolutely right. I know that you gorged yourself on Thanksgiving because you loved her cooking so much, but also because you were able to show her how much you loved her. You taught me to appreciate a good meal prepared by great hands. And if I didn’t tell you then, I’d like to tell you now. Thank you.

I’m thankful that on Thanksgiving, no football game or Black Friday deal ever got in the way of time with your family. I’m thankful that no matter how full you might have been from an excellent meal, you were never to full to turn down an impromptu wrestling match on the family room floor with your son. I’m thankful that when you sat down at the Thanksgiving table, the food was always second to the conversation. I’m thankful that you taught me (and everyone) that the holidays are not about tradition, but about the families who make them. I’m sorry that I never told you how much I appreciated your devotion to your family. I’m sorry for the handful of teenage years when I probably rolled my eyes or acted inconvenienced by a family get-together. I’m thankful that you never gave up on me. And if I didn’t tell you then, I’d like to tell you now. Thank you.

I’m thankful for all the times you called me “Turkey” on Thanksgiving morning. Even your Dad jokes were seasonal–impressive. I’m thankful for all the corny jokes you made before dinner. And during dinner. And for hours afterwards.

I’m thankful that you taught me that driving to multiple family get-togethers is not an inconvenience, but one of life’s deepest treasures. You always reminded me that there were many people who had nowhere to go.   

I’m thankful for all the board games you played with me and the rest of our family, and as much as I may try to forget, I’ll always remember your goofy victory dances at the table.

I’m thankful for you on Thanksgiving, and every other day of the year. I’m thankful that we got to spend 26 wonderful Thanksgivings together.

And I’m homesick. Homesick for the day when we can all be together again. Homesick and longing for the moments where we can share a delicious meal and a game of Scattergories and a good conversation with one another. I long for those days, Dad. I’m enjoying my life and each exciting moment that God gives to me, but I treasure the promise that you and I have not celebrated our last Thanksgiving together. There will be more, for all Eternity. And that promise, more than anything, is what I’m most thankful for.

Dad with Flat Stanley and SB LogoDad, I’ll never stop being thankful for you. I’ll never stop being thankful for the man you were, and the memory you left behind in my heart and the hearts of everyone you met. I’ll never look back on the days and moments I once took for granted without feeling a deeply profound appreciation for all the good times we shared. I’ll always be thankful for a Dad beyond compare. I’ll always be thankful that my Father was an example of what fatherhood should be. Someday, I’ll be thankful when I raise my own children. Yes, I’ll be tremendously sad that they won’t be able to meet and enjoy the presence of their Grandpa, but I’ll make sure they are thankful for you, too. More than any other tradition you might have encouraged, Dad, the most important tradition you established for me is having a thankful heart. I’ll hold onto that for as long as I live.

And until I can say thank you in person, seeya Bub.

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

Halloween

I love candy. And as a result, I love Halloween.

When I say I love candy, I’m talking about complete and utter infatuation. An obsession—and an unhealthy one at that.

Sour Patch Kids. Twizzlers. Mounds bars. Red licorice Scotty dogs. Dots. Nerds. Ju Ju Bees. Reese Cups. Butterfingers. Sour Punch Straws. Laffy Taffy. Haribo Gummy Bears (if you eat any other kind, I seriously question your decisions in life).

Mom, if you’re reading this, I can finally admit. Even though you made candy readily available in the house, I still felt it was appropriate to hide a small candy stash underneath my bed so I could eat it throughout the night at my leisure. At any given time during my childhood, I would usually have a small Ziploc bag full of fun-size boxes of Nerds and Sour Patch Kids that I would open with the delicate stealth of a Ninja in the night so you wouldn’t hear down the hall. I also did this with Dr. Peppers—I had this awesome move where I would cough really loudly when I opened the pop-top so you wouldn’t hear the loud (and inexplicably pleasant) CRACK! of an aluminum can pop top. I’m sorry I deceived you…but if this was the worst thing I did as a kid, I think you fared alright.

I loved Halloween, yes, because of the candy, but more importantly I loved it because my Mom and Dad always made Halloween a very special time around our house. On Halloween, Mom would always cook some of our favorite appetizer-style foods: pigs in a blanket, sausage balls, pepperoni bites, and my all-time favorite…potato skins! We always had plenty of punch with rainbow sherbet in it. I don’t know when this tradition started, but I don’t remember a Halloween without it.

I was also a big fan of the costumes. Big fan. Mom and Dad always made sure I looked good…and comical. There was the year that I was a pirate. Dad wanted to make sure that I was a striking mini-swashbuckler, so he picked up a tray of facepaint and made sure that he painted a perfect five-o-clock shadow across my face. I was only about six or seven, and there’s just something rather hilarious about seeing a kid with facial hair. There was the year that I was the Genie from Aladdin, and Dad made sure that the blue facepaint perfectly matched my Genie costume. Or the year that I was a Dalmatian, and Dad painted black spots all over my face.

Okay…reflecting back on all of this, maybe he just liked seeing how many embarrassing ways he could paint my face.

Mom and Dad always took the time to make Halloween special—not just the day of, but the entire season leading up to it. My Mom is the queen of house decorations. We used to have a room in our house that we affectionately referred to as “the junk room” (sorry to reveal your secrets, Mom!). There were boxes and boxes and boxes of decorations for each and every season. Our house would be completely transformed during Halloween. I remember a light up jack-o-lantern in a witch hat that always hung on our front door. A fuzzy black spider that made a spook “ooooooh-oooooooooh-oooooooooooooh” noise every time you pressed it. From bathroom towels to cups and plates and everything in between, you always knew it was Halloween in the Bradshaw House.

