Wondering

My Dad’s death from suicide has left me in a constant state of wondering.

On Father’s Day, Paige and I found ourselves enjoying lunch at one of our favorite spots: Chuy’s. As I’ve written about previously, Father’s Day is an extremely difficult day for me to navigate. Every Father’s Day leaves me wishing I had just one more to celebrate with my Dad. He deserved a bigger celebration than any I ever gave him on this Earth, and each year that passes brings its own unique challenge and struggle within my emotions. Some years, it’s a tremendous sense of loss and grief that overwhelms me. Other years, its anger and frustration that mental illness stole my Father away from a world that loved him beyond words.

But this year, it was a sense of wondering—constant, ever-present, answerless wondering—that overtook my capacities.

While I plowed down a basket of chips and salsa (and then another…and maybe one more), I noticed a table nearby with about ten family members around it. There were mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, and one very adorable baby who smiled at me every now and then as she rested her head on her Mom’s shoulder. There were a number of young adolescent boys who all seemed to be extremely respectful of their parents, aunts, and uncles, which always warms my heart—especially when I see children who talk to their parents and adults in their lives over a meal instead of staring aimlessly into an iPad. I’ve always enjoyed people watching, and this was a fun family to watch. From the outside looking in, they looked like a near-perfect family in many respects.

My interest during most of the lunch, however, was drawn to the head of the table. Sitting there was an elderly man in a wheelchair. He had mostly-graying hair, glasses, a cheerful smile, and a hearty laugh that would bellow out every few minutes. Wearing a bright orange short that appeared to reflect his happy personality, the man was intensely present with every one of his family members sitting around the table. Although he seemed to be enjoying the chips and salsa just as much as I was, he listened to the stories of his family members, responded, asked them questions, and listened some more. In every moment, he seemed extremely invested in the conversation and the people he was talking with, and generally, he appeared to be so happy to be at the table with all of them.

I don’t know how the man got to the table that day, or the story of his family, but I could tell that he was a man who had earned the respect of those who were sitting near him. He was a patriarch who had clearly established a family built on love, trust, and loyalty.

I was extremely distracted during that lunch, and as much as I tried to look away from this man and his family, I was transfixed. I found myself struggling to focus on anything else but watching this man, the way he behaved, and the way his family treated him. I kept trying to imagine the years and decades full of wonderful life experiences that had brought them all together—both the moments of joy and the sadness of defeat or tragedy that they had likely experienced as a family.

And all throughout, I wondered.

I wondered what could have been within my own family, and I saw it pictured with the family in front of me.

From the moment that I heard my Dad was dead, my mind immediately had to make an important shift. Unfortunately, all the things that were “want to’s” with Dad—the bucket list of things we had always planned and wanted to do together—became “should haves.” Instantaneously, thoughts of how I had squandered or ignored precious time with the man who meant everything to me flooded to the forefront of my grieving mind. Because my Father had passed away so suddenly at the age of 50 without any prior warning that his final days were nearing, there was a feeling of the rug being pulled out from underneath me in a horrible, violent, life-altering way. I felt as if I had been robbed of a treasure that I didn’t even know I had. All of a sudden, that “thief in the night” scripture in 1 Thessalonians held a whole new, all-too-real significance.

And from that moment on, I began wondering.

A permanent sense of questioning and fruitless speculation began to take over my life on that July day in 2013, and it continues to manifest itself in so many different facets of my life; but it’s especially present on Father’s Day. Father’s Day is the day that I reflect on all the great moments that I shared with my Dad and all the lessons that he taught me; but it’s also the day in which I wonder about the rest of his life that he deserved to live. The life he should have had but never did.

As I looked at the grandfather sitting nearby our table, I wondered what it would have been like to watch my Dad grow old. It was clear that the man at the table next to me had suffered some type of difficulty that required him to use a wheelchair, but he also had remarkable, quick movements as he ate—I think at one point he even surpassed my chip/salsa intake! Clearly, some of the effects of aging had taken away a few of the liberties that he had once enjoyed, but he seemed to not let those obstacles get in his way.

It was stupendous to watch, and I wondered, silently, if my Dad would have aged with the same grace and determination that this man embodied. I have no doubt that my Dad would have aged well, as he rarely found himself in a situation where negative health effects overtook him. Yes, he likely would have gotten a few more wrinkles. Yes, his vision would have likely gotten a bit worse. But I knew that I would always be able to tease him about not being able to lose any more hair than he already had!

