Ask

I never asked.

I never asked my Dad if he was having suicidal temptations.

I wish I had.


With a pit in my stomach and many, many questions bombarding my thoughts, I stood next to my Mom for hours on end next to my Father’s casket. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we shouldn’t have been there. My Dad had passed from suicide, and other than his struggles with mental illness, he had lived a healthy life. I often hear people say “gone too soon,” but in that moment, it felt like more than a platitude. My Father was only 50 years old at the time of his death, and he had many, many more years ahead of him had depression not robbed him of that future.

Mom and I were hurting and struggling, but so were the nearly 1,000 people who showed up at Dad’s visitation. For hours, they stood in a line that wrapped through our church foyer and into the parking lot waiting to say goodbye to my Dad and to provide any comfort they could to our family. They provided that comfort—and so much more. Their sadness was a reflection of just how much my Dad was loved. Dad spent a lifetime loving people the way that God taught him to. This was the evidence of a life well spent.

We cried with and hugged so many people and had conversations about my Dad that rejuvenated our grieving souls. We talked with family members. We talked with colleagues. We talked with friends. We talked with people who had been in our lives long ago, and those who were also there every day.

There were many interactions that are imprinted on my brain from that night, but a handful that really stand out in particular.

Especially my conversation with Mary Bausano.

When I saw Mary approach the casket, my already tear-filled eyes welled up with a new flood of emotion. Mary compassionately approached me with tears of her own and open arms, and as I sobbed I kept repeating a confession to her that had been on my conscience since the moment I found out my Dad was gone.

“I didn’t ask him. Mary, I didn’t ask him.”


Mary Bausano is one of those unexpected life changers—the people who enter your life when you least expect it or in a super ordinary way that end up having an extraordinary impact. While I was a student at Miami University Hamilton, Mary was the Director of Student Counseling Services and the Assistant Dean of Students to my mentor, Dr. Bob Rusbosin. I interacted with Mary quite a bit because I served in the Student Government Association and spent considerable time in the Office of Student Affairs in Rentschler Hall (although I must admit, some of those visits were simply to pad my pockets with the free suckers that were on Miss Carol Stubblefield’s desk).

More than that, however, Mary was the very first college professor I ever took a class with. I was fortunate to be a student in Mary’s section of EDL 110: The University & The Student, which was a transition course to help new freshmen navigate their college experiences. As a first-generation college student who was a nervous wreck about the four years that were ahead, I needed this course more than I was willing to admit.

And Mary was the perfect guide to help me make this transition. Mary was approachable and confident and helpful and caring—all the traits that, in my opinion, are most important in being a good teacher at any level. Mary used a blend of discussion and course activities that brought a level of interactivity to the college classroom that I had not expected. I look back on the fact that I have now pursued graduate degrees and worked in higher education for quite some time, and I can directly trace the origins of my journey back to the course that Mary taught in a second-floor classroom of Mosler Hall. 

I would stay in touch with Mary during my entire time at Miami, and that friendship continued once I joined the staff at the Regional Campuses. But before long, I found myself back in the classroom with Mary, albeit for an unexpected topic.

A staff-wide announcement came across my inbox offering an opportunity for any Miami employee to participate in a free Mental Health First Aid training course at the Hamilton Campus. And to my surprise, Mary would be teaching the course! I responded quickly and signed up for the course, knowing that my motivations for taking the course were more complex than I was willing to let others know about.

During the first day introductions of our class, Mary asked us to share why we were taking the course with our fellow classmates. When my turn came, I made a conscious decision to hide my true motivations for being there. I mentioned that a neighbor had been exhibiting some signs of severe mental distress, and I said I wanted to learn more about the interventions that might be available to help this person and also protect my family.

Dad in Scrambler

My real motivations for taking the course, however, hit much closer to our own home than the neighbor’s. The deep-down truth was that my own Father had struggled with depression for his entire adult life (although I didn’t find out about it until later in his life) and I was grasping for answers. I felt completely helpless when it came to my Dad’s depression. I didn’t know what to do, what to say, or what to feel. If my Dad had been suffering from a physical ailment, I likely could have come up with tangible things to do in an effort to make him feel better; but when it came to a mental illness, I just didn’t understand how I could help.

There was more. The deeper, personal truth was that I was suffering from mental illness myself—and intensely. In the chapter of my life leading up to the course, I had been fighting through an intense battle with anxiety that had been completely debilitating. About a year before taking the course, I hit a breaking point and couldn’t function anymore. I was completely overtaken with angst, and unable to function because I had convinced myself that I was suffering from a fatal illness that the doctors could not diagnose. My brain illness had taken its physical toll as well. For months on end, I could only sleep for two to three hours each night, and on many nights, I would startle awake from horrific dreams in which I was an attendee at my own funeral. I struggled to eat and lost weight unintentionally. I felt constantly weak and struggled to maintain my sanity.

I didn’t understand how to help my Dad; but I also didn’t understand how to help myself.

The good result from the bad breakdown was that, after confessing my struggles to my parents, I was finally able to find the help I needed. I began taking anxiety medication with the advice of my doctor, and I began regular appointments with my therapist Jeff Yetter to work through the issues associated with my clinical anxiety. I was finally starting to feel as if I was regaining some sense of control over my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that had been desperately absent during these dark days.

Things had gotten better, and I was fortunate for that. Even having gone through my own personal struggle, I still felt ill-equipped to help my own Father. I didn’t quite understand all of the reasons why I had gotten better, but I also recognized that my Dad and I, although both suffering from mental illness, suffered very, very differently. I suffered from anxiety caused by a traumatic event which created an unhealthy (and completely unfounded) fear of death; my Dad, on the other hand, suffered from depression, a disease that (when not controlled) made death appear to be a relief from the pain and difficulty associated with it.

Nonetheless, I buried these motivations under the surface and dove in to the course head-first with Mary guiding us through the curriculum. If you’re unfamiliar with Mental Health First Aid (and I absolutely was when I entered), the program has two primary goals: (1) to familiarize individuals with the wide-array of mental illnesses and the unique nuances of each, and (2) to prepare those individuals to respond to those who are suffering in a way that prioritizes health and healing. The goal for those who complete the course is not to be therapists or psychiatrists themselves, but instead to respond in a way that can encourage those suffering from mental illness to get help from those trained individuals. Think of it as someone who completes a CPR course. You don’t have to be the doctor who performs the heart surgery; you just have to know the skills to keep that person alive until the doctor/medical professionals can arrive on the scene. Mental Health First Aid is very similar. MHFA responders become the catalysts for healing and conduits who connect those who are suffering with those who can help.

Partially because of the content and partially because of Mary’s amazing skills as an educator, I dove right into the course. I was amazed at how little I actually knew about mental illness even though I had suffered myself and been so closely associated with my Dad’s struggles. There was so much about depression I did not understand, including its prevalence in our society. Even having suffered from anxiety, I did not understand how easy it was for a psychological disorder to then manifest itself in physical symptoms. I grappled with the pain that individuals with psychosis must have felt when they experienced regular delusions or hallucinations, and my heart ached as I heard the stories of those struggling with substance abuse or eating disorders. As I’ve mentioned here before, there was a pain-filled world existing around me that I had been blind to, either unintentionally or intentionally. The course opened my eyes in ways I had not expected.

What was even more beneficial, however, was the application phase of the course. With a gentle, steady, and determined style, Mary worked with all of us to develop the skills, behaviors, and techniques needed to respond to those who were struggling with any host of mental illness. She helped each of us to realize that, although difficult, we could grow into this role and help those who were hurting.

Like any good training course, Mental Health First Aid offered a great acronym to assist those in the first responder role as they entered into a conversation with the person who was in crisis: ALGEE.

A – Assess for risk of suicide or harm.

L – Listen nonjudgmentally.

G – Give reassurance and information.

E – Encourage appropriate professional help.

E – Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

All of the steps in the ALGEE acronym made sense to me, and pacing through each of those steps intentionally helped me to understand what types of statements, behaviors, responses, and actions were appropriate or beneficial to someone in the throes of a mental health crisis.

But I must admit, the first step gave me pause. Part of the assessing phase of the mental health first aid response was spotting the physical and tangible manifestations of mental illness, or those things that could be outwardly observed or experienced: threats of suicide, talking or writing about death, expressing hopelessness, exhibiting unexplained anger or rage, or even withdrawn behaviors or physical effects. The more difficult part of the need to assess risk for suicide occurred when the person in need of assistance might refuse to talk, engage, open up, or readily send up any warning signs. That interaction required the skill and acumen of a confident responder, because it required asking a question that no one likely ever wants to ask.

Effective assessment, according to all the research, might require us to ask the individual across the table if they were contemplating or considering suicide.

When Mary started to talk about what we needed to do during the “Assess” stage of our conversations, I remember the shock my classmates and I felt. Asking that difficult question just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

Together, we read this portion of the textbook: “If you suspect someone may be at risk of suicide, it is important to directly ask about suicidal thoughts. Do not avoid using the word suicide. It is important to ask the question without dread and without expressing a negative judgement. The question must be direct and to the point. For example, you could ask:

  • ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?’
  • ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’” (Mental Health First Aid, 2009, p. 25)

“How many of you are surprised by this?” Mary asked us. It felt as if everyone in the room was as surprised as I was by the recommendation that was being offered. Asking this question, and especially using the word “suicide” with someone who was hurting, led us to believe that we were planting the thoughts of lethality into their already suffering minds.

We talked through our reservations with Mary, and I’ll always remember her sense of openness and her giving us the space (as people who were not experts) to talk through the difficulties we saw with this approach. Without judgement, Mary listened to each of our concerns, but then, slowly and purposefully, helped us work through them to understand why asking the question directly might help someone in the midst of a life-threatening crisis.

“If you appear confident in the face of a suicide crisis,” our books and Mary explained, “this can be reassuring for the suicidal person. Although some people think that asking about suicide can put the idea in a person’s mind, this is not true. Another myth is that someone who talks about suicide isn’t really serious. Remember that talking about suicide may be a way for the person to indicate just how badly they feel,” (p. 25).

My classmates and I still voiced our concerns. “But I feel like asking that question could do harm,” we responded. “What if the person isn’t thinking about suicide, and then we put the thought in their head?”

But Mary reassured us that asking was better than leaving the conversation unsaid—and the research that is being conducted in mental health and suicide prevention resoundingly confirms this (for more information, see the resources I’ll include at the end of this post). The trainers for Mental Health First Aid were not encouraging responders to run around asking every single person they interacted with if they had contemplated suicide. This isn’t a blanket response. Instead, the trainers encouraged responders to use their newfound knowledge of the warning signs related to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other forms of mental illness to spot someone who might be having suicidal ideations or who could be headed down that path. Then, in those specific situations, responders have a duty to ask a question that can often turn the stomach of the person asking it.

I am a man who trusts experts because the expertise they’ve earned is often hard-fought; and in this circumstance, even though it sounded counterintuitive to me to bring up the topic of suicide with someone who was in pain, I vowed to follow the instructions. I believed, in my heart, that the individuals at Mental Health First Aid and my teacher, Mary, had the best of intentions and wanted to equip my classmates and me with the skills to help those who are suffering from mental illness.

Fortunately, Mary did more than just implore us to ask this question (another sign of what a wonderful teacher she is). After giving us space to question and engage with the idea, Mary then put us into pairs and told us that we would have an opportunity to practice asking the question.

As awful as it might feel, we were going to role play asking this question.

Mary gave each of us a small sheet of paper which included our “acting directions,” which were signs and symptoms that we needed to exhibit when playing role of the person suffering from a mental illness. We were to do our best to showcase the symptoms that had been described to us in the “character directive” and to make the role-play-situation as real as possible. Then, the person serving in the role of the mental health first aid responder would respond with empathy, sincerity, and ultimately, ask the individual about any potential for suicide.

Even in a simulated environment, I was amazed at how difficult it was to ask another living, breathing human being if they were considering self-harm. My palms were sweaty and my hands were shaking. I felt a lump in my throat as I asked my class partner if she was contemplating suicide. When she responded that she was (in character), I did my best to empathize, normalize, and tell her how much she mattered. Then, mutually, we worked together to try and devise a plan to get help, which included seeking the treatment offered by a licensed therapist.

We continued to practice, and I must admit…although the words and processes started to become more standardized, routine, and familiar, I don’t know that the emotion of having to ask that question ever faded.

What did change, however, is that I slowly became a bit more confident and accustomed to the emotion of the moment.

Mary gave us time and space in the course to talk through the emotions we felt asking that question. Hearing how difficult it was for my classmates was also reassuring. It was good to know it wasn’t just me who struggled. But we also listened to the reaction of the person playing the individual who was suffering. Being on the receiving end of that hard question, they largely mentioned that hearing someone care enough to ask that question made them feel as if they mattered. It gave them hope. It let them know they were not alone.

Throughout that 4-week course, we continued to practice asking that question at Mary’s direction. The more we practiced, the better our responses became. The more our confidence was built. We were not only able to detect the signs of someone who might be suicidal, but we were also able to try and respond with helpful resources, tools, and action plans that might help the suffering individual find the treatment he or she needed to survive. In addition to these questioning and response techniques, we also learned more and more about the varying typologies of mental illnesses and the differences in their symptomatic manifestations. It was heartbreaking and simultaneously enlightening. Prior to this course, I had never considered the complexity of mental illness and the different ways that it played out in the lives of so many individuals. I was blown away by the prevalence of mental illnesses in the lives of others in our country.

In every example of mental illness that we discussed, I must admit I thought of my Dad; however, I never, never once considered that my Dad would become a part of such a scary statistic.


Sitting across from my Dad in the darkened family room of our family home on July 24, 2013, I tried to talk with my Dad. In the heat of what I knew was likely the darkest moment of my Dad’s battle with mental illness, I tried to rapidly think back through all the things I had learned from Mary and the Mental Health First Aid course.

Just a few hours before his story morphed into a tragedy, I asked my Dad a lot of questions. I asked him how he was feeling, even though I knew that his answer would not even come close to reflecting the true pain that tormented his soul. I asked him if everything was okay at work. I asked him about other burdens he was carrying in his life and whether or not these felt overwhelming. I asked him about the doctor’s appointment he had scheduled for later that afternoon. I asked him about his misgivings and apprehensions related to seeing a counselor or therapist, although I couldn’t seem to convince him that this would help.

Successfully in some respects, I employed many of the tactics I had learned from the course. But in the midst of all the questions I asked my Dad on that fateful day, I did not ask him if he was having suicidal thoughts.

No matter how much practice I had, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I could not bring myself to ask the man who had guided me through this life if he had thoughts of ending his.

Unfortunately, it’s the question I didn’t ask that still haunts me.


Standing near the casket on the day of his visitation, I wept and confessed my guilt to Mary. In true Mary Bausano fashion, she stepped forward and she grabbed both of my shoulders. In a compassionate and empathetic voice, she brought her hand to my cheek and did her best to minister to me in that moment of grief and guilt.

“Tyler. He was your Dad. You have to understand the dynamics of the relationship and how that affected your conversation that day. Your Dad was an authority figure in your life, making it even more difficult for you to ask him if he was contemplating suicide. He was your Father. Tyler, you are not responsible for this.”

I needed to hear that validation from Mary, the person who had taught me how to respond to those who were in the throes of a mental health crisis. I needed her encouragement and reassurance that I had not been the lynchpin in my Dad’s tragic end.

Standing near my Dad’s casket, I felt it was important to talk with Mary for a long time because her instruction had been so important to my understanding of mental illness. Even though My Dad’s life had ended from suicide, I also felt that the information Mary had taught me helped me to be more empathetic and understanding of my Dad’s struggles (and eventually my own) when he was here in this life. As she had encouraged me so many times before as a student, Mary refused to let this moment defeat me. We stood there, and with a tender heart, Mary helped me understand how deeply my Dad was hurting and suffering, even if his wounds and injuries were not physical or visible.

I was thankful to Mary on that day. And I’m still extremely grateful for all she taught me. Even though my Dad’s life might have ended prematurely, much of what I learned about helping those who are struggling with mental illness I can trace back to Mary’s course.

And I’ve been in many situations since losing my Dad when, thankfully, I’ve had the confidence to ask that difficult question. Ultimately, I know how important it is to ask.

Here’s the truth: A person who is suffering from depression and already feels like a failure will likely hide those feelings behind a mask. If we expect those same individuals to readily offer up their suicidal ideations without being questioned, we are fooling ourselves when it comes to the hard truths of mental illness.

The reality is this: I did not think my Dad was suicidal. I don’t think anyone in his life did, and in some senses, I try to remember that when I feel guilty for not asking him. My Dad was too bright, too outgoing, and too full-of-life (in my mind) to ever be suicidal. It just didn’t compute with the image of the man I knew.

That being said, I still wish I had asked. I’m not writing these words to beat myself up over what was left unsaid. I’m writing this in the hopes that those who are reading and find themselves in a similar position that I was in might have the courage to ask.

My Father’s death offers important lessons, and when I can help to prevent this same occurrence in the lives of others, I’ll do it. The lesson when it comes to asking this question is this: in most cases where a suicide occurs (like my Father’s), it’s rare that those around them could have ever envisioned this as a likely scenario. Whenever I talk with survivors of suicide (individuals who lose a loved one to suicide), they typically all say the same thing: we never could have imagined our loved one was suicidal. Yes, there are some cases where there may be visible warning signs on the surface or previous suicidal attempts (it doesn’t make suicide acceptable, but some instances are more predictable in others). Even in those situations, however, I think that no one really envisions suicide as something that is “likely” to occur. That’s because it’s unnatural. That’s because it shouldn’t occur. Life wasn’t designed that way.

But the unfortunate statistics bear out: it is occurring, and it’s occurring at a heartbreaking clip. Recent statistics are beyond frightening, showing an average of 130 deaths from suicide per day according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.[1]  On average, that’s a death from suicide roughly every 11 minutes in the United States.

So, the message is clear. We must ask. When we suspect a suicide might occur, we must root it out. We must give the suffering individual hope and a path forward other than death. We must overcome our own fears and ask a difficult question, because it may be exactly what the recipient of that question needs to hear to know they matter and bring them out of the cloud of hopelessness they are living within.

Dad Holding Me as a BabyI didn’t write this story to wallow in my own guilt; I wrote this story to serve as an example to everyone in this life who loves someone or cares about someone that struggles with mental illness—and if the statistics tell us anything, that’s likely everyone. I wrote this story in the hopes that we might be able to normalize and de-stigmatize the conversation around mental illness. I wrote this story in the hopes that, in the same way we might inquire about someone’s health in the midst of a physical injury, we might learn to do the same in the throes of a mental injury. I wrote this post in the hopes that, someday, the question of “How are you doing?” can be met with more honesty than a perfunctory “I’m fine.” I wrote this story in the hopes that, someday, just one person who is unfortunately sitting across from someone who is hurting under the surface might find the courage to ask this unbelievably difficult question and save a life.

Had I asked this question, I don’t know what my Dad’s response would have been. There is a good likelihood that he would have kept his mask on tightly (as he did so many times before) and responded that he was not feeling suicidal even if he was. There is a good chance the question might have caught him off guard and sent off a warning sign that would have put myself and my family into a different mode of response. There is a good chance that he might have answered with honesty and we would have had an opportunity to talk him through how important he was to all of us who loved him while moving to get him the medical attention he so desperately needed. There is a chance we could have had a breakthrough.

No plan is full-proof, but even if there was an infinitesimal chance that it could have saved his life, I desperately wished I had asked it—even if the response from my Dad was not truthful.

Take it from me: I wish I had asked.

Sometimes, I wonder how I would have felt had my Dad told me that he was not suicidal only to have him die from that mechanism a few hours later. Would I be riddled with guilt that I put the thought into his head?

