The Should Haves

I live my life with a perpetual and terribly unrelenting case of The Should Haves.

It’s been over five years since my Dad’s death, but I was fortunate enough to spend 26 amazing years with him on this Earth. In those 26 years, I’m blessed to say that we experienced lots of wonderful, amazing moments together as Father and Son. We swam in our backyard pool nearly every evening during the summer, jumping and diving and splashing late into the night. We wore our arms out tossing a baseball on the sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama while the sun browned our shoulders. We went to Reds Opening Day together and weathered the cold that always accompanies the early-April debut, and he was right by my side as we suffered through the agony of watching our Redlegs get their hindquarters handed to them in a playoff sweep by the Phillies. We watched movies together, biked together, went to church together, and rode in trucks together.

But no matter how much time we spent together, and no matter how many memories we made, I’m still left wanting more. I’m left with a case of The Should Haves—a nagging voice that constantly reminds me that although our story as Father and Son was vibrant and full, there was more story left to be written. There was more to do together that we never got the chance to do because of his premature and avoidable death.

I rarely live a day in this life without thinking of something we could have done together had he not died on that July morning in 2013. It’s hard for me to experience the beauty of my own life without recognizing that Dad should still be experiencing it as well.

There are always the things that we didn’t have the chance to do—things that only exist with the passing of time, and things that weren’t available to Dad and I when he was alive. New restaurants always evoke this feeling. I’m a self-identified foodie, and I definitely inherited this love for food from my Dad. Dad always enjoyed a great meal, and he and I shared a lot of them together. Since his death, new restaurants have opened and I’ve discovered more great places to gradually expand my waistline. There are countless burger places and barbecue joints and other hole-in-the-wall dives that I know Dad would have enjoyed, and when I’m savoring a great meal, there’s usually an endless thought that loops through my head: “Boy, Dad really would have loved this place…” Each and every time, it pains me to know I can’t enjoy it with him.

And then, there are roller coasters. My Dad loved roller coasters—the wilder and more insane, the better. Even though it took me longer than I’d like to admit to overcome my fear of thrill rides, I eventually did and got to ride a lot of them alongside my Dad. Our extended family always spent a summer day at King’s Island, and I always looked forward to that day of the year. Together, Dad and I got to experience the weightlessness of the first drop on Diamondback, the seemingly-incomprehensible height of Delirium, and I can’t even begin to count the number of nighttime shrieks of excitement we let out as The Beast tore through the woods.

But new coasters have popped up since he died. There are new adventures to be had, and new memories to be made at Kings Island and lots of other theme parks across the country. I remember riding Banshee for the first time and thinking how much Dad would have loved the seemingly never-ending loops and twists. After riding Mystic Timbers, I wondered what Dad would have thought of the surprise in The Shed (I hear you’re not supposed to go in there, by the way…). I can still envision his huge smile at the end of a great ride. I can still hear his laugh, yells of “YEEHAW!”, and jokes about how the wind of the ride had thoroughly ruined his hairdo. I miss those moments. I miss those memories.

These moments, these desires to keep living life with Dad, are painful. But these aren’t really “Should Haves” when it comes down to it; these are “Wish I Could Have” moments. It’s inevitable that life will go on and the Earth will continue to spin after a loved one leaves us. There was more life for us to live together, and things were naturally going to happen that I wished I could have done alongside my Dad. My Dad was a victim of suicide at only age 50, and regardless of the mechanism of death, leaving this Earth unnaturally with (likely) many, many more years to live leaves many chapters unfinished. But deeper than the truth of life continuing to go on, there is a reality that haunts me night in and night out. There is a nagging feeling of guilt that will likely follow me to my grave—a feeling that hinges on the things we could have done while he was alive but we failed to do. It is the idea that I took time with my Dad for granted. It is the belief that there were things I should have done with my Dad while he was still here. Things that I likely told myself I would get around to. Things that, had I known then what I know now about the fragility of life, I should have done with my Dad. It feels awful to think that I squandered time with my Dad, but I know

The “Wish I Could Haves” are painful; but the “Should Haves” are much, much worse.

If Dad had a bucket list, I never knew about it. I often attribute this to the fact that he lived life to the fullest every chance he had, so there was no need to keep a list of things he wanted to do—he just did them. But I do know there were things that Dad mentioned to me that he hoped, someday, we’d have the chance to do together. He wanted to go to a Luke Bryan concert together (please note, this was when Luke Bryan sang actual country music and before he became a complete sellout). There were other beaches I’m sure he wanted to see. There were other air shows I’m sure he wanted to attend. But for the most part, Dad lived his life free of any regrets.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t live with many, many regrets now that he’s gone.

For his entire life, Dad was a nature lover. He was constantly hiking and biking and traversing the woods of nearby Rentschler Forest Preserve, and he didn’t need headphones or even the company of others to keep him entertained. He didn’t just love nature—he was in awe of it, bewildered by it. His sense of adventure was something I was always envious of, and for the last few years of his life, he always talked about another adventure he wanted to take up: kayaking. Dad knew of a number of waterways that were nearby our house, and he would often talk to me about wanting to grab a kayak and a paddle to see how far he could take himself. Dad often talked about this desire around me, mostly in the hopes that I might reciprocate his excitement. I’m ashamed to say I never did, and there were many times when Dad asked me to spend time outdoors with him and I declined his invitation. I hate to think of the times when I could have taken a bike ride with him but decided to stay on the couch watching yet another mindless sitcom rerun. I think of all the nights that he asked me to sit with him near a backyard bonfire and I decided to stay inside for no reason while Dad sat there by himself, likely a bit lonely but still happy to be outside. I had many opportunities to appreciate nature and my Dad together that I didn’t take him up on. But I should have.

Then there were the chances to share my feelings with Dad that I failed to lean into. I think of the song we played at Dad’s funeral, a deeply-powerful country song by Will Hoge called “Strong.” It was the perfect song to play at Dad’s funeral—a testament to a life well lived—but it was a song I discovered well before his death. Although it provided a lot of healing to those of us who heard it at Dad’s service, I desperately wish I had played that song for Dad while he was alive. I should have played it for him and told him how the lyrics about a loving, devoted, hardworking, and strong father made me think of him every time. I often wonder if it would have made a difference. Would hearing that song and the way I felt helped to heal his feelings of depression and inadequacy? I should have played the song when it could have warmed his heart, but my desire to avoid emotional vulnerability kept me from doing this until he was already gone. I didn’t share my feelings with him. But I should have.

The moments when purely stupid pride and arrogance kept me from just being around him, however, are the most sickening. I think of all the times, especially as a teenager, when I avoided spending time with my Dad. I’m disgusted by the lame excuses I fabricated, and I wish I could take each and every one of them back. There were so many times when Dad would ask me to hangout or do something that I didn’t want to do. Being a typical, moody teenager, I found lots of reasons to close my Dad out of my life. Too tired, too busy, perceived to be too-cool. And yes, those times when I thought I was too cool to hang out with my Pops haunt me most. I should have spent more time being with him. I should have spent more time realizing that my Dad deserved my time more than anyone else. I didn’t do that, but I should have.

The should haves plague my soul. I remember sitting awake one night after Dad’s death. It was rare for me to find sleep in those immediate nights after losing him, and my mind would race with doubts; concerns that I had missed easily-perceptible signs about Dad’s illness and the feelings that were high jacking his mind. On one of those nights when I couldn’t get the thought of losing Dad out of my mind, I began to think back to all the moments when I had failed to spend time with him. I thought of all the dinner invites I had declined. All the phone calls I had ignored. I even thought of all the times over the past year when Dad had stayed at my house later than expected, and I, being so selfishly-consumed with my own schedule and routine, had silently wished that he would leave.