Dad stuck to the outdoor, more-manly seasonal decorations. One of his favorites? Yard bags. You remember these, right? These were the huge orange garbage bags that, when filled up, look like big jack-o-lanterns or ghosts. I remembered being really excited to take these out into the yard and fill them up. To fill them up, you had to rake up all of the leaves in the yard and put them into these bags.

Looking back on this, I see how easily gullible I was as a child when it came to chores disguised as seasonal traditions…

We had one big problem, though. Our yard had a lot of little trees in it. We also had a lot of trees that had a lot of little tiny leaves—you know, those annoying little leaves that stick to everything and get tracked in your house no matter how many times you wipe your shoes off. These types of leaves weren’t always the best to fill up huge bags that looked like pumpkins, and frankly our yard just didn’t have enough leaves to fill them up with. So, Dad and I would rake up as many leaves as we could, and then fill the rest with crumpled up newspapers. Then, we would display the bags proudly in our front lawn so everyone could see….our yard waste? Once again, I was easily deceived when it came to child labor.

I think my Dad’s most impressive contribution to the Halloween decorating season, however, was his artistry and craftsmanship when it came to jack-o-lantern carving. My Dad was a builder in many respects. He built a gorgeous deck around our backyard swimming pool. He built the garage and foyer expansion onto our house. Most would call him a carpenter, but I considered him more of an artist. The things he built and constructed were beautiful. Dad took his time, and he always did things the right way.

Who would have thought that this obsession with quality and attention to detail would have extended to pumpkins that were bound to rot in two weeks? With my Dad, it was a no-brainer. Everything he made was top-notch, whether it was permanent or fleeting.

Every year that my parents would take me to the pumpkin patch to pick out pumpkins to carve for Halloween, Dad and I were always on the hunt for two particular pumpkins: a rounded fat one, and a tall skinny one.

After all, it wasn’t a Bradshaw Halloween without Bert and Ernie jack-o-lanterns.

You heard me. Bert and Ernie jack-o-lanterns.

Growing up, I was a Sesame Street addict. I was hooked from the first “Sunny days” of the theme song. So much so that one year, my dear, sweet Grandma Sharon almost lost her mind the day I made her watch the Sesame Street Christmas special at least 37 times. She still has flashbacks when she hears Feliz Navidad.

Of the entire cast of characters on Sesame Street, my absolute favorite was Ernie. I had a stuffed Ernie that went with me everywhere I went. My Mom had to sew his nose back on a few times, and his orange felt skin and bright blue jeans faded and tinged. On the show, Ernie was cool and funny and always knew how to get the best of his banana-colored roommate. He had a killer laugh.

And he was so much more sophisticated than that tickle-fiend Elmo.

By association, because I liked Ernie, I also had to like Bert (even though I liked Ernie better). They are a classic American duo—right up there with Lucille and Ethel, Batman and Robin, and macaroni and cheese. They were the toddler’s Abbott and Costello.

I don’t remember when it started, but since before I can remember, I had always liked Ernie. Maybe that’s why Dad chose to carve our jack-o-lanterns into unbelievable replicas of my favorite puppet duo.

I remember watching Dad carve the pumpkins every year. It took a few hours for him to complete. Dad had patterns that he and Mom had picked up around Halloween one year. Dad worked on the pumpkins with the patience and attention to detail of a renowned artist. Every year, he would tape the patterns onto the perfectly selected pumpkins that mirrored the head shapes of Bert and Ernie. Then, Dad would use a tiny stick pin to meticulously poke holes into the lines of each pattern. Slowly and methodically, he worked until each shape he would need to cut was temporarily outlined with holes. Then, with a set of carving knives that I’m sure were the best he could find (because that’s what Dad always did), Dad would work to carve out all the pieces.

I wish I still had those patterns because my description doesn’t do it justice. There were more cuts and slices in this carving job than a plastic surgeon performs in a year. Dad would glide through each piece until the pumpkins had an uncanny resemblance to my favorite pals from Sesame Street. We would put candles in the jack-o-lanterns and proudly display them on our front porch, as many trick-or-treaters and their parents would profess their admiration when they graced our home.

As I grew older, Dad would eventually ask me to help him each year—but they never looked as good as his. I’ve never had the patience or artistry that my Dad had when it came to working with his hands. If anything, my feeble attempts to recreate Ernie on a pumpkin made me appreciate Dad’s work even more.

And now that he’s gone, I appreciate Dad’s pumpkin carving skills more than ever. I have an unbelievable admiration for the time and energy Dad spent every year on those special pumpkins.

And I’m also grateful that his subject matter never changed.

Being such a talented in the art of pumpkin carving, I’m sure there were other things my Dad wanted to carve over the years. Dad could have carved monsters and spooky faces. He could have carved the images of celebrities. He could have free-handed and imagined his own brilliant creations.

But Dad always carved Bert and Ernie—not because he wanted to, but because it always brought a smile to my face. Looking back, I’m confident of that.

None of this is out of character for my Dad, because Dad was always doing whatever he could to make people happy. As his only son, I was often the beneficiary of the love he put out into the world.

Now that he’s gone, I don’t just remember the big acts of love and generosity. I remember the little ones, too, like carving Bert and Ernie pumpkins on Halloween. Or spending time making sure my costume was elaborate enough to make the neighbors laugh. Or making sure I had a military grade flashlight to walk with as I trick-or-treated so I was always safe. I probably didn’t tell him how much I appreciated all of those things at the time. Immaturity does that when you’re young. Now, though, I’m unbelievably grateful for all of those moments—and wishing, more than anything, I could have them back to experience all over again.

Halloween might be a minor holiday for some families, but it’s always a significant one for my family because Mom and Dad made it so much fun when I was growing up. It was more than pumpkins. It was a spirit of excitement that invaded our house because of everything they did to make the holiday special.

Now, Halloween feels different because those pumpkins aren’t there anymore—and neither is my Dad. I miss him desperately every day, but I especially miss him on those big days that were always so much fun.

