I knew I wanted to talk—I just didn’t know when I’d be ready.
In addition to my job at Miami University, I’ve been a sports announcer for many years, calling games for local high schools and college teams in my ever-dwindling spare time. It’s a passion I picked up during my freshman year at Miami’s Hamilton Campus when I saw a flyer in the stairwell of Mosler Hall looking for a new “Voice of the Harriers.” Inevitably, the more I announced in my hometown and the surrounding communities, the more requests I received to emcee or host other events that weren’t athletic contests. Sports hall of fames, fundraisers, and talent shows started to pack my Friday and Saturday nights, and no matter where I looked, there always seemed to be a stage and a podium with a microphone awaiting me—and I loved it. God had given me a tremendous platform, and to this day, I’ve always tried to thank Him each and every time I get asked to play a part in these events.
Although the inductees have a tendency to get a little long-winded, sports hall of fames have always been fun events for me to host. I try and land a few jokes out of the gate, get a laugh or two when an inductee forgets to thank his wife during the speech, and most importantly keep everything on time so the event doesn’t run too long (a goal that constantly eludes me). The first hall of fame I ever emceed was a cruel reminder of this truth. Prior to the event, the organizers told all of the inductees that they each had about three minutes to deliver their acceptance speech. The very first inductee applied the liberal interpretation of the word “about” and spoke for 21 minutes. There were nine additional inductees after him. The event started on a Saturday night, and I think I made it home by Wednesday or Thursday of the next week.
Selfishly, my favorite part of emceeing a sports banquet has always been the closing. In the weeks leading up to the event, I’ll scour the headlines, Internet, and plenty a Chicken Soup for the Soul book in an attempt to find an anecdotal tale, story, or illustration that will leave the audience thinking more intentionally about how they treat their fellow man or woman. Usually, these stories have some kind of theme or character trait that I hope we can all learn to exemplify more. Perhaps it’s “purpose” or “sacrifice” (…or “brevity” for that 21-minute inductee who is likely still giving his acceptance speech in a hotel ballroom somewhere).
In the days, weeks, and months after I lost my Dad to suicide, I constantly felt God’s call on my life to share Dad’s story. Frustratingly, I felt the call, but didn’t have a compass. Did God want me to share the story with those in my close inner circle? On a national stage? In the written form? And what parts of the story did He want me to share? I prayed and asked, but unfortunately did not feel His direction. It was maddening at times, but simultaneously reassuring. At least God had given me the call; maybe it was up to me to determine the direction?
A few months after losing Dad, I needed to start preparing for another athletic hall of fame that I had agreed to host. This one, fittingly, was to be held at Miami Hamilton. The event, albeit small, had always held a special place in my heart. This was the place where I had been given my start as a sports announcer with absolutely no experience (it was probably a good thing that there were only 50 people at a game that first year as I learned, experimented, made my share of mistakes, and found my way). Even though it never felt like a “big gig,” Mom and Dad had always attended every single game they could, sitting across from me in the bleachers. I can still picture them to this day. I can still picture Dad walking across the court after every single game to tell me I had done a good job. I often joked that I was the only sports announcer at any level whose parents followed him to nearly every game. Looking back on it, I realize how thankful I was for their presence; and after that chapter of life was gone, I missed it tremendously. Looking across the court into the bleachers after losing Dad, I could still picture him sitting there in a Miami hoodie, smiling, laughing, and of course, talking to everyone. They were good memories—they still are.
As I prepared to host my first hall of fame dinner after losing my Dad, and I thought about how much that campus had meant to me and the family memories I had there, I realized that I had a fitting story to tell at the close of the event without having to do any research whatsoever. I wanted to tell the story of my Dad and me playing catch together in our side yard. I wanted to talk about the indelible memories that the two of us had made together as sweat poured from our brows in the blazing sunset of most humid Cincinnati July evenings. I wanted to talk about how losing my Dad had made me realize that those toss sessions were more than just an opportunity to throw or hear the pop of a leather Rawlings glove. Those were moments when Dad and I grew closer to one another. Where we shared our frustrations, our fears, and a few laughs whenever I jumped to catch a ball that didn’t require jumping (I’ve mentioned my lack of athletic ability a time or thirty here, so this should come as no surprise to anyone).
With Dad’s death still very, very heavy on my heart, I knew it was the story to tell. I knew that I could go up on stage, acknowledge that I was still grieving and in tremendous pain, and maybe, just maybe, give those in attendance an important reminder—a reminder that life is sweet, precious, and terribly fragile.