Here’s the truth: Knowing what I know now, the thought was already there. Maybe it had been there for longer than any of us knew. And it’s a thought that, unfortunately, is there for so many individuals who are struggling with mental illness. It’s a thought that burrows under the surface and invades our psyches when we are mentally ill. It’s a thought that, when given too much power, can close off our rational mental processes. And it’s a thought that, sadly, cannot be exposed unless someone from the outside shines a light on it.

It’s a thought that might only come to the surface if we find the courage to ask.

Asking that question is our way to shine a light on this epidemic. Asking individuals if they feel suicidal doesn’t put the thought there; it exposes a thought that is likely already in existence. Most importantly, asking the question is the only way to open the doors to healing and treatment for many who struggle to ask for it when they need it.

I won’t live my life wondering if I should have asked my Dad this question because I know I should have. That being said, I will not give into the temptation of guilt and feel responsible for my Dad’s death. There is no one, no one, who is guilty for what happened to my Dad on that fateful July morning—including my Dad. I don’t blame him. I don’t blame anyone in his life. I blame mental illness. I blame depression. I blame the stigmas developed in our society.

The only way to counter these is to ask. Mary taught me that—and having gone through a tragic loss of a loved one to suicide, I still believe she was right.

The only way to clear the path to that vulnerability and healing is to ask. When you interact with a loved one who you think might be suicidal, ask them and respond accordingly. Keep an eye out for warning signs. If they are suicidal, stay with them and find them the help they need offered by medical and psychiatric professionals.

And most importantly, love them. It might not seem like it, but just by asking this very difficult question, you are showing love. You are showing compassion and tremendous care by asking someone who is struggling if they’re contemplating a dangerous and unthinkable end. You would only ask that question if you loved that individual—remember that yourself, and remind the person that you’re asking just how much you love them.

In the end, those individuals that you ask will thank you for doing the difficult thing. And as a son who lost a beloved father to a horrible mental illness, I’ll thank you for helping to make sure that my Father’s story does not become someone else’s.

Together, we can learn to ask this question—and together, we can learn how to respond with empathy and care to those who answer it.

Family on Gulf Shores Dolphin Cruise with SB LogoDad, I miss you more and more each day that goes by. As much as I don’t want to, I often sit back and replay our last conversation together and wonder if I could have done more. I wonder what would have happened had I asked you whether or not you were experiencing suicidal thoughts. I don’t know that you were. I just know that I miss you. I just know that I wish I could have done more because we all loved you so much. You brought such vitality and fun to all of our lives. You were the glue that held so many of us together in unique ways. You were important to all of us, and even thought it has been more than seven years since your death, you are still missed beyond belief. Dad, I would give anything to be able to sit down with you again on that day—not for me, but for you. You deserved a long life. You deserved to grow old, and become a Grandpa, and retire, and all the things that come with a long life. Even though you’re gone, I am grateful that your story lives on and that you continue to inspire all of us through the way you lived your life. Dad, I have so many questions for you; but I’m thankful that when I get to the other side, none of this will matter. All of the hurt and pain that we experienced in this life will be gone. Together, we will be able to rest in an everlasting paradise where the pains of this life are a disappearing vapor. Until that day, know that I love you. Know that I’ll continue doing everything I can to keep your memory alive. Thank you, Dad, for always being there for me—I can still feel you here now. I love you, Dad. And for now, seeya Bub.

“For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” 1 John 3:11 (NIV)


Additional Resources: If you’re like me, you still struggle with the idea of asking someone you love and care for whether or not they are considering suicide. It’s a difficult idea to come to terms with, because those conversations about life and death are not fun to have. But the research is clear—your asking someone whether or not they are considering suicide or having suicidal thoughts could, in fact, save that person’s life. If you are struggling with this idea or have additional questions regarding this important part of assessing risk for self-harm, please explore these additional resources. I promise you that the time you spend reading them will be worth it to the individual lives that will be impacted by your desire to learn more and help:

“How to Ask Someone About Suicide” by Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2019)

“How to Ask Someone You’re Worried About if They’re Thinking of Suicide” by Dr. Anthony Jorm (The Conversation, 2018)

“Evaluating Iatrogenic Risk of Youth Suicide Screening Programs: A Randomized Controlled Trial” by Madelyn S. Gould, PhD, MPH; Frank A. Marrocco, PhD; Marjorie Kleinman, MS (The Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA], 2005)

“The Question That Could Save a Life” by Karen Young (Hey Sigmund)

“The Truth About Three Common Suicide Myths and How You Can Help Someone in Crisis” by The Jefferson Center

And of course, I recommend that you learn more about the life-saving techniques offered through Mental Health First Aid, and if possible, I would encourage all of my readers to enroll in and complete a course.

References:

[1] https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/

Presence

It may have been our most steady holiday tradition—my Dad was always the last person downstairs every Christmas morning.

In a family of three (four if you count the dog), maybe this isn’t such a big deal; nonetheless, the consistency was impressive. It’s one thing to be a little tardy for a year here and there, but to make it your trademark behavior is something else entirely.

Ty In Front of Christmas TreeLike most kids, I was usually the first one down the stairs to wait anxiously in the family room for everyone else to wake up. I always felt that sparkle deep in my bones that only a childhood Christmas morning can replicate. I’d look down the stairs and see the twinkling tree that Mom and Dad had meticulously decorated in the living room (except for that one year when the whole thing came crashing down), and like most kids, I’d be blown away by all of the presents that had been left under the tree. Looking back and realizing how much effort, time, and money had gone into those presents, I appreciate them and that feeling all the more…

And, like most kids, I’d also do my best to do some sneaky investigative work. I’d cautiously search for the presents under the three that were labeled “Ty” either with my Mom’s familiar loopy cursive script, or my by Dad’s precise, all-capital penmanship that I inherited (although his was much more precise). Dad’s tags always had some ridiculous moniker in the “To” and “From” lines. “To: Tyler-O, From: Daddy-O.” “To: The Boy, From: The Parents.” “To: Ty, From: Yo Daddy.” Even with Christmas tags, he couldn’t let a moment go by without trying to be funny.

Dad with Gift TagBut he could let moments go by on Christmas morning before lumbering down the stairs. I would wait downstairs with all the patience of a hungry infant. After shaking a few boxes here and there, I’d try and walk around and creak all the right floorboards in the hopes that it might wake up Mom and Dad and cause them to come downstairs. I’d turn on the television and put the volume just a little too high. Maybe sing a spontaneous Christmas carol here and there. A fake cough might do the trick. I also got pretty good at finding ways to cause our dog to bark incessantly in an effort to commence the Christmas morning festivities (thanks, Willow!).

Usually what felt like an eternity in kid-dom was only a half hour or so, and Mom would make her way down the stairs. “Merry Christmas, Ty!” she’d say to me with a hug and a kiss, and then she’d ask me if I saw all the presents under the tree (“OF COURSE I DID! AND I DIDN’T SHAKE OR ATTEMPT TO UNWRAP THE CORNER OF A SINGLE BOX!”). Then, Mom would get to work in the kitchen preparing her famous Christmas breakfast feast: a delicious ham and pepper-jack potato quiche always accompanied by cinnamon rolls and sparkling cider to make us feel fancy.

And while she worked, Dad would sleep.

And sleep.

And sleep a bit more.

And I, a young and impatient child, would stew and pace in the living room.

It’s okay to have a few “Silent Nights” around Christmas, but when you start to turn those into silent mornings and you have a seven-year-old downstairs with a rabid penchant for tearing through boxes like the Tasmanian Devil through a forest of giant sequoias, your parental slumber becomes treasonous.  

At a certain point, it would even start to irritate Mom—probably because she was irritated by my irritation. Mom would start to yell up the stairs in the hopes that Dad would eventually come down; and eventually, albeit entirely too late, he always did. Dad would pop down the stairs with a smile on his face like no one had been yelling at him for the past hour-and-a-half to get up and make his way downstairs. When it came to verbal abuse, Dad was Teflon. He never let anything stick to him. If he knew that one of us was mad at him, he’d turn the sickening sweetness up a few notches, and then a few notches more until we finally gave in because we knew we’d never win.

Donning his typical dark-colored matching sweat suit with the elastic around the ankles, Dad would make his way over to me and give me a hug and a pat on the head as he wished me a Merry Christmas. I’d grumble something under my breath about getting him back for his tardiness by making him painstakingly assemble and install batteries in the 14 toys I was about to receive, but Dad didn’t care about any of those threats.

He only cared about the joy. The togetherness. The presence. That was what mattered to him.

Inevitably, Dad would have come down at the perfectly imperfect time when Mom was in the middle of her quiche construction, so we would have to wait a few moments longer before we got into the gift opening. I’d tap my kid-sized slippers impatiently as we waited, and it never failed that the second Mom came into the room, Dad would exclaim “Oh! Wait. I forgot my camera. Hang on.”

For what seemed like an excruciatingly-long time to fetch a camera, Dad would go upstairs and rummage through his things until he located the camera. And checked the batteries. And put the spare battery on the charger. And deleted some photos of a random cornstalk field that he had taken to free up space. And grab the spare memory card. And clean the lens. And then spend a few moments looking at the 244 pictures he had taken at the Blue Angels show from the previous year. And repairing the broken zipper on the camera case.

The man had many, many gifts; but speed on Christmas morning wasn’t one of them.

After making sure every possible camera catastrophe had been properly prevented, Dad would come back downstairs to be greeted by my face whose redness matched the glowing bulbs on the tree in the family room.

“Alright,” Dad would say. “What do you say we give Willow a gift to get things started?”

“THE DOG?!” I’d shriek with unbridled adolescent fury. “YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS RIGHT NOW!”

Dad would laugh and laugh. And then, he’d hand a package over the dog.

Lucy Opening a PresentWe always had dogs that enjoyed unwrapping presents, which was quite the feat looking back on things. And as much as Dad enjoyed watching them unwrap the gifts and laughing about it, he also enjoyed taking thousands of photos of them while doing it. Beep, flash. Beep, flash. Beep, flash. Over and over again, the shutter of Dad’s digital camera would snap and snap while capturing what my Dad thought was the most amazing feat man’s best friend had ever accomplished.

Eventually, Dad would give into my tantrums and wailing, and within minutes my tempest will have receded and I’d be fully immersed in the glee of opening gifts on Christmas morning. My parents were always wonderful gift-givers. They would buy me toys that were just perfect for me, and I have many fond memories of those gifts. The art desk with the revolving marker stand and light-up tracing table. The Fischer Price castle and pirate ship with working boulder cannons where I’d let my imagination run free for hours. Bicycles. Hockey sticks. Books. They were always so, so very generous.

But looking back, it’s funny to think about how many of my memories are not related to the toys I received. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the toys. In fact, I’m a thirty-three-year-old man who still loves toys. Although the toys I received were wonderful, as I grow older and life becomes more and more precious, I realize that it’s the Christmastime memories made with my Mom and Dad that are often so much more special. Partially because that’s what happens when you age; but they’re also more special because I realize how irreplaceable those moments truly are now that my Dad is gone.

Yes, we still have wonderful Christmases; but we don’t have Dad. We all miss him tremendously, and some holidays, it’s just unbearable. We miss watching him laugh when our dogs opened gifts (and we miss the loss of vision from the incessant camera flashes). We miss rolling our eyes at his ridiculous Christmas gift tags while secretly laughing at them behind our criticisms. We miss watching him enjoy Mom’s famous Christmas quiche with a can of Coca-Cola. We miss watching him watch A Christmas Story twelve times in a row and laughing at the tongue-meets-flagpole scene hysterically every time like it was the first time he had ever seen it.

We miss my Dad because he helped us make so many wonderful memories. And as much as I hate to admit it, I think that my Dad’s slow pace on Christmas day is what makes many of those memories so indelible.

Family at Christmas with SB LogoI think the reason I can soak up those memories so well is, ironically, because of the way my Dad forced us all to slow down. On Christmas Day, and in nearly all the days of his life, my Dad was one of those guys who was truly present in every single moment. Nearly everyone who knew my Dad can attest to the fact that he was a man who was always fully present and immersed in whatever he was doing at any given moment. My Dad wasn’t distracted by much when he was around people. When he was having a conversation, he was fully in that conversation. When he was eating a meal, he was fully enjoying the flavors, the setting, and the company. When Dad was working, he was fully engaged in the detail of the work he was doing, ensuring that every little component of the job had been done correctly. And on Christmas Day, Dad wasn’t waiting for what’s next; he was experiencing what’s now.

For my Dad, it wasn’t about the presents; it was about the presence.

My Dad was never the guy who was just trying to speed through life so he could get on to the next thing; and boy, is that a lesson he is still teaching me today. Unfortunately, for some reasons good and for other reasons not so good, life has gotten more hectic for all of us, me included. And for as long as I can remember, I have tended to be the guy who is always looking ahead to what’s on the horizon—the next present, the next experience, the next day. When Paige and I go to Disney World, I’m the guy in line trying to line up a Fastpass for the next ride rather than appreciating all the detail that the Imagineers have put into the queue for us to enjoy as we wait. It’s very, very hard for me to just live in the moment, and I’ve always known that’s my shortcoming.

But my Dad was a presence pro. In everything he did, he was there and completely free of distraction. Because my Dad took things slow in life, I think it allowed him to fully appreciate and remember what he was doing at any given moment. When Dad was there with you, he was all in. He wasn’t mindlessly scrolling through his phone. He wasn’t stressing over the schedule and how many things he had to get to the next day. He wasn’t checking his email. He wasn’t complaining about everything he needed to do. He was just there, enjoying life, enjoying his family, and slowing things down so he could make memories.

I miss that about him because it is so rare in my life that I can just slow down, disconnect, and be truly in the moment. I miss it because it’s so rare in the world around me. Everything we do says “go go go” but everything my Dad did was slow, slow, slow. And now, with years of perspective and the pain of his loss still aching in my soul, I can see that my Dad was right. I can see why he treated every single moment, every interaction, and every experience like it was a precious treasure.

It’s because it was. And sometimes, unfortunately, you only realize how precious it was until it’s no longer there.

I miss those Christmas mornings with my Dad because the slowness of the day always forced me to sit back and recognized how wonderfully special he truly was. Because the world mostly shuts down on Christmas Day, it forces us all inward and brings us home to the things we should appreciate most. Like faith and family, health and happiness.

On this Christmas morning (and hopefully on the many more left to come in my life), I’ll honor my Dad and do what he did by trying my best to be present with those that I love. In spite of all the craziness that’s constantly fluttering in the world around us, I’ll close the doors and just focus on the goodness that exists inside our home and those of my family and friends.

And during a Christmas that will no doubt be unusual for all of us, I hope we can realize the value and importance of the treasured time we spend with others. Yes, we should appreciate life on this day, but more importantly, we should place a premium on living life and living it to the fullest. We should do our best to be present in every moment of this holiday.

Sometimes it takes writing to disentangle our thoughts and help us see clearly, and as I think through this particular message and reflect on my earthly Father, I realize that the entire reason for the Christmas holiday stems from my Heavenly Father’s desire to be present with us. At Christmas, we celebrate God sending His one and only Son to this world to be born in a humble manger. The gift of Jesus Christ was a symbol of God’s desire to do more than just watch our lives from a distance. The greatest Christmas gift was about coming close to us and walking side-by-side with us as we traverse through this life. Jesus left His throne and came down to all of us to be with us. He

For God, Christmas wasn’t about presents. Christmas was about presence. I’m thankful that I had a Dad here on earth who realized this truth. Looking back, I know that my Dad’s constant presence was an extension of his faith. He read between the lines of the Christmas story told in the Bible, and in order to live out that message, he did everything he could to just be present with people any chance he had.

Looking back, I know that his presence was the greatest gift my Dad ever gave me. I’m thankful for that gift, and even though he won’t be here with me in person on this Christmas Day, I know that he will be watching down over all of us, celebrating from a seat in heaven in the presence of The One for whom we rejoice.

And I know that God won’t get impatient with him if he decides to sleep in just a little bit longer that morning.

Dad Lucy and Me at Christmas with SB LogoDad, Although the first year without you was hard, it seems as if every single Christmas gets harder and harder in its own way because your presence feels so distant. Although the years have worn on, however, my memories of you seem to become more vivid and full of life because they are so unbelievably important to me. Dad, thank you for helping us create memories on Christmas Day and on every other day. Thank you for always treating time with those you loved as a precious treasure. I often marvel at how you could make each person you interacted with feel so loved and so valued. I honestly think it was because you disconnected from everything in life but that very moment within which you were in that allowed you to connect so intimately with each person. Dad, thank you for always connecting with me, and with your family, and with the people who miss you so dearly. How I wish we had many more Christmas mornings together, even if you were slow to rise, slow to get moving, and slow to satisfy the primal urge for gift-opening within the heart of your adolescent son. I love you, Dad, and I miss you dearly. I wish you were here with us to see and live through all of the exciting moments of our lives. You would have been immersed in every little moment just like you were when you were with us. Dad, thank you for the presence. I miss it, but I know that someday, on the other side of eternity, I’ll get the chance to experience it again. Until that day, Merry Christmas, Bub.

“The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the rights paths
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.” Psalm 23 (NIV)

Crashing

My Dad loved riding a bike. I loved it too—but I did not love the crashing part.

When we moved to our house on Headgates Road, I started noticing my Dad’s interest in biking. Always the one to buy the most tricked-out, high-tech equipment associated with anything he did, my Dad went out and bought a 21-speed mountain bike shortly after we moved into the neighborhood. Before long, he would affix a headlight and a speedometer to the bike, upgrade the seat, and buy tires that would allow him to bike through the deepest of snow, the muddiest mud, or the gravelliest gravel.

The Headgates Road neighborhood really is a biker’s paradise—even more so now than it was when we first moved in. There was minimal traffic throughout the neighborhood, and it offered a ton of side streets and cul-de-sacs that were free of everything but the local traffic. The neighborhood was always pretty well-lit, and as more and more people desired to move to that part of town, the development of new homes brought with it more streets and sidewalks for my Dad to ride on. Our neighborhood was also perfectly located adjacent to Rentschler Park, a forest-like preserve with plenty of hiking and biking trails. Eventually, an expansion of the neighborhood connected our home to the park via a service road, and now, it’s even more grand. Many folks take advantage of the new bike path that connects Rentschler Park in Hamilton/Fairfield Township to Waterworks Park in Fairfield—a path that winds for about 12 miles along the Great Miami River.

Even before all of the paths were added in, though, Dad was a biker at heart. Oftentimes, that was how he relaxed after dinner. He would scarf down a delicious meal cooked by Mom, guzzle down a can of Coca-Cola (or two), and then hop on his bike for an evening ride as the sun would set.

Dad was always willing to have me—his “little buddy”—along for the ride. From the time I was little, I always had a bike, and Dad always encouraged me to ride it. I remember how happy he was when I ditched the training wheels, and how he always threw caution to the wind and encouraged me to be adventurous. He was that Dad who always encouraged me to pedal faster, pop a wheelie, or jump on a ramp, even though that call to “go wild” never really sunk in. I was always a pretty cautious little biker. I enjoyed it, but I also appreciated the bones in both my arms and legs and didn’t want to do anything to put their operational ability in peril.

On those nights when I did join Dad for a bike ride, he was always patient. He always waited for me to catch up to him. He never treated me like I was a nuisance or annoyance, even though in hindsight I can see that I probably was. If I went on a ride with Dad, it actually worked out for him because he ended up getting two rides in that night. After dropping me off at the house to grab a post-pedal-popsicle, he would hop back on the saddle and cruise out again for a few more miles in the setting sun.

Dad loved everything about a bike ride. He loved the exercise. He loved the rhythm. He loved the wind in his hair; and then, when his hair was gone, he loved the wind on his scalp. He loved spending time in nature, and a bike allowed him to cover more ground and appreciate even more of it. Of all the times that I saw my Dad on a bike, I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile.

