“Selfish”

As I was driving into work this morning (I began writing this post on June 8), I received an alert from my phone from CNN. Just a day prior, I had received a similar alert regarding the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recent study release, which found that suicide rates have increased by 25% over the past two decades in the United States.[1] It hit home in ways I never predicted it would.

On that next morning, I looked down at my phone, and I really couldn’t believe what I saw. Television star Anthony Bourdain was dead at the age of 61 from an apparent suicide. Just earlier in the week, fashion designer Kate Spade also died from an apparent suicide.

Before I write any further, I want to first say a few things about my context in regards to these two situations. During his life, I don’t want to claim I was a fan of Bourdain’s work. I never watched his shows (not out of hostility, more just a lack of interest). In the same vein, I don’t want to portend that I was a huge fan of Kate Spade either. I’ve never carried a Kate Spade bag…or any bag for that matter. I don’t want to posthumously conflate any feelings I had towards these two individuals while they were alive. I also don’t claim to know much about their lives (other than the few things I’ve seen in the news), and I don’t claim to know all of the things they were dealing with in their lives. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about either of their lives, other than the sad, untimely ways in which they ended.

Nonetheless, it doesn’t lessen the sadness I feel when I read about these two talented individuals who are gone too soon and unnecessarily. Just because Bourdain and Spade were celebrities doesn’t make their death any more tragic than anyone else who dies from suicide. It also doesn’t make it less tragic. Behind the celebrity façade are family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors that are left behind with questions—questions they will have for their entire lives.

What I’m writing about, however, is not Bourdain’s death, but a reaction to it. An unfortunate reaction that I think pervades most of our society when issues related to suicide arise. A reaction that is all too common. And a reaction that we must discourage in order to remove the stigma behind mental illness and suicide. Let me tell you the story.

A local radio personality in Cincinnati who I follow on Facebook (and won’t name here) reacted to the news. This individual posted the news of Bourdain’s death along with a short comment:

“So sad. Such a talent. We all have our demons. #anthonybourdain”

Shortly thereafter, a woman I’ll call Jean responded:

“I agree, but I am also ragingly ANGRY. He leaves a daughter. HOW SELFISH can someone be?!? I hope she [his daughter] is shielded from the publicity…”

And, the radio personality wrote back:

“I can’t disagree.”

He can, and he should. He should disagree. Dear friends, we need to talk about this type of reaction because it’s ill-informed, harmful, and ignorant.

First, let me say this. Although social media has many wonderful benefits, I largely despise it for what it has created in our lives. It creates an unbelievable sense of competition because it falsely projects the image that “everyone but me is living the perfect life.” In fact, I have no doubt that the increase in suicide rates in our country is largely influenced by the prevalence of social media in our lives. In many cases, I think social media disconnects people more than it actually connects them.

Along those same lines, I don’t often see the value of litigating every single comment made on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or any other network. I sure hope that every single comment I ever made on Facebook isn’t brought back to vilify me years after I wrote it. I’m not writing this post to vilify the radio host or Jean (neither of whom I’ve ever met) or anyone else. I’m writing this post as a contemplation on the larger societal attitudes towards suicide as a “selfish” act.

However, I do think it’s important to recognize that this type of attitude and speech surrounding suicide is common. I hear it often—mostly from people who don’t yet know that my own life has been darkly wounded by suicide.

Search the web for “suicide is selfish” and you’ll find any host of authors or commentators who agree with this sentiment. You’ll find articles written by people like Lesly Salazar that read “I still think suicide is selfish and no, I’m not ignorant for believing so.”

Again, my goal is not to vilify these individuals. I vehemently disagree with them. I disagree with everything they believe about suicide and mental illness. I think their positions and their statements are ill-founded, ill-conceived, hurtful, damaging, and dangerous. I think that, had their lives been touched by suicide like mine was (and I’m glad theirs hasn’t been), they might think differently and more compassionately. I write this not to tear them down as human beings. I write this to hopefully educate them. I write this post to hopefully share with them a different understanding of suicide—from an individual who lives with the pain it creates each and every day.

Suicide is not selfish, because mental illness is not selfish. It’s as simple as that.

Those of us who have lived with and loved individuals who suffer from mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or any other host of illnesses know that those individuals do not consciously choose their illness. People do not choose to be depressed. People do not choose to be anxious. People do not choose to hear voices in their head that tell them they aren’t enough and never will be. People do not choose to be mentally ill.

We know that we don’t choose to be mentally ill because we can’t explain why we feel the way we do in regards to mental illnesses. And although we don’t have an extremely thorough understanding of the physical factors and mechanisms behind mental illness, we do know that there are often biological mechanisms at play. We know that there are regulating chemicals within our brain that can change over time, and the incorrect balance of those neurochemicals and transmitters can create or prolong a mental illness. And if we know that mental illnesses can have a biological root, why in God’s name would we ever, ever accuse someone of being selfish if they die as a result of their illness?

If you’ve ever had a family member die from cancer, would you ever call that person’s death “selfish”? If you’ve ever had a friend die from heart failure, would you ever call them “selfish” for their weak heart? If you have ever had anyone in your life die from an inexplicable physical illness, would you ever dare insult that person’s memory by calling their death “selfish”?

No, you wouldn’t.

And no, we shouldn’t.

I can already anticipate the retort from individuals who disagree with me: “But if we don’t say that suicide is a selfish act, it will encourage other people to do it. There will be no penalty against it. The belief that suicide is selfish actually keeps people from attempting suicide.”

Tell that to the CDC. If that’s the case, why hasn’t the stigma worked up to this point? If most of society thinks this way (and I believe they do), why have suicide rates risen by 25% in just two decades? The belief that suicide is selfish doesn’t discourage people from attempting suicide; it actually exacerbates their feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and unworthiness.

Dad and Grandma Bradshaw
My Dad with my Great-Grandma Lucille Bradshaw.