In the days leading up to the event, I would sit down at my desk and try to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to hash out the story I wanted to tell. This was well-before I had launched this blog, and writing in my life to that point had been much more academic and stuffy than the story I hoped to tell the night of the ceremony. Each time I sat down, I found my mind and will to write waning. It was unbelievably difficult for me to take the story and memories I had in my head and craft them into an accurate narrative—and it was very disheartening. Night after night I found myself grappling with words, writing whole paragraphs only to delete them, and growing generally more discouraged by the minute.
My Dad’s story—I knew—was worth telling; and I wanted to tell it. I just didn’t know how. And night after night after frustrating night, I just couldn’t write it. This wasn’t writer’s block—this was a writer’s blockade! I simply could not articulate the words I wanted to say. At the time, writing the story felt unnatural, even though I knew I wanted to share it. I tried not to get discouraged, but as the event drew nearer and nearer, I knew that it just wasn’t going to come together as I had wished.
That feeling of uneasiness led me down an interesting path. In my mind, I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, this was a story I didn’t want to craft or script. Maybe God was telling me to go up, and to speak from the heart, and let the story tell itself? After all, the story was in my head. Maybe in the moment it would feel more natural to speak without notes. I’ve always tried to be an authentic and honest speaker, and I began to believe that the best way to share Dad’s story was to do it off the cuff. I’m also very comfortable speaking extemporaneously, and knowing that this story was my own, I wasn’t as concerned with making sure I had every detail scripted in front of me. I knew the details because I had lived them.
Anyone who has seen me in the “backstage” moments before I announce an event knows I’m a meticulous planner, and I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to the script. I request it days in advance so I can edit, add in my own directions, adjust, and rehearse. I format it meticulously and identically every single time: size 18 font for maximum readability, Arial font only, bold titles and headers for different program portions, italicized stage cues, clean paragraph breaks with no sentences spanning multiple pages, no text in the bottom third of the page, and page numbers always formatted as “Page __ of __” in the top right-hand corner to keep me on track for timing. I print two copies in case one is the victim of a spill or abduction, paper clip them, and place them both into my lucky padfolio.
(Insert your joke about “meticulously” being a code word for “OCD” here.)
For the first time in my announcing career, I made an exception in my script. After printing out the 20 pages of scripted material, I added a page to the back—no number, no font and sizing conventions. In fact, the page said absolutely nothing. As I prepared, I took out a red pen and wrote across the top of the page “I LOVE MY DAD.” That would be my cue, my directive, the only motivation I needed to tell the story and tell it properly.
The event went as well as any other I had hosted, but during each acceptance speech from the inductees I found myself growing more and more anxious. I was the only person in the room who knew what I was about to do. I was going to share a story so central to my identity that there was going to be no going back once I told it. Over the past few years, public speaking had become something that I was beyond comfortable doing—so much so that I actually enjoyed it. I rarely got nervous anymore, but on this night, I found myself constantly trying to wipe the sweat from my palms as the closing approached.
When that moment came, I confidently walked up to the podium and congratulated the hall of fame class again on their accomplishment. As I do nearly every time, I set the stage for what I was about to do. On that night, I told the audience that I always tried to leave them with a story that would give us all something to think about as we went our separate ways, but that this year, my story would be a bit more personal because it was my own.
I began to tell the story, and I began to tell the audience about my Dad…and within just a few seconds, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. I started breaking down in front of a group of loving but justifiably uncomfortable individuals. I couldn’t even string a sentence together. I was sobbing at the podium, unable to speak. I was crying and sweating and felt the need to throw up. Standing in front of a crowd is not a great time to realize that you’ve made a mistake—but there I was.
I don’t even remember what happened or how I transitioned, but I ended the story abruptly. I think I may have mentioned that I just wanted people to know that my Dad was important to me and the memories I had of him at Miami Hamilton would always be special, and I uncomfortably closed the event and left the stage with my standard directive to drive home safely. A few of the attendees who I knew came up and hugged me and encouraged me and told me how important it was that I had shared this story, but I was undeniably disappointed in myself. Not for the impression that anyone had of me; I was disappointed because I hadn’t done my Dad justice. I don’t know that I’ve ever hustled out of an event as quickly as I had done that night.
The car ride home was isolated and brutal. I beat my fist into the steering wheel at multiple red lights, wondering why my first attempt to share my Dad’s story publicly had gone so badly. Dad deserved better.
I admit that Satan crept into my mind on that night and took up a semi-permanent residence there for a while. I could hear his temptations to give up. “You’re never going to bounce back from this one.” “You’re never going to get over the humiliation you feel in this moment.” “You’re never going to have a platform to share your Dad’s story.” “You’re never going to get to a point where you can talk about your Dad without being so overcome by grief that it completely defeats you.” “You’re never going to be able to help other people learn from what happened to your Dad.”