And on that night, a few nights after losing him, I sobbed and said “I’m sorry, Dad,” in the hopes that my apologies and grief could carry themselves up through the clouds to Heaven.

I stood at Dad’s casket just a few nights later and tried my best to express my love to the people who had loved my Dad in this life, and among many wonderful condolences I heard from those who came to grieve and show their support to Mom and I, I heard “Don’t feel guilty, Tyler,” over and over again. I listened intently to those family members, friends, and loved ones, and I assured them that I wouldn’t feel guilty. I assured them that I wouldn’t let regrets take my mind captive.

But I didn’t for a second believe I would actually be able to live free of guilt; and now that Dad has been gone for over five years, I’ve begun to understand how the Should Haves can actually be a confirmation that my grief is justified and natural.

Even though it ended prematurely, my Dad lived a big, full, exciting life. He treated each day as a gift as best he could, just as God directs all of us to do. As I’ve experienced my own grief and suffering, I’ve realized that the gaping hole my Dad left behind in this world could only be filled by his big heart; and although I’m in severe pain because of this loss, I would take the pain for a hundred eternities to spare the alternative. Had Dad invested minimally in the people that he loved and life in general, his loss would have been easier to overcome. But that isn’t my Dad, and that wouldn’t have been an authentic life. I feel my Dad’s loss more because he made life that much better while he was in it. I would rather experience the pain of losing him knowing that he lived a life that made a difference. The pain is worth the love I experienced for 26 years while he was here. I’d much rather have that love, even if only for a short time, and experience the pain of losing it than the alternative of never having him at all.

Although it’s difficult, I’m also learning to cope with the Should Haves better because they are showing me that I’ve learned something from my Dad’s death. They are showing me that, although he shouldn’t have died, his death was not in vain. They show me that, even in death, my Dad is still my greatest teacher. Dad’s absence has taught me the importance of never taking time for granted. Dad’s death has taught me that time is my most valuable resource. It is the only resource in this live that can never regenerate. Dad’s death has taught me an important lesson: By the time I get to the end of my own life (which will be a very, very long time from now), I want to be able to look back and say that I made a wise investment with the days God gave me. I want to be left with very few instances of things I should have done.

In my grief, I decided that one of the best ways to fight back against the Should Haves was to go out and do the things I should have done with Dad, even if he’s not around to do them with me. A summer or two after losing Dad, I decided to do something that I likely wouldn’t have done while he was alive. With my friend, Steve, I went out and bought a kayak. We each bought one, and shortly after buying them we decided to take them out on the water. We dipped the kayaks into the Great Miami River at Rentschler Park—the same exact spot my Dad had vowed to kayak but never got the chance to.

The kayaking excursion was filled with lots of things that Dad would have appreciated. Namely, he would have really enjoyed the fact that my kayak tipped and tossed me into the water the exact second I stepped into it (Note to self: always step into the middle of the kayak, not the side). I flopped around in the mud and water while Steve laughed, and all I could see was an image of my Dad laughing hysterically as I tried to regroup. After I recovered from the capsizing, we paddled up the beautiful, wooded shoreline and soaked up the rays of sun as they beat down upon our shoulders. After paddling upstream for an hour or so, we turned around, kicked our feet up, and floated back to our drop in location. All the while, tears streamed out slowly underneath my sunglasses as I wished, deeply, that I had had the opportunity to enjoy this moment alongside my Dad. I should have done this with him. In the actual moment, he wasn’t there; but in a spiritual sense, he was right by my side.

I know that the Should Haves are a natural part of grief, which is why I try not to avoid them. No matter when my Dad would have died, I would have always been left wanting more time with him. More experience, more adventure was what I always would have wanted and what he always deserved. Had he died at 117, I would have wanted him to be around for another 117 years. And in my mind, that overcompensates for any guilt I might feel. In my mind, a life that feels too short and a life that induces “should haves” is the sign of a life well lived.

Dad, Jeff and I at Kings Island with SB LogoDad, I’m sorry for all of those moments that we should have spent together. I’m sorry for all of those times that I wasted when we had the opportunity to just be together, but I didn’t realize the value of those moments. Ultimately, I’m just sorry we didn’t have more time. Dad, you brought such joy to my life—and to everyone’s life that you interacted with. Any amount of time with you would have failed to be enough. There are so many things we should have done together, and I’m sorry I didn’t make a more genuine effort to make those things happen. Dad, I hope that I’m still learning from your life. I hope that I am taking the time that God has given me and using it more wisely than I did before you died. It still doesn’t erase the pain of losing you and the desire to have more of you in my life, but I hope that I’m realizing the fragility of life and the need to invest my time in the things that matter—the things associated with loving God and loving other people. Dad, please continue teaching me. Thank you for living a vivid life that still feels important each and every day. And Dad, I’m keeping a list of all those things we should have done. Someday, we will have the opportunity to do them all, and I can’t wait. Until that day and the glorious reunion that awaits, seeya Bub.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14 (NIV)

Dad’s Rules: Socks

Dad's Rules Banner

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

Dad’s Rule #119: Socks are part of a specific pair. Therefore, they shall be numbered.

“Dad, I’m seriously afraid to even ask you this question, but…why do you have 5’s written on the bottom of your socks?”

I don’t remember when the craziness started, but my memory tells me I was in college or had just recently graduated when I noticed Dad’s newest quirk. I was sitting on the couch watching television when Dad came bouncing down the steps in his usual, peppy way.

“Hey, Bub!” he said with his familiar smile and sparkling personality. I returned his greeting as he moved towards the recliner that sat in the corner of our family room. Dad loved kicking his feet up in that recliner, but this time, there was something noticeably different once his legs were kicked up.

For as long as I could remember, my Dad had mostly worn big, thick, fuzzy, wool-type socks around the house. Yes, on occasion he would wear typical white, athletic socks made by Nike or Under Armour; but mostly, the big woolly types were his favorite. Maybe it was a function of his years working outside in carpentry settings accompanied by frigid temperatures. Maybe it was a function of him just trying to embody the whole “Dad’s Wear Weird Clothes” stereotype. Regardless of the origin or motive, he wore them most of the time—especially during those unpredictable Ohio winters. He would pick up new pairs at Bass Pro Shops, Quality Farm & Fleet, or other outdoorsy stores that he frequented (mostly outside of Mom’s purview). Some of the socks were white, and others came in different colors, usually with a gold or other-colored toe and ankle patch complete with a colored ring around the top of the sock. I can picture them as clear as I saw them on that day when he popped his feet up on the recliner; but on that day, there was something drastically different about the socks he wore.

Written on the bottom of each sock in black, permanent ink in Dad’s familiar, precise script, was a huge “5” for no apparent reason.

This had to be good. Or extremely embarrassing.

“Dad, I’m seriously afraid to even ask you this question, but…why do you have 5’s written on the bottom of your socks?”

socks.jpgLike Sherlock Holmes getting ready to divulge the certain facts of a case that only he could divulge, Dad took a deep breath with a smug look on his face and launched into his explanation. “Because socks wear differently. Over time, the heels and toes start to get worn thin, and you can’t be comfortable in one thick sock that’s brand new and one thin sock that’s about to get a hole. So, I number them, and I don’t have to worry about that problem any longer.”

For one of only a few times in my life, I was literally at a loss for words.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I sat up calmly on the couch and began to ask Dad about his day at work. Had he inhaled any fumes in high doses? Had he excessively sniffed the permanent marker that he had used to write on the bottom of his woolly socks? Blunt force trauma to the head? Did he have a new side-job working with fashion line whose goal it was to create clothes for Dad’s that would absolutely mortify their children?