My Dad’s story is the perfect example. My father was the most selfless man who ever walked the planet. He did nothing for personal gain, notoriety, or ambition. My Dad was a giver. My Dad was the man who would take an entire Saturday to help someone build a porch on their back deck. When my Grandfather had a stroke that left him largely immobile, my Dad was the man who spent weeks completely redesigning his home bathroom so my Grandpa could easily navigate his wheelchair into the shower. My Dad drove a truck, and I can’t even begin to count the multitude of times that people would need my Dad’s truck to haul something. And every single time, they got the truck—and they got my Dad to help. He gave money to those in his life who needed it, even when prudence likely told him he would never see a dime of that money again. But more than anything, my Dad gave of his most precious resource—time. There was no such thing as a conversation going too long. My Dad could (and did) talk with anyone he came in contact with. His conversations were never about him, but making others around him feel loved.

Dad Mom and I After All Star GameAnd my Dad was a completely selfless Father. As a child, he spent every minute he had making sure I was entertained and happy in life, even on days when he was likely tired and exhausted from work. When I was in high school, my Mom and Dad took an entire weekend to redo my bedroom to make it more appropriate for a young man in adolescence (the motif went from childhood baseball to vintage baseball—and I loved it!). If my truck broke down in high school (which was a semi-regular occurrence), my Dad was the first person there to help me. And although I’m sure there were many other exciting places he would have rather been, he was always in the stands anytime I announced a basketball or baseball game.

He was selfless. Not selfish. And the mechanism of his death doesn’t change this.

It wouldn’t make sense for someone who has lived their entire life with a code of honor that embodies selflessness to all of a sudden abandon that. My Dad’s death was out of character because, on that morning, he was not himself. His depression had so deeply overtaken his mind that his proper thought processes were disabled. I was there that morning. I saw my Dad before he died. And I can tell you, he wasn’t acting selfish. He was acting hurt, and scared, and completely debilitated.

And here’s the key. As crazy as this may sound, the truth is that it was actually my Dad’s misguided selflessness, not selfishness, that ended his life.

Let me be clear: None of this makes my Dad’s death right, acceptable, or just. None of it. It also doesn’t make it selfish.

My Dad was such a giver that he couldn’t imagine letting those around him down. He couldn’t imagine admitting failure to those he loved and took care of. He couldn’t imagine not being able to help himself after his entire life had been dedicated to helping others. Again, none of this is an excuse. None of this justifies his death. None of this makes his death right because his death isn’t right. It was unnecessary, and premature, and unwanted.

But it wasn’t selfish.

I don’t place the blame at my Dad’s feet—nor should anyone else. Are there things I would do differently? Yes. Are there things I wish my Dad had done differently? Absolutely. Do I wish my Dad’s story wouldn’t have ended on that fateful July morning? I pray this every single night.

But his death wasn’t selfish. And no one has the right to condemn his character (or anyone else’s) with such unjustifiable certainty. They do damage to that person’s legacy; but they also do significant damage to all of those left behind.

It’s not just the person who dies from suicide that is disgraced and discouraged by a “suicide is selfish” attitude—it’s the survivors left behind to grapple with their grief that are just as negatively impacted by this type of attitude.

I want you to imagine this scenario as you read and feel the intensity of the moment I’m describing. Your Father, the man you loved with every fiber of your being, has just died. From suicide. A vibrant, enthusiastic life has just been ripped away without warning. One minute, you’re hugging the broad shoulders that have carried the burdens of your entire family for a generation, and the next you’re standing next to his casket. You look down at that casket and the hundreds of people who have gathered to say goodbye, and you wish more than anything that your Dad would just get up—but he won’t. He’ll never come home again. You’ve cried more tears in a few days than you ever have in your entire life combined, and your pain and grief are inexplicable and inescapable. You’ve had many sleepless nights, and you’ll continue to have them for as long as you live. Just when you think life is establishing a new normal, you’ll wake up in the middle of the night screaming in terror as the horror of those moments replays over and over and over again. All of this is ahead of you as you stand at that funeral, and the weight is crushing.

And then, someone comes up to the casket. They shake your hand, express their condolences, and then say this:

“What a selfish act.”

How do you feel? Did it help?

No, it doesn’t—and it never will.

I’m thankful that this type of reaction never happened to me directly, but reading comments filled with a self-righteous fervor that accuse a suicide victim of being selfish from people I don’t even know is just as hurtful. I’ll return to Jean’s comment and ask you this: If she was so concerned with the well-being of Anthony Bourdain’s daughter, why would she immediately castigate his memory by completely minimizing his suffering? If Jean was so concerned about Anthony Bourdain’s daughter, why would she make a comment that will do absolutely nothing to help this young woman grieve? I have no doubt that Anthony Bourdain’s daughter, like me, loved her Father. By calling his unfortunate death “selfish,” Jean’s comment doesn’t help the grieving—it hurts and wounds them.

I go to bed every single night wishing that my Dad was still around. If people, like Jean, think that somehow letting me know that my Dad’s death was selfish will heal me from my grief, I’m here to tell them it won’t.

Suicide is not selfish, but that doesn’t automatically make it selfless either. An act can be neither selfless or selfish, and we shouldn’t be tricked into the fallacy of outright-certainty in an area as delicate as this.

But suicide is devastating. And it’s life-altering. Suicide is debilitating. It’s irreversible. It’s awful. And terrible. And it’s never, ever okay.

But it’s not selfish. And it’s not selfless. It’s just awful.

I don’t believe individuals who die from suicide are selfish at their core. They are suffering. Suffering from a disease that is awful and confusing. A disease we don’t understand.

So, when we don’t understand the complexities of this life, we shouldn’t self-righteously claim that we do.

I don’t know Jean’s story, but based on her attitude, I highly doubt that her life has ever been touched by suicide. And guess what? I’m really, really thankful for that. I don’t want anyone to ever have to live through the pain my family has endured after losing my Dad. But because we’ve lived through it, and because we knew the man my Dad was, we don’t talk about suicide like she does. We don’t say my Dad’s death was selfish because it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong—we pray and wish every single day that it hadn’t happened. But it wasn’t selfish.