Except for that time when I went over the handlebars.

Have you ever flipped over the handlebars of a bike? It sounds more fun than it is. I mean, I guess the element of flight is fun; it’s the crashing part that’s brutal. Usually there’s some kind of painful cracking or bruising or loss of fluids that doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time. But it’s the risk you take when you ride a bike, and if you’re as uncoordinated as me, it’s a risk that comes with pretty bad odds.

My Dad was always the parent leader when it came to bike rides with all of my neighborhood friends, and there were many times that Dad would effortlessly lead a group of seven or eight grade schoolers—all with different biking skill and capability—on a trail ride through the hills at Rentschler Park. There were a number of different neighborhood playmates that I biked with: Devin, Brittany, her brother Jeremy, brothers Matt and Ryan (or “Peanut” as we always called him), and Anthony and Greg (otherwise known as “The Twins). It was funny that my Dad was often the adventurous “leader of the bike pack” considering that I was the absolute least adventurous kid on that list. All of my friends were much more risk-attuned than I was, and I think that’s why my Dad liked hanging out with them and liked that I was around them as well. Deep down, he had to secretly hope that some of their no-fear-nature would rub off on me.

As a kid, Dad always made these bike rides so fun and so enjoyable. Like he did at any family gathering, vacation bible school playtime, or church softball game, my Dad was a consummate entertainer. He was always on board for whatever silliness it took to propel my little legs on that bike. If it meant he had to pretend that he was a villain and I was the good guy chasing him, he’d do it. Or if he had to pretend that he was a rabid wolf that had somehow learned how to ride a bike and give me a 20-second headstart to get away as he foamed at the mouth and snarled, he’d do it. Dad loved having fun, he loved being outdoors, and he loved making people laugh—and taking me and all the neighborhood kids on a bike ride was pure joy for him.

Dad would often take us on a bicycle caravan through the infamous “Pinecone Trail” at Rentschler Park, a beautiful mile-and-a-half-or-so trail that includes hills, bridges, stairs, and narrow pathways that wind through tall trees along a stunning creek bed filled with rocks and calmly cascading water.

There’s not a caution sign to be had on that trail, and Dad absolutely loved it.

I don’t know how he did it, but Dad would ride that entire trail without getting off his bike seat once. He would pump his pedals up steeply-graded hills. He would whip through hairpin turns nearly skidding into tree stumps. And staircases? He didn’t even get off his bike at staircases!!! He’d either skirt the staircase and ride down the hill to the left of the stairs, or in a dangerous “kids, don’t try this at home” fashion, he’d just find a way to ride down the staircase on the bike.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have a daredevil spirit as a kid, because my Dad would have been a really bad influence on bike rides.

It didn’t stop him from trying though. Deep down, although he never would have admitted it, I think my Dad always wished I had a bit more of a rebellious streak in me. I think that my Dad wanted me to not be so cautious, to get a few more bumps, knicks, scrapes, and bruises. I know that my Dad loved me, but I also think that he often wondered how his only offspring could have ended up being so timid. Dad would goad me on during most of those bike rides, as I was inevitably the kid at the back of the line slowing down the entire chain of young peddlers and praying to my God and any others who would listen for a juice break. “Come on Bub,” he’d yell. “We gotta get home before it gets dark….heck, at the rate you’re going, we gotta get home before the sun comes up again!”

Every now and then, I’d get frustrated with Dad for pushing me to be a bit more adventurous when we rode bikes. I’d yell back at him and tell him that there was no way I could possibly pedal any further, and then tell him to just leave me for dead (did I mention that I had a flare for the dramatics as a kid?). Dad would bid me adieu and tell me to say hello to the coyotes that came out at night, and I’d pick up and pedal frantically to catch up to him.

But every now and then, the adventurous streak would flare up. It wasn’t much of a streak, but a streak nonetheless.

I don’t remember how old I was on this particular trip, but Dad had taken my friends and I out for a bike ride through the woods, and we were making our way home. The paths had been cleared and redirected as a result of some new housing developments in the area, and to Dad’s glee, the woods had been cleared to provide a new exit from Rentschler Park that involved speeding down a long, sloping hill, coming up another hill, and then flying down a much steeper hill on the other side to link up the newly-paved bike path.

It was a daredevil’s perfect ending to a long bike ride.

And I almost peed my pants just looking at it.

Per usual, Dad went first, hooting and hollering the entire way. My more adventurous friends followed, and before I knew it, I was the only kid at the top of the hill. I could feel the cold sweat forming across my body, and for a momentary second, I flirted with the idea of pretending to faint and collapse. However, I was afraid there might be snakes in the grass, so I ditched that plan quickly.

“Come on, Bub! It’s fun—you’re gonna love it!” Dad and all my friends continued to yell. After a few moments of back-and-forth in my mind, I decided I’d give the hill a chance. I’d keep a steady hand on the right brake, but it was worth a shot. No one else in front of me had injured anything, so I figured it had to be okay.

Slowly, I let go of the brake handle and gravity started to work its magic. I added a little pedal power to the proceedings, and before you knew it, I was gone faster than the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs. There was no point in peddling because my silvery-blue Mongoose would have busted apart at the bolts had any more speed entered in the equation.

I sailed down the first hill, hit the trough at the bottom, and went up the hill in front of me. To my surprise, I had picked up so much speed that my bike barely slowed as I went up that hill. Upon reaching the crest, I didn’t even have time to pause and soak up the view from the apex, and before I knew it, I was cruising down the other side at an impressive rate of speed as a smile started to emerge on my face.

Maybe Dad was on to something about this whole “safety be damned” approach to living!

But then, it happened. The grass near the bottom of the hill hadn’t been mowed in quite a few weeks, and burrowed within that tall, green grass was an elevated manhole cover for a nearby water processing building. Unlike the manhole covers you see in the city that are flush with the ground, this one stuck up out of the ground by about a foot.

That’s enough to send you flying if you don’t see it. And I didn’t see a thing.

With an unsuspecting smile on my face from the happiness of finally overcoming a fear and finally feeling triumphant, I nailed that manhole cover without even realizing what had happened. The momentum flung me over the handlebars of my bike, and I landed flat on my back atop that manhole cover. Then, as if the crash itself wasn’t enough embarrassment, the bike continued to flip into the air and then landed on top of me with a thud.

For what I lack in grace, I can make up for in my ability to let out a guttural shriek of pain—which I promptly did after regaining my breath.

The disastrous display left me unable to breathe. My wind was completely knocked out, and I wretched and convulsed on the ground grasping at my chest like I needed an octuple bypass. That was, of course, after my friends and my Dad had run to my side and flung the bike off of me.

All joking aside, I was in about as much pain as you could imagine one would be in after smashing into a manhole cover on a bike and landing atop an unmovable metal and concreate structure. My back had bent in a way that it shouldn’t have bent. I was sore immediately, and knew that this pain was going to last for a couple days.

Aside from the physical pain that I was in, my little ego had also been bruised. It’s never fun to do something stupid; it’s definitely not fun to do something stupid in front of friends that you want to admire you at such an impressionable young age. I had put my lack of athletic ability on display, yet again, in front of my friends who already teased me for being as uncoordinated as a baby giraffe in high heels. I couldn’t help but cry in this moment, and I was waiting for my Dad to ride up and laugh as well.

But good Dads don’t tease when they know that their child is bruised—physically and emotionally.

Without a word, Dad threw his bike to the ground and ran to me. He picked me up into his strong arms, and just held onto me until I could catch my breath again.

“It’s okay, Bub,” he just said until I could breathe again. He started to ask me what was hurting, and I told him that my back really was in a ton of pain. Because my Dad knew me well, he knew when I was faking and when I wasn’t—and in this moment, he knew that I wasn’t.

Without missing a beat, Dad sprung into action mode. I was amazed at how quickly and expeditiously he organized the troops and got us on the move.

“Alright guys, I’m going to need one of you to grab Ty’s bike and walk it home, along with yours. Who’s got it?”

One of my friends piped up and made their way over to my bike, and before I knew it, Dad had picked me up and rested me atop his bike handlebars. We still had about a mile to go to get home, but Dad pushed me cautiously and carefully while cradling me the entire way. I whimpered a bit (because that’s what wimpy little kids like me did), and Dad just kept talking to me to try to get my mind off of things as the hot summer sun started to set.

“Well, Bub,” Dad said, “if it counts for anything, you got some real good height on that front flip!”

Even in the middle of tears, you can’t help but laugh at a line like that.

Eventually, we made it home. Over the next few days, both the bruises to my back and to my ego started to fade—and, in time, my friends and my Dad never let me live down the “bike flip” incident. Every time we saw a manhole cover within 300 feet of us on a ride, they made sure to warn me.

But a good Dad swoops in, picks you up, and carries you when you’re not able to walk. That’s what I felt with my Dad on that day, and more importantly, that’s what I felt from him every time I crashed—both physically and metaphorically.

My Dad was always there to pick me up when I crashed. He did it that day of the bike debacle, and he did it on so many other days. He did it when in moments when I didn’t feel confident in my abilities. He did it after I would fail at an athletic event (he sure had a heck of a lot of opportunities to come to my aid in that category). He did it when I was in college and started having an identity crisis after giving up on my career trajectory of becoming an educator that I had professed since I was young. He did it when I suffered from my own, paralyzing, nine-month bout with clinical anxiety.

Dad never judged. He never criticized me or accused me of wrongdoing or fault when I was hurting. He just swooped in, picked me up, and carried me until I could walk again.

That’s what great Dads do. That’s what my Dad always did—both for me, and for others. That’s what I wish I had done for him more often.

When my Dad crashed as a result of his depression, it was a hard crash. Over time, we were able to see a pretty predictable pattern. My Dad would succumb to his clinical depression, he would shut down, and would even escape by leaving without telling anyone where he had gone. He was afraid to let people know that he was hurting. He was afraid he’d somehow disappoint them. I hate that Dad felt such shame—he didn’t deserve to.

Quote Tile - CrashingOver time, I learned—we all learned—how to support Dad when he crashed, and I think we learned by watching how he supported all of us. We didn’t get it right every time, but we tried to be there for him because that’s what he always did. My Dad was the guy who was just there for people. He listened, he didn’t judge, he empathized, and he gave us all reassurance and confidence that the crash didn’t define us. That’s what we all tried to do to support Dad. It was imperfectly executed, especially by me, but we tried. We gave it our best effort.

And even though my Dad isn’t here any longer to support me or the people he loved when we inevitably crash, I think one of the best things we can do to honor his memory is to just continue being there. To swoop in when we see someone who is crashing. To serve them. To bolster their spirits, their mind, and their attitude. And, even though it takes a lot of work, we should be there to pick them up and carry them until they feel good enough to walk again.

That was the Scott Bradshaw way. It wasn’t my Dad’s crash that defined him; it was the way he helped others who were crashing that captures his true story.

I love my Dad and miss him desperately, especially in those moments where I’ve felt the same pain of crashing like I did on that day many years ago when I sailed over the handlebars. In a different way, I have felt my Dad there carrying me in all the years that he’s been gone. I have felt him, in those awful moments, continuing to carry me when I can’t walk. When you live a life as big as the one my Dad did, the love doesn’t stop when the heart does. I’m thankful for a Dad that was there to let me crash—because I learned from it. I’m thankful for a Dad that encouraged me to take risks, even if there was a high likelihood that a crash would occur. But more importantly, I’m thankful for a Dad that never turned his back on me when I did crash.

And…I’m pretty thankful for helmets, too.

Dad and I on Dirtbike with SB LogoDad, The comfort I felt in your arms walking home after my failed-and-unintentional-bike-stunt was a feeling that I can instantly snap back to at any moment—and it’s a feeling that I desperately miss. You were my rock. You were my safe haven. You provided protection from the dangers of the world, but you encouraged me to not play it safe. Dad, thank you for giving me the feeling of safety that allowed me to ride freely. Thank you for being there on all those days when I needed you most. I never questioned whether or not you were at my side, and even since your death, I’ve known that you were there. I think about you each day and wonder what life would look like if you were still here. Even though there’s sadness at that longing, I know that you’re in a place where the pain you experienced here exists no more. I’m thankful that you’re basking in the glow and warmth of Eternity where the pain of crashing is no more. Dad, I love you, and I miss you like crazy. Thanks for always being there for me—both in this world, and in the next. Until I can thank you face-to-face, seeya Bub.

“…and if you give what you have to the hungry, and fill the needs of those who suffer, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your darkness will be like the brightest time of day.” Isaiah 58:10 (NLV)

Wrestling

“ONE!”

Slam!

“TWO!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-A-HALF!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-THREE-QUARTERS!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-SEVEN-EIGHTHS!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-THIRTY-FIVE-THIRTY-SIXTHS!”

“Dad, I don’t even think that’s a real thing!”

Slam!

“THREE!” Slam! “Pinned you again!”

“Alright, let’s go again,” I’d respond, knowing that there wasn’t a chance I’d ever win.

This was the common refrain that echoed through the Bradshaw family room after dinner on an almost-nightly basis, drifting up the stairs into the kitchen where my Mom was likely cleaning up after another delicious, home-cooked meal that she had crafted. Dad always said he needed time to digest, but I’d pester and bug him until he’d rise up out of the recliner acting like he was too full, and then in a super sneaky sweep, he’d catch me off guard and the evening wrestling match would begin—no entrance music or bell needed.

For a little, skinny kid who realistically had no chance at ever winning a wrestling match (or any physical competition for that matter), it’s perplexing to think that I actually challenged my Dad to wrestle so frequently. Must have been early-onset-Napoleon-complex. A board game would have been more of an even battle, and even then I’d still be at a disadvantage; but a wrestling match between a seven year old and a 30-something year old wasn’t that evenly matched. While I was wrestling against my Dad, I’d try to emulate the moves that I had seen from my all-time favorite WWF superstars….even though I wasn’t supposed to know what a WWF superstar was.

Mom never let me watch wrestling—rightfully so. Have you seen what happens on an episode of Monday Night Raw? Wait, is Raw still a thing? The name might have changed, but the lack of actual “wrestling” likely has not. The stuff is pure trash. There’s rarely a punch that lands within three feet of someone’s face (I will applaud the acting, however), and there’s more time spent talking into a microphone than there is jumping off the turnbuckles. It’s essentially a soap opera with simulated violence and more fake blood.

Although, a few of those steel-chair-smashes to the cranium did look awfully life-like…

Yes, I have to admit that against my Mother’s absolutely-justified and entirely-well-advised orders, I did sneak in a few episodes of WWF* wrestling from time to time (*that’s right, I liked wrestling when it was a “Federation” in the days before they admitted it was pure entertainment and changed the name). I’d quickly flip the channel if I saw her come into the room, but then it’d be right back to The Undertaker getting stunned by Stone Cold Steve Austin, or The Rock delivering a dramatic People’s Elbow to the solar plexus of Triple H with Good Ole JR screaming “OH MY GOD! HE’S KILLED HIM!” from the ringside announcer’s table.

Okay…maybe it was more than just a few episodes.

On occasion, I’d watch Monday Night Raw in my bedroom with the door shut, telling myself that I’d need to keep quiet if I wanted to throw Mom off the scent of the electric mayhem and debauchery on the 14-inch television set atop the dresser in my bedroom. Around 9pm, the festivities would begin, and I’d be able to keep quiet until about 9:07. By then, some ridiculous plotline would have been introduced (I SWEAR I SAW VINCE MCMAHON EXPLODE INSIDE THAT LIMO!!!), and I’d be jumping up and down on the bed from pure excitement trying my best to hold in the shrieks of enthusiasm.

Panic would set in as I’d hear Mom coming up the stairs. “What are you doing in there?!” Mom would yell through the closed door.

READING DR. SUESS!!!” I’d scream back as I jumped up and down on the twin box spring, just as Mankind shoved Mr. Socko down the throat of a guy who was definitely going to need some Listerine.

I’d always, inevitably, get caught and I’d be banned from watching wrestling again. Fortunately, I was able to recreate my own matches in the basement with Dad (minus any steel chairs, ringside graves, or beer trucks equipped with firehoses of course…). Looking back, I enjoyed those matches way more than any match I ever watched on television. No ridiculous WWF plotline could ever entertain me more than a wrestling match with my Dad. Our family room floor was better than any sold out arena because my Dad was a supreme entertainer.

I can always remember the laughter when Dad would have me jump off the couch like I was jumping off of a turnbuckle (sorry Mom, but this is why the armrest cushion padding was always a bit smushed on that one side…). He’d pretend like he was asleep or mortally wounded until the very last second before I would jump. Somehow, he’d spring up and catch me in his arms, spin me upside down, and pin me on the ground without doing too much cranial damage. I’d laugh, even though I was losing—frequently.

Aside from the fun, Dad would also challenge me to “get mean” and toughen up while I was wrestling with him, making sure that I never gave up even though he rarely (if ever) let me win. I wasn’t a very “mean” kid, and I think in some respect, my Dad never let me win because he wanted to toughen me up and have me prepare to wrestle in bigger battles that would inevitably come my way throughout life. When all was so seemingly perfect in my childhood, I don’t think either one of use could have ever envisioned the toughness we would both need to build to face what was looming for our family on the horizon.

I couldn’t have guessed that wrestling would define so much of our lives—both my Dad’s and my own. And it wasn’t the physical wrestling that ended up defining us. It was mental wrestling—and it’s still going on to this day.

It wasn’t until I learned that my Dad suffered from severe, clinical depression that I realized how much he struggled and grappled with his own emotions. He was constantly wrestling inside his head with fears of inadequacy and doubt. In his darkest moments, he was plagued with questions of whether or not he was enough, even though God and everyone in his life tried to encourage him. Mental illness is a unique enemy. I won’t say it’s any more or less difficult than other things we all face in life; I’m just acknowledging that it’s unique. If you’re struggling at work or school, you can go home and find rest. If you’re struggling with a friend, you can distance yourself. But our heads are always with us, and for the individual who is mentally ill, there’s no off switch. Those feelings can be so unrelenting, and at times, it can feel like there’s no escape. I honestly believe that’s why my Dad’s response when his depression reached its peak was to physically escape from the world around him—even though that approach offered little hope of long-term success or wellness.

I believe the most difficult part of my Dad’s wrestling stemmed from the fact that he was facing off against an invisible enemy and he didn’t always ask for a partner to tag in and help. As I grew older, I learned not to blame my Dad for his mental illness, and I was fortunate that at the time of his death, I never dealt with feelings of blame towards my Dad for the way he died. Don’t get me wrong—I was angry. But not at my Dad. I was angry at depression, mental illness, and a disease that cut his life entirely too short.

But just because I didn’t blame my Dad doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t do things differently if given the opportunity, and at the top of the list is a wish for my Dad to have reached out to get the help that he needed and deserved. My Dad would take medication to help with his depression, and then when he would start feeling well again, he believed he no longer needed the medication to help him (a vicious cycle that many, many individuals struggling with mental illness deal with). Because my Dad was a strong guy who could fix just about anything, he also didn’t seem to have it in his DNA to go and see a therapist or professional counselor who could help him talk and work through his illness. My Dad was a helper in every area of his life, and I think that led to him not being able to ask for help himself when he needed it most.

I hate that my Dad often wrestled behind the curtain. I hate that he felt such unbelievable shame that he couldn’t bring it upon himself to share his struggles with others or seek professional help in the form of counseling or psychological therapy. It’s like watching that tag team wrestling match in which the guy in the middle of the ring clearly needs to tag his partner, but he just can’t bring himself to admit that he might need the assistance.

Watching my Dad wrestle has taught me a lesson—a lesson I never thought I’d need to learn about how we deal with mental illness, but also how we deal with grief.