No matter how hard I pushed, Dad continued to act like he had a legitimate reason for writing these numbers on the bottom of his socks. As I began to howl like a hyena on laughing gas, convulsing at the completely ludicrous nature of his newest fashion choice, Dad kept trying to explain his line of insanity.

“I’m not making this up!” he said through a wide, mischievous smile. “You mean to tell me you’ve never had discomfort from wearing two socks that weren’t from the same original pair?”

“Dad, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that’s never once happened to me,” I answered, still in shock. “I really feel like there are bigger problems in the world right now than uneven socks.”

With his usual sense of expertise in all matters, Dad kept pushing and told me why it made sense to number your socks. In response, I continued to tell him that he was crazy and that he was closer to the nursing home than I had originally thought. Then, to my disbelief, Dad went into his dresser and pulled out the other socks that he had numbered. I laughed hysterically when I realized this wasn’t just a one-pair-trial. Dad had gone into his extensive sock collection and meticulously numbered each pair with thick, black numbers.

There was just no way any of this could be real.

I laughed for hours. And after the laughter, I prayed with every fiber in my being that my friends did not come over and see these numbers on the bottoms of Dad’s socks. I had a hard enough time making friends. I didn’t need my Dad running around explaining the physics of sock fabric to make my social interactions even more infrequent than they already were.

Over the next few years, and to my explicit frustration, Dad’s sock numbering became a ritual as steady as the ocean waves. Every time Dad bought a new pair of socks, he would sit down and number them with a thick, black permanent marker, picking up with the number right where he had left off with his last addition. As more socks were added to the drawer, the number grew and grew. And the more I protested and ridiculed, the bigger the numbers became. Before he knew it, his sock pairs grew into the thirties and forties.

And as the numbers grew, so did my utter confusion. Every time Dad would kick his feet up onto the recliner, I would be staring at a set of “17’s” or “6’s” in my face. I never, ever let it go unnoticed.

“Ah, I see you’ve got the 8’s on tonight,” I’d joke. “Solid choice.” Or “Oh, you going with the 14’s today? Must be feelin’ lucky.”

“Joke all you want,” he’d smugly respond, “but when you’ve got a sweaty left foot and a right foot with frostbite on the same night, you won’t be laughing then.”

“I’ll be sure to let the pigs I’m flying next to know they should be numbering their hoof covers, too,” I’d shoot back.

No matter how much I ridiculed him (which was frequently), and no matter how often Mom would protest about how frustrating it was to have to sort through the laundry while folding to find two 12’s to match up into a ball, Dad continued to fight the good sock fight. He never let our teasing deter him from his battle to eradicate uneven socks from the face of the Earth.

And then, one day, his line of defense hit an all-time low.

Dad and I often found ourselves sitting together in the family room watching episodes of comedic sitcoms like Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld, and The Office on an endless loop—a tradition I’ve carried on in his absence quite well, if I say so myself. On this particular night, our show of choice was The King of Queens, a recurring favorite in the family room of our humble home. One of our favorite characters on the show was Arthur—the nearly-senile father/father-in-law of Carrie and Doug, who lived in the basement and caused more problems than any one human should. For those who haven’t ever seen the show, Arthur is…completely crazy. He burns down his house using a hot plate and has to move into Doug and Carrie’s home. He screams about…well, absolutely anything. He is “walked” by a neighborhood dog walker, and he creates altercations with anyone who doesn’t give into his ridiculous demands. He completely infuriates Doug with his random obsessions and eccentricities. And in the cold open of the episode Dad and I were watching that night, Arthur walks into the room, sits in the chair, and throws his feet up on the coffee table. Emblazoned upon the bottom of each of his white socks? Bright, flaming-red 4’s.

“Shut up,” I said in complete bewilderment as I stared at the television. Dad began gesticulating towards the screen as he let out a victory shriek that sounded like it came from an other-worldly language.

With the same look of confusion I had the first time I saw it, Doug begins to question Arthur about why his socks have huge numbers on the bottom.

“It’s my new system,” Arthur responds in his usually odd diction. “I label them so I don’t mix them up with my other sets of socks,” as he points to his head to show what a brilliant idea he’s had.

“I TOLD YOU THIS WAS REAL!” Dad had jumped up from the recliner, legitimately shrieking and cackling with excitement. “I’M VINDICATED!”

“Dad,” I said, still feeling like I was living in an episode of The Twilight Zone, “you realize you’re identifying with the crazy guy on a television sitcom, right? That’s probably not a good thing!”

He didn’t care, because just seeing that he wasn’t the only person in the world—real or fictitious—who thought numbering socks was a brilliant idea gave him all the security he needed to keep on keeping on. He had proved the naysayers wrong with the opening minute of a family sitcom.

Still confused, Doug begins to ask Arthur why he’s doing this, which opens up a whole new line of ridiculous reasoning Arthur describes as “Toe Memory.” He explains that over time, a sock either evolves into a left sock or a right sock, taking on the unique shape and curvature of each respective foot. Wearing a sock that has evolved into a left sock on your right foot is enough to drive you mad, Arthur argues. All the while, Dad is nodding along as Arthur explains the method behind his madness. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.

“How do the 4’s tell you which one is a right and which one is a left?” Doug says.

“Look, Douglas,” Arthur responds as he raises his voice, “my system has its flaws. But I’ve come at this from every angle and believe me, there is no better way!”

“Mhmm, mhmm…” Doug says as he falls back into the couch, getting ready to drop a bombshell on Arthur. “Or you could just label every sock with an L or an R.”

“Well, THERE GOES MY FUNDAY!” Arthur shrieks as he jumps up from the chair and retreats to his basement dwelling.

“Again, Dad,” I said as we laughed at what we were watching, “you want Arthur Spooner to be your co-defendant on this one?!”

Dad and I laughed about that moment for a long, long time; but something even scarier happened. Dad actually began to realize that his system, like Arthur’s, was also flawed! Like Arthur, although the socks were numbered, he hadn’t been able to crack the whole left/right conundrum.

That’s when the two-component sock labeling system was born, adding fuel to my critical fire.

If my shock could’ve grown more, it did. Now, not only was Dad labeling each pair of socks with a number; each sock within the pair was also being labeled with an “L” or “R” after the number. From this point forward, within the set of 15’s (for example), there would be a “15L” and a “15R”.

Insanity had reached a new peak, and it was the two-component sock labeling system.

For the rest of his life, any time I saw those black, hand-drawn number/letter combos on the bottoms of his socks, I made fun of Dad. And every time I made fun of him, he would always shoot back with a witty (and completely insane) retort. No matter how much teasing occurred, he never quit. His resolve was steeled with every insult, every jab. Until the day he died, every sock he bought was appropriately paired and labeled, much to my chagrin.

His feet were always warm, and my heart was always full of laughter. In the end, I guess it was a win-win.

My Dad had a lot of those quirky little idiosyncrasies: numbering his socks, weaving his extension cords into perfect chains to prevent tangling, writing on graph paper to make his already-precise, all-capital printing even more precise than it already was. When he was alive, those peculiar behaviors were sometimes perplexing, sometimes endearing, sometimes annoying, but always seemingly mundane. Now that he is gone, I miss those little ticks in his behaviors and personalities. I miss how way he always cut apples into two large halves while still extracting the core and preserving all of the fruit. I miss the way he’d organize tools or clean his truck. And yes, I even miss his sock numbering, ridiculous as it may have been. I miss every single thing about my Dad, but as much as I miss the big and memorable moments, I think I miss the little quirks more because I took them for granted while he was alive.

And sadly, but also beautifully and completely against my will, I realize how I’m becoming more and more like him—no matter how hard I might fight against those quirks.

