16 Minutes

16 minutes. Imagine how much (or how little) you can get done in 16 minutes. Imagine how quickly 16 minutes passes you by. Personally, I’m guilty of taking time for granted. I spend more time wasting time than I’d like to admit, but on some days I rush too much. 16 minutes is fast. It’s not even enough time for me to get through a full episode of my favorite game show, read a chapter of a book, take a walk through my neighborhood, or get ready in the morning.

A few days ago, I did something that I’m going to ask all of you to do for a day when you finish reading this post. I downloaded a timer on my phone that I could put on a loop for 16 minute intervals. Every 16 minutes, the timer would buzz and start over again, buzzing 16 minutes later. Then, it would keep a count of how many times that 16 minute interval had passed.

I did this for a very specific reason. I did this for an important reminder. I did this to remind myself of a statistic I wrote about in my very first post.

I wanted to remind myself that every 16 minutes, another American loses his or her life to suicide. (You can learn more by visiting DoSomething.org or through the World Health Organization.)

And I wanted to remind myself why I’m not okay with that.

16 minutes. 16 precious minutes.

That’s 90 people every day. That’s 90 individuals whose lives are ended prematurely. That’s 90 families torn apart from sorrow and grief, just like mine. That’s 90 individual circles of family members and friends and coworkers and neighbors left behind with unbelievable guilt and plaguing, persistent questions, constantly curious if they could have done more.

That’s 630 victims of suicide each week.

That’s 32,850 victims of suicide each and every year.

And I will never, ever be okay with that.

Say those numbers out loud to yourself. Try to visualize them. Try to imagine faces and families. Try to picture the hurt and experience the pain. Try, if only for a moment, to understand how in just 16 short minutes lives have been altered forever.

Try to quantify this in your own life. In the time it takes me to watch a rerun of The Office and think about the good times my Dad and I enjoyed watching it together, two other individuals lose their lives to suicide. In the time it took you to watch the Cincinnati Bengals lose a football game this past season (you had plenty of opportunities…), 12 other families will have lost a loved one when they didn’t have to. You slept for 8 hours last night? While you were asleep, roughly 32 lives were cut short unnecessarily.

Every 16 minutes, someone feels as if their life is unlivable. Every 16 minutes, someone feels as if their circumstances are so dire and so impossible to escape that suicide is the only escape. Every 16 minutes, someone who could get help doesn’t. Someone who deserves help and healing fails to find it. Every 16 minutes, a repairable situation ends irreparably.

Someone like my Dad.

If you’re feeling guilty because you didn’t know that a suicide occurred every 16 minutes in our country, don’t; because I didn’t know either. I’m not writing this post to make you feel guilty at all. I’m writing this post because I wish I would have read it before losing my Father.

Before suicide affected my family, I never would have guessed that someone lost their life to suicide every 16 minutes. In fact, I would have guessed that there was one or maybe two suicides a day in our country—which is still not okay, but my innocent mind would have found a way to minimize the pain. Any unnecessary death is a death we should aim to avoid in the future. But in the world I lived in—one that I thought was safe and secure—I could never have imagined suicide was as prevalent as it is.

That is, until it hit home. My home. My family.

A few months after my Dad died, I did what anyone who is blindsided by an enemy they didn’t know existed probably does: I tried to figure it out. I tried to learn as much as I could about mental illness and suicide. I read books, I located articles, and I listened to videos and lectures online from suicide survivors. I tried to figure out why my Dad, a fun-loving father, honest husband, caring coworker, and faithful friend to everyone he encountered could feel the way he felt. It didn’t make sense.

And the more I learned, the more baffled I became.

I distinctly remember the night when I first saw the statistic about suicide prevalence. I was sitting at home, reading information online, and I saw the number. I didn’t believe it. It couldn’t be true. There was just no way that individuals were dying from suicide at this rate. I went from site to site to site and saw roughly the same number. There might have been a little variance in the math, but the numbers were largely the same. Nearly 100 individuals each day dying from suicide.

I was mad. Mad at an illness that had robbed me of my Dad. Mad at the pressures my Dad had dealt with.

And I was mad at myself for not knowing that this was happening in the world around me.

The more I learned, the angrier I got. I couldn’t believe how naïve I had been. If suicides were occurring at this rate, it was nearly certain that there were people in my own life who had died from suicide or family members or friends who had known someone who was a victim. But I don’t remember seeing them. I don’t remember hearing their stories.

But they were there. The reality was I just wasn’t looking. I just wasn’t listening.

After my Dad passed away, however, the blinders were gone. My cloak of naivete had been removed. For the months that followed my Dad’s death, each and every day, I found myself meeting with or interacting with someone new who had been impacted by suicide. Sisters who had lost brothers. Parents who had lost children. Children who had lost parents. Individuals who had contemplated suicide themselves. Now, I find myself wanting to fight for those individuals. I find myself wanting to do something to help them. Even if by the time my life is over I am only able to push that time interval to 17 minutes or 18 minutes, it will have all been worth it. Because those are hundreds and thousands of families, over time, that won’t suffer the same heartache that mine has.

And I hope you want to do something about it to. Because allowing someone to die unnecessarily every 16 minutes is unacceptable.

Lately, I’ve been speaking publicly in classrooms and community events about suicide, and although I always share this statistic with those in the room, there is one other thing that I always do. I always, always have a picture of my Dad on the screen behind me when I speak. He will always be there with me, smiling and looking on that way; but he’s also there because my Dad is more than a statistic. My Dad was a living, breathing person who lives no more because of the mental illness that attacked him.

I am in a club that, unfortunately, continues to grow against the will of those who already belong. Each day, 90 other families come into this club of individuals impacted by suicide. We get a new member every 16 minutes. And for the first time in my life, I’m in a club that I’m trying to keep members out of. I’m trying to do what I wish had been done for me before my Dad died. I’m trying to make people aware that suicide might seem distant, but it’s real and it’s pervasive. And we are at a critical juncture where every bit of awareness could help someone who needs it.

So, I simply ask you to do what I did to help this message sink in. What do 16 minutes mean to you? Get a timer on your phone or use a kitchen timer. Set it for sixteen minutes. And when it expires, say a prayer for an individual and family impacted by suicide. Try to understand that each and every time that buzzer or timer sounds, there is one more victim of suicide in our country. Another family and circle of individuals has entered a new chapter of their life filled with pain, agony, and questioning—just like the one my family finds itself in.

Then, set the timer again. Because mental illness is relentless. And until we start to fight against it, that timer will continue to reset at the same interval.

Unless, like me, you’re not okay with it any longer.

The more we understand our enemy, the better chance we have of defeating it. I know that I’ll never take those 16 minutes for granted ever again. And for the rest of my life, I’ll do everything I can to push that clock back. My Dad would have wanted that. My Dad deserved that.

His 16 minutes will count for something. I’m sure of that.

Family Easter Photo with SB LogoDad, I wish I had known. In spite of all your struggles that you dealt with each and every day, I never, ever thought that suicide would attack you and our family. I never believed for one moment that your life was in danger, probably because you shielded us from so much of your heartache in an effort to protect us. Dad, I wish I could have done more to help you. I don’t blame myself for what happened, but I would do anything to replay those moments when I should have done something. But in your memory and because you always taught me to help people, I’m trying to keep others from suffering like you did. I’m trying to make people aware of something that I wasn’t aware of until it stole you away from us. Dad, I miss you every single day. I wish I had many more minutes to spend with you. Someday, we will have those minutes and many more. Someday, we will be able to enjoy being together again. Until then, seeya Bub.

“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.” Psalm 34:17 (NIV)

Faith Answered

Childhood time is interesting.