I’m sure the aging process wouldn’t have been all fun and games for Dad, but it would have been fun for me to watch the man that I had first known in his late-20’s and early-30’s grow and age into an elderly man—a patriarch. Sitting at the table that day, I wondered what Dad would have looked like. I wondered what clothes he would have worn. I wondered if his beard would have grayed entirely. I wondered about every seemingly simple and stupid detail of his life. And I grew frustrated knowing I would never have those answers.

I also wondered about the more profound things. How long would Dad have lived had mental illness and suicide not robbed him of the life he deserved to experience? I don’t have much evidence to back up my assertion, but I always believed my Dad would have lived into his nineties or hundreds, and I believe he would have been largely independent and self-functioning the entire time. That’s just the way he was. Dad had a zest and an appetite for life that led me to believe he would have wanted to hold onto every ounce of it for as long as he could—which is what makes his untimely death from suicide all the more perplexing. On this day, and on many others, I found myself drifting into a daze where I pictured my already-bald, wrinkled, bespectacled Father sitting across from me with his familiar laugh and twinkling smile shining through the weariness of time. It hurt me deeply to know that the vision I had imagined would be as close as I would ever get to seeing my elderly Father in front of me.

But as I watched this man at the restaurant, I began to wonder about more than encroaching wrinkles and receding hairlines. As the meal wore on, this Father/Grandfather took a keen interest in his family members who were sitting around the table. He listened and laughed as his sons and daughters told stories, just as my Dad had always done when I talked with him. He lowered his gaze and leaned low to meet the eyeline of his handsome, well-behaved grandsons, asking them questions about the sports they played, their schooling, and their friends and classmates. He made silly faces at his newborn granddaughter, and his entire face melted into a deep smile every time she clapped at him, reached for his arm, or offered a newborn giggle or coo.

You could tell that this man wasn’t here for a sympathy lunch or a meal born of obligation. This man was sitting at the head of the table because, in the eyes of those who loved him, he had completely earned that head spot and they wanted to celebrate him. Each family member assembled at the table had a sense of reverence for the man they were likely honoring at lunch, and it was heartwarming to watch their actions in a world where these types of selfless behaviors are all-too-infrequent.

I couldn’t help but picture my Dad in that man’s seat. I couldn’t help but flash-forward to a world that will never exist, wondering what life would have been like for my Dad as a Father, Grandfather, and patriarch of his family. As I enter a new chapter of my life with an impending wedding date on the calendar, I often wish that Dad and Paige could have met to share life with one another. In so many ways, they would have been peas in a pod. They would have appreciated one another’s humor—especially humor at my expense. He and Mom together would have treated Paige like the daughter they never had, and although it’s been a true blessing to watch my Mom enjoy welcoming Paige into our family, I also wish that my Dad could have experienced that same blessing. I know that Dad would have taken an interest in everything Paige did, and he would have been amazed by her talent, knowledge, and determination. On many days, I find myself wondering how they would have enjoyed growing together as father and daughter-in-law, and I constantly wonder what their relationship would have looked like. And it pains my soul to know they never had a chance to experience life with one another.

And although I joke about the nervousness I feel at the thought of becoming a Father myself someday, I know that God has a plan for me to raise children; and I know with more certainty than anything else that my Dad would have been an outstanding Grandfather. Even with this certainty, however, I wonder about the things I’ll never know. What would Dad have wanted to be called? Grandpa? Grandad? Papaw? Pops? Just wondering about the nickname his future-grandchildren would have bestowed upon him brings tears to my eyes. I wonder about all of the fun moments he would have been able to share with them—likely doing things that Paige and I would have told him they were not allowed to do. Candy consumption would have been at an all-time-high. Punishments would have been nonexistent with Grandpa. Trips to the amusement park and trick dives from the deck into the swimming pool would have been everyday occurrences. My Dad would have taken the charge for grandfathers to spoil their grandchildren to heart as his personal life mission. I have no doubt that he would have showered them with gifts and treats and experiences, but more than anything, he would have given them every ounce of love he had. He would have loved them, and I have no doubt that they would have loved him just as much.