Since losing Dad, I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling as well. Unfortunately, I think it’s the burden that many of us who lose a loved one to suicide are dealt. Could we have done more? Could we have said more? Could we have loved more? What could we have done to build a shelter for the storm forming on the horizon? It’s a difficult place to be that’s riddled with guilt, sadness, and perpetual questions.

However, I believe there’s great growth in the wrestling that happens in our lives. It isn’t always pleasant, and we often leave bloodied and bruised, but time and life circumstances can provide perspective if we are willing to seek it out.

I firmly believe that when it comes to our thoughts and beliefs, we have to wrestle with them in order to understand why we believe them in the first place. That’s why I think so many people struggle with Christianity in America—it’s always been something that’s just there and accepted, which means we often take it for granted and don’t wrestle with the deep tenets of our faith to understand what they mean and why they are important. I’ve seen this principle play out in my life in so many different areas. I firmly believe that the best lessons I’ve learned in the college classroom have been the ones that I’ve had to fight hard with to comprehend. The best books I’ve read have been the ones that have challenged me with complex characters, extensive vocabulary, and elaborate plotlines. And even when I think back to my own childhood, my Dad was my greatest wrestling partner because he was stronger than me and because he didn’t let me win. I learned something in the struggle.

And wow, have I wrestled with my Dad’s death. In the dark night of the soul that often accompanies our weightiest grief, I’ve struggled to come to terms with how a loving God—in control of every aspect of the universe He created and every son or daughter who lives in it—could allow mental illness and suicide to defeat my Father. There are some moments of wrestling in which I can answer that question quickly. I can accept the fact that God loves me, loves my Dad, and in no way intended for this to be the way his life on Earth ended.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to more difficult moments of wrestling. Sleepless nights full of tears when the answers are elusive have been a regularity in the months and years since losing Dad. Maybe you’ve been there too. Maybe you’re there now.

God, in my opinion, calls us to take those burdens that we wrestle with and let Him carry the weight. That doesn’t mean that we stop wrestling. It doesn’t mean that we stop the questions with the clasp of our hands in prayer, but it does mean that we trust Him to eventually help us find the answer, and we believe that there’s a purpose to our confusion, grief, and lack of understanding. The answer may not come when we want it, and it may not come in the form we hope for—and we should be grateful for that. It will come in a way and at a time that is more perfect than we could ever imagine.

The result of our wrestling is not automatic or instantaneous peace—it’s a path forward. That path may look difficult and be quite unwelcome. That path might include regular counseling, medication, a dedicated health regimen, forgiveness (both for ourselves and others), or confession. But any path towards health is better than a wrestling match that never has a resolution. I’d rather risk a loss or misstep here or there, or even brief momentary pain, than to be caught in a perpetual state of not-knowing.

When it comes to mental struggling or emotional wrestling, God never puts us in a tap-out position. We might be in pain. We might be hurting. We might need to reach out and tag in a partner to help us. We might have to ask our ringside coach for a bit of advice or wisdom. But God never wants us to tap out. He gives us all the strength and resources we need in those instances if we are just willing to admit that we need it.

For those of us who struggle with mental illness in any of its forms and manifestations, we must believe that there is a purpose to the wrestling. We don’t need to welcome the pain with an ever-present smile, because that’s phony. I don’t trust people who act like they embrace pain—there’s a whole different set of clinical disorders to describe that. But even though wrestling can be painful and might not yield an immediate victory, we realize and recognize that there’s a deeper purpose and more intricate plan tied to every aspect of our lives that will, eventually, reveal itself to us. With that perspective, like any good athlete, we learn to welcome the wrestling even if it’s difficult work. We learn that our greatest beliefs will only be strengthened if they are challenged and grappled with. Most importantly, however, we acknowledge that wrestling is worth it when our teammate—God—always provides a way out, even if we can’t see it in the midst of our struggle. The wrestling isn’t always fun, but it’s worth it.

When we wrestle well—meaning that when we recognize that in our struggles we are never on our own and when we are willing to admit our difficulties and ask for help—we learn and we grow tremendously. We build spiritual and emotional muscle that helps us to overcome some of life’s greatest difficulties. Even though my Dad might have eventually been overtaken by his mental illness, I’m confident that he did wrestle well throughout his life. He is not defined by that one failure, but he is defined by all the years within which he lived healthy and happily. He is defined by the wife he loved, the son he raised, the people he helped, and the God he served. One day on my Dad’s record of life cannot and will not erase the fact that for fifty years before that, he wrestled victoriously. And as long as I live, I’ll remember those lessons that my Dad taught me in his everyday life, as well as in our mock family room Wrestlemanias.

And even thought you might not always win, never forget….jumping off of a couch “turnbuckle” is a ton of fun. When your significant other or parent isn’t home, give this one a try.

Dad Burying My Head in Sand with SB LogoDad, Remember how much fun we used to have wrestling on the family room floor and laughing as you constantly beat up on me?! It doesn’t sound like as much fun as it really was, now that I write that. Dad, I appreciate that in wrestling, and in a lot of areas of my life, you never just let me win. You always made me earn it, which made me value the struggle and see the purpose of it. I’m glad that, for so long, you wrestled well. I know there were probably many days when you felt like your depression would overtake you but, somehow, you found the strength and the purpose to fight on. I’m grateful that you modeled that kind of strength, and I want you to know that when I think about your life, I think about these types of victories—not the way in which you died. I think about how proud I am of you for fighting as hard as you did for so long. Thank you for always allowing me to see the purpose in wrestling well and fighting through those difficult moments. It’s ironic that the lessons you taught me were preparing me to navigate life after losing you. I don’t always do it perfectly—I fall well short on most days, in fact. But even in your death, you have been a great Father to me. Thank you for loving me enough to teach me how to wrestle well. I miss you terribly, Dad. There have been so many moments where I just wish I could be back to those moments of being your young son again. But I know, in my heart, that we will have those days again. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill out hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 (TLB)

Grace

“I just don’t know if I can go back. How I can go back…”

My Dad died in late July, and I was set to go back to classes for the final year of my Master’s program in education—but I just didn’t know how I could do that. Full-time work and part-time school was taxing enough under normal circumstances, and my life was anything but normal after losing my Dad to suicide. On top of that, everything in life that wasn’t related to my Dad just felt sort of trivial. I wondered if it might be wise to take the year off, but I knew the dangers. Take a year off, and it’s easier to turn that into another year, and then another. Deep down, I knew that my Dad would not have wanted me to stall my progress towards my degree, but I felt extremely guilty getting back to the normal things in life because it felt like I was betraying my Dad’s death.

As I was contemplating what to do for this upcoming year, I got an e-mail from Dr. Kathy Goodman, the professor who would be teaching the Foundations of Research course that I had enrolled in. If I was nervous about continuing my studies while grieving, I was terrified of having to do it while learning about research principles and practices. Research was not my strong suit. I felt as if my classmates were all a few standard deviations ahead of me on their knowledge in this area (lame attempt at research humor, I know). On top of that, I had never taken a class with Dr. Goodman before. I didn’t know her teaching style, and I severely doubted my capacity to find success.

Then came Kathy’s e-mail. “I know that we haven’t been in class together yet during your time in the program,” Kathy said, “but I want you to know that I will do whatever I possibly can to help you be successful this semester.” Kathy expressed her condolences for my family’s loss, and she offered to help me with material, be flexible with deadlines, and allow me the space to grieve when it unexpectedly hit me. I just remember mouthing the word “Wow,” as I sat at my computer. This was a teacher who knew me only tangentially but clearly understood the pain that I was feeling.

I stayed in the course. And I completed it. And in May of 2014, I graduated with my Master’s degree. And getting there was partly possible because Kathy Goodman showed me grace.


I took a month off from work after losing my Dad. Unlike so many others who find themselves in my situation, I was fortunate to work for an employer that (a) understood I would need some time off, and (b) had given me the vacation and sick time necessary to do it. After having that month to grieve, spend time with my family, and adjust to a new normal of life after losing my Dad, I went back to work on the Monday before classes were set to resume for the Fall semester. My day was moderately productive, as I would weave in and out of being able to concentrate on my work and finding myself spiraling into my grief while trying my best to hold it all together.

I woke up on Tuesday morning after a largely sleepless night, and I just knew I didn’t have it in me. I knew that I was not going to have the mental energy to go in and slog through the day like I had done the day before. I grabbed my phone, and I texted my boss, Megan. I had known Megan since my undergraduate days at Miami University Regionals, and she had always done so much to support me—especially in the month since losing my Dad. I told Megan that I felt guilty because I had just been off for an entire month, but I didn’t know if I could come into the office today.

“Tyler,” she responded “Take the time you need. And take care of yourself.” Megan shared how much she was thinking of me and our entire family, and told me over and over again that she was willing to help in any way she could. She reinforced that she knew what I was dealing with was not easy, and she didn’t try to minimize my pain. And that level of care and compassion that she and our entire team at Miami’s Regional Campuses shared with me never ceded, even as the months after Dad died wore on. My colleagues were always, always there, and they always gave me the room to do what I needed to do to be okay.

I did take that day off of work. And over time, I found the courage to continue doing my job and taking care of myself. And it was because Megan and so many of my coworkers at Miami showed me grace.


After losing my Dad, Father’s Day has turned into a particularly painful recurrence. I have difficulty being able to celebrate the fathers that make our community special, but in the years after losing Dad, I was also on staff at our church as an outreach and connections pastor. I had responsibilities during every Sunday service to get up and offer the announcements and our opening prayer. I wanted to try and persevere on this particular Father’s Day and celebrate my own Dad by putting on a brave face and being at church that morning, but I knew it was an impossibility. My Dad’s funeral had been held in that same exact sanctuary, and every time I looked to the front of the room near the stage, I didn’t see the pulpit. Just as if it were still there, I still saw my Dad’s casket. I wondered if I’d ever stop seeing it.

I talked with my Mom about being scared to go to church on Father’s Day. I talked with my pastors, Harville and Dave. I talked with my therapist, Jeff. I talked with friends. In every conversation, I shared my concern about not wanting to be in church on Father’s Day, and the guilt I felt for having that feeling. Every person I talked to reassured me and told me that it was absolutely okay to not be there.

All of these people—every single one of them—gave me the freedom to grieve in my own way. And I did grieve, and eventually I did start going to church on Father’s Day again.

And it was all because the world and the people I loved showed me grace.

Grace, in my opinion, is the firm cornerstone of the grieving process, but more importantly than that, it’s the cornerstone of the human experience in general. When I reflect on the healing I went through during my own bouts with mental illness, my Dad’s struggles, and his eventual death from suicide, the common thread that weaves through the tapestry of those moments is grace. It was grace that always redeemed and carried me through—both the grace given to me by those in my life, and ultimately as a result of the grace given to all of us by God.

I’m confident that, in the months and years leading up to the loss of my Father, God positioned people full of grace into my life to serve as a shelter from the storm. I look back on how God moved people into my life that only He knew would need to be there when everything went dark. Those people, all in their own unique ways, let me know that it was okay to be grieving, okay to be hurting, and okay to have questions that would never receive answers. I’m thankful that they were all there to let me make mistakes and experience unpleasant emotions without ever judging me or expecting more of me than I could give. All of these individuals gave me the grace to grieve. The grace to take a moment and breathe. The grace to make mistakes, to cry unexpectedly and uncontrollably, and to do whatever was helpful for me to be well again.

I think especially of Paige. It can’t be easy living with a spouse who is grieving the traumatic and unexpected loss of a Father; but every single day, I know that it will be a bit easier to grieve because Paige will show me the grace I need to do it successfully. She will be there to hold my hand when I can’t explain how I feel. She will help find creative ways to honor my Dad and to celebrate the life he lived, even though she never met him. She is a living example of God’s grace in my life, and I’m thankful he blessed me with her.

My Mom. My grandparents. My cousins. My colleagues. My neighbors. My Dad’s coworkers. My church family. My classmates. The list goes on and on. It feels like I have a grace-inspired team that’s constantly in my corner, and I know I have God to thank for them.

And what makes this grace from God and those in my life even greater is that I had done absolutely nothing to deserve it. I can’t help but see that the same grace that was given and continues to be granted to me throughout the grieving process is the exact same grace that God calls us to embody and live out when we interact with those who are suffering from mental illness—a grace that I was unwilling to extend when it mattered most.

It’s not lost on me that, the first time I had the opportunity to show my Dad that grace when he revealed his mental illness, I failed the test. It’s not lost on me that, on the night my Father came home after being missing for three days while I was in high school, I had an opportunity to extend him grace but instead chose to be judgmental. I chose blame as my weapon. And accusation. And hurtful words and unnecessary threats. And self-righteousness. Instead of offering a hug, I offered a clenched fist. I reacted in anger when I should have responded with compassion. It’s the greatest regret of my entire life, and even though God has forgiven me for that severe misstep, I don’t know that I’ve often forgiven myself.

So, even if I don’t do it well all the time and often do it imperfectly, I’m working harder to realize the role that grace has played in my life, and I’m doing all I can to give it out more freely.

Quote Tile - GraceAs we’ve unfortunately seen over the past few months and years, we live in a world where grace is a rarity. It’s as rare to find grace as it is a full shelf of toilet paper or hand sanitizer (this joke will make absolutely no sense to people reading this fifty years from now, which makes it even more fun). We live in a world where grace is an exception to the rule rather than the expectation of it. We live in a world where grace towards others that we dislike, disagree with, or even despise is a gift we are simply unwilling to give. We decide to dole out grace in a different way than God directed us to. God gives out grace freely, but we ration it like it’s a resource that only deserving people deserve.

God just doesn’t see it that way.

We are all hurting in our own unique, unrecognizable ways—especially those struggling with mental illness. And if we know that everyone around us is hurting, we have to do more to extend grace their way—even when they don’t ask for it, and especially when they don’t deserve it. God doesn’t unequally administer grace, and I’m grateful for that. He doesn’t only administer grace to rich people, or good-looking people, or people who can tell funny jokes, or people who live in certain countries. No matter your hurts or struggles, no matter your missteps or mishaps, no matter your most sinister and evil thoughts, actions, or desires, God’s gift of grace waits for you each and every day.

When it comes to mental illness, we have to do more to be grace-filled healers to those who are hurting. We have to find ways to let people know that, if they are suffering, it is not their fault. We have to be able to let those who are hurting know that their struggles with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideations, or any other host of mental illness is not a reflection of their character. It’s easy to cognitively believe that this is true, but the way we live our lives must also reflect that we accept it. That’s why, from day one, the motto of this blog has always been “It’s okay for you to not be okay, but it’s not okay for you to stay that way.” It’s a grace-filled mantra, and one that I repeat to myself often on days where I feel inadequate or unworthy. As much as I might be saying that to others, I’m also saying it to myself regularly, even if I imperfectly execute it.

And if you are struggling with mental illness or suicidal ideations, you have to do more than just receive grace from others. You have to be willing to extend grace to yourself. You must be willing to forgive yourself for any mistakes you’ve made, while also understanding that the way you feel is not always a result of what you’ve done or haven’t done. It’s that grace given to oneself that opens up a roadmap to healing—one that might include any regimen of treatments. To go and talk to a therapist or mental health professional, you must give yourself grace to escape the expectation of perfection. To regularly take medication, you must give yourself grace to accept your body and its unique physical/psychological processes. To exercise regularly, you must give yourself grace to realize you don’t have to be chiseled to set foot in a gym for the first time (if that was the case, they wouldn’t even let me set foot in the parking lot). Our ability to pursue any path towards healing requires that we accept that we are doing things to get better because we are worthy of being better.

And perhaps most importantly, if we are in the midst of a grief-filled period of life, grace will be the tool in the toolbox that we must rely on (and give to others) most frequently. Grace got me through my grief. Grace got me through the most difficult days. Grace got me through the days when all I wanted to do was sit in the bed and cry. Grace got me through those seasons of life within which all I could think about was how much I was falling short. Grace got me through all of that. And the only thing that will sustain me in the years to come will be receiving that grace from God over and over and giving it to everyone else in my life in return.

We don’t have to be perfect to receive that grace—I’m thankful for that!—and we also can’t hold back in extending grace to only people who get it right all the time. In fact, if people got life right all the time, there’d be no need for grace at all, and ultimately there would have been no need for a Savior. But because the world is imperfect and the people who inhabit the world are just as broken, we all need to find a way to both give grace and accept it. We have to be able to live with our mistakes and missteps while not keeping a permanent score of the same missteps of others.

I’m thankful that the God I serve is one who doesn’t expect perfection, but instead is in the business of redeeming lost children, like me. If God expected perfection, I would have had to throw in the towel a long, long time ago. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way. I’m thankful that God has forgiven me for all the things I’ve gotten wrong, because it’s allowed me (over time) to not expect that same perfection of others. My faith has taught me that grace, not perfection, but grace is the key to being loved by God and being able to love one another.

Just like my Dad was, grace has been one of my greatest teachers.

Dad Leaning Back in a ChairDad, I’m sorry that I did not extend you more grace when you needed it. I’m really sorry that, on that first bad day when you were hurting and suffering and feeling inadequate, I didn’t do more to make you feel loved. If I’m being truthful, it still haunts me when I think about the way I reacted to you with anger and judgement. It was ugly. It was unbecoming of a son who loved his father. I’m glad that I had other opportunities to be more kind and compassionate to you when you were hurting. Perhaps more than anything, I’m thankful that you were a Dad who didn’t expect perfection out of your son. You were a Father who helped me learn through my failures. You were a Father who taught me because you believed I could learn. Dad, I don’t judge you for your death and the way you left us. I’m not angry at you or bitter because you left too soon. I’m sad, and there are days when I’m devastated, and I miss you like crazy, but I don’t blame you for those things. I blame depression and mental illness and processes that, in our limited human understanding, we can’t make sense of. And that’s why, in your memory, I do my best to extend grace to everyone around me because I know, in their own ways, they are hurting too. Thank you for reminding me why this is important through the way you lived your life. Thank you for always living out grace in your own life. I so desperately wish you had been able to extend that grace to yourself in those last moments, but I know you’ve received it now in the full glory of Eternity. I’m looking forward to the day when we can experience that together. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)

Who Was Jim: Guest Blog by Nancy Eigel-Miller

Ty: Sharing your story, in my estimation, is essential to the grieving process.

For those who lose a  loved one to suicide, sharing your story with someone who has felt and lived the same pain is life-giving.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to share my story with and listen to the story of Nancy Eigel-Miller.

1N5 LogoSometime last year, I was searching for local resources to give to students and families that I speak with who are hoping to learn more about mental health, when I stumbled across 1N5. To my surprise, I discovered that the organization was founded and headquartered right here in Cincinnati, and the founder also happened to be a fellow Miami alum. On a whim, I sent a message to Nancy Miller to let her know how impressed I was with the work her organization was doing, and asked if she’d be interested in grabbing a coffee.

Over a dark roast at the Mariemont Starbucks, Nancy and I got to know one another. As you can imagine, she talked about 1N5, and I talked about Seeya Bub; but more than that, Nancy talked about her husband, Jim, and I talked about my Father, Scott. Our work in suicide prevention may have been what brought us together for coffee, but it was our mutual loss of a loved one to suicide that brought us to the arena to battle against a mutual enemy—and I’m thankful for Nancy’s graciousness, kindness, and mostly, her bravery.

I invited Nancy to share her story of her husband, Jim, here at Seeya Bub, and I’m honored that she agreed. Jim’s story, like my Dad’s, is one that is heartfelt, raw, and important for anyone who is suffering or grieving.


 Nancy: Jim had a big personality. He was loud and goofy, and he could fill a room with his energy. If you think of personalities like Robin Williams or John Belushi, that was Jim. He entertained people. But as we now know from those folks, that personality was likely a defense mechanism.