Think back to your days as a grade schooler. Do you remember staring at the calendar thinking about how eagerly you anticipated the beginning of Summer vacation? And then do you remember staring at the calendar in August? The starting day of school stares at you, looming in the horizon. Grade schoolers stare at a calendar that is short on time but long on intimidation. I remember that feeling. I remember those fears. And I remember a summer when the fear almost got the best of me, and the lesson it taught me many years later when I would need it most.

“Auntie,” I said, “I don’t want to go to fifth grade.”

My Great Aunt Vivian, or “Auntie” as she’s always been to me, is the most faithful, steadfast, encouraging woman I’ve ever known. I’ve always heard that I should look for strong examples of faithful women all throughout the history pages of the Bible, but I’ve honestly never had to search or wonder because I’ve always been able to watch Auntie. My Aunt Vivian is an example of faith that knows no bounds or limitations.

Dad and AuntiePositive, upbeat, and always smiling, my Aunt Vivian was more like a grandmother to me when I was younger. Both of my parents worked (and worked hard) to provide for our family, which meant I was often in the care of family members like my grandparents. And of course, Auntie was always in that rotation—and I couldn’t have been more thankful. Early on in my life, and during the summer months as I aged, I spent many a day under the loving and watchful eye of my Auntie. I’m a better man today because of all those days I spent with her growing up.

And probably a bit more spoiled as well….

When I went to Auntie’s house during the summers, I was a little prince. Each and every morning, shortly after my arrival to her home, Auntie would give me a great big hug, lead me back to her corner television room, and ask me what I’d like to eat for breakfast. Since the time I was little, I’ve always loved food. Where most babysitting aunts and grandparents might offer a simple breakfast. Auntie offered a delicious menu unlike any other. Nearly every morning Auntie would set up my TV tray and bring me a hearty breakfast: a cheese omelet, perfectly cooked strips of bacon, two slices of buttery toast under the broiler, a bowl of strawberries or fresh fruit, and an ice-cold Dr. Pepper on the rocks (my addiction started young, and I never shared this part with my Mom). After eating breakfast, I would lounge in front of the TV or play with toys, occasionally following Auntie around her house until The Price Is Right came on. After acting like I actually knew the price of cars and everyday grocery items as a grade schooler, Auntie would eventually bring me a lunch just as delicious as the breakfast that I had consumed earlier. We would then spend the afternoons playing games, napping, and eating ice cream. Auntie’s wonderful husband, my Uncle Ray, would return home in the afternoon from his job as a barber on Main Street in Hamilton. Just like me, Auntie always took care of Ray and made him feel special. I remember all these days so vividly—and my taste buds can still take me back to one of those wonderful summer days. While my Mom and Dad worked hard at their jobs, I lived the life of luxury at Auntie’s house. It’s good to be prince.

This particular summer, however, wasn’t as luxurious as the past ones had been. As we turned calendar page after calendar page, I eventually saw August and could feel the anxiety building in my young heart.

This wasn’t just any summer. This was the summer between fourth grade and fifth grade, and in Fairfield, that signaled a big year. In the fifth grade, I would move into a new school. A new school with new teachers and new kids and new challenges. Although I would be in a regular classroom all day, there would be sixth graders with lockers and changing classes. Because the school was so much bigger, I had no idea if I would see my friends from Fairfield North Elementary. I had always been a pretty nervous, anxious, cautious kid. This big change, however, took everything to a whole new level.

I hadn’t let on to anyone—including Auntie—that I was nervous. For the most part, I had always enjoyed school. I was a good student. I always liked my teachers. I enjoyed learning and reading and all the things that go along with school. I couldn’t share with them how scared I was. Even as a little guy, I knew that weakness is bad. Weakness should be hidden.

Auntie, however, wasn’t just a caretaker. She was a caring caretaker. She loved me, and it showed in everything she did for me each and every day. And she was there right when I needed her. I can look back on that time, and I think that Auntie could see something was wrong with me. I think she knew that she could help.

Eventually, the day that all school children dread arrived. That particular Friday would be my last day at Auntie’s for the summer. The following Monday I would go back to school. Not just any school, but the new and scary school. During our morning conversation before breakfast, Auntie asked me if I was excited to start school. Never the greatest actor, I could no longer hide my fear.

“Auntie,” I said, “I don’t want to go to fifth grade.”

“What’s wrong, honey?” Auntie said as she came and sat next to me with the loving, careful tenderness that I’m sure she’s been doling out to members of our family her entire life. That tenderness made me feel safe and secure, and I let it all out. I don’t remember if I cried (knowing me, I probably did), but I shared all of my fears. I shared all of my apprehension. I told her that I just wanted to stay with her every day. I had planned to make it to at least 8th grade before dropping out, but maybe I could strike it rich as a contestant with Bob Barker. I mean, I had those laundry detergent prices memorized perfectly…

As I talked, Auntie listened. And she didn’t make me feel silly. She made me feel like I mattered. She didn’t minimize my feelings. She validated them. But she also told me that there was something bigger and more true to help me overcome those feelings.

Then, Auntie did something that was completely perfect. She did something that she did with me before every single meal I ate. She did something that I’m sure she has done so many times in her own life—both when the sun was shining or when the storms were rolling through.

“Ty, let’s pray for you,” she said.

Auntie came over and put her arm around me. I don’t remember the words of that particular prayer, but Auntie has always had a beautiful voice for prayer that I’ve admired since I was a youngster. For me, prayer has always been difficult. I stumble over my words, I am easily distracted, and I try to use flowery language that God probably can’t even decipher. My Aunt, however, is a prayer dynamo. She speaks to God the way we all should—she simply has a conversation with Him. She expresses her love for him. She thanks him for watching over us. And then, she boldly asks God to provide. She prays audaciously, without reservation or doubt. And that day, as an apprehensive and scared fifth-grader-to-be, she prayed for me as tears streamed down my suntanned cheeks.

I don’t remember how long she prayed, and I don’t even remember all the things she said; but I will always remember the way I felt. As Auntie asked God to watch over me, naming me directly to the Ruler of the Universe, I felt the mask of pretend courage I had created begin to melt away. The fears I had were all bubbling to the surface, and although the anxiety was still real, it felt less threatening because it was being exposed to the light. As Auntie acknowledged my fear, she asked God to give me the real courage and capability to overcome it.

My Auntie kissed me, she told me that she loved me and that she believed in me, and most importantly she told me that God would watch over me—in fifth grade, and in every grade that followed thereafter.

After that prayer, I made my way into her back yard to sit in the grass and soak up the last few rays of summer sun before the docile confines of a school classroom would rob me of my golden-brown skin. I sat there in the grass staring at the sky and looking into the clouds, trying my hardest to picture God resting above them and looking down over me. I wondered if He had heard the prayer that Auntie had just prayed for me—and I wondered if He would actually do all the things she had asked Him to do.

Eventually, the cloud gazing got boring and I shifted my attention lawn-ward. I looked at the green grass that surrounded me, and here and there I noticed tiny patches of clover. I combed my fingers through the clover slowly, wondering if there were any four leafers in the midst of all those threes. As I ran my fingers through the dewy lawn, something perfectly miraculous happened. I jumped onto my shins and tried to locate what I had just saw.

There, on that summer afternoon, I found my very first four leaf clover.

I couldn’t’ remember ever having found one before, but on that morning when I felt ridiculously weak, I felt like I found a symbol of encouragement. I plucked it from the ground, ran inside the back door, and saw Auntie standing near the stove.

“Auntie!” I exclaimed. “Look what I found!”

Auntie took the four-leaf clover from my hand and smiled. “See Ty,” she said in that same loving voice that had called out to God just a few moments earlier. “This is a sign of good luck, and it’s a sign that God is going to answer your prayers.”