Halloween can be a difficult holiday because it’s the start of a season where Dad’s absence is felt in a particularly strong way. He’s not here to carve Bert and Ernie pumpkins on Halloween. He’s not around to carve the turkey for our family on Thanksgiving. He’s not there on Christmas day to take pictures of our family dog rip open Christmas presents with her teeth.

I’m unbelievably sad because I feel Dad’s absence around this time of the year, but I’m ridiculously thankful to know that I have 26 years full of amazing memories with him. I’ll always have the pain of Dad’s absence with me, but when times get tough around Halloween or on any other day, I’ll always have the happy memories, too.

And someday, maybe I’ll get good enough to carve a few Bert and Ernie pumpkins for kids of my own. They won’t be as good, but I’ll give it my best. That’s what Dad would have wanted.

Dad and Lucy at Pumpkin PatchDad, I really, really miss you on Halloween—and every other holiday for that matter. The Bert and Ernie jack-o-lanterns you carved for us every year were spectacular. Not just because of your talent, but because you took the time to do them over and over again when I’m sure you had other things you would rather carve. My childhood was special because I had tremendous, loving parents. I wish I had said it more then, but thank you. Thank you for always doing the little things to leave me with big memories. Thank you for showing me on the holidays and every day that you loved me and that you cared about me. And thanks for all the Bert and Ernie pumpkins. I wish I could have them one more time, but until I get to see you and thank you face to face, seeya Bub.

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love makes up for many of your faults.” 1 Peter 4:8 (TLB)

Father’s Day

From about mid-May until the middle of June, I take a different route through my local Target.

On a normal visit to Target (which I make all too frequently), I’ll always head to the hardlines side of the store before I go check out the clothes. I stroll through the everyday home products, then to the groceries, through the home goods, and then back to the electronics.

Okay, fine. Yes, I also go through the toys. Because I still feel like I’m a six year old in many respects.

But during this particular season of the year, I reverse my route. I’ll usually go through the clothes first. Not because I’m looking for something to wear. I actually do this for what I’m trying to avoid.

If I follow my traditional path during this particular time of the year, I’m hit in the face with the grief of my loss. If I make the familiar turn in the store, the first thing I’ll see for that entire month is a large rack of Father’s Day cards.

My eyes usually fixate on a bright, multi-colored banner that screams “Happy Father’s Day! Buy a card for Dad!” Families flock around the display and comb through cards, from the humorous to the serious, trying to find the perfect message for their Dad.

As they are looking at cards, however, I look at the display and my chest starts to feel tight. My eyes well up, and I can feel my heart begin to race. No matter how hard I try to ignore the display, it jumps out at me and reignites my grief and sorrow.

I remember that first Father’s Day without him, and seeing the display of cards. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would no longer have a Father to celebrate with. I froze as I walked into the store on that day. When I realized what was going on, I actually turned and walked out of the store, got in my car, and started sobbing. I couldn’t stop the uncontrollable wave of emotions. I couldn’t stop thinking about how my Dad deserved another Father’s Day. Many, many more…

I’ve written many times about the difficulty of holidays in the aftermath of a traumatic loss or death, and out of all the pain I feel, I don’t know if I feel any pain more severe or crippling as the pain I feel on Father’s day. This is a day built to honor Dads, but what do you feel when you don’t have your Dad by your side? When you can’t tell him, face to face, exactly how you feel about him?

I feel deep sorrow because I still want to buy him a card. Sometimes, I walk past that display and think that this has all just been a bad dream. I think that my Dad has been here all along, and that losing him on that July day couldn’t have really happened. But I know it happened and I’m reminded of it every single day—but especially on this day.

On Father’s Day every year, I wish for one simple thing: I wish to have my Dad back. I know that it can’t happen in this life, but like a little kid I long for the thing that I know I can’t have.

I haven’t been able to look at that card display without crying ever since losing him. My heart hurts every time this time of the year comes rolling around. And I get angry because my Dad deserved to be here. He deserved a card this year, and he deserved a card for many years to come. He was robbed of his day by a disease and a sickness we don’t yet understand like we should. It hurts to know that he’s not here today even more than it does every day when I wake up and think about losing him.

I feel this pain coupled with regret for the years that I didn’t make a big deal out of Dad’s day. One of the challenges of growing up is learning to care for others while still caring for yourself. As we learn this delicate balance, we are prone to look back over our lives and see that we’ve made mistakes. When I look back over my life and the mistakes I’ve made, my wrongdoings are amplified on the Father’s Days of years gone by. And I feel tremendous, gut-wrenching guilt.

I can think of so many years, especially during those tumultuous teenage years, where Father’s Day was a mere afterthought for me. Wow, is that hard to admit—but it’s painfully true. I think of the years when I remembered, usually at the last moment, that the upcoming Sunday was Father’s Day. I would scramble to get my Dad a last-minute gift and a card, and there were so many years when I put such little thought into his gift that it embarrasses me when I think about it today.

I think of so many years when I should have planned something spectacular to celebrate my Dad, but I didn’t. I think of all the years when I should have cooked him lunch on the grill, or planned an outdoor trip for him to enjoy. I look back at those years with the pangs of regret, because I know that they were wasted opportunities. It’s almost cruel that I have so many ideas now for how to properly celebrate Father’s Day, but I have no Father to celebrate them with.

I look back on those years and wish desperately, more than anything, that I could go back and redo them. I wish that I could have abandoned my selfishness and let go of my self-centeredness to celebrate the man who gave me everything good in this life. I wish I could go back and tell him, face to face, how much he meant to me on that day—and every day.