Nancy and Jim MilerHe was a great father, mentor, and friend. He was a soccer coach, a member of the pool board, and the Director of the Gallagher Center at Xavier University, where he worked for 23 years here in Cincinnati. Kids were drawn to him. He understood them and could always help them through whatever they were dealing with. He was a mentor to more students than I could count. At Xavier, he was in charge of the Student Government, ran the Student Activities Council, and was on the Disciplinary Board. He was always good at working with kids and just knowing when there was something wrong. Whenever a student got in trouble, he would reach out to try to get them back on track. I think it helped him to be able to help these kids. Jim was an amazing dad, too. By the time the girls were in about first grade, Jim started coaching soccer. He was great at it. He would get on their level and get really involved. He was a really hands-on parent, too. He was constantly dreaming up activities that the girls loved, like camping in the backyard, catching frogs, watching their favorite shows and laughing along with them. And he was always that parent who came into class all the time. He was just really close with the girls.

He also had a lot of hobbies. He was a big collector. He had this enormous Pez collection, and he had these acrylic display cases to show them all. The walls in our room were lined with these display cases, and he even had a Pez hospital down in the basement where he would fix broken Pez dispensers. He would take the girls to Pezomania conventions, and Elizabeth now has the acrylic display cases in storage so that she can display in her house someday. Once, when she was little, she was downstairs and got ahold of a rare Pez that somehow got broken. She came running upstairs and said, “Dad, the space man fell apart.” And Jim just fixed it up. He was also fascinated by Mail Pouch Tobacco Barns. We would drive around to find these barns, and he would get out and take pictures for hours, just leaving me in the car to wait. And he was so organized with his collections. All the photos had the dates and locations of when and where they were taken. He took pride in them.

When Jim was 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack. He had two older brothers, ages 14 and 18. Jim’s brothers and his mom took his dad’s death really hard. They struggled with depression, but everyone always said Jim was just different. But he was just a kid, so of course he was going to process it differently. He didn’t get a lot of support from home, so people in the community started to take him under their wing and help him out. Later on, in high school, he became an avid runner. He ran the mile and won the state title. He’s in the Mariemont Hall of Fame. He ran all through his adult life, too. He ran 5k’s, organized a group of Mariemont runners to compete in the Little Miami Triathlon, and even ran a marathon once. He would run 8-10 miles a day until, a few years before he passed, both of his knees started giving him problems. He couldn’t run the way he used to, and that really discouraged him. He would say, “My spirit can’t soar anymore.” I’m not a runner, and I never really knew what he meant by that, but looking back now, I’m sure that was one thing that really impacted his mental health. Running was always his saving grace, and when he lost it, I think he lost part of himself.

On July 28, 2008, Jim didn’t come home from work. Every day, he would always get home around 5:30 PM. Both of the girls were out that night. Elizabeth, who was 17 at the time, got back home around 7 p.m., and I told her Dad wasn’t home and wasn’t answering his phone. We got in the car, drove to Xavier, and kept trying to call. Around 9 PM, I called my parents and they came over for the night. Kate, who was 15, got home a little later. We called the police, but they wouldn’t do anything until he had been missing for 48 hours. We were all so worried, so it was a sleepless night. The next morning, we called the Xavier Chief of Police, who happened to be a friend of Jim’s. He told us to come over to Xavier. The Xavier police asked us so many questions all morning until about 11:30 a.m. Then they left for about an hour and a half. At about 1 p.m., they came back and asked me to come with them. They had found out what happened to Jim, and they told me first. He had driven to Chillicothe the night before—that’s where his parents are from—and stayed at a hotel. When they told me what happened, I couldn’t even process it. How could this happen? Jim never spoke of being depressed. He never even talked about being sad. I made the decision to tell the girls right away. Telling them was the hardest thing I have ever done. We clung to each other and asked to go home.

The Xavier folks drove us home. The car ride was silent, broken only by the sound of sobs. Right away, you start questioning how something like this could happen. You start questioning every conversation from the past few months. You try to make sense of it. Jim didn’t leave any kind of note to explain his decision. It was hard not to blame myself. How could I not have seen something was wrong? Did I do something? Did something happen before this? Something at work? Was he sick? Was there something else we didn’t know? But then, it became clear from somewhere outside myself that we were going to be very transparent. We were going to talk about what happened. That decision changed everything for us. We hoped that we could help someone else. The same year that Jim passed, seven other parents of students in Elizabeth’s senior class passed away. The school would always send out notes and ask for prayers for the families, but they didn’t do anything for us because Jim died by suicide. It made me so angry that I went to the school, and they wound up changing that policy. I didn’t want another family to have to go through that experience.

The next few days were a total blur. People filled the house, and there were so many decisions that needed to be made. But I just felt sort of numb. Kate was supposed to babysit that night, and she called that family to tell them she couldn’t come. This random family that I didn’t know very well…they were the first to know what happened. They were the first to come by. And then my mom started making phone calls. People started showing up, bringing food and flowers. The girls and I were sort of in a daze, just sitting in the living room as people filtered in and out. We were adamant, though, to tell funny stories about Jim so that it didn’t feel so heavy all the time. We asked people to write stories about him, and I still have binders full of stories from families, friends, coworkers, students who all knew and loved Jim.

Even with the love and support of family and friends, grief is hard. But I was very clear on what we had to do as a family. We had to have open conversation. Nothing was off limits. We went to counseling, we counted on each other, we had to go down to the depths of our pain in order to move forward. We had to process everything—all the feelings of guilt, anger, fear, frustration, grief—so they wouldn’t resurface later in life. I decided that we were going to walk through the fire. It was the only way we could come out healthy on the other side. I pushed the girls to confront their emotions at the time. We decided we would let our feelings show, so we spent a lot of time crying. But we were always there for each other.

About two weeks after Jim passed, my dad sat me down and said to me, “This is the deal, you’ve had a great life. You had a great marriage. You have great kids and a great support system. You are going to hold your head high and fight through this. We are here to support you, but let’s go.” My dad golfed with a man whose wife was a psychologist. He connected the two of us, and she spent hours with me, educating me on mental health and what I had missed with Jim. She helped me realize that mental health starts at a young age and that Jim, in all likelihood, knew early on that he suffered from depression. He created that big personality as a sort of mask. He entertained everyone else and had to engage at a very high level to boost his own serotonin. He was also very compassionate, which is another common trait in those living with depression. With this knowledge, I decided that I had the ability to help others, and I wasn’t afraid to talk about my experience.

That October, we held the first Jim Miller Memorial Mile, which was more of a celebration rather than a fundraiser. A group of 12 guys that Jim knew put it together, led by a close friend of his. The first year, about 800 people came. The second year, only about 400 came. After the second year, the girls said, “This is going to go away, and we will have done nothing.” We decided we needed to do more, so we started the Warrior Run, a 5K fundraiser. I knew I wanted to help kids because that was Jim’s passion. I also knew mental health issues start early on, yet no one was really doing anything to educate youth on mental health or mental illness. I did a lot of research and discovered the Surviving the Teens program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. When I met Dr. Sorter, the Medical Director of Psychiatry at CCHMC, I knew I’d met a kindred soul. We donated the funds from the Warrior Run to that program, and we as 1N5 continue to support it at an increasing level. Now, Surviving the Teens has transformed into Adapting for Life, and the program is being implemented in 70 greater Cincinnati schools.

We continued with the Warrior Run for a few years until Memorial Day, 2014 when Brogan Dulle and Santa Ono changed my life. Brogan, a University of Cincinnati student, was missing for eight days leading up to Memorial Day. Thousands of people joined the search, and he was found the night before Memorial Day. He had died by suicide. The next morning, I woke up, went to work, and wrote a note to Santa Ono, then President of UC. We needed to do something. Our children were suffering in silence. Santa invited me to his office and shared his own story with me. He had attempted suicide twice in his life, once at age 14 and once at age 29, and was diagnosed with depression. He had never shared his story publicly, but he believed in our mission to promote youth mental health education and stigma reduction. So that’s how 1N5 began. I decided to quit my job and work on the organization full time. Two years later, Santa told his story at the first 1N5 fundraising event in April of 2016.

1N5 has come a long way since then. We started out working with just a few schools, but the more you talk to people, the more you learn that the need is high. We also realized that the youth voice is extremely important in the conversation about mental health. So we started creating #iAM1N5 videos. Through the videos, we were able to create a connection by being real and being open. Suddenly, people realized they were not alone. We wanted to break down barriers to allow people to talk about their mental health. It’s been a building process since then. I realized that with an organization like this, you have to meet people where they are. Different organizations, different schools, different demographics all have different needs. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. And I never like to say no. I’ve made it a priority to meet with anyone who wants to meet with me, and we’ve made a lot of incredible connections that way. As an organization, we’ve already made huge strides in the Cincinnati area, but the goal is to take it even further. We are currently working with 65 local schools and all 5 major universities in Greater Cincinnati, but we’re constantly pushing forward, constantly asking, “How can we do this better?” My hope for 1N5 is to be in every school in Greater Cincinnati and, ideally, figure out how to take our model and spread it to other cities. Our vision is a community of youth with optimal mental health so that they can grow into their best selves.

My journey has taught me that life is a roller coaster. We are here to learn lessons. Before July of 2008, my life was sailing along until it took a dramatic turn. In that moment, I had to decide how I would handle what life had thrown at me. The choices I made defined both where and who I am today. I put my trust in the universe and the connections that show up. Going through that journey has taught me to live and cherish every moment. Love fully, laugh often, speak your truth, be honest to a fault, guide yourself with a strong moral compass, and believe in the power of the universe. Be open—you never know where someone will take you. Find the good in every situation. I know that I am very fortunate to have a clear head. I do not personally live with mental illness, but continuing to grow as an individual and educating others on mental health is very important to me. Since Jim passed, I have experienced many amazing things. I would never wish this tragedy on anyone, but because of the path that it’s led me down, I am in a much better place and am so thankful.


Ty: Bravery. When I read Nancy’s story, that’s the word that keeps coming to mind for me. From the moment she lost Jim, Nancy dug deep inside and found the bravery to always talk openly with her daughters, family, and friends about Jim’s death. In her grief, Nancy found the bravery to start an organization that is saving lives day by day.

Nancy’s story is a case study in bravery for anyone who is grieving, and a reminder that we can take our pain and turn it into a purpose. 1N5 is transforming the way we talk about mental illness in our schools and with our adolescents who are at such a vulnerable and formative age. Years from now, Nancy and those who serve and support 1N5 will see the fruits of their labors as individuals who were susceptible to suicide no longer follow that path.

But perhaps most importantly, Nancy’s bravery in sharing her story is helping those who are suffering from mental illness to talk openly and avoid falling prey to the stigma that stole her husband and my father. Watch a video published by 1N5 or follow them on Instagram and you’ll find people—openly and willingly—talking about their pain, their struggles, their fears, and their hope for the future. It’s the type of conversation that is freeing and soul-quenching because it helps us remove the masks that we all wear. It’s normalizing the way we talk about mental illness—and ultimately, it will save lives.

Although I never met Jim, I see so many similarities between him and my Dad. They loved life, they loved fun, and they loved their families. When you lose someone who loves that much, it can be hard to bounce back. My heart breaks for Nancy and her entire family because Jim was such a force for good in the world around him—but his memory is living on thanks to the courage he instilled in Nancy and his daughters. And that, in the end, is the hope that all of us who have lost a loved one to suicide share. We hope that, as time wears on, those we loved will never be forgotten. And thanks to Nancy, Jim never will be.

Dad and Lucy in Pool with SB LogoDad, I wish you had been able to feel free of shame. I wish you had been able to talk openly about your mental illness, especially during the times when you likely felt so alone. I wish that individuals like you and Jim could have known, deep down, just how much you were loved and how much you would be missed. But, from a distance, I hope you’re able to see how much you were loved by the work being done in your memory. Dad, you were so loved by so many, and I know that you knew that in the depths of your soul—I only wish that the stigma associated with mental illness had not been there to help you remember that in each and every moment. But, for as long as I live, I’ll continue to honor your memory and work to make sure that everyone who listens learns from your life. I’m thankful and grateful that there is a community of individuals, like Nancy, who are in this same fight. Dad, I can’t wait to tell you how important you are to me and so many other people. I look forward to the day when I can embrace you again and let you know how much you mean to me. Until that day, seeya Bub.

1N5 Logo

To learn more about the amazing and important work being done by 1N5 to stop the stigma surrounding mental illness, and to donate to help their efforts reach even more students, please visit www.1N5.org.

Nancy Eigel-MillerAuthor Bio: Nancy Eigel-Miller, Founder & Director, 1N5

Nancy Eigel-Miller, Founder and Executive Director of 1N5, created the James W. Miller Memorial Fund in 2010 after losing her husband to suicide. Prior to founding 1N5, Nancy worked in the marketing/market research field for over 20 years where she spent much of her career at Gardner Business Media. Nancy’s fierce passion and dedication to STOP the STIGMA that surrounds mental health and raise awareness by bringing mental health education to greater Cincinnati schools has resulted in reaching over 87,000 students and raising over $1M for mental health programming. Nancy recently received the regional Jefferson Award for Public Service for her efforts in destigmatizing mental health. Nancy then attended the Jefferson Awards Foundation’s National Ceremony, along with 75 other regional award recipients, where she won one of five Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Awards for Outstanding Public Serve Benefitting Local Communities. Nancy holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Miami University. Nancy is on the board of MindPeace and the Cincinnati Children’s Convalescent Home.

Dad’s Rules: Little Pleasures

(This is the newest feature in “Dad’s Rules”, a recurring series at SeeyaBub.com. To learn more about the “Dad’s Rules” series, check out my first installment.)

Dad’s Rule #55: Enjoy life’s little pleasures.

“I’m telling you—they have the absolute best salads here,” Dad would say as we sat in a booth at LaRosa’s while Mom was working or busy for the evening. As I’ve written before, LaRosa’s was always our go-to spot when we were “bach-ing it” for the evening because Dad’s only skill in cooking was blackening (A.K.A. burning the living bajeezus out of everything). I think he misinterpreted the phrase “grilling a steak” as “sacrificing a calf to Hephaestus the god of fire” somewhere along his culinary training. Had he tried to make the salad at home, he probably would have burned that, too.

“You’re telling me again because that has to be about the 476th time you’ve mentioned this to me. You say it every time we eat here,” I’d respond in adolescent-frustration that, in retrospect, now sickens me.

“Well, I keep saying it because they’re still good!” Dad would say with a smile—and then he’d mention it at least 475 more times during our dinner just to try and get me to laugh.

Eventually I would laugh—because it was amusing to think that any person could get this much pleasure out of a bowl of lettuce with some toppings.

But my Dad did—because he loved life’s little pleasures and he found them at every turn.

This salad-banter would not have been an atypical exchange between me—an annoying know it all—and my Dad—a yogi in the school of appreciating simple things, and my annoyance was largely born out of that fact that I had a tremendous childhood. As a youngster who grew up in a world where, largely, all of my immediate needs were met and exceeded by two loving parents, I could lose sight of what I was given because I was always (sickeningly) focused on what was coming next. When you’re a kid in the first-world, you run from pleasure to pleasure because the world tells you you should. I’m thankful that I had parents who constantly reminded me that I should live life for the moment. My Dad, unlike me, was really never focused on that next thing. He was always deeply immersed in the moment he was living in—that exact moment and whatever he was experiencing.

My Dad, you see, was the king of little pleasures.

In my life I’ve met lots of interesting people, and nearly everyone has a skill or character trait that I find myself wanting to emulate. I think we all have those people in our life who, in their own loving way, frustrate us as a result of our own incompetence or shortcomings. “Gosh, if I could just be a little bit more generous, like Bill.” Or “Jan is so fun-loving. I wish I could get outside my comfort zone and just let my guard down like her.”

When it comes to my Dad, I have a long list of attributes that I hope I can live up to by the time I reach life’s finish line. Whenever I look at my Dad and think back on his life, however, it’s the appreciation of those little pleasures that I wish to emulate most.

My Dad was a guy who could soak up the beautiful simplicity and grace of any given moment. Absolutely any moment. He didn’t need frills, a fancy production, or something that cost a lot of money to appreciate life. He appreciated life for the little things. It was those little pleasures that he loved so much—and it’s those little pleasures that I still find myself taking for granted more than anything else.

I think about the times my Dad would take an evening bike ride in nearby Rentschler Park at our family home. Dad would come home an hour and a half or two hours later with beads of sweat rolling down his bald head, talking about a cool bird he had observed, or a running stream of water, or a deer off in the distance. As he would habitually remove his glasses and use his elbow to wipe the sweat from his forehead, Dad would talk about the things he had observed on his bike ride as if he had just pedaled through the most gorgeous rainforest in the Amazon or the depths of the Grand Canyon. You would think that he had witnessed one of the wonders of the world on a 10 mile bike ride. And as a kid, I’d marvel at how someone could find such pleasure in a park around the corner from our house. I had been there. It was nice. But it was almost as if my Dad was seeing a different park than everyone else.

But it was real. My Dad soaked up the little pleasure of that moment.

When I got my first announcing gig at Miami University Hamilton, my Mom and Dad came to every single game. I joked that I was the only announcer at any level whose parents came to every game. Maybe it was because I was such a horrible athlete as a kid and they were simply making up for lost opportunities. My first gig wasn’t glamorous by any means. There were only about 75 or 100 people at each game in a gymnasium that was smaller than the arena at my high school with hard wooden bleachers and modest concessions. The sound system wasn’t that great, and the games weren’t always that entertaining; but my Dad acted as if he were at an NBA game every single time he walked in. He was happy to be there. Happy to be talking with people he came to know and grew close to. Happy to be there with his family. Happy to be watching a basketball game—a game he really loved to play. I don’t know if I ever saw anyone enjoy a small town basketball game more than my Dad.

But that was who he was. A man who enjoyed pleasure in everything, but especially the small, everyday, unsuspecting moments.

My Dad could find joy—real, authentic, unadulterated joy—in just about any situation. I think that’s why I had such a hard time comprehending how he could suffer from depression. It was hard to reconcile Dad’s happiness—which was so frequent that it could be a bit annoying to those of us who didn’t have that natural buoyancy—with a despair so deep and unending that life felt unlivable. The two mental states just didn’t compute with one another, but that was before I understood depression for what it truly was. That was before I saw depression as a mental illness that could plague anyone regardless of their status in life or their outward-facing emotions.

At the same time, I often think that is how my Dad coped with his depression. I think, when times got tough and when his depression began to overtake him, he would focus on the little pleasures in life and constantly train his mind to seek out joy and happiness. I think it was his way of dealing with the extreme sadness and shame he felt, and even though it may not have been enough to save his life in the end, it did keep him healthy for the majority of his adult life.

Little pleasures. My Dad’s joy. I’m glad I’m at a point where, when I think of him, I don’t think of the heartache and the way he died. I think about how he was vigilant in seeking out those little pleasures. And it makes me think of how my Dad’s example can help all of us in times like this when life seems to be so very, very difficult.

Life has looked very different for all of us over these past two months, and some have been hit harder than others. But we’ve all been inconvenienced and disrupted and put into a lifestyle that we likely wouldn’t choose. The pleasures that we’ve come to know have suddenly disappeared for many. When many of the big pleasures of this life have been ripped away suddenly, it’s easier to focus our attention on those little pleasures—and to also realize that we’ve been taking them for granted all along. Those little pleasures have always been there; but sometimes, we are so focused on the “next big thing” on the horizon that we are blinded to their existence. It’s time for a bit of a refocusing.

That’s what my Dad would have done if he were here in this moment.