I’ve written this before, but I’ll say it again: Your words matter. The words you choose each and every day have tremendous power—power to heal pain, but also to inflict it. But words are more than just words. They reveal an attitude. They reveal beliefs. They reveal core values. When self-righteous individuals scream with certainty that suicide is selfish, it causes the survivors of suicide to question everything about our loved ones. Did they really love us? Did they really mean it when they said they cared? Were they selfish?

Survivors of suicide have enough to deal with when it comes to grief. We don’t need the haughty judgement of individuals who claim to have all the answers to explain why our loved ones are no longer here. We feel that pain every single day, and it’s actually selfish for others to minimize our loved ones’ suffering.

My faith in Jesus Christ teaches me that I’m not meant to have all the answers in this life. I shouldn’t claim to be all-knowing, because when I do, I’m claiming to be God. I don’t know why suicide happens. I don’t know why God allows mental illness to persist. So, I don’t claim to have all the answers. Corrie ten Boom said it best: “A religion that is small enough for our understanding would not be big enough for our needs.” 

So, unlike all the people shouting about the selfishness of suicide, I won’t stand on the mountaintop and claim to completely understand the suffering in the world around me. Instead, I’ll attempt to be compassionate. Instead, I’ll try and realize that individuals—selfless individuals—are hurting without being able to explain why.

And as hard as it might be, I won’t give up on people like Jean. Or anyone who currently believes that suicide is selfish. Even though their words cut through my heart like a knife, I’ll still believe that they can learn and grow. Because as hard as it is for me to admit, there was probably a time in my life before my Dad died from suicide where I thought just like they did. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve changed and I’ve grown—and they can, too. I’ll still believe that Jesus is not quite done with them yet, just as he’s not yet done with me. I’ll still believe that they will someday realize that suicide isn’t a willing act, but one that occurs when the body and mind are in a frenetic, uncontrollable, irrational state. Because I’m still a work in progress, I’ll believe they are too.

But more than anything, I’ll just keep loving my Dad because he selflessly loved me.

Dad and I on Scrambler at Kings Island with SB LogoDad, It hurts my heart tremendously when I think that there are people out there who think your death is selfish. It pains me when I hear individuals say that death from suicide is selfish because they didn’t understand your pain. They didn’t see the despair in your eyes on that last day. They didn’t see the years that you suffered. They didn’t see how badly you wanted to be healthy. They didn’t live with the unnecessary shame that you lived with for so long. Dad, none of this makes your death and absence any easier. None of this makes the pain of losing you any less real. And yes, I wish things had gone differently on the morning of July 24, 2013—for you, for me, and for all of us. But you suffered from a disease that you didn’t understand. A disease that not even medical professionals completely understand. You died because this disease took over your brain, and I hope you know that I understand this. It doesn’t make your death right, and more than anything I wish you were still here, living the life you always lived to the fullest. But I’ve never been angry with you for your death. I’ve never loved you any less—and I never will. Dad, you are not defined by your death, but by the tremendously selfless life you led. I’m so sorry if you ever felt like you weren’t enough for us, Dad. You were always enough. You lived a completely selfless life, and I wish I was able to remind you of that. Until that day, I’ll keep fighting for your legacy. I’ll keep fighting, alongside God, to redeem the pain of losing you in an effort to try and prevent this pain in the lives of others. And until that day when I can tell you just how selfless you were, seeya Bub.

“Those who think they know something still have a lot to learn.” 1 Corinthians 8:2 (GW)

[1]https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicide/

Masks

“We had no idea.”

When you’re standing next to a casket at a visitation, you hear lots of comments over and over again. “We will be praying for you.” “Is there anything we can do?” “If you need anything at all, please let us know.” “You’ll be in our thoughts and prayers.”

In reality, who knows what to say? Is there anything you can actually say to take the pain of losing a loved one away? I find myself saying the same things to grieving friends when I attend funerals or visitations. I don’t like that I say it, but I don’t know what else I could possibly say in its place. It’s what we do to show that we love.

My Dad’s visitation, however, was a bit different. My Dad had passed from suicide, and there was a certain shock of losing someone suddenly who, just a few days prior, had seemed completely healthy. I heard one particular comment more than any other from the more than 1,000 people who came to pay their respects to my Dad.

“We had no idea.”

Over and over and over again, friends and loved ones and coworkers and neighbors and childhood acquaintances made their way through the line, some waiting upwards of a few hours (which still touches my heart in ways I can’t possibly describe). Just a few minutes after the service had started, I remember looking up and being completely overwhelmed by what I saw. Our extremely spacious sanctuary had a line that clung to the entirety of the wall, streaming through the back doors and into the foyer. Who knows how far it went from that point, which was beyond my vision. There were folks sitting in the pews, catching up with one another but I’m sure also trying to figure out why this gathering had even needed to occur.

I tried sincerely to look into the faces of those who came. I tried to assess how people were feeling. I looked out at the other people who had known my Dad—other people who were hurting, too—and I saw the same look on their eyes. Shock. Confusion. Pain. Bewilderment.

My Father had died from suicide, and the flabbergasted looks I saw the night of my Dad’s visitation were justified. Although my Mother and I (along with a close circle of family members) had known of my Dad’s struggle with depression, neither of us thought it would ever get this bad. Neither of us believed that my Dad was hurting as bad as he was. Neither of us believed that the depression could create a stranglehold strong enough to make my Dad feel that life wasn’t livable.

Unlike those folks, we knew; but like those folks, we didn’t.

Many of the people who loved my Dad didn’t know because my Dad wore a mask. I’ve heard that phrase used so many times to describe the coping mechanism that individuals suffering from mental illness will use. They hide their true feelings. They bury the anguish down deep below the surface. They put on a happy face when happiness eludes their heart. That mask metaphor has helped me understand how my Dad was able to hide his depression from those he loved. But more importantly, it’s helped me understand why he would feel the need to hide his depression in the first place.

I anticipated the shock of my Dad’s death in the hearts of those who knew him because so many people knew my Dad as a happy, jovial man. That’s how I knew him, too, even though I would occasionally see into the dark egresses of his depression. Those were usually brief moments confined to a short amount of time. Eventually, that depression would pass—or at least I thought it did. As I reflect on those moments, I am beginning to understand that the depression never truly disappeared. My Dad just got better at coping with it at times. And sometimes, unfortunately, he got better at hiding it.