I feel joy when I remember the Father’s Days that I did right. In spite of my failings, I’m glad that there were a handful of years when I celebrated my Dad on Father’s Day with the level of excitement and significance that he deserved. I think of one year in particular when my friend Steve and I decided to do a joint Father’s Day gift for our Dads. We decided to purchase a zip-lining trip for each of them, and we planned a day at Camp Kern in Oregonia, Ohio for the four of us to zip through the trees of the beautiful forest there.

I’m confident that when my days on this Earth are numbered, I will look back on the day of that zip-lining trip as one of my absolute best. It was such a wonderful, wonderful day—from start to finish. We had a perfect day to zip line—a little hot, but a slight overcast to keep us cool enough to enjoy our trip. None of the four of us in our group had ever been zip-lining before. This was an entirely new experience, and we had a great guide who helped us understand the mechanics and safety components of the activity, while still letting us have a tremendous amount of fun.

I remember one line in particular on that day—the River Line. A 1,300 foot line stretches across the rushing water that cuts through a canyon-like setting of trees. For over a minute, you fly down the line, landing in a tree stand on the other side of the riverbank. I remember going first, and I couldn’t quit smiling! But what was even more rewarding was standing on the tree stand and watching my Dad sail in from across the water. My Dad knew how to have fun and he knew how to appreciate the joyous moments of life with a sense of wonder and appreciation. Dad was so very happy when he finished that line. He got unhooked and came up and high-fived me as he laughed. “That’s what I’m talking about! That was awesome!” he said in a goofy voice. He so loved that trip, and I so loved watching him enjoy it.

I wish I had made every Father’s Day like that one. I desperately wish I had started thinking about a great gift for him every single June, giving it the foresight it deserved. But I’m thankful that on that year, and a few others, I gave Dad a special day. He deserved so many more.

I feel that regret because I know that I didn’t always make it a priority to tell my Dad how I felt about him. A card is a tremendous gesture, but what’s even more powerful than a card are words straight from the heart. I love getting cards, but more than anything I love getting a tender, handwritten message that usually accompanies it.

Let’s face it—emotions are tough. They are uncomfortable at times. Vulnerability is so very difficult. There are so many times in our lives when we know what we should tell someone, but we don’t have the courage to say it to them—even when it’s a compliment or a tender and encouraging word. Especially for men, it’s difficult to share how we truly feel with one another. I’ve lived through the awkwardness of not telling people how I truly feel about them, and as I look back on my life I know that I never want to live like that again.

There were so many things I should have told my Dad. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I’ve started this blog. In lieu of being able to tell him in person, I’ll tell him here.

On Father’s Day every year, I should have told my Dad how much I loved him. I should have told him how thankful I was to have a Father who I could confide in when life was difficult to understand. I should have told him how lucky I was to always be provided for and to never have to worry about the material things in life. I should have told him how I appreciated the zest he had for life because it made life all the more fun. I should have told him that I was in awe of his talents and skills, especially when it came to building or constructing things. I should have told him that I appreciated that he was more concerned with being a good Father than a good friend. That, even though I didn’t always act like it, I was thankful that he wasn’t afraid to teach me right from wrong, even when it wasn’t “cool” to do so. I should have told him that every day, I strove to be more like him. That I wanted to emulate his humility and love of serving other people. That (other than having a shiny bald head), every day, I wished I could be just like him.

And that every single day, I still do want to be more like him.

My Dad was my hero—and he still is. I wish I had made him feel like the hero he was each and every day.

I feel and experience the pain of jealousy. As I walk by that card display at Target, I often see young boys and teenagers picking out cards for their Dads. I will watch some who, just like me a few years ago, will search frantically for a card and grab the first one they see. I’ll watch them as they do the same things I once did, and I desperately want to warn them.

It takes everything in me not to go up to those young men and tell them how lucky they are to have a Father and how they should cherish every single moment with him. I want to grab them by the shoulders and let them know that they should do something really, really special for the man who gives them everything in this life.

I think I feel this way because of regret, but I’m also extremely jealous of them. I’m jealous that they will get to hand that card to their Dad. I’m jealous that they will get to do something special with their Dad on that day. Or even something so seemingly-everyday as taking a walk together or tossing a baseball in the yard. Yes, I miss the big moments like Father’s Day, but I also miss the small, everyday interactions. The phone calls and texts. The dinners at LaRosa’s. The nights around the bonfire. The peaceful moments in the water at the beach. The wave he would give from his truck window as he drove by. I miss every single moment. Every one. Everything. And I’m jealous of those sons who still get to buy that card for their Dad.

Ultimately, there’s no card that I could ever buy that would accurately sum up how much I loved my Dad and how important he was—and still is—to me. On this Father’s Day, I’m reminded of the joy that it was to have Scott Bradshaw as a Father. My Dad was an amazing man, and his memory still inspires me each and every day. On this Father’s Day, and on the many more that will inevitably come, I will be thankful and grateful that for so many years I had a Father so good and so wholesome. A Father who told me how much he loved me and that he was proud of me.

And when I see him again, I won’t need to buy him a card. Because I’ll just tell him, face to face, exactly how I feel about him. Who needs Hallmark anyway?

dad-and-me-in-pool-with-sb-logoDad, There isn’t a single day that goes by when I don’t think about you, but on Father’s Day I miss you even more. You were everything a Father should be. You taught me so much about life and how to live it, but I think the true testament to your life is that you’re still teaching me what it means to be a great man even after your gone. I learned something from you every day when you were here with us, and I’m still learning something from you every single day as I think back over the life you led. Dad, there were so many Father’s Days that I would redo if I had the option. There are so many moments and things I said (or didn’t say) that I would take back and change if I had the ability to do it. I wish that I had made you feel as special as you truly were on every Father’s Day and every other day. You deserved more, because you were the most loving, thoughtful, caring, and generous man I’ve ever known. And although I feel so much hurt when I can’t celebrate Father’s Day with you now, I rest easy knowing that we will get to celebrate together again someday, together with our Heavenly Father. Thank you, Dad. Thank you for everything. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough for all you’ve given me in this life. Happy Father’s Day, Bub.