As a ten year old with an ounce of wisdom and a million pounds of fear, there was something unbelievably reassuring about having found this sign of good luck. I believed it, but just in case it was a fluke, I turned to Auntie and said nervously… “Think there might be another one out there?”

Auntie did what only a loving great aunt would do. She went out into the August heat with me, got down on her hands and knees, and helped me search the entire backyard for another sign of good luck.

And because God loves to encourage His people….Auntie helped me find another four leaf clover. For all the fears I had on that day, I also had eight little green leaves worth of encouragement.

I was beaming because, in that moment, I felt like I had an army of angels on my side. I was overjoyed because I felt like this was a sure sign that things were going to go well. And on that day, even if it was just for an hour or so in the backyard as we searched for a four-leaf clover, Auntie put all of my fears and nerves out of sight and out of mind.

Auntie took those four leaf clovers and said she would keep them safe until the end of the day for me. I didn’t pay much attention to what she was doing with them, but I’m thankful that I had an aunt who understands that love packaged in a simple gesture can change a heart forever and ever.

I counted down the minutes anxiously as the day ended, knowing that my Mom’s arrival to pick me up and the end of summer were imminent. A few minutes before the day was set to end, Auntie came back to the television room and sat down on the couch next to me.

“Ty,” she said sweetly, “before you go, I want to give you this.”

With a glowing smile on her face, Auntie handed me a tiny card. Knowing that I loved dogs and puppies, Auntie picked a notecard with two Dalmatian puppies resting cutely in a fireman’s helmet. I opened the card, and inside I saw the two, four-leaf clovers we had found earlier in the day perfectly preserved under a sheet of plastic wrap. Underneath the good luck clovers, I saw a message written in Auntie’s familiar cursive writing.

“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered and no one was there. Always remember this Tyler. I love you. Auntie.”

IMG_0631

Who needs good luck when you have an Auntie like mine?

With God’s love and Auntie’s prayers, I left her house that day still nervous but encouraged. I left her house believing that there was a greater power on my side, rooting for me and pushing me along. I read that card the entire way home. I put it on display on the bookshelf in my bedroom. I read it again the night before I was set to start fifth grade. I went to bed loved by so many, including God and Auntie, and I felt that love wrap its arms around me. Love was real because of that card, and so was my faith.

And guess what? I survived fifth grade! Although I did have to have my tonsils removed, nonetheless…

I don’t write this post because of my fifth-grade struggles, however. I write this post because that card would carry me through so many more difficult times. The card, its message, and the love of my Auntie would last for a lifetime—especially in the moments when I needed it most.

I awoke on a different summer morning years later with a sense of dread much worse than the one I had felt as fifth grade approached. I pulled my black suit and dark tie from my closet. Slowly and wearily, I found myself getting dressed and trying to understand how life could have fallen apart and shattered so unexpectedly. I was readying myself for a pain I had never experienced before.

In just a few short hours, I would be standing next to my Dad’s casket.

I didn’t know how I was going to do this—the funeral, or life in general. How could I ever live life without my Dad? Life with Dad was all I had ever known. Life with Dad was all I ever wanted. I didn’t want to enter this new chapter of life without him. His death from suicide had put me in a very dark, very anxious place. The fear of fifth grade seemed so distant and so inconsequential compared to what I would now have to go through.

Back then, fear had knocked at the door, faith had answered, and no one was there. Fear, however, was knocking again.

I knew that although the situation was much, much worse, the same faith would always be there. The same God that carried me through that trial would carry me through this much bigger one.

Thankfully, I still had that card and those clovers to remind me of His power.

The day of my Dad’s funeral, I carried two items in my suit pocket: a handkerchief that had once belonged to my Dad, and the card that Auntie had give me many years before. The clovers have since browned (although they’re still amazingly well-intact), and the corners of the card are slightly bent, but the words written by my loving Auntie are still as bold and powerful as they ever were. I opened it on that July morning, and cried when I read her words again:

“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered and no one was there. Always remember this Tyler. I love you. Auntie.”

Standing next to my Dad’s casket, I just kept repeating the words that my Aunt had given me. Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there. Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there. Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there.

Occasionally, I could close my eyes and visualize it. I could picture the spiritual battle. I could see Satan with a crafty, wry smile on his face, rapping his knuckles on the door of my soul. Then, I could see that door creak open as the bright rays of faith in a loving Savior exploded through the door frame. I could see Satan, once cocky and arrogant, shielding his eyes from that blinding light of faith. I could see him running away from that doorway.

Fear knocked. Faith answered. No one was there.

Satan had hoped to defeat me and my entire family through the death and suicide of my Father. But if faith had answered back then, faith would answer again. And my entire family would find a way to answer with faith.

There were many moments standing by that casket when I would tap on the chest of my suit pocket, knowing the power of the card that was held near my heart. I would look at my Auntie, who was there for my Mom and I each and every moment we needed her in those days after losing Dad. I would see her and I would know that, although life looked dark in the current morning, faith was waiting just on the other side of the door to shine its light. Faith would answer. And fear would flee.


IMG_0629I have a few prized and cherished treasures in my possession. They aren’t the things I’ve spent the most money on. They aren’t the name-branded and logoed sweaters I can’t afford but buy anyway. They aren’t the pieces of sports memorabilia I have accumulated. They are things that are truly irreplaceable. One of a kind. Sacred.

They are items like this card—a simple card with two aged four-leaf clovers and a message that will last a lifetime. Just like Auntie’s love. Just like God’s love for me and all His people.

That card and the message that Auntie inscribed within it carried me through the days, months, and years after losing Dad. I’m not trying to sugar coat life, because in the aftermath of a traumatic loss it isn’t always easy. There are days that are near impossible to make it through successfully. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. There are days when I obsess over how all of this could be part of a redeemable plan from God. There are days when I can’t eat, nights when I can’t sleep, and seasons when the heartache overtakes me.

After my Dad’s funeral, I remember feeling completely paralyzed. I had been in bed for many hours, and I just couldn’t bring myself to even stand. That’s when Auntie came into my room, pulled up a chair, and did what she had done back then. She prayed. She prayed with all the power and belief and courage of a time-tested prayer warrior. She called upon God to do what He said He would do. She called on Him to help my entire family answer with faith and chase fear away.

Auntie and GrandmaEventually, I got out of bed. Although there have been other days when I can’t. And during every one of those moments, I remind myself. Fear is knocking at the door. Faith must answer. My faith has led me through the challenge of my Dad’s death on days when I just couldn’t do it. It breaks my heart to watch families impacted by suicide or traumatic loss who turn away from their faith, because I know that my faith and the love of Jesus Christ has been the most important component of my survival in life after Dad.

And on days when I need that reminder that my faith will always answer, I slip that card into my pocket. My Auntie’s inspiration and her amazing faith mean more to me than any four-leaf clover (or twin set) ever could. Fear will continue knocking. I’m grateful that I have my Auntie and a wonderful reminder of her faith to chase it away.

Dad and Auntie with SB LogoDad, There have been so many days after your death that have been full of fear. I didn’t know what I would ever do without you, because you were such a rock for our family. While you were here with us on Earth, however, you gave us all a great example of what faith and courage looked like. Dad, you fought so hard for so long. I can’t imagine how many painful days you must have had and how many times you pushed through when life seemed unbearable. I wish that I could have done more to help you. I’m thankful that we’ve had wonderful family, like Auntie, to help us in your absence. But I know you’re still watching over us. All of us, each and every day. I love you, Dad. I continue to be afraid of what life will be like without you in the years and decades to come, but I know I’ll see you again. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“God didn’t give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgment.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (GW)

Dad’s Song

“I hate that I have to ask you this so soon, but…is there a song you would like played or performed at the service for your Dad?”