But most of the time, he was happy.

It’s more than that though. My Dad wasn’t just happy. He was one of the happiest men I’ve ever known. Happy to the point where, as a kid, I just wanted to see him get mad about things to know that he could. My Dad was the guy who could keep a smile on his face in any situation. The man who, in the most difficult moments, could tell the perfectly timed joked to make people laugh. In every circumstance, dark or light, my Dad was cheerful when he interacted with those around him. He had a bright smile, a twinkling eye, and a glistening personality that could instantly comfort other individuals and cheer them up.

Which is why depression confuses me so much. How could a man who could so instantly and effortlessly encourage and lift up others not do it for himself?

His entire life, my Dad worked in labor-intensive jobs. He worked in plants that were often entirely too hot during the summer and entirely too cold during the winter. He built things, and he fixed complex machines, and he worked long hours (a gene for which I have yet to inherit). And no matter the job, my Dad was always happy. He always had a smile on his face. His coworkers absolutely adored him. He was the guy you hoped would join you on a project because you knew you would not only get the job done but have fun while doing it. I wish I could tell him how much he meant to those he worked with.

Then, he would come home. And although he would find ways to relax, he would also find work to do there. He would spend hours sweating in the yard planting flowers and repairing the house. He loved gardening and outdoor work (once again, a gene I have not inherited). He would remodel bathrooms and fix electrical issues. And all the while, Dad would have a smile on his face. All the while, Dad would tell you that he was good, and that he was enjoying life. I wish I could tell him how much that meant to Mom and I. I wish I could go back and tell him that he didn’t have to work so hard.

And it wasn’t just work—his happiness invaded every corner of his life and his soul. Dad would go to church, and he would have a smile on his face while he stood around and chatted with folks for 45 minutes after the service as I rolled my eyes and tugged on his sleeve in an impatient effort to beat the Baptists to Frisch’s for lunch. He would go to my soccer games, which offered very few opportunities for smiles during my short-lived athletic career; but he would smile, and cheer, and even admit to other people that the horrible right fullback was actually his son. When we would go out to dinner and the food or service left something to be desired, Dad would smile and find ways to enjoy the time with his family. It was a contagious happiness that my Dad embodied. And it’s that contagious happiness of his that I miss every single day.

I don’t doubt that in many cases my Dad was simply happier than other people. I think he just had an appreciation for life and the simple things that make it wonderful which few of us are able to truly appreciate. This may sound strange considering that he eventually died from suicide, but my Dad found ways to appreciate life that I’ve yet to tap into.

However, I am also confident that there were likely times in my Dad’s life when he was extremely unhappy underneath the surface but felt as if he couldn’t let people see him in a state of weakness. I know that in the midst of his own personal turmoil, Dad was probably afraid to let people know that he just didn’t feel like himself. He was afraid to let them know that his depression was getting the best of him. He wanted to be a happy, smiling Superman to everyone at all times…and that is an unattainable expectation for anyone, even for my Dad, as great a man as he was.

My Dad was the man who was able to bring joy to other peoples’ lives whenever they needed it most. After his death, I heard countless stories of my Dad’s ability to help others find happiness. I heard stories about times when my Dad would take time out of his day to visit people, to talk with them, and to generally make them feel like someone cared. I heard stories about lunches that he bought for folks, repairs that he made at their homes, and silly things he had done to just get others to laugh a little.

I heard those stories and I believed them. Every single one. I believed them because he did the same thing with me in my life each and every day. There were so many times when I would feel down and my Dad would pick me up. Oftentimes, he didn’t even have to know I was down. I think he could simply sense it. Dad never made me feel ashamed or weak if I wasn’t feeling happy. Dad never judged me or told me to “snap out of it.” Dad gave me compassion. My Dad gave me unconditional and unabated love every single day.

More than anything, I think this is why I hated the fact that my Dad felt as if he couldn’t share his mental illness with the folks around him who loved him. Those folks loved him deeply, and had he shared his struggles, I’m confident that they still would have loved him. And they would have helped him. And they never, ever would have given up on him.

Instead, my Dad felt it was necessary to wear a mask. My Dad felt that he should hide the feelings he couldn’t explain from those he loved most. My Dad wore that mask because he couldn’t bear to let people see the depths of his depression, which he perceived as a personal weakness.

I wish I could tell him that he wasn’t weak. I wish I could tell them that he had no reason to be ashamed. And I wish, more than anything, I could tell him that he didn’t have to wear that mask anymore.

The mask, however, is not a tool of deception; it’s a weapon against embarrassment and shame. My Dad was not a deceitful man, and that’s the point I try to get across to individuals when I talk about depression or mental illness. He didn’t hide his depression because he was attempting to lie or mislead people. He hid his depression because he loved them. He masked his depression because he didn’t want others to worry about them. He buried his depression because he was ashamed of it. And unfortunately, it’s that very shame that led us to bury him.

Dear people, we must arrive at a point in this world where there is no shame surrounding depression and mental illness. And we should do this because…there is no reason for those individuals to feel ashamed. There is no reason for us to wear those masks, and there are other survival mechanisms that actually lead to true healing.

When I think of my Dad on the morning of July 24, 2013 (his last day on this Earth), my heart breaks when I picture how broken he was. He stared at the floor, unable to make eye contact with me. He looked disconnected and detached from everything around him. When I asked him about all of the pressures he was dealing with in life—and boy did he have a lot to deal with—he was even ashamed to admit he couldn’t handle all of those things. At one point, he even said to me, “Yeah, but I should be able to deal with this.”

No, Dad. You shouldn’t have been expected to deal with everything easily. You shouldn’t have been expected to be Superman in every moment of every day.

As much as it tears me apart to think of my Dad on that last day, it also causes me deep pain to think of the weight that must have burdened my Dad’s life from wearing that mask each and every day. This is a heavy mask that those with mental illness are wearing. This is a difficult load that they carry. That mask may hide fear and shame, but it doesn’t eradicate it.