“The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him.” Proverbs 20:7 (NKJV)

Happy Birthday, Dad

On Sunday May 21, 2017, my Dad would have celebrated his 54th birthday.

It tears me up inside to have to say “would have”.

My Dad never made a big deal out of his birthday. He was always happy if Mom made one of his favorite home cooked meals and a tasty dessert. We would all get him a few gifts, and we would usually spend the night at home together. We would usually get one of his favorites—a Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream cake—and he would eat one big piece. And then another. And then usually another before bed. My Dad enjoyed the simple moments in his life, and a birthday didn’t need to have a bunch of extravagance to enjoy the day any more. A good meal, good family, and good cake and ice cream. I love that my Dad loved life’s simplicity. I strive to be more like him in this way.

Now that those moments are gone forever, I would give anything to go back to those days and make a ridiculously big deal out of his birthday. I would give anything to have another birthday to celebrate with him. I don’t know if it’s even what he would have wanted, because he really enjoyed life at a low-key pace and volume. Extravagant to Dad would have been two Graeter’s cakes instead of one. No matter what we did, I would have wished we had a huge blowout on his birthday. Looking back, that’s probably more about me than it is about him, and I’m ashamed to say that, but it’s all about the love I feel for him.

I’m sure this is a common sentiment to anyone who has lost a loved one, and it probably isn’t relegated to just birthdays. Christmas feels emptier. Thanksgiving feels emptier. Mother’s or Father’s days feel emptier. Yes, every day will feel a certain level of emptiness, but that emptiness is really magnified on those “big days”.

Losing a loved one to suicide (or losing a loved one prematurely) also brings on a new layer of feeling: the feeling of being robbed. The feeling of having one of life’s greatest treasures stolen prematurely.

My Dad deserved more birthdays. He deserved birthdays into his eighties and nineties and triple-digits. He deserved to celebrate his birthdays not just with me and Mom, but with his grandkids and maybe even great grandkids. He deserved more.

I experience a whole host of emotions on my Dad’s birthday, and it’s hard to predict what I might feel in any given moment throughout the day.

I feel sadness. Sadness that I can no longer say “Happy Birthday” to my Dad face to face. Or give him a gift or buy him a card. Sadness that I’ll never get to see the smile on his face or hear his familiar chuckle when he opens up a birthday card that I bought to poke fun at his age. Sadness that I’ll never be able to eat another birthday meal with him. Sadness that I’ll never be able to rub his bald head and make a joke about him having nothing else to lose since his hair was already gone years before. There’s so much sadness now on a day that was once all about being happy. It’s difficult to fathom.

I also feel distance. As each year passes by, I feel more and more distance from my Dad—and it scares me. Instead of celebrating his 52nd or 53rd or 54th birthday, I find myself celebrating the second, or third, or fourth birthday since he’s gone. I find myself dividing my life into Before Dad and After Dad, and there’s a pain that invades my heart as I accumulate more birthdays and big days without him. I feel like the further away I get from the last conversation he and I shared, the more of him I’m losing. I feel like the more years that rack up since he’s been gone, the more I will forget. I don’t want my Dad to become a memory, but I’m worried that all I have left of him are memories which I’m bound to someday forget. The distance between then and now scares me tremendously.

I feel guilt. Tremendous guilt. Guilt for all of his birthdays that I took for granted. Guilt for all the birthdays of his that I likely treated as just another day. Guilt for all the birthdays where I scrambled at the last minute for a gift when I should have spent more time being thoughtful and considerate. Guilt for all the birthdays where I had something on my calendar other than spending time with the man who deserved it. I know, I know. It’s easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback. It’s easy to have these feelings in retrospect, and I’d likely have them regardless of how I acted while he was here. I would always want more. But that doesn’t negate those feelings. That will never erase them. They are there, and they likely always will be.

I feel, oddly enough, like the victim of a robbery. Because my Dad died when he was only 50, I feel like something irreplaceable has been stolen from me. I never, ever, imagined that my Dad would be so overcome by his depression that it would threaten the existence of his life. I never thought that my family would join the unfortunate group of millions of Americans who are affected and impacted by suicide. My Dad’s life and my family’s life were not on course for this. This was not meant for us. But it happened anyway. And now, I’m left dealing with the repercussions of not having him here. I’m not trying to make this about me. It’s about my Dad’s life being stolen by a terrible disease—not mine. And that’s what I feel was stolen.

And yes, I feel anger. Immense anger. Not at my Dad—never at my Dad. I feel anger at the pressures that caused him to think life wasn’t worth living. I’m angry at depression, a disease that stole my Dad. I’m angry at all the things that shortened my Dad’s life unnecessarily. I’ve never felt anger at my Dad—something that not every survivor of suicide can say honestly. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be angry at the victim in their situation—I’m just sharing that I’ve never felt that way. Every situation is just so unique and so different. I’m fortunate that I can say this honestly, but I do have anger. Anger at the things that caused my Dad’s life to end and mine to change so dramatically. But I’ll never, ever be mad at my Dad.

I’ll admit—I haven’t yet found a good way to deal with losing my Dad on his birthday. I’ve tried different things every single year. I’ve tried writing him a letter. I’ve thought about visiting his grave site. I’ve thought about trying to do something he would have enjoyed, like eating a great meal or spending time outdoors in the park. Or eating an entire Graeter’s ice cream cake by myself—I think he would have advocated for this option. I’ve tried to ignore the magnitude of the date entirely (unsuccessfully I might add).