When you lose a loved one and the world continues to turn, it’s only natural to wonder how that loved one would have dealt with the current episodes of life. I often find myself daydreaming and wondering how my Dad would have handled having a smartphone—he never owned one but talked about it in the last few months of his life. Or how he would have enjoyed certain restaurants he never got to try (my verdict is that he would have loved Chuy’s and eaten there enough to help the manager buy a new speedboat). But I also find myself pondering how he would have reacted to big life moments and changes. I would have absolutely loved to have seen his face and taken pictures with him on the day I married my stunning and strong wife, Paige (while burying my head in my hands at their dance moves during the reception). And as painful as it would have been, I imagined my Dad at his Father’s funeral, recounting stories of a man with a bitingly sharp wit coupled with a loving appreciation for those good things in life.

Even when life’s moments are hard, you still want that lost loved one there with you to experience them and walk alongside you.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s only natural for me to think about how my Dad would have handled this entire situation. Yes, I’m glad that he is in a place—an Eternal place—that knows no pain and records no hurt. But I still wonder how he would have responded to the uniqueness of this pandemic, the shutdown, and all its other challenges; and selfishly, I wish he was here because we would have been such a good pillar of strength for my family during this unpredictable age.

Although, in some respects, my Dad also would have been completely wigged out by the Coronavirus. A bit of a fun fact for those of you who did not know my Dad—and even some of you who knew him in his life might not have known this. My Dad was a complete germophobe. We are talking off the deep end anti-germ. In all the years that he and my Mom shared a loving marriage, they never once shared a drink. My Dad absolutely refused to drink after anyone, no matter how desperately thirsty he was. When we would go out to restaurants, he would inspect the silverware with the finely-tuned eye of an expensive jewelry dealer, looking for the most infinitesimal speck of unwashed substance that would allow him to send back the silverware for a chemical cleaning. And amidst all of the rugged tools and construction items that he always kept in his truck, there was always a bottle or seven of hand sanitizer in the main console.

Dad would have been very, very concerned about how quickly this virus spreads. He would have used this quick spread as a reason to scold my Mom and I for not taking seventy-two thousand milligrams of Vitamin C like he did every day (even though he got sick more than any of us). He would have washed his hands more than he already did, and I know he would have obeyed the six-foot rule as often as he could.

There is a part of me, deep down, that knows Dad would have also found a way to bring a smile and a laugh to peoples’ masked faces. Always the jokester, I know that my Dad would have been the guy to go viral—not the scary viral but the YouTube variety—for wearing a full welder’s mask and coveralls into the grocery store. He would have looked like The Mandalorian as he grabbed a gallon of milk from the dairy case, and he would have loved every moment of it. I think my Dad would have known that now, more than ever, people needed and deserved a good laugh (while simultaneously appreciating the fact that no cough is getting through a welder’s mask). It makes me cringe, but I could totally see him making “I’ll have a Corona—hold the virus” jokes to waiters, even though the man never drank (and then he would quickly correct and say he’d just have a Coke).

Aside from the new comedic opportunities, the best of my Dad would have shone through in the ways he would have served other people. I know that my Dad would have been constantly checking in with people over the phone and doing anything he could to help them in their troubles (with plenty of hand sanitizer in his back pocket). He would have been making repeated trips to the grocery store to pick up supplies for my grandparents, our neighbors, and those other individuals in our lives who needed him. He would have been calling, constantly, to check in on people he loved (I can hear his hearty chuckle during hour-long phone conversations from the recliner in our family room). And he would have gone above and beyond to help his friends and family who were financially impacted by this awful situation because my Dad was never greedy, never self-centered. I know that’s what my Dad would have done, because that’s what he always did. He was the helper that we should all strive to be in this life, and he would have been now.

There are elements of this pandemic, however, that would not have suited my Dad’s strengths, namely the idea of quarantine and staying away from others. My Dad would have struggled mightily with any type of isolation or separation from people because he thrived on friendship, connection, and love. He would have missed his daily lunches with his coworker, Brian, and the meal and laughs they always shared together. He would have missed going out on Saturday nights to watch UFC fights with his friends—and much to my chagrin, he would have watched the reruns of those ridiculous matches on our family room TV with the volume on 63 and the surround sound rocking. But he would have deeply, deeply missed being around people. Talking with them at church. Giving family members a hug. Playing in softball games. Going to family reunions. This would have been very difficult for my Dad to overcome because he was at his best when he was with others—and he was always fully present.

But in those difficult and trying moments, I know that my Dad would have found a way to focus on the little pleasures that were still there—and he would have reminded people like me how much we still have to appreciate.

Opening DayAnd just like he did when life was “normal,” I think my Dad would have loved the little things even more in the midst of this pandemic. My Dad would have taken this opportunity to go on more bike rides, to watch more sunsets, to sit in front of more bonfires, to watch more (stupid and idiotic) UFC reruns, and to spend more time appreciating what he did have rather than focusing on what he would have lost. He would have created beautiful things around the house with his talented hands, likely transforming our entire home with only a few Tim-Allen-Home-Improvement-esque explosions along the way. He would have gotten creative and used his downtime for even more phone calls to friends and families that he missed, and he would have constantly told them how much he appreciated them and that he was always there to help.

Essentially, Dad would have used a bad time to make good things happen. That’s the guy he was. It was the rule he lived by.

It’s the reminder I’ve needed in this moment for sure, and the rule I need to do a better job of living by, too.

So, in the midst of this pandemic, when life frustrates me, I try to step back and live by Dad’s rule. I try to remind myself that I am healthy, that I am employed, that my family is protected, and—most importantly—that my God is still on the throne. I remind myself that, for all that may have been temporarily taken away, there are so many more good things that are still here and ready for me to appreciate. And in those moments, I remind myself of all those little things that I still have that my Dad would have appreciated beyond belief.

I think my Dad was able to focus on those little pleasures because he never got obsessed with the “big” pleasures that our world tells us we should be concerned with. My Dad never craved money or fame or recognition or power. That freedom that comes from being controlled by God and not the things and experiences of this world gave my Dad a different focus in this life, and in every moment, I saw him appreciating God’s creation and His gifts to all of us.

May 21 just passed on the calendar—a painful reminder that, on this past May 21, my Dad would have turned 57 years old. As I do every year, I think about all the things we would have done had Dad been around, and I can guarantee you that our celebration would have been simple—and that’s exactly how Dad would have wanted it. We would have gathered for a home-cooked meal by my Mom and ate on the back patio as we admired nature and Dad threw down a couple Coca-Colas. Then, we would have enjoyed a Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream cake and exchanged a few presents before Dad started a bonfire in the backyard that he would watch burn slowly into the evening with all of us at his side. There would have been an ever-present smile on his face, and he wouldn’t have needed to leave his house to find it.

Dad wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, and I’ll always cherish my Dad’s appreciation of those little pleasures.

I’m thankful that my Dad taught me this lesson each and every day that he was here with us; and I’m thankful that nearly seven years after his death in the midst of a global pandemic, he’s still my greatest teacher.

And I’m especially thankful that my Dad taught me to bathe my extremities in hand sanitizer at regular intervals throughout the day. The man truly was a visionary before his day!

Dad Mom and Lucy Walking with SB LogoDad, I don’t know that you’d believe the world right now if you saw it firsthand because it’s so unlike the one you lived in. I’m thankful that you’re in heaven and away from much of the pain we are watching, but selfishly I wish you were here to give me the advice and guidance that you always offered. You were a rock for me and for so many people, Dad. You were that smile on a dark day—that laugh at just the right moment. You were that reliable, dependable friend and confidant to so many, and there are so many people hurting that need your help and companionship more than ever. But Dad, in the midst of our heartache over losing you, I feel you still teaching and guiding me in every moment. I’m thankful that for 26 years I had a Father here on this Earth who was more than my friend—you were my teacher. You taught me what to value in life, what to prioritize, what to cherish, and what to stray away from. Although you’re not here and I wish you were, your memory and legacy continue to teach me and give me peace in the midst of the storms of this life. Thank you, Dad, for always enjoying the little pleasures afforded in this life. Thank you for teaching me that there’s more value in a beautiful sunset, a good meal, or a conversation with a family member than there ever will be in those false gods that tempt us. Thank you, Dad, for always showing me what joy was truly rooted in. I can’t wait to thank you in person, but until that day, seeya Bub.

“Don’t be obsessed with getting more materials things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,’ we can boldly quote, ‘God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me?’” Hebrews 13:5-6 (MSG)

Working Through Grief: Guest Blog by Christina Grote

Tyler: “The people that you work with are just, when you get down to it, your very best friends. They say on your deathbed, you never wish you spent more time at the office; but I will. Gotta be a lot better than a deathbed. I actually don’t understand deathbeds. I mean, who would buy that?” Michael Scott (The Office, Season 7, Episode 22: Goodbye, Michael)

The Office OlympicsOh, how I appreciate the wisdom of a good quote from the philosophical guru of our times, Michael Scott. I’ve watched The Office on a loop for years and years, doing my best to avoid Season 8 (talk about a long, national nightmare), and knowing that the show speaks truth in its simple humor. Let’s be honest—we’ve all had that moment where we’ve noticed a striking and deeply unsettling parallel between our work lives and the lives of those inhabiting the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve likely thought of yourself as a Jim-figure when, in reality, you’re more of a Michael. And maybe a Dwight at times. And possibly a bit of a Kevin. But never, ever a Toby. I mean, come on….that guy?

For a long time, The Office was a show that my coworkers and I could all relate to and share a laugh over. It brought us all together because, when something frustrating would happen at work or someone would act like a complete Dwight or a Toby, we could find humor in it. I’ve shared that camaraderie with many wonderful colleagues throughout the years, and I’m amazed when I think of the time I’ve spend with all of those people who have become some of my best friends.

In normal, non-COVID-19, American society, the average person likely spends just as much time with their coworkers as they do with their family and friends—sometimes, they spend even more time with coworkers than anyone else in their immediate circle.

I’m thankful that, for many years, I got to spend those hours with Christina Grote.

Christina Grote and Tyler Bradshaw 2During my time as an Admission Counselor at Miami University’s Regional Campuses, Christina blessed my life with her thoughtfulness, dedication, and fun-loving attitude. Christina joined our team about a year into my tenure there, and we worked closely with one another on about every project imaginable from campus visits, to coordinating tour guide efforts, and yes, those many, many visits to high schools all across the region. To this day, she is one of the most dependable, loyal coworkers that I’ve ever worked with.

And more than that, she was there for me as a dear and compassionate friend when I lost my Father to suicide. I know that I couldn’t have navigated his death without her kindness every Monday through Friday from 8:04-4:57 (I may not always be on time, but at least I’m precise).

Years removed from my Father’s death, I often find myself looking in the rearview mirror for those folks that I’ve deemed “position people.” These are people that came into my life for, at the time, unbeknownst reasons to me; but looking in the rearview mirror, I can see that God was perfectly positioning a village of caring, loving people around me to provide a hedge of protection and walk alongside me, arm in arm, as I grieved. Neither Christina nor I could see the tragedies on the horizon in either of our lives, but I believe that our Creator did and knew having one another to navigate those moments and learn from one another would be so vital to our healing.

From the moment that I met her in her interview, I could tell that Christina Grote had a heart for helping people, which I knew would be a great asset in her role as an admission counselor. I just didn’t know that the person she would help most would be me. I’m thankful that during my greatest tragedy, Christina was there for me—and I hope I’ve been able to show my appreciation for her by being there through hers.

I am elated that Christina decided to help even more people by sharing her story here at Seeya Bub because it’s one that teaches all of us how we can all do a better job of supporting our coworkers who are grieving. Unfortunately, Christina has experienced this process from both roles—that of supporter, and that of the person grieving. Because of that trial by fire, Christina has learned important lessons about literally working through your grief, which she shares with us here.


Christina: My name is Christina and I’m thankful to Tyler for inviting me to contribute to his impactful and important blog. This post has been years in the making – the timing just hasn’t been right to share my story, until now.

Christina Grote and Tyler Bradshaw 1A brief history and context — I met Tyler in the spring of 2012 when interviewing for my first full-time job at Miami University’s regional campus in Middletown. I was excited to be interviewing for a position that combined many of my interests and talents, and was over-the-moon to be offered a role as an Admission Counselor prior to finishing my Master’s degree. Right away, I knew I had made a great decision – the campus was friendly, our work with prospective college students made a difference, and I got to be closer to home after grad school. And, frankly, it was just a lot of fun to visit high schools and talk about going to college. Tyler and I went to many of the high schools in southwestern Ohio together to give presentations about the college application process, financial aid, finding a major and career readiness. We would be at schools all day, giving the same presentation six or seven times – it got to the point where we had timed down our jokes and one-liners to the second. We made connections with students through games and made a great team in the classroom.  We also became good friends in the process, enjoying many lunches at Frisch’s (seriously, so much Frisch’s…) and shared many inside jokes from the road.

Fast forward to July 24, 2013. I received a text from Tyler that was short – Family emergency, I won’t be in today. I assumed something bad had happened, but truthfully had no idea that this day would change everything. I had been in the office, and when I returned from lunch everyone was congregated in our lobby area.

Tyler’s dad passed away.

When you work in an office as small as ours (around 10-15 people in total), and spend as much time together as Tyler and I had, it’s impossible not to be impacted by this news. It wasn’t until later that I had learned that Scott had lost his life from suicide. This information only compounded my feelings – I felt sadness for Tyler’s loss, and also felt helpless in the situation for my friend and coworker and unsure of what I could do to make this unbearable situation better.

Had I written this blog two years ago (you know, around the first or second time Tyler asked me to…), I would have jumped right into my reflection of how to successfully support your coworker when they return to work after a significant loss. But instead, on February 25, 2018, my own personal hell became reality — my dad had died, just one month after I lost my aunt to a short battle with cancer.

My mom came to my apartment and told me the news early that morning. She and I had been out the night before to see a live performance of The Price is Right downtown, and we both stayed out later than usual. I drove home to my apartment in Fairfield, and my mom went home. We believe my dad died from a health event, like a heart attack, but to this day we’re not sure. The next few weeks were a blur. The visitation was a long blur. The funeral was an emotional, somber blur. In the same church where I had married my husband, Brian, just 14 months earlier, we were now saying our final goodbyes to my dad. I went back to work after the first week, just to go through the motions of what I thought I needed to be doing, but I was a shell of a person for a long time.

Everything I was doing felt wrong — being at home felt wrong, shopping for dresses to wear to the funeral felt wrong, crying felt wrong, sleeping felt wrong, eating felt wrong. Going to work felt wrong, but also felt kind of right – my dad was a hard-worker and would have probably gone back the following Monday too. So I went through the motions and drove to work, 8 days after my world shattered. I think it was an unexpected gift to be at work — sure, there were still a lot of crying episodes and emotional moments, but there was also this fake sense of normalcy that I was clinging to. It also helped, too, that I worked with incredibly supportive folks who let me just be that day (and many other days since then). Was I productive that day? Absolutely not. Was it what I needed? Yes.

Which brings me to the whole point of this blog post — what can you do when your coworker is experiencing grief? These are just a few thoughts and suggestions that I hope have helped others and that certainly helped me during my grief journey.

Say something – even if it’s not perfect. There are definitely some things that are not ideal to say to someone who is dealing with loss or grief — that’s not really what this blog post is about (if you’re really unsure, a quick Google search will enlighten some cringe-worthy things to avoid). The worst thing that you can do is to pretend that nothing has happened and say nothing to your coworker. Even just a simple, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” goes a long way to show empathy and caring.

I’ll never forget when Tyler came back to work after taking time following Scott’s passing. I’ll admit I was nervous and certainly walking on eggshells for the first few days, uncertain of how Tyler would do and being extra cautious to check in but give him space. A few days had passed, and we were talking about some upcoming meeting or event that we weren’t necessarily looking forward to. Without thinking, I said a phrase that was part of my everyday vernacular and normally wouldn’t have thought twice about — “ugh, kill me now.” How many times have we said this in the past about something without thinking twice? As soon as the words were travelling out of my mouth, I wanted to hurriedly smoosh them right back in but couldn’t. Tyler didn’t even realize I had said this, but I felt all the blood rush out of my face and found some fake excuse to end the conversation and close my office door. I lost it right there – how could I be so insensitive? How could I have said something so stupid in front of my coworker and friend who just lost his dad to suicide?

It took some time for me to share this with Tyler (again, he didn’t even realize that I had even said this! It was weighing on my heart and he had no idea.). In that moment, an ordinary conversation turned into a moment of panic and anxiety. But that’s what it was, an ordinary conversation with a coworker. You can’t ignore that life has changed for the person grieving, but sometimes when you’re grieving, mindless ordinary conversations can help break up the overwhelming emotions that you are experiencing. When you ask “Hey, how are you?” to your coworker, they might just say, “Fine,” or they might let you know exactly how they’re feeling. Both are okay, and checking in is so important for the person grieving and for you as the supportive co-worker.

Show up when your coworker cannot. Some days, the person grieving just cannot — cannot get out of bed, cannot show up to work, cannot even try to do the normal things with their former level of enthusiasm or dedication or productivity. That’s the reality. If you’re lucky, you work somewhere that allows and encourages mental health days for this very reason to allow the person to be away from work to experience their emotions and process them in their own time and way. When I say to “show up when your coworker cannot,” I don’t mean to give permission to just “take over” work responsibilities for your grieving colleague without input or notice — respect that the person grieving is trying as hard as they can to return to or create some sense of this “new normal.” However, there are some days when it is just too much to deal with and your colleague might just need some help, whether they ask for it or not.

Check in with your coworker and let them know that you are there for them. Give specific ways that you can help (i.e. returning a phone call to someone, leading a group meeting that week, or other ways that are relevant to your workplace). This is also good advice for connecting with friends who are grieving – specific ways to help are often met with warmer welcomes than just the generic “Let me know what I can do’s” — it shows thoughtfulness and doesn’t place the burden on the grieving person to tell you what they need.

Don’t ignore the grief your coworker is experiencing. Grief is uncomfortable — it’s not a desired human emotion, especially in our American “Do anything to be happy” culture. There’s no rulebook for grief, the “5 stages” are not often linear, and even as time passes there are triggers that set off a grieving person. A person grieving can rarely plan for these unexpected moments of emotions — they happen sometimes when you expect them like holidays, birthdays and the anniversary of their passing; but sometimes it happens when they hear a song on the radio, smell a familiar scent that reminds them of a memory, or just hearing a phrase spoken their loved one used to say. Prior to losing my dad, I didn’t realize just how unpredictable grief can be — I assumed there was this time frame that everyone gave themselves, then moved on. This misconception was challenging for me to work through in the first year after my dad passed because I was striving to be happy and not be in pain, when the reality was that things were permanently different now and I needed to be uncomfortable to adjust.

Your coworker (or friend, or workout buddy — really, this is relevant to anyone) is trying to make sense of this new reality, while trying to appear that they are making their way “back to normal.” There is no time limit or timeline for grief and there will be days of inexplicable emotions. Just a few months ago, my coworker (who also lost her dad several years ago) came to my office visibly upset. She had just met with a student who lost her dad and was trying to figure out what her academic options were. In that moment, she allowed herself to be vulnerable and provide caring support to the student, to share emotions together, and also give genuine support through the avenues and resources available through the university. When she came to tell me about this meeting afterward, we both took some time to grieve together and recognize that regardless of how much time had passed, we both missed our dads and both could empathize with this student’s circumstances.

You don’t have to have first-hand experience to be supportive. When Tyler’s dad passed away, I had been very fortunate to not know grief very well — I think at that point I had only lost distant relatives and their losses, although tragic, brought brief and temporary sadness but not life-altering grief. I didn’t have the perspective to fully understand what Tyler was going through in those days and months after Scott passed, but that didn’t keep me from trying my best to be a supportive coworker and friend by listening, being there and stepping up where I could. It shouldn’t take experience to be a better supporter of grieving friends and coworkers, but I know I owe apologies to friends and coworkers who I wasn’t as great of a supporter to before I experienced such profound grief and loss myself. Since my dad passed, I’ve been able to show up for coworkers and friends who are also dealing with loss, this time with the unfortunate but inevitable lesson of having gone through it myself. Ultimately, there’s no right way to do any of this, so give yourself some grace and just try to do the best you can in each moment of supporting your coworker through their grief journey.