I also know this from personal experience. Although much less severe than my Father’s struggle, my own struggles with anxiety have helped me understand this principle. Dealing with anxiety (or any mental illness) on its own is difficult enough; feeling like you have to lie and convince everyone around you that you’re fine when you’re really not takes that exhaustion to a whole new level. And that exhaustion just continues to fuel the mental illness in a vicious cycle, and before you know it the mask is not merely a coping tactic but a necessary tool for survival.

My Dad’s life may be finished, but his story is not. And what can we do about it? What can I do? What can you do? What can all of those shocked, hurting people who attended my Father’s visitation and funeral do to redeem his story?

Let people know that it’s okay to take off their mask. When individuals are suffering from mental illness, we have to let them know that it’s okay to let down their defenses. We have to let them know that taking off their mask is an act of bravery, not an admission of weakness. We have to let them know that their inexplicable feelings of sadness, despair, nervousness, or guilt are real but remediable. We have to make them feel that there are so, so many more solutions to ease their pain than suicide. Simply, we have to make people feel loved—and not just loved, but unconditionally loved. Loved regardless of their feelings. Loved regardless of their circumstances. Loved regardless of the things they can’t control or fix. Unconditional love is the true mask destroyer.

In order to love others, however, we have to make sure we love ourselves.

That’s why it’s ridiculously important to take off your own mask, too. We can’t tell people to take off their masks if we aren’t willing to take off our own. The best way to promote mental health is to model it. Removing our own mask requires courage and bravery, but it takes the most dangerous weapon mental illness wields—the unjustified humiliation—and completely removes its power. We show others who aren’t okay, in those instances, that we aren’t always okay either.

And we teach them, more than anything, that it’s okay to not be okay…but that it’s never okay to stay that way.

As time moves on from my Dad’s death, I am beginning to see his mask in a new light. I see it as a coping mechanism, not an act of deceit. I see it as an act of love. Yes, an act of love that I wish we could have redirected. But even though he wore that mask, I know that love existed underneath. I know it’s there. I feel it every day—and I’ll never forget it.

Mom and Dad at Church with SB LogoDad, You didn’t have to wear a mask. I think I know why you did. You wore a mask because you loved me and you loved all of us. And you couldn’t bear the thought of letting us down. Dad, you never would have let any of us down. Even in your death, you aren’t letting me down. You could never disappoint me. I would never be ashamed of you, no matter how sick you felt. Dad, you were courageous. You were brave. And you always had a huge smile on your face because you wanted others to smile, too. I know you were trying to be brave, but I wish I could have told you that being vulnerable and getting help was one of the bravest things you ever could have done. Thank you, Dad, for making my life happier. Thank you for teaching me how to enjoy life. And Dad, thank you for being the fighter that you were. Your story is teaching us all so much. Thanks for teaching me how to share it. Until I can say that I love you in person, seeya Bub.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Dad’s Song

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I loved it already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Alas, we didn’t.

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

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

Strong

Will Hoge

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

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

Strong

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

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

He’s strong

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

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

How he was strong

Strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Meggie: Guest Blog by Megan Turner

Ty: “Quit wooking at me!” was all she ever yelled when we were little. I must have heard it a thousand times, but we always kept looking.

Megan and Ty in PoolShe is my little cousin, Megan—and she’s more than a little cousin. I’m an only child. I always imagine that my parents took one look at me when I was born, realized they couldn’t possibly create another child as perfect and naturally adorable, and abandoned their plans for any additional little ones. Hey, at least I said I imagined it…

Although I grew up without any technical siblings, I was blessed with my cousin Jake when I was four. The son of my Aunt Beth and Uncle Lee came into the picture, and I immediately took a liking to him…which is not easy because I was constantly obsessed with how ginormous his baby head was.

Jake must not have been perfect enough, because his parents decided to give him a sister, and that’s when Megan came into the picture. I remember thinking she was always so cute, and our family constantly told her that even though she would constantly yell at us as a youngster and tell us to “Quit wooking” or looking at her.

Megan's Baby Photo

But no matter how loud she yelled, my Dad never quit looking at her because she was always so very special to him. I think that Megan was the daughter that my Dad never got to have. She was always a really playful child, and my Dad loved that about her. He had an uncanny ability to make children laugh, most of the time as he made a complete fool of himself, and Megan was no exception. I still have so many childhood memories that are flooded with the sound of Megan’s laughter as she watched my Dad do something ridiculous.

And I also remember Megan’s tears on the day she found out that he was gone. I remember her trying to simultaneously comfort my Mom and I while grieving herself. And I remember, in those moments, looking at a young girl that I was tremendously proud of and watching her mature in the midst of a terrible tragedy.

When Megan sent me an essay that she had to write in one of her college classes about a life-changing experience, I was moved to tears as I read. It reminded me that I lost a Dad, but in losing my Dad there were also many other people who lost someone special to them—a husband, an uncle, a friend, a coworker. My Dad is no longer here, and neither is Megan’s uncle. Her words remind me that we all lose when we lose someone special, and that we all suffer uniquely and in our own way. And thankfully, God puts the people in our lives that we need most to carry us through the storm.

Megan Jake Ty and Dad at Beach


Megan: I never imagined, at the age of eighteen, my small, extremely close family could change so drastically, in one day, so unexpectedly. It was summer, around the end of July. I had been driving around with my Dad all that morning and everything seemed fine. Little did I know that day was getting ready to completely turn for the worse.  I was about to receive some horrible news about someone I dearly cared for. Though I thought my Uncle Scott was one of the happiest men around; I was not completely aware of what he struggled with, as well as what several others do too. Never assume that just because someone is outwardly happy that they are not struggling with something bad on the inside.

As I got back into the car from receiving an important job, I knew everything was about to go downhill and change right away. I buckled my seat belt and as I glanced at my Dad, I saw he had the saddest look in his eyes.  I knew something was not right at that very moment. My Dad was a tough, strong, hardworking man that never showed any signs of weakness or sadness. This time it was different; he had tears running down his face.

“What’s going on Dad?” I instantly said to him.