It’s a day on the calendar that will always be there for me, regardless of whether my Dad is here to celebrate or not. And honestly, I don’t know that these emotions that I feel today will ever subside. I will always miss my Dad, and that date will always be there. As a result, I think I’ll always experience all of these emotions—some years more, and other years less. I’ll always long to spend just one more birthday with him—knowing darn well that at the end of that birthday I would have still been asking for more. I’ll always dream of how he would have looked on his 60th, 70th, 80th, and 90th birthday. I’ll always long for the moments that were stolen from our family—the moments he should have had but never will.

But, I guess, there’s an alternative that I don’t wish for either. I could have lived a life without a father like the one I had. I could have been free from the pain of losing him, but that would have meant I would have had to been free of the love and joy that it was to spend 26 years with him here in this world. It’s so hard and so difficult to say goodbye to those we love, but it’s only hard and difficult if those people made a tremendous impact on our lives before they left. And I would choose the pain any day over if it means I can have the joy and love.

And boy, did my Dad do that. Not just on birthdays, but each and every day. He made me feel loved. He told me he was proud of me. He spent time with me when his busy workload and schedule offered him thousands of other alternatives. He did everything a Father should do, each and every day.

I wish I could give him more birthdays. I wish I could go back and redo the birthdays I did give him. I wish I had the perspective then that I do now so I could show my Dad how much he meant to me while he was here to experience it.

But, as I have to remind myself, he is experiencing it—just from a distance. Although I don’t always live this way, I know that my Dad is watching over me in heaven. I know that he knows my heart and that he doesn’t want me to experience any of these feelings I’m feeling on his birthday. I know that he’s watching over me, saying gently, “Bub, we will have plenty more birthdays to celebrate in Eternity—and they’ll be even better than anything we’ve ever had before.”

I don’t know what I’ll do this year. I don’t know how I’ll remember my Dad, and I don’t know what feelings I will feel.

But I can guarantee this. Even if it’s clouded in sadness, I will feel love. And appreciation. Love and appreciation for a Father who deserves it. Love and appreciation for a Father who gave everything he had, each and every day, to make people feel valued. Love and appreciation for a Dad whose absence brings a pain I never thought I could feel.

And love and appreciation for a man who had great taste in ice cream cakes.

Dad Smiling Against StairsDad, It still doesn’t seem right that this is the fourth birthday that’s passed since you left us. It doesn’t feel right that life is going on without you. There are times when my heart feels so much pain that I can’t imagine ever celebrating anything without you again. But, in a weird way, I’m thankful for this pain because it reminds me how special you made life feel while you were here. You brought a vivid color and energy to my life each and every day that I don’t know I’ll ever be able to experience until I see you again. But I will see you again. I’ll make up for all those birthdays that I wished I could do over. You and I will, one day, celebrate our new birthdays in heaven. And fortunately, we will never, ever, see those birthdays come to an end. Happy birthday, Bub. You live on in my heart each and every day. Until I can tell you this face to face once again, seeya Bub.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.” John 6:47 (NLT)

Birthdays & Big Days

Yesterday, I hit a milestone…and I hit it begrudgingly.

I turned 30.

I say “turned 30” because “celebrated my 30th birthday” doesn’t properly capture my emotions towards this momentous occasion. It doesn’t properly reflect the terror I feel in my heart. The terror that…like my Father….I might start losing my hair at 30. Not to mention all the other age-induced physical changes one goes through as they get a bit older.

When people ask me if I’m turning 30 and I sadly tell them that I am, they often gush and glow and tell me that my thirties are going to be the best years of my life. They tell me this because their thirties must have been great….and most of the time they aren’t in their thirties anymore. I guess I would think my thirties were pretty darn great if I was sixty. And hairless.

I know, I know. I should be really, really, really grateful that God has blessed me with an amazing thirty years. And that he’s given me a mostly healthy life so that these years will likely continue to accumulate. I am thankful for those things, and I guess that it’s mainly vanity that is keeping me from turning 30 with a smile on my face.

Vanity, yes, but also the fact that every year that passes on is a year spent without my Dad.


My Mom and Dad always made birthdays a very exciting time around our house. Part of this good fortune was likely a result of my only child status, but most of it likely came from the fact that I just had really awesome and amazingly thoughtful parents. I look back on my life and I’m thankful for this: I never had to think about whether or not my parents loved me. I knew they loved me. And they showed it every single day. But birthdays were extra-special.

I remember the birthday parties as I was growing up. A handful of my friends would always join us for a special day, and Mom did most of the planning and execution, but Dad was always there to help and have fun. Some years it involved a trip to a fun spot in our town, like Discovery Zone or Sports Zone. We would chow down on pizza, play arcade games, and run through tunnels and ball pits until our socks wore out. Other times, my parents would turn our backyard into a fun zone all its own, with Mom cooking lots of food and Dad setting up games or piñatas for everyone to have fun with. No matter the locale, it always felt like a special day; and all the while, my parents never failed to tell me they loved me.

I remember the elaborate gifts that my parents would buy for me. Like the year they purchased me a Sega Genesis (every 90’s kid is reading this and saying the “SEY-GAAAAA” jingle). I played Sonic & Tales and Aladdin until my eyes crossed. There was the year I got a CD player for the first time…and I thanked my heavenly Father that I would no longer have to rewind cassette tapes anymore! Okay, I am really starting to feel older than 30 now…

There was the year that my Mom and Dad had bought me a bike and stowed it at a neighbor’s house for safe-keeping until a surprise gifting planned for later that night. Already having dressed for dinner, I sat in the living room in front of our windows waiting for my Mom and Dad to get ready. Suddenly, I saw my Dad hoofing it across our front lawn, pushing a flashy new yellow and blue 21-speed Mongoose. I pointed out the window and looked at Mom with a quizzical face, saying “Hey Mom, am I going crazy or did I just see Dad run across the front yard with a bike? Is that my birthday present?!”