My Dad had only been gone for a day. Just a few days earlier, we were making the final plans for our family vacation to the beach. Now, we were making plans to say goodbye to my Dad for the final time. Oh, how life changes in an instant. One horrible, irreversible instant.

Harville, my pastor, was sitting in a chair in the corner of my darkened bedroom. We had been talking for the past thirty minutes or so about the tragedy of the past few days. My pastor had a tender kindness that was so very important to my family in the aftermath of Dad’s death. He came into the room that day to see how I was doing and to tend to my spirit, which had been bruised and battered since that awful Wednesday morning. As tender and thoughtful as Harville was in those tumultuous few days, there were some painful questions that just couldn’t be tenderized. I knew that Harville had to ask questions like this. The reality was that my Dad was dead, and that there would be services to honor his life within the next few days—that unfortunate truth was fixed, unchanging. We couldn’t put it off for too long. We were going to have to come face to face with this horrible reality and plan a service fitting for a life well-lived.

I am still very thankful for Harville, my Mom, and my Grandpa Vern (among many others) who really took control of the funeral planning and shielded me from the heavy lifting. I had very little to do with the wonderful funeral service we were able to hold for my Dad, but when Harville asked a question about music and a song, I had an immediate answer.

“Yes,” I said to Harville, “There is a song.”


Just a few months before that fateful July morning, I found myself in the basement of my friend Steve’s home watching the Super Bowl on his jumbo projection screen. There was nowhere better to watch a football game, especially if it was the big game of all big games. Steve had engineered a projector in his basement to project the cable feed onto his entire wall. If you think you’ve watched a great game on a beautiful television, try watching it on an 8×12 foot wall projection. You’ll take your 70-inch flatscreen and chuck it out the window (don’t do that).

Even though the lights in the Superdome went out that night, it was still a fun game to watch. And, like most who tune into the Super Bowl, I kept a sideways glance at the screen when the commercials came on to make sure I didn’t miss something funny that all my friends would be talking about the next day. Per usual, there were commercials that made you chuckle or pulled at your heartstrings. The Gangnam Style guy was apparently a big fan of pistachios. There was the Budweiser baby Clydesdale. There was also a weird Dorito’s commercial about a goat that made me never want to eat Doritos again.

But there was one commercial in particular that grabbed my attention from the opening chord. As I sat in the glow of the giant wall projection, there was a beautifully-elegant, simple, and rustic guitar intro that caught my ear. It had a country-simplicity to it that I loved. This was the type of country song that existed before most of the current country artists began to ruin country music (You heard me, Rascal Flatts…).

He’s a twenty years straight get to work on time… He’s a love one woman for all his life…

I loved it already.

Then, my love for the commercial turned into complete infatuation when I saw the product that was being advertised: the Chevy Silverado.

The Silverado was the truck of all trucks, in my opinion. It was rugged. Versatile. Reliable. And my Dad always drove one. I trusted his taste in many things, but I especially trusted his taste in trucks.

As the commercial rolled on and my eyes glazed as flashy Silverado after Silverado rolled across a field of amber grain or a windy mountain road, the lyrics of the song continued to speak to me.

He’s the shirt off his back, Give ya his last dime, He’s strong.

It was unbelievably ironic to hear this song paired with this particular product. This was the exact truck that my Dad drove, but it was also a song in which every line spoke to the man he was. This was a song that told the story of my Dad and how he lived his life.

I remembered hearing the song through the first verse during the commercial and immediately getting to my phone to Google the lyrics. After a few seconds, I found the song. Strong by Will Hoge. It was a song I had never heard before, sung by an artist I had never heard of. His voice, however, made it feel like I had been listening to him sing my entire life. Mainly because he was singing about a topic that was so familiar to me. The name “Scott Bradshaw” is never mentioned once in the song, but I felt like every lyric was about him.

I listened to the song on the way home from Steve’s that night. I downloaded it from iTunes and added it to my phone. And each time I heard it or listened to it, I said the same thing to myself: One day, I’ll play this song for Dad and let him know that I think of him every time I hear it.


I had no idea that our time together was running so short. When I thought about playing that song for my Dad, I envisioned playing it many years into the future, possibly when my Dad was in an advanced age and balder than he currently was (not possible). I thought, naively, that I would have a ton of time to play that song for my Dad and share it with him, along with my feelings.

I never got a chance to play that song for my Dad and tell him what it meant to me—what he meant to me. His death from suicide shattered our lives unexpectedly, and now I would have to settle for playing the song at his funeral. I just couldn’t believe it. I am fortunate that God has blessed me more than I deserve and that I have very few regrets in my young life. This, however, is one of my greater regrets. I wish that one day, while riding around together in his Silverado, I would have taken the time and shared the song and my emotions with him. I had the opportunities, but I also thought we would have so much more time together. There were many more drives with the windows rolled down and the radio up to be had.

Alas, we didn’t.

So, the first time I was able to play that song for my Dad was in his memory. Sitting in the first pew of the dimly-lit church our family had called home, Mom and I gazed upon the cherry casket resting a few feet in front of us. As we sat there with hundreds of our family and friends sitting behind us while the clock neared 10:00am, the familiar guitar strum began to emanate from the speakers.

I ask you to place yourself in that moment. I ask you to close your eyes, imagine that day, visualize that church, and listen to the song that I chose for my Dad.

Strong

Will Hoge

He’s a twenty year straight get to work on time
He’s a love one woman for all his life
He’s a shirt off his back give you his last dime
He’s strong

He’s a need to move something you can use my truck
He’s an overtime worker when the bills pile up
Everybody knows he ain’t just tough
He’s strong

Strong

He’ll pick you up and won’t let you down
Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain’t nothing gonna knock him off the road he’s rollin on
He’s strong

It ain’t what he can carry what he can lift
It’s a dirt road lesson talkin to his kids
Bout how to hold your ground and how to live
Strong

He’s strong

He’ll pick you up and won’t let you down
Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain’t nothing gonna knock him off the road he’s rollin on
He’s strong

Strong
Like the river rollin’
Strong
Gonna keep on going
Strong
When the road runs out
They gonna keep on talkin about

How he was strong

Strong

He’ll pick you up and won’t let you down
Rock solid inside out
Somebody you can trust
Steady as the sun
Ain’t nothing gonna knock him off the road he’s rollin on
He’s strong

Everybody knows he ain’t just tough
He’s strong

Songwriters: Ashley Gorley / Miller Crowell / Will Hoge / Zach Crowell

Strong lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management US, LLC

 I stared resolutely ahead at the casket, defiant, trying to deny the fact that my Father was gone as that song played through the sanctuary. I tried my best to hold in my emotions and remain stoic, but that weak dam eventually gave way. Every bit of pain I had felt over the last few days tore through me when I heard that song, because it was everything I wanted to be able to tell my Dad, face to face, one last time. I can vividly remember sitting there in that pew with tears streaming down my face as the song played, wishing more than anything that in that moment I could have just one more with my Dad. One more to play that song for him, look him in the eye, and tell him how strong I thought he was. To tell him that he was stronger than he ever thought he could be. To tell him that he was strong enough to beat this.

Mom wept next to me as the song played. She raised her hand towards the heavens as the second verse picked up because she realized, like I did, that although this song may have been written with some other inspiration in mind, it really was written for my Dad. The song was written for this man and this moment. The words spoke to everything he was to us.