The other day, a crazy thing happened that reminded me how much I missed him while completely terrifying me. I was putting on one of my black ankle-cut socks to head to the gym. (I’m a bit ashamed to admit that during the winters, I’ve started wearing those hideous, wool socks that Dad used to wear—he really was on to something with his choice in foot coverings.) Nonetheless, on this day, as I was putting on my gym socks, I was running through what clothes I was going to wear to the gym in my head. I put the left sock on, and before I could even stop my internal dialogue from churning, I felt the phrase cross into my line of thought:

“This sock feels kind of weird. Maybe I should put it on my right foot instead.”

The shock of what I just thought hit me hard. My eyes were as big as the 2’s that had once been written on the bottom of my Dad’s socks. I had to stop getting dressed and collect my thoughts before I started hyperventilating. There was no way, no way Dad could be right about this one. It just wasn’t possible. And as I sat there on the edge of the bed freaking out and questioning everything I’ve ever believed about socks, I could hear Dad’s laugh. I could see him looking down from heaven and laughing hysterically, pointing and shouting, “I told you, Bub!”

And after the shock wore off, I laughed through a few tears as I realized how much I missed his weirdness and everything else that made him so real and so special.

I’m glad that the nature of my Dad’s death from suicide has not prevented my ability to appreciate those happier moments. I’m glad that the questions I have about why Dad died on that July morning in 2013 haven’t completely darkened the beautiful, vivid intricacies of his personality that made him so exceptional and unique. I’m glad that I can still remember the good days and moments in spite of the one bad day that ended his life. I’m glad that I can look back on numbered socks and laugh, because his death has taken enough from me and from all of us who loved him. I’m glad that I can look back at my Dad and remember him for the man he was for 50 years, not just the man he was on that last, painful day. I’m glad that I can still laugh with him and reminisce on those mundane yet elegant memories. I am really looking forward to the day when I can laugh with him about those moments again.

And along with those streets paved with gold, I hope that Heaven is home to socks that no longer wear thin unequally.

dad-lucy-and-me-with-seeya-bub-logoDad, I still laugh when I think about your sock-numbering-insanity. I still smile when I think about all of the times I would rib you about putting numbers and letters on all your socks, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really miss seeing those numbers. More importantly, I miss seeing you kick your feet up on the recliner in our family room. I miss laughing with you while we watched television together. I miss hearing you snore as you napped in the recliner wearing your lucky pair of 14’s, and I miss those moments of levity and peace that we were able to build in our family home. Your personality was a force for good in our family, Dad. Through the big moments and the little, everyday behaviors, you made our home a better place. You made all of us better people—even though you couldn’t get anyone to join in on your sock-numbering. Those beautiful little moments gave life vivid color. You gave us entertainment and joy in seemingly simple ways, and I’m glad that I remember the quirks of your personality. I’m glad that I can focus on the simplistic beauty of your life without obsessing over its tragic end. Dad, thank you for always making life more beautiful. Thank you for giving to all of us more than we could have ever given you in return. I miss you tremendously. I miss you each and every day. And if I get to Heaven and you have numbered socks on, I seriously don’t know what I’m going to say to you. I’m sure you’ll keep me on my non-numbered toes. But until I can tease you again, seeya Bub.

“Even in laughter a heart may be sad, and joy may end in grief.” Proverbs 14:13 (HCSB)

Lucy (Part 2)

This is the second post in a special three-part series at SeeyaBub.com. Be sure to read “Lucy: Part 1” as a prelude to this installment.

After Dad and Mom brought Lucy home, I held firm in my commitment to be loyal to Willow and I resisted any sign of adoration for our newest puppy.

At least for a solid ten minutes or so.

dscf0377.jpgFrom the moment she came home, Lucy was impossible to resist. I have a weak-constitution for puppy cuteness, and Lucy melted my defenses rather quickly. Airedale terriers are adorable puppies. What will eventually grow into a 60 or 70-pound dog starts out as an eight-pound ball of fur with a shortened snout and gangly legs. Lucy looked like most Airedale pups I had seen in photographs, but there was one defining characteristic that was different. Lucy had a tiny little white patch of fur right on the middle of her chest. I had never seen an Airedale with any color fur other than black and brown. Immediately, she was different from the rest; and the more I got to know her, the more wonderfully different I discovered she was.

On the night of her arrival, Dad brought Lucy down into our family room, wrapped up like a baby in a fuzzy pink blanket. I tried to act like I wasn’t interested in her because I was so resistant to getting another dog after Willow’s recent death…but I was interested. Very interested. I had never had an actual puppy before. Muffin was older than I was, and Willow had come into our family when she was two. I had always wanted a little puppy, and now that we had one, I was acting like a stubborn jerk entirely because of my ego and pride.

DSCF0380Dad sat the blanket bundle down on his lap, and Lucy poked her head out from the blanket mound and peered around our family room. She looked straight at me with her dark eyes, and when she made her way down onto the carpet and slowly meandered towards me, I knew that I was done. My resistance would have to fall, because this pup was just too cute. With the pain of losing Willow momentarily fading, I reached down and scooped Lucy into my arms. For the rest of the night, she and I spent our time on the couch as she adjusted to her new surroundings. A few times, I glanced at Mom and Dad and saw them giving one another that familiar “I told you he’d cave” look. I tried my best to not let them get any satisfaction from defying my gutless order to not bring home another family dog, but it was useless.

Eventually, I decided to lay down on the couch. I laid on my stomach with arms tucked underneath my chest as I always did, and Lucy looked at me a bit confused about what she should be doing. That’s when she hopped up on my calves and nestled herself in between my ankles.

DSCF0407And from that moment on, I don’t think I ever quit loving Lucy. Even if my stubborn pride wouldn’t let me admit it.


I tried to find ways not to like Lucy, and early on she gave me plenty of ammunition. Anyone who has raised a puppy knows the pain of those first few weeks. Any cuteness they possess is outweighed by their inability to follow the simplest of instructions. You literally have to follow them around like a four-legged baby trying to prevent them from doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. Their razor-sharp baby teeth nibble and nibble and nibble—always on things they shouldn’t be nibbling.

And don’t even get me started on the potty training.

Even the best dogs start out as four-legged-terror-mongers that disrupt your home and your life, and Lucy was no different. As the newest member of our family, she did not always put her best paw forward—especially on the day when her puppy misbehavior caused me to erupt like Krakatoa.

Early on in my sports broadcasting career, I would regularly wear a suit and tie to announce a game. It was a bit of a trademark for me, and even as a young man I always enjoyed wearing suits. They made me feel like I knew what I was doing in life—when most of the time I had no idea what I was doing!

One blustery winter afternoon, I was headed to announce a basketball game and thought a suit was fitting for the occasion. I pulled one particular suit out of my closet, and looked at it with a smile. It was a suit I had just recently purchased—navy blue with a very subtle pinstripe. The fabric was silkier and smoother than most of the fabric on the other suits I owned, and apparently that silky fabric costs a whole lot more money because I had paid dearly for this one. I didn’t have much money to my name as a young professional, and I had spent quite a bit more than I had wanted to on this suit. I was proud of it, and this would only be my second time wearing it. I picked out a perfect light blue shirt, and a bright orange tie that would pop (I’ve always had a thing for those bright ties). After suiting up and tying the perfect knot, I made my way down the stairs, secretly hoping my parents would notice me and compliment me on my flashy style.

Instead, I heard Lucy bouncing up the stairs to meet me in the living room. As my Mom toiled away in the kitchen, Lucy noticed me and gleefully bounced towards me. I reached down to pet her, and she looked at me with a puppy-dog smile and a panting tongue.

And then, she did the unthinkable.

She looked right at me, cocked her head, ran up to me, and bit straight into the pant leg of my new suit, tearing a shred out of the expensive, silky fabric.