Never. Never. Never. I kept hearing it again and again, and the tears got worse every time I heard it.
But in the days after that event, I prayed. Even though I was upset. Even though I was hurting. Even though, yes, I was frustrated with God for giving me a platform and not helping me deliver the message I wanted and that Dad deserved. And with each prayer, I heard two words in response, over and over again, every time I shared my humiliation and fear with God:
Not yet. God’s response to all the “nevers” that Satan had put in my head was more powerful—“not yet.” God was taking something that felt irredeemable and He was promising me a way forward. I heard God telling me that He still had work to do. In those simple words, I heard God telling me that His timing was better than my own. And as much as I hated to come to terms with this, I heard God telling me that He was going to teach me something in the failure I had experienced on that evening. He was going to use that moment of failure, pain, and dissapointment to grow and develop something within me.
And little by little, day by day, I felt it.
In the months that followed, even though I kept the phrase “not yet” in my head quite often, I still succumbed to doubt. But the pain of not being able to share my Dad’s story was an important reminder for me to be patient—a skill that God did not innately bless me with. I thought I was ready; but God knew I wasn’t. He knew that I was still grieving and that the pain of my Dad’s death from suicide was more real and raw than I was giving it credit for. God needed me to take care of myself before I could possibly start sharing Dad’s story in an effort to take care of others, and He was using that experience to remind me of the need to not neglect my own needs.
What was most valuable in those moments, and what I still thank God for to this day, was the “yet.” Yes, I had failed during that first attempt, but I heard God telling me that He wanted me to walk, not sprint. I heard God telling me that I needed to heal before I could help; to build a strong foundation first before building the Kingdom.
My experience and growth in those months of struggle taught me important lessons about sharing my Dad’s story—both in public forums but also in my daily conversations with individuals. These have turned into important lessons for me about grief—lessons that I hope can benefit anyone who might be struggling to talk about the pain they are feeling.
Talk when you’re ready. There is no timeline on grief. There is no guideline for when you should be ready to talk to others or share your story, and we shouldn’t try to force our grief into a timetable that doesn’t work for us.
Looking back on my own situation, I can easily realize that I was trying to force myself to talk publicly about my Dad because I thought that I should have been far enough along through my grief to accomplish this—but I wasn’t. It had been a few months since Dad’s death when I gave it that first attempt, and others in similar situations had moved on in a similar timeline—but I hadn’t, and I just wasn’t ready. Even though there had been time to do some healing, Dad’s death still felt as fresh and real in many moments as it did on that first day when I found out that he was gone.
I used an arbitrary calendar to gauge my grief and healing, which was a horrible thing to do. Grief and healing aren’t measured in years; they’re measured in steps and goalposts and milestones, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes us to reach each of those moments in our development. For some, healing might happen quickly. For others it might move at a snail’s pace, and for most, grief will actually occur in a non-linear pattern with ups, downs, more ups, more downs, sideways jaunts, and all kinds of inexplicable moments in between. There were hints of God’s “not yet” directive all throughout my life leading up to that night, but I didn’t take them because I didn’t want to appear weak. What a foolish, foolish trap to fall for.
Give yourself grace when you talk about your loss. For a long while after that failed attempt to speak about my Dad, I beat myself up over it. I looked at that attempt as a failure that would always haunt and plague me when I tried to make a difference in the world of suicide prevention. It was a moment at the podium that I didn’t think I could ever bounce back from.
But that was Satan’s distortion, not God’s reality.
Satan tells us that if we don’t get it right the first time, we never will. God, on the other hand, tells us that our failures are building blocks for something greater. On nearly every page of the Bible, you’ll find stories of individuals who failed and went on to do great things to build God’s Kingdom here on Earth, and it’s not the failures that God remembers. Instead, He remembers the moment that we bounce back. He remembers Paul’s ministry, not his crusade to kill early Christians. He remembers Peter as the rock upon which the Christian church was built, not the way he sunk like a rock while trying to walk on the water. He remembers Cornelius the Roman Centurion’s conversion to Christianity, not the atrocities he committed on behalf of the Roman Empire that led him to that moment. The men and women in the Bible show us stories of redemption, but there can only be redemption if there is first failure.