After the funeral, I had so many people ask me about that song. It made me feel good that we had been able to pick a song that resonated with so many people and their memory of my Dad. It made me feel relief that people saw past my Dad’s mental illness and his death from suicide to see the man we saw. A man who fought courageously for so long. A man who smiled and loved those around him with beautiful abandon, even though he might not have felt smiley or lovely on the inside. A man that pushed through his own sadness to provide for his family and give them a home life full of wonderful memories. People loved the song because they loved the man whose memory it brought forth. People loved he song because they realized that my Dad’s final chapter was not a true reflection of the beautiful story he wrote in this life for himself and so many others.

Yes, my Father died from suicide. And yes, he is still the strongest man I’ve ever known.

My Dad, Scott Bradshaw, was strong. And he still is. And this song, whenever I need it, is my reminder.

On occasion, particularly when the weather is warm and the sun is shining, I’ll take a detour in my truck—which is ironically the very same Chevy Silverado that my Dad drove. I’ll find myself feeling particularly lonely on those difficult days. Although time may pass from the moment we last said goodbye, the heart never completely heals. And there are moments, tremendously painful but necessary moments, when I need to hear that song again. So, like my Dad would have done, I’ll roll down the windows, crank up the volume, and hear that old familiar chord rattle through the truck speakers. In my mind, I’ll look over towards the passenger seat and see my Dad sitting right next to me with a huge smile on his face. I’ll see him begin to bob his head as the music picks up. I’ll see him thumping his thumb on the middle console between us the way he always did when a particularly good song warmed his ears. And I’ll see his face turn towards me through his sun-darkened spectacles, beaming with that beautiful smile of his.

And I’ll look back over at him, with tears streaming down my face, and I’ll let him know that this song was for him—and that for as long as I live, it will always be his. It will always be the song that helps me remember him. As long as I live, this will be my Dad’s anthem. When my future children and grandchildren ask about my Dad, I’ll play this song for them. This will be the song that reminds me of the love I felt for an amazing Father. It resurrects tremendous pain when I hear the words of that song, but at the same time it reassures me that the man I knew and the man who raised me will never truly leave. Because his heart lives on in me. His memory will never die as long as lyrics like this tell the story of the life he lived.

And that song, a song of love for my Dad, will always play in my mind and in my heart. I’m grateful for a beautiful song and the hearts and minds who wrote it, but I’m even more thankful that I had a Father who lived out the lyrics every single day.

“When the road runs out, they’re gonna keep on talkin’ ‘bout how he was strong.” Will Hoge, truer words have never been written. I’m still talkin’. And I always will be

Dad with Baby Lucy and SB LogoDad, You have no idea how I wish I could wind back the clock and play this song for you. I wish that I could play it, watch you listen, and then say to you that whenever I hear the words I immediately think of you. I desperately wish I could see you thumping your thumb on the console of your truck like you always used to do. I’m sorry that the first time I had a chance to play this for you was at your funeral. So many people have heard the song and told me how perfect it was for you, which is the best testament to your life. It’s what you deserve. Dad, people still talk about how strong you are. People still talk about how courageous you were for fighting through your mental illness for so many years. I know you were hurting desperately, Dad. I know that your soul was troubled. But I pray that you’re able to hear this song in heaven and know that I think of you each and every time I hear it. I’ll always love you, Dad, and I’ll always admire how strong you were. I’ll try to live up to example you gave me—the example that you gave all of us—each day for as long as I live. Someday, I’ll look you in the eyes again and tell you that you were the strongest man I’ve ever known. Until that reunion when we can listen together, seeya Bub.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (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.”

One Year of Seeya Bub

“God, I just ask that you let this help someone. If my words can just help one single person avoid the same end that met my Dad, then it will all have been worth it. Give me the strength I need to do justice to my Dad and his life. Walk with me through this, God. I can’t do this alone. I’m really scared, but I know you want me to do this.”

This was the prayer that I prayed one year ago when I prepared to launch Seeya Bub. I can vividly remember sitting at the desk of my office at home, not knowing what to expect. I was crying, and my hands were shaking (more than they usually do, that is).

For a few months, quietly behind the scenes, I had been working on a blog that I had initially resisted. I had set out to write a book about my Dad, his struggles with depression, and his eventual death from suicide. I was growing frustrated because I found it so hard to stay motivated. As I shared this struggle with close friends and family members, a few of them began to suggest a blog as a possible alternative, and I would immediately shake my head no. Most blogs frustrated me because people were just writing without purpose—bloggers were just blogging to be heard, not caring at all what they wanted to say.

The more I thought about things, though, the more I began to warm to the idea of a blog over those summer months. I liked the idea of being to write and react, write and react, write and react. I loved the idea of being able to get feedback from my readers as I went so I could pivot accordingly to topics that they found useful. More than anything, however, I liked the idea of being to reach people who needed help quickly. I envisioned that someday, someone would be sitting at their computer struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts. They would search aimlessly for some sense of hope, come across my blog, and maybe, just maybe, think differently about the path of their life. I didn’t know how many of those people were out there when I started writing.

And boy, was I surprised at the amount of people who were struggling, just like my Dad was.

I tried my best (with the help of some wonderful YouTube videos) to figure out how to manage the technical aspects of a blog, how to deliver posts to as many readers as possible, and how to work in visuals that would honor my Dad. I had done my best to patch everything together, and all that stood between me and the tremendous anxiety I felt was a “Go Live” button and a quick social media post to announce to the world what I was doing.

Just a few hours later, I found myself back at that same desk where I had written the words of that first post, sobbing as I held my head in my hands. I was crying, not from sadness, but from a place of overwhelmed gratitude. Within just a few hours of launching the blog, hundreds of family members, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances had visited the site and read the post. These same readers were sharing Seeya Bub on their own social media networks, encouraging their friends to read and follow. I was receiving messages and comments of unbelievable support.

Most touching in those initial days of the launch were the private messages that I received from readers who were either struggling from mental illness and suicidal ideations, had previously struggled, or had unfortunately lost loved ones just like I lost my Dad. These messages were full of extreme pain and unfathomable hope. These were messages of courage and strength, pushing me to talk about these difficult topics and share my Dad’s story.

God hadn’t answered my prayer on that night. He took my request, made it bigger than I ever could have imagined, and has delivered on my wildest expectations each and every day over this one amazing, spectacular year.


This week marks the one-year anniversary of Seeya Bub’s official launch, and I can’t help but be completely overwhelmed and nostalgic when I think about all of the wonderful things that have happened since that first post.

God is leading me on a journey that I never could have imagined, and I’d like to share some of my reflections over this past year with you today.

Readers. I honestly had my doubts about whether folks would read the words I posted on this blog. Yes, I know my story matters, but it’s a busy world. Taking the time to read and really think about someone else can be hard to do in a hectic life—and I’m guilty of it myself. When I hit that “Go Live” button, I wondered if people would find my message valuable enough to read, and read again, and again.

When I sat at my desk a few hours after launching the blog, I just kept saying “Wow” and shaking my head over and over again. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I couldn’t believe the response. And I still can’t.

And ever since then, you’ve continued to read. I’m sitting at that desk one year later having had over 6,500 views at Seeya Bub. It’s astounding, and heartwarming, and emotional for me to see the response. So if you’re reading now and you’ve read in the past, please know how thankful I am to you. Thank you for following the blog, thank you for sharing it you’re your friends, and thank you for pushing me and encouraging me when times got tough or words and messages were hard to come by. You’ve encouraged me to keep writing. You’ve reminded me that my Dad’s life mattered—to me and to you. And you’ve reminded me that I need to share it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Pulling Off the Mask. As hundreds of people poured through the visitation line at my Dad’s funeral, there was one common phrase that was repeated over and over and over again: “I had no idea that he was struggling.” I wasn’t surprised to hear this. My Dad was always a jovial guy. He wore a mask better than anyone. He was able to easily hide the depression that would often hijack his brain. It was hard to explain to folks how someone as fun-loving, compassionate, and generally happy as my Dad could find himself in the pit of depression so deep and inescapable.