I exploded with fury. I yelled “YOU STUPID DOG!” as loud as I possibly could, and went in with a swipe to swat her away from doing any further damage. She moved away from me with a look of fright and confusion, and my Mom ran out from the kitchen.

“What happened?!” she said.

Your dumb dog just ripped a hole in my brand new suit!” I yelled back, being sure to emphasize the fact that Lucy was not my dog.

Mom looked on, not quite knowing what to do. My sun-deprived thigh was gleaming through the hole in my suit pants, and I could feel the heat of anger flooding my face. Meanwhile, Lucy stood in the corner, just far enough from me so I couldn’t make any sudden movements. My Mom just stood there, without saying much to her comically-angry son.

“WELL, AREN’T YOU GOING TO SAY ANYTHING?!” I shrieked. This was not a time for silence; this was a time for justice! Wrong had been done, and right would need to be swiftly restored! I wanted restitution! I wanted this four-pawed-perpetrator to pay for her crimes!

I don’t even remember what Mom said to me in that moment, because anger has a tendency to cloud your mind and your memory. I do remember storming up the stairs, changing into a suit that was older and stiffer, yet hole-free. I grabbed my bag and stormed out of the house as our tiny puppy cowered in the corner.

I seethed the entire day, and when I came home and saw Lucy playing with my Dad in the family room like nothing had ever happened, my fury grew even more intense.

And years later, when I look back on this moment, I’m ashamed at how foolish I acted. I’m embarrassed at my immaturity, my materialistic greed, and my pathetic self-righteousness.

Eventually, and taking much longer than it ever should have, my frustration gave way because…well, it’s simply impossible to resist a puppy, no matter what stupid thing they might do. And if a puppy has a special personality, it’s even more difficult.

IMG_0010Lucy had that in abundance. Lucy’s calm demeanor during the first 24 hours of her life in my family was a well-executed mirage delivered by a sneaky infiltrator. When I came home on Lucy’s second day in the Bradshaw house, the docile, pleasant pup that I had left that morning was replaced with a rambunctious, mischievous, four-legged fur-covered peddler of destruction. When I came home that day, my poor Mother looked like she had barely survived a hurricane. She looked at me with a frazzled exasperation as Lucy, with toys strewn all across our normally-clean family room, bounced and barked and bolted to every corner of the house. She was worse than a baby because she was faster. I couldn’t believe she had fooled us! Lucy had spunk—and a whole lot of it.

Over time, Lucy learned how to control that spunk, and we learned how to control her. But even with her spunk in-check, Lucy was just different—and we loved her because she was different.

From the moment she set foot (and foot and foot and foot) into our house, Lucy was treated differently than any other dog we had ever had—especially when it came to her presence in the home. Those of you who know my Mother know that she has many wonderful traits and talents. One of those talents which I’ve grown to appreciate since becoming a homeowner is my Mother’s ability to keep a clean home. From the time I was little, we always had the cleanest home imaginable—even if I didn’t always realize it as a child. My Mom is an immaculately-clean individual, and I think that one of the ways she showed love to Dad and I was by always giving us a clean house to come home to. I probably didn’t tell her how much I appreciated it then. In fact, I likely told her how much having to clean up my toys annoyed me. Now, I’m extremely thankful and gracious.

That’s why Lucy’s complete reign over our house surprised me so much!

Our first dog, Muffin, was only allowed inside the house during the winter months or particularly hot days. Even then, she was confined to stay only in the lower quarters of the house. When Willow came into our family, she had always been raised as an indoor-dog. Mom knew that she would have to let Willow into the house most of the time, but even then there were parameters. Under no circumstance whatsoever would Willow be allowed to be on the furniture; couches, beds, and chairs were for two-legged creatures only. (Mom, I can admit to you now that on summer days when I was home by myself, I would often let Willow onto the couch to sit next to me. And she absolutely loved it. And your couches are fine. And I love you!).

DSCF0396But with Lucy, it was different from the start. She was immediately allowed onto the couch—and I was shocked! And then, the unthinkable happened; Mom actually let Lucy sleep in the bed with her! What world was I living in?! Who had abducted my Mom and who was this woman that now gladly beckoned the dog onto the furniture?

If Lucy could turn my Mom, the master of cleanliness and housekeeping perfection, into a woman who allowed a dog onto the furniture…that meant she had powers I didn’t quite understand. And she used those special puppy powers to work her way into our hearts in some pretty unimaginable ways.

Lucy and Ty on PatioWhen Lucy was little, I used to carry her around the house quite often. And unlike most dogs, she really enjoyed being carried! After a little while, it got more and more difficult to carry her around as she continued to grow. And by the time she reached 40 pounds, our little puppy, who I affectionately called “Monkey”, was a bit to heavy to carry with one arm. So I did what any normal person would do.

I started carrying her around like a child.

DSCF0631I would actually pick Lucy up by her front legs and toss them over my shoulder. Then, Lucy would wrap her hind legs around my waist, and I would comfortably carry her around as she nuzzled her snout on my shoulder. Looking back, it’s the most ridiculous thing I could ever imagine doing as a dog owner.

And I loved it.

We all loved Lucy. I loved her, and my Mom loved her, and my Dad loved her. And she loved all of us equally, unlike the other family dogs we had owned that adored my Dad at Mom and I’s expense.

But Dad, just as he had done with all of our other dogs, absolutely loved Lucy and devoted as much energy to her as he possibly could. .

Dad with Baby LucyThankfully, my Dad, our dog-whisperer-in-residence, was there to take care of most of the discipline and direction when we first got Lucy. My Dad loved working with animals, even when the animals weren’t easy to work with. I think he saw teaching pets as a challenge that he wanted to conquer, and he had a way of showing love through firmness. Quickly and efficiently, Lucy was housebroken and learning how to sit, lay down, and yes…play hide and seek with Dad. My Dad had a special talent, and we all benefited from it.

That’s what I loved about watching Dad with a new dog. As frustrating as puppy-parenting might have been, he never let that frustration outweigh his joy and frivolity. Lucy and Dad truly were a match made in heaven because they both had such silly personalities. Early on, Dad discovered that Lucy really enjoyed chomping on plastic bottles. So, Dad did what any thoughtful, wise puppy Dad would do. He took a plastic bottle, tied it to a fishing pole, taped the bajeezus out of it, and cast it out into the yard for Lucy to retrieve.

I could watch Dad’s puppy-fishing expeditions for hours. Over and over again for hours into the evening, Dad would cast the bottle deep out into our yard. Lucy would sprint to retrieve the bottle, and just as she would get near it, Dad would start pulling the line in, jolting the bottle all over the yard just out of reach of her sharp little puppy teeth. The best part of the act was when Lucy would finally catch the bottle. Dad would start grunting and pulling on the fishing line, shouting “Oh boy! I got a big one this time! I bet it’s a 20-pounder!” Dad would then feign reeling the line in with difficulty until Lucy was eventually within his grasp. He would then throw down the line and start petting her and getting her all excited for the next round. Again, the bottle would go out, Lucy would retrieve, and Dad would laugh uncontrollably over and over until one of them was worn out. As Lucy grew, Dad had to abandon the fishing line. In its absence, he created a toy for Lucy that I still think he should have patented. Even dogs that visited our house were instantly attracted to this simple toy! He took a Pure Leaf tea bottle, filled it with rocks, drilled a hole through the cap, and threaded a heavy-duty rope through it that was tied with black electrical tape at both ends. Lucy would grab the bottle, and Dad would tug on the rope. This was a bit more strenuous, but Dad and Lucy could play with this toy for hours. Lucy would grunt, and Dad would shout out ridiculous taunts towards her. I can still picture them playing together and the fun they had with one another. When Dad wasn’t around, Lucy would grab the bottle and whip it around, spinning in circles and growling as she spun herself into dizziness.