“Megan I have something I need to tell you,” my dad replied “Something really bad happened a little bit ago. Uncle Scott attempted to take his own life, and they weren’t able to save him. He’s passed away.”

I could not believe what I was hearing. “What do you mean passed away?” I could not even imagine my outgoing, always happy, funny Uncle Scott doing something like that.

“Honey, your uncle Scott has been suffering from depression for a while now. I know he never showed any signs, but the past few weeks he has really been in a depressed state.”

I did not want to believe a word I was hearing. There are a lot of things in life I do not quite always understand, but this was something I knew for the rest of my life I would never understand. We instantly started driving to my Aunt’s house where all my family was waiting for us.

While the sun was shining warmly on my face through the window on the drive there, a handful of memories were rushing through my mind. Every time I would see my Uncle, the very first thing he would do is give me a huge hug and smile, saying, “Hi Meggie, how are you?” How was I going to be able to go to family events and be around my family not being able to hear those five words every time like I always did? Right away I began to think about all the memories I shared with him. My Uncle Scott was adventurous and always up to doing something. A few summers before, he spent hours and hours with me at the pool teaching me how to dive. I continued to get frustrated every time I could not get it right, but Scott never gave up on me. He pushed me and told me to try again, and eventually, I was able to do a dive in the swimming pool just like he had shown me. There were so many things he was talented at. He had a huge heart and would do almost anything for anyone. He was a hard worker who could fix almost anything, enjoyable to be around, great with animals, and most importantly a huge part of our family.

When we finally got closer to my Aunt’s I could not even think straight about how upsetting everything was getting ready to become. There were quite a few cars parked around the street. I noticed my Mom was there, as well as my Grandparents. As I got out of the car, I saw my Grandpa standing there talking with a detective. My skin, right away, had chills going down my arms as I realized that something terrible like this really just happened.

I rushed into the neighbor’s house, where my Aunt was at the time with my Mother and Grandmother. I dramatically threw myself in my Aunt’s arms, with tears dripping down my face. She held on tight, squeezing me tighter every few seconds and whispered in my ear, “I love you so much, Megan.” My heart started beating faster as the tears from both mine and my Aunt’s eyes continued to tremble down our faces. As my Brother approached us, while standing there, she grabbed him close to her and I both, and the tears began coming out faster. “Your Uncle Scott loved the both of you so much and don’t ever forget that. He thought the absolute world about you.”

Walking next door to the house that my cousin Ty lived in, I could not put the puzzle pieces together in my mind that this tragedy in my family really just happened. What were we going to do the next time we gathered for family events and without him there? How were my Aunt Becky and cousin going to be strong enough to get past this? How was I going to be able to hold up at his funeral?

I never imagined seeing my cousin the way I did. His face was pale, and he sat on the couch as if he was deer in headlights. Only blinking a few times every minute, he had nothing to say. My cousin was just as outgoing as my uncle and always had a smile on his face. This time it was different. It seemed as if a different person was inside my cousin. Sitting in the living room for hours and hours letting it all sink in was the most hurtful and painful thing my family had to do.

Time has gone by now and the thought of my uncle no longer being with us crosses my mind first thing every morning and last thing every night. The day was here that I was dreading all along. It was the day that my family and I gathered around and had to set up the arrangements for the devastating loss of my wonderful Uncle Scott.

That was one of the most challenging days my family and I had to face with one another. Nothing about it was easy, and the thought of that day crosses my mind over and over again. Death is a very common thing that everyone goes through at some point in their life, several times. Everyone handles the death of loved ones differently. It is important to be close to those that you love and care for, and know whether or not they are struggling inside with something. Depression is a very common disorder that many people have and face on a daily basis. It’s important for those to get help and see the doctor when they are feeling that way. Never believe that you could never lose someone that you love unexpectedly. Cherish the memories you share with the ones that mean the most and always be there for your family. This day was a very difficult day for my family and I that we all still deal with the pain of my Uncle being gone every day. My Uncle Scott was a strong man that could not fight any longer. He is an amazing man that is truly missed by so many, and I’ll never stop loving him.


Ty: I knew that I wanted to speak at my Dad’s funeral, but I didn’t know if I could. I tried numerous times to write down notes in the days leading up to the funeral, but every time I sat down my mind would fog or I would start sobbing uncontrollably. I wondered if I’d be able to give my Dad the proper eulogy that he deserved.

I remember talking with my Grandpa and him asking me whether or not he thought I would be able to speak. I told him that I was going to try, but that I honestly didn’t know if I would have the strength or the emotional stability.

And then, he told me “I’ve talked with Jake and Megan, and if you’d like, they would like to stand next to you at the pulpit when you speak.”

Immediately, I felt a new sense of courage. I wasn’t going through this alone. I was suffering with people who loved me. I was suffering with family members who were heartbroken, too. I was suffering with two individuals that I loved like a brother and a sister. Two very special people who would be there next to the pulpit.

And if they were there to suffer with me, I knew they would also be there to help me heal.

They weren’t leaving. They weren’t going anywhere. I was never in this alone, even though my Dad’s death made me feel so lonely.

Megan and Ty EasterI don’t remember everything I said that day at my Dad’s funeral, but I remember turning to Jake and Megan, telling each one of them how proud I was of them. I’ll admit, I don’t often do that enough to those I love, and I’ve been trying to do it more ever since my Dad’s death. I am tremendously proud of them for the love and care they showed to my Mom and I when Dad died. In that tragedy, Megan grew from a little girl to a courageous young woman. She still grieves, like we all do. She is still suffering, too. But her experience reminds me that although we suffer uniquely, we never suffer alone. There will always be someone there, even in the moments where it doesn’t feel like it, to stand next to you when you can’t stand on your own.

She doesn’t yell at me anymore, but I’ll always be “wooking at her” with the admiration of a proud big cousin brother.

Megan and Dad with SB LogoDad, You would be so proud of the young woman that Megan has become. I know I am. She is intelligent and beautiful and caring—all the things you valued in life. I know you are watching over all of us and smiling, but it just isn’t the same without you here next to us. Family get-togethers just seem to lack the same fun and excitement that they had when you were at them. We all lost a piece of our heart when we lost you on that July morning, but we’ve never lost your memory. I pray that every day, God will help me live the type of life that you lived, and I pray that I can treat my family with the same amount of love and dedication that you always did. We miss you terribly, and until we are all together again, seeya Bub.