But Dad was there, and after I launched the blog I found out just how many other people are there too. From the moment Seeya Bub went live, I began receiving messages from people I knew—and some that I didn’t—sharing similar stories. Stories of mental illnesses that make it debilitating for them to get out of bed. Stories of near-fatal suicide attempts. Stories of darkness, and stories of spiritual intervention from above.

And that was evidence alone that God was doing what I hoped he would do with my message. The story mattered, but the telling of the story was what mattered most. So often, just like my Dad, the stories of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts remain untold, hidden behind a mask of protection. Let’s be honest—it’s scary to share our feelings, and when we don’t even know why we feel the way we do, it’s even scarier. And when we aren’t able to share our feelings, we grow isolated. We feel alone. We feel like there has to be more to life and that, if there isn’t, life might not be worth living.

I know that’s how my Dad must have felt. And thanks to those of you who have been courageous enough to share your own struggles with me, we are pulling off the mask of mental illness and helping people fight back the isolation and despair. Make no mistake—this is a battle. We have to fight for ourselves and those we love. We have to fight against the shame that is erroneously coupled with mental illness. But every time we pull off a mask, we are delivering a swift punch to mental illness and depression.

Ultimately, we have to let people know that it’s okay to not be okay…but it’s not okay to stay that way.

Speaking about my Dad. After my Dad died, I wondered how I would tell people what happened. I dreaded the funeral because I wondered how many people would try to pry for information about what really went wrong. I worried that I might not be able to ever speak about my Dad. I worried that his death might become a distant memory. And I worried that other families would continue to suffer, just like mine, without my Dad’s story being able to help them.

I tried to talk to people about my Dad and his memory. Sometimes I would make it through, and other times I would fall apart and be completely inconsolable. I knew that I wanted to write a book about losing my Dad, but if I couldn’t even have a conversation with folks about losing my Dad, how was I ever going to be able to write chapter after chapter about his death?

All I can say is this: God provides. And He equips. And where we fall short, He is there to give us the strength and inexplicable courage that we might never possess without His presence.

I started writing posts months before I knew I wanted to launch the blog. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. I began remembering stories that I had forgotten. There was something strangely addicting about writing about my Dad and how much I loved him and missed him—it was like I was out hunting and capturing memories before they could escape forever.

And as I grew more comfortable writing about my Dad, I also found a brand new comfort when it came to speaking about him. Yes, it still hurt not having him here, but I could talk without breaking down. I could feel grief and joyful memories at the same time. I could share his story without falling to pieces each and every time. As I grew more resilient, I found new opportunities to talk about my Dad and remember his story—and I knew the more I shared his story, the more it could help people who are hurting like he was.

Processing my Own Grief. Most importantly, Seeya Bub has given me the ability to work through my own grief and loss over losing my Dad. It isn’t why I started the blog and it might sound selfish, but I’ve grown so much as a result of sharing my story of my Dad with all of you. Losing a loved one brings on unbelievable grief, and when the grief is so unbearable it is easy to bury things below the surface—sometimes, it’s the only way to survive and get through. Regardless of how deep you might bury those feelings, however, they find interesting ways to work themselves back to the surface.

Writing about my Dad and losing him gave me a unique opportunity to recognize those issues and how they were affecting me, both consciously and subconsciously.

This griefwork has been the most difficult part of life after losing a loved one. There are some days when I just flat out don’t want to do it. I’ll sit down at my computer, fall apart, and realize that I’m too emotionally distraught to write anything productive. Other days, however, the writing is strangely soothing. I can remember a story that brings a smile to my face and write about it positively. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to do that in the days that followed my Dad’s death. The courage that this experience has given me is something I’ll always thank God and all of you for giving me.

No matter the feelings, being able to write and share my heart with all of you has been an unbelievable (and unintended) blessing. Knowing that you read reminds me that I’m not in this grieving alone.


(I hope) there are many, many more years of Seeya Bub to come, and in the one that is approaching, I ask all of you for your support. I also hope you will say a prayer for me while you’re at it. Over the next year, I am planning to write about some very personal and difficult topics regarding my Dad’s death. I’m going to share more of my life without him and how much I miss him. Each and every time that I sit down to write, I get nervous about sharing these pieces of my story and my soul because I don’t know how readers will react to them.

In this year to come, I simply ask that you continue to do what you’ve been doing. I ask that you continue to pray that God will give me the skills I need to reach hearts and minds through this endeavor. Together, I hope that God will help us help others.

On this one year anniversary of Seeya Bub, I also want to take a moment to say thank you for one more thing. Thank you, to all of you, for loving my Dad. Being able to talk with those of you who knew my Dad has been unbelievably therapeutic. You share stories about the difference he made in your life, and about the joyful memories you have of him. What’s even more mind-blowing, however, are the tender messages I receive from people who never knew my Dad, those who have come to know him solely through the blog, who say what a tremendous man he was. I will never be able to say thank you enough for those kinds of messages. Knowing that you enjoy the writing is special, but knowing how highly you think of my Dad brings a tear (and many more) to my eyes every single time. He was an amazing man with an unbelievable heart, a resilient spirit, admirable talent, and compassion beyond understanding. I’ll always love him—knowing you do too comforts the heart of this grieving son more than I could ever describe.

In the year to come, I promise to keep honoring my Dad. I promise to help anyone who is hurting and suffering in any way I can. As long as you read, I’ll be here to write. We are in this together. We are in this for my Dad and all the other people who suffer.

It’s only been one year on a journey that’s got years of life left on it. I’m packed and ready, and I hope you are, too.

One Year PhotoDad, You would be completely astounded to see how many people are touched by your story. You would be overwhelmed by how many people loved you and how deeply they loved you. I know that you’re watching over this journey and giving me the guidance from above that I’ve always needed, and I’m thankful for that. But I wish I didn’t have to write. I wish that you were still here with us. I desperately wish that that fateful July day in 2013 had ended differently. I would do anything to have you back here with me, with us, but I know that you’re at peace. I know that you are basking in the glow of God’s glory in Heaven. And if you can’t be here with us, I’m certainly glad you’re there. Dad, continue watching over me. Continue giving me the words I need to reach the hurting, grieving people in our world. Give me the wisdom and insight to share your story. Thanks for always watching over me. Until I can thank you face to face, seeya Bub.

“Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.” Ezra 10:4 (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)

Bonfires

The picture is still sharp into my brain. I can conjure it up with vivid realness—especially as the leaves begin to burn bright orange and yellow and red before they fall to the ground this time of year.

It’s a silhouette of my Dad sitting in a chair staring into the flames of a backyard bonfire.

My Dad loved the simple things in life. A good meal. A good country song. A relaxing ride in the truck. The feel of the sun on his skin. A new Dewalt power tool (most of which I’ve inherited and have no idea how to use).

My Dad had a long list of things he loved about life. Although he never wrote this list down, I have a pretty good idea of one thing that would be near the top:

Bonfires.

Yes, bonfires. My Dad was a firebug. He loved setting things on fire. I mean, not in a crazy pyro sort of way. It was always controlled and safe…well, most of the time.

I know why my Dad loved bonfires. He loved the popping and cracking of the logs as they turned into ash. He would be mesmerized by the flames. He would sit in a chair near the firepit he built in our backyard and be completely hypnotized by the fire. On a cool night, he might sit there for two or three hours and let the flames warm his skin, and he was in his happy place every time he was there. He didn’t need music. He didn’t need a cellphone for endless and pointless scrolling. He just needed a chair, a can of Coke, our dog Lucy by his side, and a stack of logs that he could burn through the night.