Lucy was a puppy that played, and her playfulness made our home better.

Our entire family loved Lucy’s playfulness, and more than anything, I loved the fact that she would play fetch. My entire life, I had wished and prayed for a dog that would fetch. For the longest time, my prayers were unanswered. In the thirteen years I shared with our first dog, Muffin, I never saw her fetch anything. Willow would fetch…once or twice until she grew tired of it. But Lucy was the exact opposite. Thanks to my Dad’s conditioning, Lucy would fetch just about anything: bottles, Frisbees, tennis balls, household items that were not meant to be turned into playthings.

My Dad and I would both spend hours in the backyard playing fetch with Lucy. We especially enjoyed watching her fetch a Frisbee because of the suspense it created as it hung in the air. My Dad was an excellent Frisbee thrower, and Lucy was the perfect playmate. He loved throwing lofting, high tosses that would spiral in the air and hang over Lucy’s head, watching her spin and contort until she was within receiving distance.

And boy could Lucy catch. In all the years that she was in our home, I rarely saw her drop a Frisbee—even if it looked like it was going to be well out of her range to catch. Lucy could play fetch for hours and hours in the backyard, taking only short breaks every few minutes. But taking a break look it pained and personally annoyed her. Even if she was panting heavily, she would try to crawl towards you to hand you the Frisbee so she could run and play again. It was a joy to watch a dog who played the way she did.

DSCF0400Dad, being a playful guy, did everything with Lucy. If he was home, he wanted to be near her. If he had a bonfire in the backyard, Lucy was with him. If he was eating dinner, she was patiently waiting for a scrap nearby. If he was taking a nap, she was on the couch cuddled next to him. There were hour-long walks to the park, trips to the dog beach at Hueston Woods, and countless other memories that the two of them created together. They are memories filled with laughter and companionship, but joy more than anything else.

In fact, it was just a joy being around her. Lucy exuded joy. She spread it into our entire home. We had no idea how much we would need her joy, however, until a day that cold-cocked our entire family.


When July 24, 2013 came, I was standing on the front lawn of my family home with police cruisers to the left of me with lighted-sirens flashing across the concrete driveway. My Mom’s boss, Tom, was standing in the doorway of our home, holding open the screen door as an EMT rushed behind him. Minutes earlier, Tom had told me that there had been an accident in the house. An accident, involving my Dad. That accident had put his life in perilous danger. I didn’t know how close to or far away he was from death, but I knew from the urgency of the emergency responders that it couldn’t be good. Looking back, I’m sure my reaction looked peculiar to Tom because, on the surface, I reacted without much acknowledgement. My outward emotions did little to reflect my inner thoughts. On the outside, my shock looked like paralysis; on the inside, it looked like frenetic craziness.

After Tom went back into the home to help as best he could, I was in a world all by myself in the front yard. I began pacing back and forth, back and forth, as the summer-scorched grass crunched beneath my feet. I was beginning to sweat as my lungs grew tight and felt as if they were closing in. I tried to control my breathing, but there were no breathing exercises to help prepare me for this moment. Nor was there anything I could do to stop my racing mind. Horrible thoughts about the past and what could be my new reality in the future began to hijack my brain. I couldn’t see myself surviving if my Dad’s attempt at suicide was successful.

Tom had shared a little information about the nature of what had happened in the house when he gave me the news. I knew things were bad, but in the crisis moment, I believe my mind tried to hold onto any semblance of positivity that was within grasp. I knew that my Dad had been injured as a result of the suicide attempt, and even though there was a chance he wouldn’t survive, my mind still behaved as if he was going to pull through this—just as he had overcome every other challenge that he had ever faced. I began to think about what his recuperation process might look like, and how I would need to help. I told God, in that moment, that I would do anything to make sure Dad was well again.

I began to think about what life would look like in the next few hours, and the next few days, and then the next few years. Compounding thoughts of doubt and hope and confusion were already swirling in my brain. Using the little information that Tom had given me, I began to wonder about what had happened in the house over the last hour or so—between the time I had last seen Dad in the family room and now. I had gone home after talking with Dad, Mom had gone to work, and…

And then, it hit me. Lucy. My Dad and Lucy were in the house alone. And I worried that she had been caught up in the destruction.

Judge if you must, but let me first explain my grief-induced thoughts as best I can—even though I don’t understand them today and don’t know that I ever will. I know that some will read my words and wonder why or how I could even think of a dog when a human life was at stake.

At no point does thinking about the well-being of one life—human or animal—mean that I am automatically ignoring the status of the other. I was thinking about my Dad and praying for him feverishly and intensely—and I was simultaneously praying for Lucy. Not knowing about my Dad’s status created a panic within me; and not knowing about Lucy’s status also created a panic. It was okay for me to be concerned about my Dad and Lucy; and yes, my Dad was always my primary concern, but that didn’t diminish my love for Lucy. I was trying to hold onto the normal life as I had known it; and Lucy was part of that normalcy.

You might also judge my worries because, on the surface, they might have been accusatory towards my Father. My Dad had always been an animal over, and he especially loved Lucy. “How could you even think that Dad would do something to hurt one of our pets?” I’ve often thought to myself.

Let me present an imperfect defense. I never thought that my Dad would become a victim of suicide; but I stood there in that moment faced with the reality that his life was hanging in the balance because of a suicide attempt. I never, never would have thought that my Dad was so enmeshed within his depression that he could feel as if he wanted his life to end. If that thought could so feverishly consume my Dad, and if it could push him to do something this unthinkable, was it really so outlandish to think that something else could have happened in that moment of despair that Dad, in his right mind, would never have done? Mental illness had forced my Dad to do something unthinkable and completely out of his character, and there was always a chance that the mental illness could have forced my Dad to do other things that were unlike him. I didn’t know Lucy’s whereabouts when the attempt happened. It was completely feasible that she could have been hurt unintentionally.

Even writing these words is difficult because I don’t like what it implies about my Dad and his love for Lucy, but for better or for worse, it’s an accurate retelling of my inner thought processes.

Back and forth I continued to pace in the front yard, wondering about Dad. Wondering about Lucy. Wondering about what life was going to look like in this new, horrible normal. Even if Dad pulled through, life was going to be painfully different. There was no turning back.

And then, in the midst of my anxiety and prayers, I heard a familiar bark in the backyard. I walked towards the sunroom and glanced through the windows into the backyard, and I saw her. I saw Lucy, looking somewhat panicked herself, running from side to side in the backyard—completely healthy and looking for someone to love.

I breathed a short sigh of relief as one small wave subsided, and I prepared my mind and heart to face the tsunami that I feared would crash in moments later.

Lucy’s presence in that moment was a gift in the midst of a terrible, terrible storm. A few moments later, I would learn that my Father, my hero in this life, had died. Far too young, far too soon, far too unexpectedly. In that moment, I began life without Dad.

DSCF0516And Lucy was there to help me—and all of us—find a small ray of light in the midst of the dark clouds that enveloped our family. Lucy—sweet Lucy—would help to save us as best she could.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of “Lucy” in the coming weeks at SeeyaBub.com.

 

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)

Papa Sully: Guest Blog by Jeff Sullivan

Ty: I have a confession. A confession that is completely unnecessary for anyone who lives near any of the local golf courses in my community.

I have been, and likely always will be, a terrible, horrible golfer.

I’m almost embarrassed to even call myself a golfer. I do a lot more sand digging and deep-woods exploration than I do golfing when I hit the course.

I could fill an entire book with stories of my atrocious golf exploits. There was the time my friend Chris (most of my horrible golf stories involve him) coerced me into trying out for the high school golf team. I quit halfway through after slamming one of my wooden (yes, I had woods that were actually made with real wood) into the ground, only to start again with about four holes left in the round. I think my groupmates gave me eights on all the holes I skipped.