“My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.” Psalm 73:26 (NLT)

Megan TurnerMegan Turner

Megan is Ty’s younger cousin, and she currently works as a medical assistant at the office of an Allergest. Megan enjoys watching sports, being outdoors, and spending time with her family. Megan is currently planning to return to college to pursue a degree in Special Education, as one of her passions is working with the mentally and physically impaired.

A Jar of Sand

I opened my desk drawer at work and pulled out a jar of sand.

To the outsider looking in, the jar is nothing special. It’s a simple mason jar filled with gray sand. On top of the sand, there rests a handful of seashells. The seashells range in color, shape, and size.

But to me, that jar is a truly cherished possession. A gesture of love and compassion. Something that means more to me than most people would ever know. This unsuspecting jar of sand was a treasure that helped me get through some of the most difficult emotional obstacles of my life.

And it came from a student I’ll never forget.


Swimming trunks? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Shades? Check.

I ran through the list as I had done so many times before, as my family geared up for our summer vacation to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Mom, Dad, and I were heading down to the beach for a week. We hadn’t been in a few years as a family, so we were all looking forward to the opportunity to get away for a week and soak up the sun in our favorite seaside haven.

It was July of 2013.

In a week or so, my family would be leaving for our beach vacation, and we couldn’t be more excited. We all needed a break from the everyday routines we had established, and in my family nothing was more peaceful than parking a chair in the sand along the coast and staring out into the endless waves.

We were anticipating so many great times together in Gulf Shores, and we were also anticipating a very long and very uncomfortable ride in the truck. My Dad’s truck may have comfortably sat four riders, but that was without luggage. But even a family of three should have been able to fit in the truck somewhat-comfortably with plenty of luggage to last throughout the week.

Not my family. Specifically, not my Mom. Although Dad and I were pretty efficient packers, Mom always believed that we should bring anything and everything that we would possibly need or want during that week—and to be safe we should probably bring two of them.

The night leading up to our departure was always interesting, as Dad would try to solve the most complex game of Tetris he had ever encountered—piecing all of our luggage into the back of the truck without obstructing his view out of the rear window. I would always help my Dad as he put the luggage into the vehicle we were driving, and we would both shake our heads and bite our lips when we saw how much stuff we had packed. Dad would typically find at least one thing to grow endlessly frustrated about that my Mom had packed.

“Becky, do we really need to take a gallon sized plastic pitcher with us?” he would yell through the door.

“What am I going to make lemonade in if we don’t?” she would yell back.

Dad would turn around, mumble under his breath about how there were pitchers in the condo kitchen that she could probably use, and then he would do what any good husband would do. He put the pitcher back in the truck and packed it anyway.

But this summer, Dad had his new truck. In an effort to make us all a little more comfortable, he was scouring the Web for a new cap or toolbox he could put in the bed of his truck so we could store all of the luggage in there instead of cramming everything into the cab. Each night, Dad would spend some time looking at the newest name-brand contraptions that would turn the bed of his truck into the premium luggage hauler for our nearly 700 mile drive. He would slowly read things on the Internet, pondering reviews and printing out possible solutions.

He did this all the way up until the night before his death. I would like to think that my Dad was looking forward to that trip. I have no idea whether the suicidal thoughts he would feel the next day had already invaded his mind, but it’s very hard to imagine that my Dad would have been looking at options to increase his packing capacity had he not envisioned going to the beach.

What a great trip it would have been. Dad absolutely loved the beach. We had spent so many summer vacations sitting shore-side in chairs under umbrellas soaking in the sun and admiring what we thought was God’s most beautiful creation. My Dad always seemed to be at peace at the beach. He would lay calmly on a beach towel in the sand as the sun beat down on his back. He would dig holes and build sand sculptures. He would swim out as far as he possibly could into the ocean while my Mom looked on nervously from her chair.

But he was never isolated at the beach. He and my Mom would take long walks along the shore, talking and looking at the sea gulls as they flew by. He and I would toss a baseball back and forth until our arms got tired or we overheated, and then we would jump into the waves and toss a ball there instead. And Dad, always the chatterbox, would make friends with the strangers who had set up camp near us on the beach. He would get to know people from all over the country and learn about their lives. If he met them early on in the trip, he would be sure to get to say hello to them every day of the trip.

Dad just seemed so happy at the beach. It was his little slice of heaven on earth. And I often wonder if he’d still be sitting here next to me today had that trip been a week or so earlier. I can’t help but imagine…


Instead of spending that week on the beach, it was more than a month after my Dad’s death and I was sitting in my office chair at Miami University Middletown, staring aimlessly at my computer and pondering my new life. My work days, when I could actually get the strength to go in, were full of daydreaming, pondering, and distraction. I would try to commit my mind to projects and tasks before the start of the semester, but it was nearly impossible. I could only seem to think about my Dad and how desperately I missed him.

Mom and I hadn’t seriously entertained the idea of going on vacation without Dad after his funeral, even though many people had encouraged us to go anyway as a way to escape the reality of our new life. We both knew that it was just too early to go on a family vacation when we felt like our family wasn’t whole. Going to the beach without Dad was just too much for us to take on so soon. So, we stayed home and eventually tried to get back to normal life—or our new normal. I knew I couldn’t go so soon, and seriously wondered whether I would ever be able to go back again without him.

As I sat at my desk one afternoon trying not to cry, I heard a knock at my office door. It was Gillian Maxfield, one of my campus tour guides and a student I had grown to adore during her time at Miami.

“Hi there, Gillian,” I said, pronouncing her name with a hard “G” (like Gilligan), an inside joke between she and I that traced back to the first time I met her. I had read her name off of a roster of campus tour guides shortly after I took over the role at Miami, and when I pronounced her name the way I did, everyone laughed as she corrected me.

“It’s Gillian! Like with a ‘J’!” she laughed.