For as long as I could remember, Dad had an almost-nightly ritual of retreating to the backyard after the sun would set. Rather than settle in front of the glow of the television, Dad would often park a chair near our backyard firepit, load some wood into the wheelbarrow, and prepare for a relaxing night. And he always had a smile on his face.

As he spent more time near the firepit, his techniques and methods became more and more elaborate. Dad had always started his fires with a blowtorch, which is plenty effective enough for anyone who needs to start a fire. But for my Dad, a blowtorch just wasn’t good enough. Not quick enough. Not exciting enough. Not ridiculous or dangerous or powerful enough.

So Dad did what any man who watched way too many episodes of Home Improvement might do. He built a device that would start the fire quicker.

And by “device,” I mean a flamethrower.

That’s right. A flamethrower. And a homemade one at that.

What does a homemade flamethrower look like, you might ask? It’s basically a wand-torch device with a trigger that is attached to….a propane tank.

Of all the things I’ve inherited of my Dad’s, this might be my favorite. I’m completely terrified to operate it in the instance that I might burn all the hair off my head in a fiery explosion, but at least I have it. (My Dad didn’t have to worry about things like this because of that whole “bald at 30” thing he had going on…). Here’s a picture of me actually getting up the courage to use it one time after he died. Note…I mask the terror pretty well: Using Dad's Flamethrower

Dad was really proud of this flamethrower. I’m pretty sure Mom was utterly terrified that he was going to be that guy on the news with ash all over his face after a backyard explosion saying “I had no idea that my homemade flamethrower attached to a propane tank would actually explode…” I would often laugh and roll my eyes every time I would hear the roar of that flamethrower in the backyard. I knew Dad was at it again…and that I would have the family room television to myself for a few hours.

Dad’s experimentation extended far beyond starting devices, however. He also experimented with materials. At first, his goal was probably to find things to burn that would help the fire last longer. Then, that grew into an obsession with which natural materials would make the most interesting and loud noises if he threw them into the fire.

In a fit of excitement one year, my Dad and our neighbor Shawn planted a small patch of bamboo in our backyards. That small patch eventually grew into a bamboo plantation that could feed an entire zoo full of pandas.

One evening, my Dad got a bright idea to chop down some of the bamboo (which, by the way, makes it come back even faster and in ridiculous amounts) and see what would happen if he tossed it into his firepit. In a fit of childlike amusement, my Dad nearly lost his mind when the bamboo made an exploding pop that sounded like a firework. So, my Dad did what any mature, grown adult would do.

He chopped down stalk after stalk of bamboo for about three hours and tossed them all into the fire, laughing his head off every single time they exploded. The pattern became all too familiar if you were sitting inside the house listening: Pop from the bamboo, a series of vicious barks from Lucy at the popping noise, and a chuckle from my Dad. Over and over and over again, all throughout the night.

And sidenote…if you throw about thirty stalks into the fire at once, you might want to warn the neighbors that they are not being shot at first.

In addition to the bamboo burns, Dad also loved setting a good Christmas tree on fire—after Christmas, of course. For my entire life, we always had real Christmas trees in our house. My Dad refused to buy an artificial tree. Although he said that he always had real trees because they looked better, I think he also looked forward to January 15th when it was time to dispose of the dried out evergreen.

Dad would take the ornament-stripped tree to the backyard, dig a small hole in his firepit, and stand the tree up for its ceremonial cremation. Then, Dad would take a blowtorch (or eventually his flamethrower), and light the tree from the bottom. Within 45 seconds, the entire tree would be completely engulfed in flames, the reflection burning bright off my Dad’s glasses as he smiled and laughed. He never seemed to tire of this after-Christmas tradition. Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree, how lovely is your fiery death….

I think back over all those nights that Dad would spend camped out next to our backyard fire, with our dog Lucy barking at every single popping bamboo shoot as if it were some invisible enemy she could silence. I think of all the nights where Dad wouldn’t even have time to change out of his work coveralls because he had worked so long to provide for our family. I think of all the times when Dad would be mad that it had rained for a few days in a row, interrupting one of his favorite rituals.

And I also think of all the times when Dad would ask me to come sit with him by the fire and I would say no.

I wish that I had spent more time with my Dad near the firepit when I had the chance to do it. Dad would often invite me to come sit with him. I would occasionally take him up on his offer, but not as often as I should have. Most times, I would be too busy. Or doing something stupid like watching television. I desperately wish I could give back all of those reruns for a few hours and a stack of felled bamboo with my Dad in the backyard…

I think that my Dad sat by the fire so often because it was peaceful and relaxing. Dad could shut the world off and connect with his primal side: a man, his fire, and the stars and moon overhead. Life was simple when Dad was sitting around the fire, and Dad loved simple. Dad was at peace when he was surrounded by crackling flames, chirping crickets, and the beauty of God’s creation.

But now, after losing my Dad to suicide, I think those fire nights were even more important for my him. I never realized the extent to which the noise and cloud of depression had overtaken my Dad’s mind. The feelings of doubt and shame and fear had to be so loud every single day for my Dad. I’m sure there were so many times when my Dad just wanted to silence the world around him. When it came to the internal voices that told my Dad he wasn’t good enough or wasn’t worthy of love, I am sure that my Dad wished he could hit a button or flip a switch and turn those voices off.

I think a night by the bonfire was my Dad’s way of silencing those voices.

My Dad could sit by the fire and let the worries of the world and his depression melt away. There’s something strangely mesmerizing about a good fire, but there’s also something about a fire that takes humans back to our earliest roots. Sitting by the fire, I imagine, allowed my Dad to return to the parts of his life that were simpler and easier and happier and better. My Dad had many, many dark days in his life; but I’m so glad that he had many, many bright nights when he could relax, let his worries down, and sit in the warmth of a roaring fire.

I’ve grown to appreciate bonfires more and more since losing my Dad. Like I’m sure he experienced, they also calm my mind and quiet my soul. More importantly, in the life after Dad, a bonfire helps me return to the moments of happiness in life when my Dad was here on Earth. I’ll sit and laugh when I think of his flamethrower. Or his obsession with exploding bamboo. Or his Christmas tree infernos (I sold my soul to the Devil and use an artificial tree, which I’m sure upsets Dad even in Heaven, but someday I’ll buy a real tree and make sure I set fire to it just like Dad would have wanted). I’ll smile when I picture the look of happiness that was always on his face when he sat in a high patio chair with a glass of Coke in hand. I simultaneously cry and happily remember how Dad would stoke the fire with a rake or pitchfork while Lucy ran around him wildly grabbing sticks and chewing them into a million pieces as he laughed at her craziness.

This Fall, I’ll burn a fire in honor of my Dad. I’ll remember all the great times he shared around the flames, and I’ll long to relive and correct all those nights when Dad sat by himself and I should have been next to him. If there’s a firepit in heaven, I’m sure Dad has a chair camped nearby.

Let’s just hope God has a few forests full of bamboo for Dad to play with.

Dad and Lucy Standing at Pumpkin Patch with SB LogoDad, When I think of the things you enjoyed, I always think of bonfires. They provided you with such amusement, but deep down I think they also provided you with a lot of peace. Your mind and soul just seemed to be quieter and happier when you were sitting around a good fire. I wish I could take back all of those days when you’d ask me to come sit with you and I said no. I wish I had spent more time with you around the fire, but there never would have been enough time with you because you made life so exciting and full of love. It may not be around a fire, but I’ll spend more time with those I love because I realize that I should have spent more time with you when I had the chance. I love you, Dad. I miss you like crazy, although I don’t miss the constant bamboo explosions. Okay, who am I kidding…of course I miss those. Thanks for all the fires we did share, but more importantly thanks for keeping the fire in my heart going even after you’re gone. I’m looking forward to that first bonfire together on the other side…I’ll bring the flamethrower. But for now, seeya Bub.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NLT)

Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait…we actually paid for dirt?!