When we talk about our grief, our mistakes do not hold us captive. Oftentimes, it’s the actual process of talking through our grief and the way we feel that reveals where we are hurting. Deeply buried hurts and pains bubble to the surface when we talk, and if we don’t talk, those things stay buried but still hurt us without our knowing it. At times, I’ve talked about losing my Dad (namely to my therapist and those in my life who are closest to me) and came to new realizations about my grief, even if I didn’t articulate everything perfectly. There were things bothering me that I didn’t even realize until I mentioned them; and once I shine the light on them and speak about them, they don’t hurt as bad.
Just as there’s no timetable or manual that you have to follow when you talk about your grief, there also isn’t a set dictionary or writer’s guide that tells you how you have to talk about your feelings. As you begin to talk, be kind to yourself and understand that how you feel might not always come out perfectly. Let’s face it—if we all knew how to talk about our feelings perfectly, my Dad wouldn’t have suffered in silence from his depression. Learning to talk about our loss or our complicated and often messy feelings requires the failures just as much as it does the successes.
You don’t have to share your story with everyone, and you don’t have to share everything. After losing my Dad, I felt the need to talk about him and share his story with everyone I met in nearly every forum that I had; but I realized that it was not productive. I thought, foolishly, that if I wasn’t talking about my Dad, I was forgetting about him or failing to honor his memory. Wrongly, I felt as if I was disrespecting him in every moment that I didn’t talk about him.
As painful as it is for me to admit it, there are some people with whom I don’t talk to very often about losing my Dad. It sounds ironic to write this on a blog that is broadcast to the world at large, but I want to make the story available to anyone who can learn and grow from it. That doesn’t mean that I expect everyone to read it, or that I even expect everyone who reads it to learn from and grow from it. I know God will direct my Dad’s story into the right hands. I’m just the messenger; I’ll let God take care of the delivery.
Even though I don’t control the delivery, it also means that I am in control of the story itself, which is unbelievably reassuring in a phase of life that has felt very unpredictable because of my unexpected loss.
There are some elements of my Dad’s story that I don’t share at all. Those are precious, private details between a lost Father and a grieving son that will always be sacred to me. Setting boundaries on what I will discuss and what I won’t has been one of the most important techniques in sharing my story that protects my own mental health and grief. There are some moments and details, honestly, that are still too painful to relive, even six years removed from losing my Dad. So, I approach those areas with tenderness, and I try to realize that there is something really valuable about self-care when it comes to sharing our stories, especially when death and loss are involved.
And most importantly, I learned that God helps us get back off the mat after we are knocked down. I’m so grateful that, over time, God gave me the strength and encouragement to get back up from the blows that had been delivered after that first unsuccessful attempt.
I don’t remember how much time had passed in between—which in itself is an important reminder to not focus on arbitrary calendar markers when it comes to our grief—but I eventually felt the call to share my Dad’s story at an event I was hosting.
And this time, I heard God clearly saying “Now.”
The story I wanted to tell came to me with an unbelievable clarity, and it honored my Dad in the exact way that I had hoped to honor him in the previous attempt. I was fortunate that there were no cameras around to capture that first failed attempt, but I was beyond grateful that the cameras happened to be there the second time around (special thanks to my good friend Steve Colwell of TVHamilton for capturing this important moment in my life).
Looking back and watching that moment years removed, I still find imperfections—but those imperfections were perfectly honest at that particular moment in time, and I’m happy they are there. I’m happy that my story, in many ways, is still so similar, and I’m happy that in other ways, it has changed dramatically. It’s evidence that I’ve healed in many ways, and that I’m still healing in others. It’s a reminder that no matter how much we grow and change, there is still a firm foundation that God gives us which roots our souls firmly in His presence. I’m glad that God is happy with us where we are, but I’m just as thankful that He never wants us to remain in that same place forever.
And each day, I grow to appreciate more and more those reminders when God tells me “Not yet.”
Dad, Talking about your death has, at times, been unbelievably difficult because the pain of losing you is still so real. Every day, I want to honor you and the life that you lived here, and I’m grateful that, over time, God has given me the grace and power to do that in my own way. Dad, I want you to know that you are still so loved by so many. Your story is helping so many people. Your death is giving life to other people who are hurting and struggling, and no matter what I do, I’ll never forget you and the lessons you taught me. Each time I talk about you, I can feel your presence, and I know you are watching over me and guiding me. Dad, continue watching over me. Continue to give me that peace and comfort that only a Father can provide. In your life, you taught me everything I would need to survive in the aftermath of your death; and in your death, your memory is still teaching me daily. Your memory teaches me what it means to be a good husband, son, and friend. Thank you, Dad, for being a Father worthy of praise. I miss you more and more each day, and I am anxiously waiting for the day when we are reunited. Until then, seeya Bub.
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)