I’ve worked with some pretty incredible people in my career so far and for that I’m very blessed. This has been evident in how we’ve been able to support each other during happy times in life, but also in those times of loss and sadness. We often know how to be supportive in our families and close friendships, but our work lives are grounded in relationships with colleagues that are incredibly valuable and important. I hope this reflection is a helpful perspective for anyone who is struggling with loss and grief, whether your own or for a friend or someone in your work life. Anything you can do to show up and be there will make a positive impact for someone in their darkest hour.


Tyler: A few months after losing my Dad, Christina and I found ourselves immersed, yet again, in our seemingly never-ending world tour of high school presentations, going into classrooms and talking about college readiness topics. On this particular day, the day after an Election Day in November, I found myself driving the hour-or-so trek to Oakwood High School near Dayton. As I did most mornings, I was listening to the talk radio news reports about the election results and the endless, partisan, back-and-forth bickering and fear-mongering between two political sides of the coin—neither concerned with actually solving challenging problems but more concerned with protecting their own power and getting re-elected the next time.

And like grief unexpectedly does, it hit me. Just as Christina wrote about, out of nowhere, a wave of emotion washed over me because I had once been so consumed by national politics but now, in light of loss, it all felt so meaningless. In that moment, I could think only one thought:

Dad couldn’t have cared less about any of this. And in the end, it wasn’t all that important. And I’m a horrible person for thinking it was ever important.

And there, the spiral began.

It probably wasn’t logical to extrapolate the results of a national election into the pain I was feeling after losing my Dad, but as Christina reminded us, grief isn’t all that logical. I cried for the last few minutes of that drive, and when I pulled into the parking lot, I dashed off a quick message on social media about how I was feeling. I tried to compose myself—to pull it together—before Christina arrived because we had a full day of presentations ahead of us and I knew I’d need to be on my game—“stage ready.”

Christina pulled up into the parking lot and as we got out of our cars to start unloading our materials, she could tell I was upset. Without saying a word, she just tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a hug and said she was sorry that I was hurting.

I’ll never, ever forget that moment as long as I live.

I tried to explain why I was feeling what I was feeling to Christina; but the beauty was I didn’t have to. She wasn’t expecting me to reason through my feelings. She just told me that she was there, and if I couldn’t present my part of the presentation that day, she was ready to jump right in and help (I’m sure she was hoping we weren’t giving the presentation where I used to sing a small stanza from a Sesame Street song…).

She was there. More than anything, Christina was there.

I’d like to think it’s qualities like these that Christina exhibited—trusting your intuition and showing an unyielding sense of care for your fellow human—that are those intangible qualities required for the “other duties as assigned” bullets I see in so many job descriptions.

It’s easy to take good colleagues who become friends for granted. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us all that. Yes, there’s the grace that God has provided for us to socially distance ourselves from the “Dwights” we don’t like (yes, we all have them); but on the flip side of the coin, I’m sure that many of us have grown to miss those coworkers whom we laugh with, share coffee or (Frisch’s) lunch with, and genuinely enjoy being around.

Grotes at WeddingChristina’s post reminded me how fortunate I was to have to her in my life at a time when God desperately knew I was going to need her friendship. It also reminds me that, when it comes to supporting my coworkers and colleagues in their own emotional struggles, I still have a lot to learn. It reminds me that even an imperfect attempt to help someone who is hurting and healing is better than no attempt at all. And it reminds me of the bravery it takes (which Christina showed on so many occasions) to take that step to help, even when you don’t quite know what to do. We have to help others who are grieving, but we can’t help them if we don’t first try.

Because, in the words of Wayne Gretzky in the words of Michael Scott, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Dad Smiling Against StairsDad, Although it’s been so difficult to live life here without you, I know that you’ve been watching over me—over all of us. I also find peace knowing that God positioned people in my life, like Christina Grote, to help me grieve in a way that was healthy. There have been days when I’ve been so unexpectedly sad since your death, but it always seems that there have been loving people who know exactly what to say in just the right moment. I know that’s no coincidence. I know that it’s all part of a perfect plan to heal an imperfect world. Dad, I’m thankful that you were always such a blessing to your coworkers. I think of the countless people who loved spending time with you at work. I know that you enjoyed your job because you liked working with machines and getting your hands dirty, but I also know that you really loved your job because of the people who brought a smile to your face. Dad, I hope you know that you brought that smile to the faces of so many people during your all-too-short life here on Earth. You were a constant source of encouragement and joy for those who called you a friend or colleague, and we miss that brightness in our lives because you aren’t here. You were gone too soon, but I’m thankful that you made the most of the time you got to spend with people. It’s an important reminder to me when things get busy, and I’m grateful that your life lessons are still teaching me. You were the best Father a boy could ask for, and I can’t wait to remind you of that face to face. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed, Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.” Galatians 6:2 (MSG)

Christina WerneryAuthor Bio: Christina Grote

Christina is a higher education professional who has worked at Miami University’s Regional Campuses for almost 8 years. She’s a Cincinnati native & alumna of The Ohio State University (Go Buckeyes!) and Wright State University. She is currently working on her doctorate in Student Affairs in Higher Education at Miami. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors & golfing with her husband Brian, cooking new recipes, and seeing the world through the eyes of her cat, Sophia.

Shine a Light

On most evenings (and much to my own personal dread on the cold ones), I take our golden retriever puppy, Penelope, for a walk around our neighborhood. Slowly but surely, Penny is figuring out how to walk like a respectable dog.

Let me rephrase that—very slowly, but surely nonetheless.

Penny
Penny Bradshaw (Don’t be fooled by the cuteness.)

More and more, Penny is growing to like her walks. At first, she was always a bit too anxious and couldn’t enjoy the walks because of her nervousness. Paige and I didn’t give up, and after many failed attempts and one fantastic puppy training camp later (thanks Rhino Kennels!), Penny is getting more and more accustomed to her nighttime strolls around our corner of suburbia. She usually gives me a few excited jumps as we begin our walks together (even though I’m pretty sure our dog trainer told us not to let her do this but it really is pretty adorable—sorry Rhino Kennels!). She’s growing more interested in sniffing cars and flowers and fire hydrants along the way. And she has really enjoyed stopping at either of the ponds in our neighborhood if there happens to be a pack of geese or ducks that she can watch intently.

But even with all her progress, Penny still gets a bit nervous. Paige and I laugh about Penny’s nervous “head dip” that she does when she sees something she doesn’t recognize approaching in the distance. I can always tell when she’s spotted something coming her way. If she sees an approaching person, dog, or UWO (unidentified walking object), Penny’s pace slows ever so slightly. Her walking becomes much more deliberate and controlled. Locked in on the figure in the distance, Penny lowers her head slightly and hunches her little puppy shoulders (do puppies have shoulders?!). As we get closer and closer, Penny’s hunch gets lower and lower. Her walking slows even more until, finally, we reach the object. She either lowers her hunch all the way to the ground and stays in a submissive position, or if she’s feeling friendly, she investigates, jumps, and wags her tail.

Most of the time, I laugh at Penny—that is, until I spot something that I can’t identify on the horizon and get a little nervous myself.

My work schedule typically requires that I walk Penny in the evening, and the fantastic winter weather and daily 37-minutes of sunshine that we seem to get in southwestern Ohio at this time of year often require that I walk Penny in the dark. For the most part, our neighborhood is very well lit, but there are some stretches that tend to be a bit darker than others.

A few evenings ago, Penny and I were walking together in the cold when I noticed the familiar hunching behavior of my four-legged companion. Realizing that she had spotted something up ahead, I looked up and spotted something in the distance. I spotted it too, and after a few seconds of quick mental processing, I had identified three possible things that the darkened object on the sidewalk up ahead could have been:

  1. A small, toothy-little creature that was prepared to chew all of our ankles off,
  2. A carnivorous, vicious, prehistoric-style bird that would peck through my ribcage and ravage all of my internal organs, or
  3. A piece of trash.

Naturally, I chose the most realistic option of the three.

It was definitely the bird.

If you know me, you know that I have a particularly strong fear of any creature from the avian realm. I’ve got this whole ornithophobia thing down to a fear-inducing science of pure terror. When I was a child, my Dad used to torment me at the county fair by gleefully dragging me through the chicken barn as I shrieked, bawled, and prayed to my God and any others who might be listening that none of these foul fowls would decide to jump on me and peck my eyes out. When I visit Home Depot, I am that guy who ducks (no pun intended) anytime a bird flies down from the warehouse-style ceiling (WE ARE INSIDE! WHY IS A BIRD INSIDE?!). And one time while on vacation with our closest friends a few years ago, a seagull attacked me and stole the last bite of my delicious Cuban sandwich as I screamed for intervention from the Almighty. I still can’t eat a Cuban sandwich without feeling my heart rate increase. Thanks, bird.

On the night in question, as Penny and I both crept towards the vulture-like bird on the sidewalk in front of us, we each grew a bit more anxious. I could see Penny’s head go lower and lower and lower towards the ground as she slowed her walk, and I felt myself preparing for a bit of a run in the event that this bird did what I knew it was going to do (namely, kill me and my dog in a violent flurry of feathers and squawking).

A light in the distance flickered, and as we got closer and closer I decided to take out my phone and turn on the flashlight so I could look into the devilish eyes of the murderous beast. And once I cast the light up ahead of us, I had a clear vision of our dreaded enemy.

A mangled pizza box.

(But wait….there could still be a bird inside the pizza box ready to fly out and peck our eyeballs out, right?!)

That’s right. The fear-inducing figure in the distance turned out to be nothing more than someone’s old, empty pizza box that had likely blown from a garbage can down the street.

I was relieved, and so was Penny—although she really wishes there would have been a slice of pepperoni with extra cheese left for her. But it wasn’t until we were able to shine a light on the shadow in the distance and realize what it was before we could be free from our anxiety and fear.

And in many ways, I think that mental illness works the same way.

I firmly believe that mental illness is an enemy that, when left in the dark, grows stronger, more powerful, and more all-encompassing day by day. I also believe that, when talked about and brought out into the light, we diminish the stronghold that mental illness can have on our minds and on our lives. With each confession that we are struggling or hurting, we slowly strip mental illness of its power and fight against the culture of silence where it finds its control.

When I reflect and think back on my Dad’s struggle, I can see this playing out in the rearview mirror as I desperately wish I had paid more attention to it. For the longest time, my Dad refused to shine a light on his own depression, but instead chose to bury it deep below the surface—but his motivations weren’t egocentric in the slightest. My Dad was not a man who cared about image or his own ego, and I am confident that the reasons that my Dad felt he couldn’t talk about his depression were motivated by a fear of disappointment—more than most, he was afraid he would let people down.

My Dad was a fixer. A builder. A carpenter, electrician, and maintenance technician by both trade and pure interest, and there was rarely a thing my Dad couldn’t do. My Dad was the guy that everyone called. If you needed a ceiling fan fixed or a shower tiled or a deck built, my Dad was the first call for many. His talents, as I’ve written about before, were abundant, and now that he’s gone, I think I’m even more in awe of what he could do. He was an artist, a craftsman of the highest order, obsessed with detail, quality, and perfection. But above all, he loved being able to make others happy with his talent. And by golly, it was genuine.

Above all, I know the motive for why my Dad helped people. It wasn’t about showing off those talents. It was never about boasting. It was because he had a fixer’s heart, and he liked being able to help others. More than anything, I think my Dad had a deep fear of disappointing people.

This fear of disappointing people was one of his most admirable qualities—but it was also the same fear that, left unchecked, led to him into periods of suffering in isolation and loneliness. Among his many great qualities, my Dad was also dependable beyond belief. If he told you he would be somewhere, he was there. If he told you he was going to fix something, it would be fixed. He held himself to a higher standard than anyone else, and that higher standard could create pressure that was difficult to reckon with. I believe that my Dad had an irrational fear that admitting he had depression and that he was suffering would cause people to think they couldn’t depend on him any longer—and I’m confident that it was that fear, more than anything, that kept him from talking about his illness.

It’s a fear that wasn’t unique to my Dad. It’s a mindset of silence that, unfortunately, is all too pervasive for those who are hurting, suffering, and struggling with mental illness.

When I reflect on my Dad’s story and think deeply about the moments when his depression controlled him most severely, it’s hard not to think of the scary and frightening moments. Those moments when, fueled by his depression, he would inexplicably leave without a trace and runaway, abandoning the home where all the comfort he ever needed lived.

But time gives the benefit of great perspective and holism, and I can simultaneously reflect on the moments immediately thereafter when he would come home, admit his defeat, and seek help. Those moments when Dad would return and when we would talk about his depression, dragging the monster that scared him out into the light to recognize it for what it was and to emphasize, strongly, that there was a path forward—to encourage and show Dad that he could manage and control this—were moments of unbelievable growth. We would recognize Dad’s depression and not deny the fact that it existed. He would visit the doctor, and be vulnerable about what was going on, and chart a path forward through medication and other treatments.

And then, with his depression called out into the open, Dad would get better. It wasn’t easy. It was never a “snap your fingers” type of treatment. It took weeks, sometimes months, for Dad to get better—but in nearly every situation, Dad did get better. And for a while (sometimes a long, long while), things would be at their best. And Dad would be at his best—a conquering fighter who would refuse to let his life be controlled by a powerful, dangerous illness.

It would be those moments when Dad’s depression was out in the open amongst our family in which he would feel most at ease—most comfortable with who he was at his core. During the times when Dad felt he could admit that he was struggling and he could avoid the shame of feeling like he needed to hide his illness, I think my Dad was truly at his happiest, his most content, and his most peaceful state.

Doesn’t it work that way for so many out there who are hurting and suffering from mental illness?

We all harbor different fears. Some of us are afraid of heights. Others are afraid of social situations. The smart people are afraid of birds. But then there are those deeper, emotionally-laden fears that are hard, even embarrassing, to talk about. Our fears of rejection. Our fears of solitude. Of financial inadequacy. Of pain and abuse. Of insecurity. And yes, of disappointment.

When we grow fearful, we often feel we have to wear a mask. And when we wear a mask, we are unnecessarily burdened by the shame of feeling that we have to hide how we feel. We shy away from honestly sharing our fears and insecurities, and as we do, those same fears and insecurities grow and grow and grow, eventually growing to a point that they take over our ability to function regularly.

But it’s the immediate relief that any of us who have suffered from mental illness can all relate to—the “shine a light” moment. That moment when we admit we are struggling while simultaneously taking a deep sigh of relief, knowing that we’ve identified the culprit—mental illness—and realizing that the enemy is exposed. There’s a physical response when we admit we are hurting—our shoulders relax, the tightness in our chest disappears, and it literally feels as if a weight has been lifted from our bodies. Think of it like a pressure valve or a cork in a bottle of champagne. All the pressure continues to build and build and build, and the moment that cork goes pop!, we feel an immediate relief of the pressure. Everything bubbles out and—if you’ve got a good bottle—life tastes really, really good in those first, fresh moments after you’ve opened the bottle.

I think we feel the most relief in those moments immediately after we shed the mask of shame and honestly talk about our fears, insecurities, and feelings. But for many who suffer and especially my Dad, as time wears on, we tend to slowly but surely put that mask back on. Over time, when we aren’t making our mental health a priority, we fall back into the old, comfortable patterns that led us down the wrong road in the first place. The less we talk about how we feel, the less light we shine on the enemy—and the less light we shine on the enemy, the more powerful it grows. And then, before we know it, the goodness that we felt in those immediate moments of relief completely retreats into the shadows. There we are again, stuck in the same place of guilt and inexplicable darkness that we were in before. The mask becomes comfortable again and seems to be a better alternative to being vulnerable.

Dear readers, I lost my Dad to suicide because of this, and I can promise you, there is nothing comfortable about not talking about our fears and feelings. It is a dead-end road, and one we must not pursue.

That’s why we have to talk, and we have to talk regularly. Yes, we must talk in the midst of our illness and in the immediate aftermath, but we also need to keep that conversation going as we begin to feel better, and yes, as we may begin to feel worse. We need to make vulnerability an everyday practice that’s as regular and accepted as brushing our teeth, washing our hands, or combing our hair. I confidently believe that so many of our real problems associated with mental illness are amplified and worsened when we don’t discuss them with others. I wish my Dad had felt comfortable enough to do more of that—and I wish that you would do more of it, too.

If you’re reading this post and you find yourself suffering from mental illness or suicidal ideations, I know that it can feel daunting and inescapable—but I promise you that the power mental illness holds over your life will dissipate when you shine a light on it and when you talk. You don’t have to talk to everyone. You don’t have to broadcast it on social media or in front of a crowd of thousands. But talk to someone, anyone. Shine a light by finding the people you trust most in your life and sharing your fear and worries with them. You’ll be shocked at how good it feels to shine the light on your mental illness—how good it feels to relieve the pressure, pop the cork, and let the feelings bubble out. And you’ll be amazed at how quickly the grip of mental illness is loosened.

It is no secret that, as I write this post, we are living in scary, confusing, fear-laden, and intensely unpredictable times. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak has taken a society that was already smoldering with fear and poured gasoline on that fire. If we were fearful a month ago, it’s likely that those feelings have grown much, much worse in the past days as we scramble to understand what is happening across the globe. As I pray for those who are hurting, there has been a heavy weight on my heart recently. It’s a heavy weight for those who are hurting and suffering from mental illness. It’s a worry that the mental illness they suffer from will grow even more powerful because of the unintentional effects of our needed physical isolation. Everyone is hurting, but those who suffer from mental illness may feel even less in control of their lives than they normally do.

In my heart of hearts, I’m convinced that there will be good that comes from this crisis. No, I don’t want it to happen, but yes, I believe that the Gospel is meant to invade dark places. Yes, there has been so much good happening in the midst of this difficult chapter. Individuals are more cognizant of the impact of their actions upon their communities and the world. Moments of generosity, I believe, are more abundant than they were previously. Without the convenience of a meal at a restaurant, a workout at the gym, or a movie with friends, I believe we’ve all grown to appreciate the little things that, for so long, we’ve taken for granted. Maybe we all needed a bit of a reminder that, above all and even with its many difficulties, life is grand and beautiful, complex yet lovingly simple.

At the same time, however, our worst fears and our primal instincts for self-preservation have amplified in ways we never imagined. Although outnumbered by the good, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake the image of two grown adults in a fisticuffs over a pack of Charmin at a Walmart as long as I live. When I go to the grocery store, I see the panic in people’s eyes that, when the world is right, just shouldn’t be there—and, unfortunately, I’ve felt it in my own heart. And I can’t help but think that, as much fear as we are seeing exhibited outwardly by so many people, the fear that people aren’t exhibiting is even worse, even greater, and even more destructive if it ever bubbles to the surface.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline TileSo if you are hurting or struggling from mental illness that you can’t explain, I beg you to not let these times of isolation prevent you from talking with someone. Find that trusted loved one or friend, call them, and just ask them if you can share your heart. Talk with them about your fears. Not everyone will be receptive, but I promise you that someone will. More than ever before, reach out to a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist who can help bring those feelings to the surface in a way that is redemptive. And if the thought of suicide has crossed your mind, I beg you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK. Never, never let those thoughts linger. Never underestimate their power. Do something, in this moment, that will protect you, your families, and the generations to come. The world is better because you’re in it—promise me you’ll be here.