And unfortunately for me, and for those future grandchildren of his, we will never, ever get to see him fulfill that duty. And it’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Suicide (or any tragic, untimely death for that matter) creates many unique grief-related emotions within those who are left behind, but most prevalently it creates the sensation that the victim and their loved ones have been robbed—robbed of time and of a future together. After losing Dad to suicide, I remember telling people that I felt like the victim of a theft. It may have been a strange analogy, but it accurately conveyed the grief better than any other example. One day, I had a loving Father with the promise of having him in my life for a very long time, and the next day all I had to cling to were memories and the broken pieces left behind.

That unnatural feeling of being robbed, at least in my life, likely occurs because suicide in and of itself is unnatural. As a Christian, I firmly believe that suicide runs counter to God’s desire for our life. In no way do I believe it is an unforgivable sin (a common myth which I’ve addressed previously and will continue to address in posts to come), but I do believe that God’s heart breaks when one of his children loses a battle to depression. Although God can redeem bad things, like suicide, I think he also had grander plans for my Dad. I believe God wanted to see him grow old. I believe God wanted to see him become the patriarch of our larger family and become a grandfather. I believe God wanted to see my Dad enjoy retirement and many more years of marriage to my Mom. I wanted these things. We all did. I believe God wanted these things.

And I know, deep down in the innermost parts of his being, my Dad wanted them too.

My Father’s death from suicide prevented him from ever experiencing a whole new phase of joy and prosperity that he so unbelievably deserved, and my heart breaks for him because he was robbed unfairly. I know that we don’t earn God’s blessings because He freely gives them; but if there was a way to earn them, my Dad had done everything in his life necessary to fulfill his end of the bargain.

Instead, suicide and mental illness stole those opportunities away from my Father; and they stole the joy of knowing and experiencing life with him away from all of us who loved him so deeply. It’s left all of us, including me, in a constant state of wondering that will never, ever be satisfied on this side of Eternity. I’m thankful that I know, one day, I’ll be able to see my Dad again and the pain of his absence will be a memory that is long and forever forgotten. That promise keeps me moving ever-forward; but it doesn’t diminish the pain I feel in this moment. It never fully eradicates the confusion, guilt, and loss that pervades every minute of my existence.

I continued to watch the family on this last Father’s Day at the restaurant, and my attempts to avoid the pain of Father’s Day were futile. Although it was painful to think about what I had lost as I watched this family, there was also beauty in the reassurance of God’s promise that I will, someday, greet my Father again. I will, someday, run to the arms that cradled me as a baby and tell my Dad how much I’ve missed him. Like that family, I’ll enjoy a meal with my Dad that will be grander and greater than any we ever shared together on this Earth. We will laugh together again. We will bond together again. We will experience a love stronger than this world could ever provide, together as Father and son.

And in that moment, a moment I’m patiently yet desperately longing for, I’ll wonder no more.

Dad HS Yearbook Photo with SB LogoDad, You lived a big and vibrant life while you were here with all of us, and your absence is even more noticeable and painful because the void left behind is so great. You deserved to live a fuller life than the one you experienced, and I’m sorry I didn’t do more to make that dream reality. Dad, I would have loved watching you grow old—even though it might not have been as much fun for you as it would have been for me. I would have loved seeing you on my wedding day, and you have no idea how much I would have appreciated your wisdom about navigating this new chapter in my life because you were such an amazing husband for Mom. And yes, I would have loved watching you become a grandpa more than anything else. I know you would have been silly and goofy and ridiculous—and completely adored by your grandchildren. But Dad, as much as I wanted to watch those things for myself, I’m ultimately saddened because you earned the right to experience all of those wonderful things. I hate mental illness and suicide for robbing you of these life chapters. Mental illness separated you from us and from many wonderful, beautiful moments that awaited your future. And although I won’t get to watch you enjoy life, and although I’ll always have questions about why this happened to you, I do find peace knowing that you’re not suffering any longer. I find a sense of comfort knowing that the unjustified feelings of shame and embarrassment that you experienced in this world are completely gone and fully redeemed. And I know that as great as any experience you could have had here with us might have been, you’re experiencing a joy and beauty beyond any other as you bask in the glory of Heaven and God’s everlasting love and paradise. Dad, keep watching over me, and keep reassuring me that you were called Home for a reason. I love you, and I wish we could have experienced more of this life together; but I know there’s a greater reward and an unbelievable reunion awaiting us. Thank you Dad, and until the day when we are reunited forever, seeya Bub.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (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)