Mom and Dad had a brief “discussion” about how he should have brought the bike over sooner and how he shouldn’t try to hide a surprise by running it in front of our huge front windows, but it was eventually confirmed that, yes, the bike was mine. I remember running my hands across the sleek new frame, grasping the stiff and unused brakes, and pedaling up and down the street where we lived before Mom told me we absolutely had to leave for dinner right then. She promised me I could ride the bike when I got home, and I remember riding the bike that night as Mom and Dad sat on lawn chairs in our front driveway, making sure I got off the bike and stood in the grass every time they saw headlights. That bike and I traversed the trails of Rentschler Park hundreds of times of the years, and it eventually came to Oxford with me, helping me get from class to class and back to my apartment. It was a special gift. Special, and also built tough—I still have it, and it still looks brand new. My Dad always had a knack for picking out high-quality, durable, and usually brand-name gifts. Unfortunately, I’ve inherited his taste for nice (and more expensive) things.

As birthdays accumulated, the childlike whimsy and fun that I remembered was always harder to recapture—but my parents always did everything they could to try and make me feel special. Mom always offered to cook my favorite meal and make me a cake or dessert that I enjoyed. The favorite tastes of my childhood, especially my Mom’s cooking, always have a way to bring me back to a happier place. Both of my parents would always make sure they wished me a happy birthday before I left the house that day, each giving me a big hug. Some years we would go out to a nice restaurant, like the year we went to the Montgomery Inn Boathouse in Cincinnati. And they kept buying me gifts—like the year I turned 18 when they helped me buy a brand new set of golf clubs. The gifts and the meals were nice, of course, but they never outranked the importance of having a wonderful set of parents to celebrate with.

It’s hard for me to think about those great birthdays of the past without thinking of how hard it is to celebrate in a new way now. Without my Dad, it’s just harder to smile on my birthday.

This is my fourth birthday without my Dad being here with me. This is my fourth birthday without having him give me a hug and telling me that he loved me. This is my fourth birthday without receiving a text from him, usually in all caps, that reads “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOY”. This is my fourth birthday without seeing him at my birthday dinner and sharing a cake or dessert together. My fourth birthday without a card that he thought was funny and without a laugh as he told stories from when I was little.

Birthdays just aren’t the same without my Dad, and there are lots of big days that aren’t the same without him. When I graduated from Miami with my Master’s degree, I was excited to have my family cheering me on in the stands, but I was so deeply saddened that Dad wasn’t there to watch. It was really hard to stop thinking about him that day, no matter how hard I tried to put on a brave face. When I got my current job at the Oxford Campus, I really wanted to call him and tell him all about it and hear his encouragement over the phone. I constantly wish I had the opportunity to introduce him to my girlfriend, but I can’t. There have been so many big moments that I haven’t been able to share with him. It’s amazing how your hurt can simultaneously be filled with happiness and hurt in those moments. This complexity is brand new for me, and it’s hard to understand.

There are big days coming in the future—big days where I know his absence will be even more profound. I think about getting married and not having him sitting in the first row with a big smile on his face. As happy as that day will be, it will also be terribly hard for me because he should be there. He should be there to talk to me right before the wedding and tell me all the important truths he’s learned about marriage. He should be there to tell jokes about how he thought this day would never come. He should be there to dance foolishly and laugh with all those in attendance. But he won’t be.

I think about big games and events that I’ve announced. My Dad was always there for those types of things, but he isn’t there to cheer me on anymore. He isn’t sitting in his typical seat at Foundation Field when I announce. He isn’t there taping and recording games that I’ve broadcasted, showing them to people and telling them how proud he is. My Dad was my biggest supporter, my best cheerleader. But he’s not here to do it anymore.

And of course, I think about having children. If you knew my Dad, you know he would have made a tremendous Grandpa. I can’t begin to tell you how much he was loved by kids of all ages. He was goofy and playful and hilarious. He knew how to make people smile, and he never tired of playing with children when he knew they were having fun. I struggle with this one the most. My Dad deserved to be a Grandpa. He deserved to have a set of little feet run up to him and wrap their arms around his shins. I can’t imagine my Dad being an even better Grandpa than he was a Father—but he would have been. But he won’t be now.

There is a sense of finality that is terribly painful as every year moves on. There are times when I can think about him and smile, but there are just as many moments when I think about his absence and all I can do is cry. As a Christian, I am thankful that I know I’ll be reunited with my Dad in Eternity—but it doesn’t erase the pain I feel right now from our temporary separation.

Since Dad’s death, my “big moments” in life have taken on an entirely new complexity. Those moments that should be happy are often constant reminders of the person who isn’t there anymore. Those big moments signal a new chapter in life, but it’s tough to come to terms with the fact that those new chapters are missing a very important character.

But I’m also reminded that even though he isn’t “here”, my Dad is still with me in these big moments—and he always will be. I can eat birthday cake until I’m sick and laugh because my Dad taught me to enjoy life and eat every piece of cake that is put in front of you. I can show my love for another person because my Dad taught me how to put the needs of others before my own. I will someday have the ability to be a good Father because my Dad taught me how to love unconditionally and parent with a purpose. My Dad isn’t physically here with me anymore, but I try and live the way he did—and in that way, he’s still here. And he always will be.

There are some things that I may have inherited from my Dad that I will gladly surrender—chief among those being the gene for hair loss that begins at the age of 30. But I’m proud to be Scott Bradshaw’s son. I’m proud that he taught me how to overcome life’s biggest trials and tragedies. I just wish I didn’t have to lose him to test those skills.