“But it doesn’t have a ‘J’,” I said with a look of mock confusion on my face. Honestly, I had never seen that name spelled that way! “It has a ‘G.’ Therefore, I’ll call you Gill-ee-en.

Everyone laughed, including Gillian, and for as long as I worked at Miami I nearly always pronounced her name that way.

Gillian was the type of student that every educator dreams of—resilient, willing to take chances, and always appreciative of the opportunities she was given in life. Gillian came to Miami with a healthy dose of nervousness towards college, but she immediately started to embrace leadership opportunities all across the campus. She started participating in the wealth of student activities that were offered, and eventually joined the student organization that planned all of them. She held a campus job as an administrative assistant in the Dean of Students’ office. She was a dynamic student leader for the new student orientation programs held at the campus. And she became one of my most reliable, dependable, and engaging campus tour guides during her time there—not to mention a favorite for many of the families who came to explore.

Gillian always seemed a little nervous when she started giving tours on a regular basis after I began supervising the tour guides, but she was courageous and took every opportunity she could to improve her communication skills. She did it with great success, because her tour groups would always return from their stroll around campus with big smiles on their faces and plenty of compliments for their guide.

“Gillian was absolutely tremendous! She did a great job!” This was a common refrain from the visitors who would come to our campus. Gillian, always humble and never boasting, would smile, blush, and laugh nervously. She never failed to disappoint.

Seeing Gillian stand in my office doorway shortly after my return to work after Dad’s death was so comforting. She walked around my desk as I rose from my chair.

“I am so sorry to hear about your Dad, Tyler,” she said as she gave me a hug. “I know this must be a very difficult time for you.”

Her words were filled with compassion and generosity. She was always so genuine, and I appreciated this most. We both sat down and talked about how kind and supportive everyone had been during my return, and how I was slowly but surely learning to cope with a new world that my Dad was absent from.

Then, Gillian gave me one of the most genuine memories from that difficult chapter of my life that I still hold near and dear to my heart to this day. Gillian reached into her bag and pulled out a mason jar, handing it to me across the desk.

“I know that you weren’t able to go the beach this summer,” Gillian said, “and I know how much you were looking forward to going with your Mom and Dad. I wanted to bring you some sand and seashells from one of my family vacations as a way for you to remember the good times you had with your Dad at the beach.”

Jar of Sand

I looked at the mason jar as tears filled my eyes. I got up from my desk again, giving Gillian another hug as I attempted (unsuccessfully) not to break down. We sat back down as I turned the jar around in my hand, appreciating the beauty of the seashells and sand in front of me. Gillian was right—having that jar in my hand did bring back so many wonderful memories of the times that my family and I had spent together on the beach. I shared some of those stories with Gillian, and she sat in my office helping me grieve in ways that she never even knew. We talked for a while, and she let me express my feelings with the patience and maturity of someone far beyond her years. As we neared the end of our conversation, I got up to give her another hug as she left the office.

“Thank you, Gillian,” I said, pronouncing her name correctly for the first time in many years. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”


Just a few weeks ago, I was looking at that same jar of sand, yet again with tears in my eyes but for a very different reason.

I sat the jar down on the table, and walked out of my house in a black suit and shirt. After a short drive, I walked into the funeral home. I was there to attend Gillian’s funeral.

Gillian MaxfieldHealth complications had taken her too soon. We hadn’t seen each other in a few years after I left the job at the Middletown Campus, a fact that I now felt very guilty about. It’s so easy to say that we will all stay in touch when jobs or other circumstances change, and I hate that time makes these promises so difficult to maintain.

I used to have such difficulty attending funerals, but being on the receiving end of one changes everything. Thousands of people came out to show their love and support for my Dad during his funeral, and it made my Mom and I feel so loved and cared for. Ever since then, I’ve learned how wonderful it can feel to have people attend a funeral and tell stories about their loved ones.

I went for Gillian, but I also went for her family. Before approaching the casket, I had a chance to share the story of the jar of sand with Gillian’s heartbroken parents, once again with tears in my eyes. I told them how that gesture of love had warmed my heart and helped me survive the most difficult loss of my life. I told them how proud I was of all Gillian had done at Miami.

“I’ve kept that jar in my desk ever since that day,” I told them. “Every now and then, I pull it out and think about that day when she came to my office and gave it to me. She is the type of student every educator dreams of. Thank you for sharing her with all of us.” We discussed all of the memories we both shared of her, and Gillian’s Dad even remembered the day she had gathered the materials for the jar. We smiled together through tears—a reflection of a life well lived.

We hugged, and I approached her casket, preparing to say my respects one last time. Although her body was in front of me, I could only see the Gillian in my memories, full of life and flashing that familiar smile that had warmed so many hearts on our campus during her time there.

“Thank you, Gillian, for the jar of sand,” I said to her in my final goodbyes. “Thank you for being you.”

That jar of sand will always be one of my most treasured possession—not because of the shells and sand it contains, but because of the love it represents. More than I could ever express to her in person, Gillian went out of her way to help me grieve. But when I attended the funeral that day, everyone had their own “jar of sand” story about Gillian. We could all recollect moments when Gillian had touched our hearts so deeply in completely extraordinary ways.

I hope I can be more like Gillian as I go through this life. I hope I can exude the same zest for life she showed each and every day. Tragedy is inevitable, and I hope that in someone else’s moment of distress I can provide a “jar of sand” for them. I will never, ever forget how much that loving gesture strengthened my courage and resolve to deal with tragedy, and I’ll always be grateful for Gillian—a student who, just like a seashell, was truly one of a kind.

dad-and-seagulls-with-seeya-bub-logoDad, I often envy the fact that you are meeting so many wonderful people who are in Heaven, and I hope you’ve had an opportunity to meet Gillian. She helped me remember all the wonderful moments you and I had shared together with Mom and our family at the beach. She was one of God’s angels here on Earth who helped me cope with your loss, and I have no doubt that you are thanking her in person for that jar of sand she gave me. Thank you for giving me so many great memories. Until we can share all of those memories again together, seeya Bub.

“So, encourage each other and build each other up…” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)