Stay focused, Bradshaw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call

I can still dial those seven digits by heart, and often times, I still do.

I don’t do it intentionally. It’s habit, because for so many years I called my Dad every single day.

I really miss dialing my Dad’s number. When I was little and my Dad worked second shifts at the steel plant, I missed seeing him when I got home from school. So, my Mom always kept Dad’s number written down for me near our household phone. I would call the plant and the receptionists always recognized my voice. They would call for my Dad over the public-address system, he would eventually find a phone, and he would talk to his boy. Sometimes just for a few minutes, and other times for a little longer.

I don’t think I ever realized what an inconvenient interruption this probably was for my Dad. He worked in a large steel plant in the age before everyone had a cell phone in their pocket, so every time his little boy called, he would have to stop whatever complex project he was working on, find a phone in a quiet spot in the plant (which was hard to find), and chat with me. I’m sure this wasn’t good for his productivity, but it was good for his family. And when it came to my Dad, family was always more important.

Eventually, Dad got a cell phone and from that point on, it was always very easy to get in touch with him. I used to be able to call Dad for anything…and I really didn’t even have to have anything in mind to talk about! Sometimes, I would just call to talk, to hear his voice, and to see what he was up to. He had the same cell phone number for as long as I can remember, and dialing his number or my Mom’s number was as natural as breathing. Mom and Dad were (and still are) my lifelines.

Whenever something good would happen to me at work or school, I knew that I could always call my Mom and my Dad first to hear their congratulations. Whenever I was hurting or down, I could call Mom and Dad and they would always lend a listening ear. Whenever my car would break down (which was often), I could call Dad and he would tell me what to do to fix it. And then, when I inevitably had no idea what he was talking about, I could call him back and tell him I needed a ride. I could call him anytime and tell him about something funny that had happened, and I knew he would always be there to listen. No matter the time or the purpose (or lack of one entirely), Dad’s line was always open when I needed it.

And now, I would do anything to be able to dial those numbers again, hear his warm greeting, and talk with him about anything. And everything.

Recently, I’ve had a string of accomplishments and great things that have happened in my life. Things have gone well and I’ve had a positive and optimistic outlook, and there have been instances when I hop in my truck and think about folks I could call to share my good news with. Inevitably, Dad is one of the first people to come to mind. And when I can’t talk to him, it hurts.

I’ve also had some moments recently when I’ve doubted my ability. I’ve lacked confidence in my own capacities, and I’ve had moments where I needed support, love, and a pat on the back. Whenever I start doubting, I will naturally begin to say to myself “I sure wish I could call Dad and talk to him about this.” I know that my Dad would have given me the “atta boy” I needed to weather the storm. I know that my Dad would have bolstered my spirits and told me that he believed in me and that I should too.

More than anything, I’ve wanted to call my Dad for guidance. Over the past year, I’ve gone through tremendous change in many areas of my life. I’ve gone through questions and trials regarding my career, my life’s calling, and my life in general. There are no road maps in this life, but in lieu of roadmaps I always had my Dad to give me the sound advice I needed to navigate the bumps and curves. There have been so many times when I sit in the desperation of my own indecisiveness and wish I could call him one more time. There have been so many nights where I’ve cried in my truck and will simply cry out in frustration, “Dad, what should I do?” And yes, there have been many nights where the trauma of my life fades from my line of sight and I pull my phone out of my pocket and dial those seven numbers before I even realize what I’m doing.

And it’s those nights that are the absolute worst.

I get a sinking pit in my stomach each time this happens, and it happens every few months. Part of me feels so very guilty when this happens. When I dial my Dad’s number four years after his death before I realize what I’m doing, I often wonder how I could ever behave as if life hasn’t changed when it’s been altered forever. I feel guilty for not calling him more when I had the opportunity to do it. I feel sadness that, even if I did go through with it and dial those numbers, I wouldn’t hear his voice. I feel loss because something as simple as an everyday phone call has been taken away from me forever.

More than anything, the nights where I accidentally begin to dial my Dad’s number are extremely painful because they reignite the intensity of my grief in a way that few other things can. When I accidentally dial my Dad’s number, it takes me back to what life used to be. It makes me think of all the times I would call Dad when he was working or away from the house. It reminds me that he was never, ever too busy to pick up the phone when I called him. It forces me to remember that for so many years, whether I appreciated it or not, my Dad was just a phone call away.

And it reminds me that all those things are gone. And there is a deeply difficult longing that ensues for just one more phone call, even though I know that one more phone call would never be enough.

Look, I know that this isn’t an earth-shattering revelation in the field of grief. Many, many people who have suffered loss on any scale will often write or talk about how they miss having phone calls with their loved ones. How they will habitually dial a loved one’s phone number years after they are gone, only to realize later on what they were doing.

But I’m choosing to write about it anyway to show those who are grieving that we are not alone. In the midst of our grief, it’s okay to do things that we don’t understand. We resort to habits of love because we long to have our loved ones back. It’s okay to experience those moments of relapse because it shows how wonderfully natural it was for us to have those individuals as part of our daily lives. And, particularly, those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide wish that a phone call might have changed something.

September is Suicide Prevention Month. It’s a month that uniquely reminds me what I’ve lost while also confirming my passion to prevent that loss in the lives of others.

So, if you are hurting like my Dad was hurting, I encourage you to make a call. I encourage you to reach out to family and friends and loved ones and anyone who will listen to share your pain.

If you are so full of despair that you can’t imagine going on, please know this: Your life matters. You matter. And your pain, although severe, is temporary if you can find the help. Your pain will subside if you can find the right treatment. You deserve to be healthy, and there are people who are committed to helping you find that.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline LogoAnd if you want that help, I encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (or 1-800-273-8255). 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there are individuals from local crisis centers who will provide free and confidential emotional support. They will help you gain perspective on your life and connect you with resources that can save it. You can learn more at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

I once took part in a mental health first aid training course (which I’ll write about in future posts), and I remember the instructor giving us the number for this line. She encouraged us to program the number in our phones in case we ever needed it or needed to give it to someone we thought was in danger. I probably followed her orders because I’m a rule follower, but I don’t think I honestly believed that I would ever need to use that number.

Then, almost a year later, my Father lost his life to suicide.

I wish I would have known. I wish I would have sat down with him, called the number, placed it on speakerphone, and had one of my most important phone calls with Dad. So in this month and in all the months that will follow, let’s all commit ourselves to making a call when we need it—because as much as we might need that call, maybe the person on the other end of the line needs it just as much.

Make a call because I can’t. Make a call because you matter. Make this call so your loved ones can continue calling you.

Make the call because you deserve love.

Dad with Baby Lucy and SB LogoDad, There have been so many times when I’ve wanted to pick up the phone to call you, and there have been so many times I’ve done it only to realize you won’t be able to answer. In the four years that you’ve been gone, there have been so many momentous occasions—both good and bad. In each of those moments, I’ve wanted to call you to tell you all about them, to get your advice, and to hear your positive encouragement. But it’s the little moments that I miss just as much. The days when I would call just to ask you what you were doing. The days where I would call to hear you tell a stupid joke. The days when I would call just to hear your voice and remind myself how lucky I am. My heart hurts each and every time that I realize I can’t call you, and I wish I had been able to do more to keep you around for more phone calls. Dad, I’ll always remember how even in the most mundane phone calls you made me feel loved. I’ll carry that in my heart forever. I’m longing for a day where this long distance is no longer. I’m yearning for a day when I can talk to you face to face, forever and ever. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Psalm 61:4 (NIV)