There was the time I nearly got into a fight with a man who “claims” I almost nailed his wife with an errant Nike Mojo ball. It wasn’t my fault. I yelled fore as loudly as I could, but I guess it didn’t carry the two holes over where my ball landed within a few feet of his wife. I told him rather than yelling at me he should probably get his ears checked. He didn’t care too much for that response.

Then there was the sign from God that almost made me give up the game entirely. This was when I hit a tee shot that went so far right so quickly that it actually nailed a tree to the right of the tee box, bounced straight back, and nailed me in the chest. I HIT MYSELF WITH MY OWN BALL. I didn’t think that could even happen. Between Chris’ hysterical laughter and my writhing on the ground, the local residents must have thought we were going insane. They weren’t far off in their estimation.

As bad as I am at golf, I’ve always wanted to be a great golfer. And in high school, I always remember thinking one thing: I wish I could be like Jeff Sullivan.

Jeff Sullivan SwingJeff didn’t know me in high school, but I knew of him. Rather than equitably distributing golf talent across all the boys at Fairfield High School, God had taken mine and consolidated it all into Jeff Sullivan. Jeff was a graceful golfer. He would hit shots that I wouldn’t even believe I could hit in my own dreams. Natural talent? Maybe a bit. But more than anything, Jeff is one of the hardest working athletes I’ve ever seen. He spends more time honing his abilities than anyone, and it shows in his competitive spirit.

I got to know “Sully” in earnest when I helped emcee the Fairfield High School Athletic Hall of Fame where he was there to support a friend being inducted—he’ll be inducted soon enough, I have no doubt. If it weren’t for my ability to speak in public, I’d never come within a hundred yards of one of those functions.

Jeff and I are miles apart on our golf capabilities, but we have one very unfortunate thing in common: we are both grieving. We are both members of a club where unexpected loss is the common denominator. And although the mechanisms causing our grief are very different, we are both trying our best to honor our loved ones in ways that keep their memories alive. He reached out to me shortly after the Seeya Bub launch, shared his story, and together we’ve been finding ways to support one another through a similar journey.

Jeff has an unbelievable story to tell. He’s been sharing his exploits on a fantastic golf-themed blog he created called Sully’s Sunday Feels, but I’ve invited him to share his story of grief, loss, and the journey that follows here at Seeya Bub. Together, we are creating a community of sufferers to prove one truth: Yes, we all grieve differently, but we never, never have to grieve alone.


Jeff: Thursday, May 12th, 2011. A day and date that I will never forget for as long as I live. This is the day that I unexpectedly lost my Dad.

Before we get into that day, I want to tell you a little bit about the time leading up to that day.

For those of you that know me, especially throughout high school and college, you know a couple things for certain.

  1. If I’m not working, I’m prooobably thinking about, practicing or playing golf.
  2. Wherever and whenever I was doing that, my Dad was there. If for some reason he wasn’t, it was because it was physically impossible for him to be and you better believe he was always the first person I’d call after a tournament.

Another thing you might know is that my birthday is two days before the date I mentioned above. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

Me, my Dad and my brother were ALWAYS playing sports growing up. It didn’t matter what time of day, what the weather was like or what he had going on. If there was an opportunity to help us be better at a sport, my Dad was going take that opportunity to do whatever he could for us.

Like most kids, when I was younger, I had no idea what he and my mom did in order for me to be able to play whichever sport I wanted when I was a kid, and that support continued all the way through college. I didn’t realize or appreciate the time and ungodly amounts of money spent to allow me to do that, and now that I’m old enough to understand, it’s unfortunately a little bit too late for me to show that appreciation to one of them…

Now, what role did my Dad play in my love for golf? THE role. Well, maybe with a little help from Mr. Eldrick Woods. For those of you that are unfamiliar, that’s Tiger’s real name. What a nerrrd, amirite?! (Don’t tell him I said that.)

Jeff Sullivan and DadI was 9 years old when “Papa Sully”, as my high school teammates would later name him, first took me to the driving range. One trip, and I was hooked. As I mentioned before, this was when Tiger madness was really starting to hit its peak. Tiger had already won 3 U.S. Junior Amateurs and had just locked up back-to-back U.S Amateurs. The next year, he would turn pro, and I was probably on my Dad’s last nerves!

Every single chance I got, I was trying to get him to take me to the driving range or to head over to Golden Tee or Lake Gloria to play. The really cool part about playing and practicing with him is that he was a lefty, so I would always just try to mirror what he was doing. Eventually, there came a point when I was able to take his 7 iron and hit it almost as far as he could. As much as he loved that and got a kick out of it, I’m sure the competitor inside him hated losing. Hmm, wonder where I got that from?!

Once Tiger turned pro, Sundays turned into the best day of the week, always. Early in his career, you could almost guarantee that Tiger would be in the hunt on Sundays, so my dad and I basically planned our entire day around that.

First, I’d bug the crap out of him to make a tee time, typically at The Mill Course (shout out to the place where I had my first win!) and we had to make sure it was an early one! We’d finish that round around noon and from there it was lunch time. Skyline or Penn Station. To this day, there has never been a trip to either one of those places when I haven’t thought about him. We’d talk about our round, I would probably be a little upset for no reason and was too hard on myself while he probably just laughed on the inside at how silly my expectations of myself were. After that, we’d start talking about Tiger, who was about to tee it up just a couple hours later and most likely bury whoever his challenger was that week. My dad and I would commiserate with every bogey and jump off the couch and celebrate every birdie. It was just great. This is how my love for Tiger was born.

Fast forward to high school and college golf. Now, for the sake of length, I’m not going to go into all the great times, wins and celebrations I had with my Dad during these years but instead, I want to focus on the thing I regret most now that he’s gone. My completely idiotic and utter misunderstanding of what was really important.

College is where this stands out to me the most. If you know college golf, you know that it’s not easy for parents to make it to tournaments and even when it is, who in their right mind would want to watch mediocre, spring, college golf when it’s 37 degrees and raining?! Papa Sully, that’s who. A lot of people don’t know this, but he actually tried to find and took certain jobs in life just so he could make it to as many of my events as possible. He also worked at a golf course just so I’d be able to afford to practice as much as I wanted to (shout out to Meadow Links and Golf Academy for letting me hit a zillion balls and destroy natural turf from 2000-2004). A typical week during college golf season for my Dad was to drive from Hebron, KY to Laredo, TX and back which took him about 3 days. And then, as soon as he was back, he’d be heading somewhere else in Kentucky or Tennessee to come watch me play again. My teammates would always be so bummed when I told them he couldn’t make it, but that might have been like twice a year. Oh, on top of this, he was also spending a LOT of his money on things I needed to play the game. Right before a tournament started he would buy me new gloves in the pro shop because he saw my hands slipping on the range or go buy a towel and umbrella if I forgot mine. Whatever I needed, it was done thanks to him.

Now that you know the lengths that he went to support me, let me tell you about how stupid I was. I had, and still have VERY high expectations of myself any time I step on the golf course. I had these for a few reasons. Number one, I know the amount of work I’ve put into my game and I always want to win. Number two, I always wanted to help my team win. Last, but certainly not least, I wanted to make my Dad proud because I knew how much he had done for me. At the time, I thought that shooting low scores and winning was what made him proud and what would make me happy. Boy was I wrong.

Younger golfers who may read this: If you don’t take ANYTHING else away from this, PLEASE take this advice. No matter how you perform on the golf course, as long as you prepare, give every shot all that you have and carry yourself well, I PROMISE you that you’ll never walk around from any round of golf with regrets.

Unfortunately for me, it took losing the one person who mattered the most to make me truly understand that.