The little moments without him hurt, but so do the big ones. I will continue to live my life, even though I’d rather live it with him here. I’ll continue to blow out the candles on my birthday, wishing more than anything that he could come back. I will continue aging with grace, just like he always did. And I will continue to vigorously and nervously apply copious amounts of preventative Rogaine, because, after all, I will always be my Father’s Son.

Birthday Photo with SB LogoDad, A birthday just isn’t a birthday without you here to celebrate. I often think about the great jokes you would have had worked up for me now that I’ve turned 30. I guarantee that there would have been some hair growth treatments involved—you should know that better than anyone. As painful as it’s been to blow out the candles on a cake without you for the fourth year, I’m thankful that I got to spend 26 wonderful birthdays with you here. You always made birthdays so special for me, and I’ll always be thankful for your unbelievably fun-loving attitude towards life. You have a new birthday in Heaven now. One that represents the start of your eternal life in paradise. As much as I hate aging, I’m thankful that with every passing day I’m one step close to hugging your neck again and telling you how much I’ve missed you. I long for that first hug, because I know it will be even better than the last one we shared. We are going to have a lot of birthdays to catch up on! And I can’t wait to tell you about every day that you’ve been gone. You’ll always be here with me, even when you aren’t. And I’ll always be grateful that on this day 30 years ago, I received one of the greatest birthday gifts God could ever give me. The gift of loving parents, and a Father who made life worth living. Thanks for giving me life, and thanks for always adding love to it. Until I can thank you in person, seeya Bub.

“It is beautiful how God has done everything at the right time. He has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds. Yet, mortals still can’t grasp what God is doing from the beginning to the end of time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (GW)

Merry Christmas from SeeyaBub.com!

 

A few months ago, I decided to launch this blog thinking that a few people would stumble across it and that it might help someone who is struggling with depression or the loss of a loved one to suicide. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I didn’t expect what all the readers, and God, have provided in these few short months.

Over the past two months, Seeya Bub has had a few thousand views and has reached individuals in the United States, China, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Philippines, India, and a whole host of other countries.

To those of you who read each post, what’s been more important than any number or marker on a map, however, has been the overwhelming response of your heart. I can’t tell you how many nights I sit at my desk with my mouth agape, baffled at the work God is allowing this blog to do.

There have been the conversations with those of you who struggle with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. Hearing you open up and tell your story has been the privilege of a lifetime. From the moment I started this blog, I knew I wouldn’t be able to provide simple answers—but I could provide comfort, an open ear, and a shoulder to cry on when needed. You matter. Your story matters. And your life here on this earth is vitally important and consequential. I am honored to walk with you and share my Dad’s story in the hope that it might change and improve yours.

There have been the messages from survivors of suicide and individuals who have a friend or family member that struggles. There’s so much confusion, especially when a parent is suffering from a mental illness. How do we go from that person being our ultimate provider to suddenly having to take care of the caretaker? Your confusion is real, and it’s maddening, and it’s frustrating—but it’s a lot less overwhelming when you share that burden in community. I hate that you and your loved one are suffering, but I love that God has connected us so we can struggle and suffer together. Hearing so many people deal with their loved ones more tenderly after reading this blog has made it all worth it.

And to those of you who have lost a parent, regardless of the circumstances around their death, your pain and love for your loved one has touched the deepest parts of my heart. The loss of a parent is so profoundly painful. They’ve always been there, and they’ve always known just what to say when times got tough. And when they aren’t around anymore to say those things, the void hurts so deeply. I’ve found comfort in your experience and your journey, and I’m learning from you how I can continue living life when life seems unlivable.

To those of you who have shared stories about my Dad, all I can say is thank you. You have no idea how comforting it is to hear stories about my Dad. You would think, having known him my entire life, I would know everything there is to know about him. But I don’t, and as time goes on, one of the most difficult and troubling realizations is that I might be forgetting things about my Dad. When you tell me stories about my Dad and the things he did in this life, it’s like he’s right there next to me again. He’s still living in on your memory, which makes him even more vivid in my own. I can’t wait to share these stories in future posts.

This Christmas season, I simply say thank you. For reading, for sharing, and for connecting. For validating my story while processing your own. You’ve inspired me to make this the mission of my life—promoting a message of hope in the face of fear, light in the presence of darkness. I am completely astounded by the response, and I promise to continue serving all of you, and God, with all my heart and energy.

Dad and I were fans big fans of Garth Brooks…well, let me rephrase that. I was (and still am) a HUGE fan of Garth Brooks, and Dad liked him up until that whole “retirement” stunt. Recently, Garth (yeah, that’s right, we’re on a first name basis….well, at least I am) released a song with his wife Trisha Yearwood and the legendary James Taylor that is simply dubbed “The Thanksgiving Song”. The lyrics spoke to me at a heart level, and I wanted to share some of them with you:

What I’m thankful for ain’t on no list

For it only in my heart exists

For time has helped me understand

The things I can’t hold in my hand.

 

For those that came before my turn

Oh, from whom I’ve gathered lessons learned

That light the path that lies ahead

I see them as I bow my head.

 

Yes I’m thankful for the Lord above

The gift of His unending love

The promise kept that there is something more

These are the things I’m thankful for.

To all of you, I’m thankful that you’ve agreed to walk alongside me and all those who suffer from mental illness and grief. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours, and thank you for making the start of this journey such a remarkably blessed experience.

Dad, You would be astounded by all of the people who have visited this blog and read your story. You wouldn’t want the credit for any of it, but I give you so much credit for all the good things that have happened in my short life. You taught me all the things a Father should (and then some), and although the lessons didn’t always set in (I still can’t change my own oil in the truck), the important things you taught me will always be there. I miss you more than anything, and especially around Christmas it’s hard to think that you won’t be there to enjoy all the fun and food and family. But you are there, in my heart, and I’m thankful that you made me the man I am. Until that first Christmas that we spend together in heaven, seeya Bub.