And lastly, for those fellow believers, I beg you to talk with God. Yes, He knows all, but there is great power in shining a light on our biggest fears and concerns and letting God know that we need help. Reveal the depths of your heart to the One who can reach down, provide solace, and restore peace. And find comfort in talking with him regularly because, the more we talk, the more comfortable and easy it becomes to be vulnerable—which, after all, is how God created us to be.

Together, we can create a culture of light-shiners who refuse to let our hurts grow and gain power in the dark. Now, more than ever, it’s time for all of us to start shining a light.

And please, dear neighbors, pick up your pizza boxes. Poor Penny and I can’t take it any longer.

Dad with Dinosaur and SB LogoDad, My heart hurts deeply when I think about how fearful you likely felt throughout your life. It breaks my heart to know that you experienced such shame which prevented you from reaching out and talking to those of us who loved you. Dad, I just want you to know that we were never, ever disappointed in you. No matter how sick you might have been, and even during the times when your mental illness led you to leave us, we were never disappointed in the man you were. And now, I hope you are resting in the peace of Heaven and allowing God to remind you, daily, that He was never disappointed either. Your life continues to guide me and remind me of the importance of sharing my feelings with others, and although I don’t always do it perfectly, I’m grateful that you’re still parenting me and teaching me daily. I carry you with me every single day, Dad. Thank you, Dad, for showing courage in all those moments that matter most. I can’t wait to tell you, face to face, how proud I am of you for fighting the way you did. Until that glorious reunion, seeya Bub.

 “Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.” Galatians 6:2 (GW)

Carving

“Watch it, now…you get a finger mixed in with that ham and you’ll ruin Christmas.”

It was always, always Dad’s job to carve at the holiday. Growing up, my Mom always hosted a lot of our family get togethers around special holidays, and any good family get together usually involved some type of carved meat. I remember delicious turkeys at Thanksgiving, a fantastic ham on Easter, and both ham and roast beef on Christmas Eve. For every holiday she hosted, Mom would spend hours and days preparing all kinds of treats and delicious goodies, and Dad and I were always ready to eat. Dad and I weren’t much help to Mom when it came to these extravagant yet quaint family gatherings, mainly because Dad wasn’t much of a talent in the kitchen.

Wait, let me try that again. Most anything Dad did in the kitchen was disastrous. We are talking next-level, epic kitchen ineptitude. For a man who was competent in so many things, it was amazing to see him fail so spectacularly in the kitchen. I once saw the man burn soup—how do you burn soup?!

But Dad did have one special skill he could deliver around the holidays. The man was always a solid meat carver. I think it was because carving a ham resembled more of a construction project (his wheelhouse) than a culinary test. Every year a few minutes before our family would arrive for a holiday celebration, I would hear the familiar, sawing ziiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrr of my parents’ electric carving knife. On and off and on again the knife would go as Dad would conquer a ham or turkey, creating as many slices as possible for our family to enjoy. The carving knife, a gift from their wedding and a marvel in craftsmanship by Black & Decker, had vanquished many a Christmas ham and Thanksgiving turkey in its years of service to our family. That knife is older than I am—solid work, Black & Decker!

My family always thankful that Christmas typically brought with it a ham that was given to my Dad. Dad was fortunate to work for caring and thoughtful companies for most of his career, and his employers always provided a Christmas ham that Dad would proudly bring home to store in our freezer. As a kid, I probably didn’t appreciate what a considerate gesture this was for the families that had spent so much time, sweat, and energy working in physically demanding and strenuous jobs. Now, I have a deep appreciation for it—mainly because in my entire career after college no one has ever just given me a ham! I’m lucky if I can even get the kind of pens I like to write with!

But every year, my family was thankful that Dad’s employers provided this special blessing to our family, and Mom had the great honor of cooking it—and her culinary talent would always shine through. Mom was, is, and always will be a magician and artist in the kitchen. Another thing that you fail to appreciate until you’re grown is the cooking acumen of a parent, and I definitely didn’t give my Mom the credit she earned in the kitchen until I started cooking myself. Now that I know how much work goes into preparing a simple dinner, I appreciate the ease my Mom displayed whipping up a full meal almost every night of the week. Dad was better at appreciating Mom’s cooking. One time, Dad and I were talking about Mom’s talent, and I remember Dad saying “You know, growing up I never thought I would be able to find someone who could cook as good as my Mom; and then I met your Mom, and she could cook even better!” Dad always appreciated Mom’s cooking, and I know he loved it around Christmastime.

Usually starting days before the family gathering, Mom would meticulously pour over the preparations and her menu, timing out when she would need to start prepping dishes, when dishes would need to go in the oven, and fretting over where she was going to store all of this food until everyone arrived. Even though Mom would always get a little overwhelmed and worried by the volume of things she had to prepare, it always worked out in the end and everything came together even better than she had imagined. She worried about holiday gatherings because she cared about everyone so much—and those tremendous holiday gatherings we had are a reminder of how Mom showed her love to us.

Dad’s contributions to our holiday festivities were largely mechanical, and I thank God each day that he wasn’t responsible for the cooking (remember that whole burnt soup thing?). Usually, Mom would task Dad with wrapping the presents (he had the wrapping skill of a fourth-generation origami artist), where he would camp in front of the television with rolls of colored paper and enough tape to fully encase a forty-three car locomotive. Dad also had to set up the card table in the family room so we had enough spots for everyone, and it was usually Dad’s job to brush out our family dog so she looked even fluffier than usual when everyone arrived.

And then, just before the festivities began, Dad would pull the electric knife out of the tattered-and-worn box and get to carving. Standing over the oven range in our compact family kitchen, Dad would whir away with the jigsawing blades, removing slice after slice with the precision of a brain surgeon, placing it delicately on a large, silver platter in an overly-intricate pattern.

As a kid, I was always a bit intimated as I watched Dad carve away at the ham. There seemed to be a true art to it because Dad would concentrate deeply on the work in front of him. As he did with most every task he approached, Dad was a fanatic for detail. Through this oval-rimmed glasses, he would move his head from side to side, locating unbeknownst spots in the oven-baked ham in which one cut would produce the most amount of meat. By the end of the process, Dad would lift out the ham bone from the roasting pan, and I would be amazed at how little meat was left behind. Mom would always tell Dad that he did a great job, and then she would wonder whether or not there would be enough for everyone….even though we seemingly ate ham for the next four days at home. There was always enough, but Mom wanted to make sure that the holiday was perfect for everyone.

I appreciate that now. I appreciate her thoughtfulness. And I appreciated my Dad’s ability to carve a ham. Especially when my Mom came down the stairs in 2012 and said I was going to have to do it.

As always, Mom was preparing for another Christmas Eve at our home with the Turner side of our family, but there was an unfortunate complication—Dad was sick. For days, my Dad had been trying his best to fight off an illness that seemed to get worse and worse and worse with every cough. I had gone upstairs earlier in the day, and Dad was laying in the bed wearing his usual elastic-ankled, matching sweatsuit, looking weaker and more tired than I had seen him in a long time.

“A lot ‘a good that vitamin C did you, hey old man?” I said to him with a smart-alecky smirk on my face.

My Dad was the king of vitamins—and a pusher at that! Every morning, I’d hear the familiar rattle-rattle-rattle of his pill bottles in the kitchen as he horked down enough supplements to grow an orange grove in the soil of the Sahara. Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Fish Oil capsules, multivitamins, magic beans, jumping beans, jelly beans….you name it, Dad took it. As he lay withered and hacking in the bed the day before Christmas, I couldn’t help but deliver a bit of a low-blow to my old man by teasing him about his vitamin obsession.

“You just remember….I’ll recover ten times faster because of the vitamin C,” he said with sincerity, and I laughed and told him how great I was feeling because I had once taken a vitamin shaped like Fred Flintstone when I was seven.

I spent some time at his bedside asking him how he was feeling and watching a bit of TV with him, and I knew that Dad had to be pretty darn sick to be bedridden the day of a Christmas gathering. Dad loved the holidays, he loved having people over the house, and he loved talking with people and just being near them more than anything else. After we talked for a few minutes, I wanted to let him rest and I went back downstairs to watch a little television. Moments later, Mom came down the stairs with a bit of a worried look on her face and delivered the news.

“I think you’re going to have to carve the ham.”

I hadn’t even thought about it until that very moment. Dad wasn’t about to get within fifty feet of the food that would be served at Christmas dinner that night, but it had just hit Mom that he usually carved the ham each year but wouldn’t be able to now.

I got a pit in my stomach. “I mean, Mom, I don’t have a license or anything…”

We both knew there was no way of getting around it, and for the next few hours I tried to replay all the times I had watched Dad cut a ham in the kitchen before our Christmas Eve celebration. It was then that I realized that my motivation for watching Dad cut a ham all those years was to try and sneak a few premature scraps that he had cut, and at no point had I ever actually paid attention to what he was doing with the electric knife.

As the clock ticked closer to our family’s 6’o clock arrival, I got a bit more nervous; but Dad came up with a good idea. Instead of carving the ham, Dad would be the teacher and I would be the apprentice. Dad would stand a good ten feet behind me, and while looking over my shoulder, he would tell me where to cut, how to cut, and where to place each piece. I was still a bit nervous and overwhelmed by the task ahead, but it sure felt better knowing that I had a Dad who had all the answers and would be looking over my shoulder the entire time.

The moment came, and Dad made his way downstairs. I knew he didn’t feel well at all, but I was so thankful that he was willing to help me. Over the next half hour or so, Dad told me how to properly carve the ham. He had me locate particular spots to make main cuts and dividing cuts, and then he told me how to lift the ham and cut near the bone so that everything seemed to fall right off. Magically, it worked. Dad pointed and instructed me, showing me how he typically stacked the pieces of meat neatly on the platter. He told me which pieces of the ham would likely be the “pretty pieces” and which ones would be the scrap pieces that he would save for sandwiches the on Christmas day (which was likely code for pieces of ham he had planned to sneak to our dog, Lucy). He showed me how to carve in such a way that there was very little meat left on the bone at the end, and although I wasn’t as efficient or sharp as Dad was, the stress of having to take on such an important task wasn’t nearly as bad because Dad was right there with me the entire time.

For the remainder of the night, Dad mostly remained up in the bedroom trying to recover from his sickness—which was an occurrence as rare as a Santa Claus sighting. Dad lived for family gatherings and spending time talking to other people, and the fact that he couldn’t even come downstairs was extremely unusual. Dad made a few “quick appearances” throughout the night, mainly to grab punch or some jello that he could tolerate eating. Each time, he would say hello to everyone who was there and make a few quick jokes, but he was really afraid of getting anyone else sick. He would grab a small plate and drink, and right back up the stairs he would go. Everyone’s face would light up as soon as they saw Dad, even if it was only for a few brief moments—he had the ability to light up a room just by being there. It was not the way my Dad likely wanted to spend Christmas, and it hurts to think about how sad he must have been to not be able to spend time with his family—especially knowing what we know now.

Dad’s last Christmas was that 2012 Christmas. Just seven months later, his clinical depression would overtake him, and suicide would claim his life. It tears my heart to pieces to think that Dad was so ill on his last Christmas on Earth that he couldn’t even enjoy the holiday with the same gusto and enthusiasm that he usually did. The holidays were always so special and important to Dad, and there is a haunting sadness when I reflect on his last Christmas, knowing he was quarantined to an upstairs bedroom when the family he loved and cherished was right downstairs. None of us could have ever imagined that December 2012 would be Dad’s last Christmas. Had we known, we would have all taken the risk of coming down with whatever sickness he had. I might have even taken some vitamin C to put his mind at ease. I hate that Dad’s last Christmas wasn’t as good as it could have been, and there’s absolutely no sugar coating that. It just doesn’t feel fair. If anyone deserved a spectacular Christmas, it was my Father.

2013 was our first Christmas without Dad, and there were many, many things that I was dreading about that first holiday. Thinking about Christmas morning without my Dad there with Mom and I was nauseating. Wondering how I would focus on family functions when all I could think about was the tragedy of losing my Father seemed impossible.

And yes, selfishly, I was dreading having to carve the ham.

To some, it may sound silly to have such a dramatic reaction to carving a ham, but knowing that I would have to carve the ham was just another reminder that Dad was gone. A role he had played for many decades was now vacant, and it was a painful reminder that he was never coming back. Carving the ham was a rite of passage, and the passing of the electric knife in this moment seemed so unnecessary, so premature, and absolutely wrong in every way. Dad should’ve been there. He should’ve been carving the ham—not me. He was too young. He should have been there.

Mom asked me to carve the ham reluctantly, knowing it would be difficult for me to do it, and of course I offered to help. Mom was suffering just like I was, and I knew we were both going to have to do things to keep going that we might not have necessarily wanted to do. I knew that Mom didn’t want to ask me, but I also knew that she had to. Throughout the day, I worried about being able to carve the ham properly without my Dad. I worried that a year had gone by and so much had happened and I knew, I just knew, that I was going to forget everything Dad had taught me. It was an awful and helpless feeling. Unfortunately, it was a feeling that invaded every area of my life. As each day passed after his death, I worried that I was forgetting him and losing him each time I started to move on. Not being able to carve a ham would be a revelation of how I had taken my Father for granted, and it was a painful reminder of my own guilt.

Nonetheless, our family Christmas Eve was approaching, and I walked into the kitchen trying my best to hold it all together. I got out the electric knife, and remembered Dad telling me to install the blade before plugging it in to avoid any tragic digit-dissections. Point taken, Pop—point taken. Even though he wasn’t there, I could hear him making his typical Dad-joke as he offered this reminder, maybe even pretending that he had lost a finger in the tragic ham-carving accident of 1968.

It felt good to laugh with my Dad again, even if I could only hear his spirit.

I started carving, and before I knew it, I had about a half platter full of ham laid out. Slowly and purposefully I carved away, and all the while I tried to remember all of the things that Dad had told me—where to cut, how to cut, which pieces to keep and which pieces to put in the scrap bag. The entire time, I pictured my Dad over my shoulder—still instructing, still directing. The entire time, I was reminded that although Dad wasn’t there in many ways, he was there in many other ways.

Before I knew it, the job was done. The entire ham had been carved, and although I definitely wasn’t as precise or stealthy as Dad always was, I was proud of myself.

And then, I went out into our sunroom just off the kitchen and started tearing up; and before I knew it, I was crying really, really hard. The weight of what had just happened hit me. Dad wasn’t there to carve the ham, and he would never be there again. Dad would never be there for another Christmas Eve, another Christmas morning. He’d never be there to help decorate the tree or put up Christmas lights. He would never be there to give Mom weird Christmas gifts or watch all 24 hours of The Christmas Story on television. The weight and gravity of what had happened overwhelmed me. I was being forced to fulfill roles that my Dad had always held because he would no longer be there to hold them.

Mom knew I was upset, and she came out and gave me a hug as we cried together. “I know how much you miss him,” she whispered. “I miss him so much, too.” We cried together for a long, long while before our family showed up, and although we tried to hide our red and weary eyes from them, it was useless. They, too, were hurting. My Dad had been so important to so many of us. We were all grieving, and this first Christmas would be a very difficult one without him.

As we stood there hugging, we felt the emptiness of our home even though there was only one person missing. Dad’s physical presence might have been gone, but it was so easy to picture him there and see and hear him. I thought back on that last year, and I could picture my Dad standing over my shoulder. I could hear his instructions, and I started to think about how none of us on that Christmas Eve in 2012 could have ever predicted that it would be Dad’s last. How we might have acted differently had we known that it would have been.

But all along as I was standing there carving, I could feel Dad still looking over my shoulder, but he was encouraging me in many more areas than simple ham carving. He was telling me that he was still there. I could feel him telling me that it was going to be okay and that everything was going to work out, even though life seemed so sad at the time. Dad’s presence was with us that entire first Christmas in so many ways. It was different, and sad, and at times horribly painful; but then, at other times, Mom and I would find glimpses and reminders of the joy we had experienced when Dad was around. But I know, in both the good moments and the bad, Dad’s memory and spirit was always there with us, telling us that he loved us and that everything would be okay. Dad had received the gift of Eternity with Jesus Christ this year, and we were all thankful that the pain he had riddled his soul for so many years was gone. Forever.

It might also sound dramatic to say this, but I believe it: I know that Dad teaching me how to carve that ham was a gift from God as He saw the stormclouds forming on the horizon. I know from everything I read about God in the Bible that he did not, I repeat, did not give my Dad his depression or cause his death—that was Satan. All good things come from God, including the good things that grow out of horribly dark, bad places. I know that God wished for my Dad to be healthy and happy and alive here with us; although God did not wish for my Father to die so soon, He did control the response to the tragedy and make sure that His glory would help us all survive our shaken family foundation. He did redeem my Father’s death by giving us blessings and safe havens all throughout the tragedy. And ultimately, I know that He redeemed my Father’s death by welcoming him into His loving arms in Eternity. Yes, our family had been damaged and hurt—but not irreparably. God was still building all of us up, and he was using my Dad’s story to save other lives. The pain did not disappear, and in all honesty it still hasn’t. But the pain is accompanied by a deep and abiding belief that God can see my family through anything. No difficulty and none of Satan’s battle tactics can defeat us because I love my Dad and I love my Heavenly Father.

As valuable as the ham-carving skills have become, Dad taught me so much more about Christmas in the 26 years that we celebrated the holiday together here on Earth. Dad always entered the holiday season with a strong sense of joy and excitement, and since losing him, I’ve tried to understand that my own holidays are finite and limited. I only have so many holiday seasons to enjoy with my family and the people I love, and I need to appreciate them for the treasure that they truly are. Unfortunately, it took me losing someone as precious and dear as my Father to understand this difficult truth; and although I don’t do it perfectly in every single moment, I know that I’ve grown to appreciate those simple life moments and the beauty they bring with them, and I think that’s what my Dad would want all of us to learn from his life.

Christmas will never be the same without my Dad; but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. That doesn’t mean that I have to be so overwhelmed by my grief that I can’t see or experience the happiness that still exists within the world after Dad left us. And as time wears on, I gain even more perspective and focus on the value of life and love, and just how fragile all of it can be. I am reminded of how I know my Dad would have wanted to experience more and more Christmases, and all of the excitement he still had to live for that was stolen from him by a horrible, devastating mental illness. In that way, just like he did standing over my shoulder on that last Christmas, my Dad is still teaching me how to live my life in his death. I don’t always do it perfectly, but I’m doing it better because of him. He’s always standing over my shoulder—gently guiding and instructing me on how to be a better man.

I’m thankful for his instruction. And I’m thankful, each and every Christmas, for the wonderful gift of my Father. And my family is thankful that year after year, I get a little bit better at carving that ham.

Dad Lucy and Me at Christmas with SB LogoDad, At times, Christmas has felt so empty without you. My heart has been enraptured with pain when I think about what was stolen from you and us by mental illness. You deserved many more Christmases. You deserved to celebrate with our growing family, and to eventually be a Grandfather who were spoiled with your generosity and sense of childlike wonder. The holidays had a special sparkle when you were here to celebrate them, and since you’ve been gone, we’ve all felt an overwhelming sense of loss, guilt, and sadness. But the gift that was given to us was the reassuring truth of knowing that you are safe in God’s arms—free of pain, distress, and all the unfair difficulties that haunted you in this life. Dad, there is no question in my mind where your Eternal mailing address is. I know you are in Heaven, watching down over all of us and telling us that life is going to work out even on the days when the pain of losing you makes it hard to believe. I think of you all the time, but even more so on Christmas. Christmas was a happy time because you provided so much joy to those you loved. Watching the way you enjoyed spending time with your family has been an inspiration to me, and I wish you and I could sit around, share a glass of punch, and laugh again the way we always did. Dad, thank you for teaching me what it means to be a man who loves his family not just at Christmas, but every day of the year. I have many more Christmases to go without you, but I’m looking forward to that first one we can spend together in Eternity. Until that day, I love you. Merry Christmas, Bub.

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NLT)