My skewed perceptions of what mattered, and my extreme competitiveness made me do some things that I’ll never be able to take back. So many times, my Dad was there to greet me after a round and because I was so dumb in those moments, I would walk right by him, slam my clubs in our team van and just sit in silence, pouting for absolutely no reason other than my own selfishness and lack of perspective. Other times I literally threw plaques and trophies in the trash because they weren’t for first place. I didn’t support teammates like I should have, and I didn’t respect my coach like I should have. I hope that those of you who end up reading this understand how sorry I am for that and can or have forgiven me. Most importantly for me, all my Dad wanted was to be there and to spend time with me. It didn’t matter if I shot 65 or 105, all I had to do was have fun playing the game and enjoy that time with him, but I didn’t. That is my biggest regret and something I will never be able to take back.

That attitude didn’t start to change after college either. I remember a tournament that I ended up winning by 10 shots, and I was pissed off when I walked off the course in the final round because I didn’t break the current course record. I mean, who the hell did I think I was?!

When did it start to change? Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 5:30am.

5:27am –  I wake up from a dead sleep to see that my brother is calling me. That’s weird, probably just a butt dial.

5:28am – My brother calls again but I don’t answer and tell myself I’ll call him back when I’m up for the day which would have been around 6:30-7:00am.

5:30am – My mom calls me. Okay, this is crazy, and something isn’t right. I answer and immediately know it’s something terrible. All she can tell me is that the police called, and something has happened to my Dad but she can’t say what other than that he is at a hospital in Springfield—roughly an hour or so from where I was.

When she told me that, deep down I knew he was gone no matter how much I tried to tell myself to have hope. If the police call you and they can’t say what happened, it’s pretty obvious.

My Dad had a history of heart problems for a few years leading up to this day but hadn’t mentioned any recent issues in the weeks and months leading up to the day. The last time I talked to him was on my birthday, May 10. Two days before he died, and you know what we talked about? You guessed it. Golf.

He was out on the road and based on what I was told, he had a heart attack, was able to call 911 from his phone and pull off the side of the road; but by the time they got to him, it was too late. I’ll never, ever forget showing up to the hospital after what seemed like a 4-day car ride. I walked to the front desk praying that they were going to tell me something. I told them I was one of Rick Sullivan’s sons here to see him and they told me where the room was. There was no mention of what state he was in or what had happened, so I had a small glimmer of hope that he was okay. I walked down the hall, turned the corner, looked at my brother Matt and step mom Sheryl, they looked at me, and then I saw my Dad.

I’ll never be able to find the words to describe that moment when I saw him laying on the table with a breathing tube that was used to try and resuscitate him still in his mouth. Utter disbelief. Anger at the receptionist who could have warned me about what I was walking into. Shock. All the strength in my body left me, I dropped to the ground and sat against the wall, head in my hands, sobbing, while my brother and Sheryl walked over and tried to console me (they had already been there for a while). I glanced over and saw the bag with my Dad’s clothes and belongings in it, shirt and jeans torn from where the paramedics cut them off him. All I remember saying out loud was “No way, no…way” (with some sporadic adult verbiage inserted throughout) because I couldn’t believe that he was gone. this wasn’t real, it couldn’t be. Sometimes I’ll still have dreams with him in them, but then I wake up and know that yes, it was real, and my biggest fan is gone. Physically, that is.

The days following that were a blur and for those of you that have gone through something similar, you know what I mean when I say that.

The year or so following that were hard to say the least. The moments immediately after traumatic loss are actually some of the easiest because your friends and family all know that you’re in pain and want to offer support. It’s no fault of their own, but after a couple weeks or months go by, people just forget and that’s when loss was the hardest.

The one place I could feel okay about things was the golf course.

I actually ended up at my home course the morning after my Dad had passed. I was off work and that was the first thing I could think of. How do I get my mind off this? Well, that was impossible, so the next best thing was to go to the place where I knew my Dad would want me to be. It wasn’t just any golf course though, it was my home away from home, Fairfield Greens South Trace. Most of you know how much I love that place and how much passion I have for our city tournament but may have never known why. Now you know. That was my Dad’s favorite tournament to come to. That’s where he got to watch me play the most matches. He and I played countless rounds together there and I also know he had something to do with the love and support I felt from everyone there after he passed whether they were friends or employees. Dave, Crutch, Kess & Mrs. K-dog, Wyatt, Meow, Ryan, Sara, T.J., Schnee, Trotter, Tyler, Siggy, Verbs, the rest of the Sunday Skins game buddies and the list goes on. Without all of you, there’s no way I’d be the player and person I am today, and I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that. You helped me through the toughest time in my life to date and I hope you are all proud of who I’ve become.

Jeff Sullivan on GreenFrom that day forward, my golf is played for him. Not only to win, but to show him that I can be the man and player that he always wanted me to be. To show great sportsmanship, character and class on the golf course. That’s why I play the game now. In 2011 and 2012 I wanted to win our city tournament SO bad, even more than ever before because I wanted to do it for my Dad. I couldn’t get the job done until 2013 and I will remember that win more than any other as long as I play the game.

I’m 7 shots behind with only 15 holes to play. 99 times out of 100, you don’t win that battle, but this was a day when I knew I had something more on my side. That something was Papa Sully. From holes 4 through 16 I was able to rattle off 7 birdies and tie for the lead. On #17, I had a putt to take a one-shot lead from about 12 or 14 feet. I guessed wrong on the break, but somehow the ball wiggled its way into the hole and I took the lead heading into the last hole. Pumped full of adrenaline, I blew a 7 iron over the back of the green to a back pin and then hit one of the most nervous flop shots of my life to 8 feet. Make this putt and you win for pops.

I hit the putt, see that it’s rolling dead center, it goes in and I look straight up in the air. I knew who made this happen, and it wasn’t me.

The exhilaration and love for my Dad in that moment was great, but the best feeling I’ve had was actually the following year. Same 18th hole, now I have only a 2 foot putt to win. I missed it and now we’re headed to a playoff. Not a playoff with just anyone, but with a great friend and mentor of mine, T.J. Oddly enough, 4 years prior to this is when my attitude on the golf course was at its worst. You know, that time I talked about winning by 10 and was pissed off? I knew that this was happening for a reason too and with T.J. being involved, it was the perfect time for me to dig deep and show everyone, including Papa Sully, that I get it. T.J. hit an incredible shot on the first playoff hole and made birdie while I missed my putt to tie him. I held my head high, congratulated him and little did I know that the response and praise I got for how I LOST that tournament would be more meaningful than any tournament I could ever win.

Jeff Sullivan Message

This post was extremely hard to write, but I can’t thank my buddy Tyler enough for allowing me to share my story on the wonderful platform that he has created with Seeya Bub. If you haven’t read any of his posts yet, you need to. I haven’t known him long but I can tell you that he’s one of the most brave and influential people I know and I can’t wait to see where his courage takes him next.

Thank you all for reading!

-Sully


Ty: Sully has a deep admiration for Tiger, but I have a deep admiration for Sully. He has done what we are all attempting to do when loss is dealt into our lives: to stand back up, to never forget, and to let that loss lead us into a more consequential life.

I have no doubt in reading this story that Papa Sully is watching over his son. Yes, guiding the extra wiggle on a clutch-putt, but more importantly he is there guiding his son’s character. Even though he isn’t physically here any longer, he is still teaching his son. He is still instructing him. He’s giving him a greater reason to play the game he loves. It’s more than wins and course records, although those things are good and admirable and worthy of the chase. It’s the character, more than anything, that matters to Jeff’s Father and his memory.

And every time Jeff steps on the course, his Dad is watching over him—just like he always did—giving him the courage he needs to step through the fire and cope with his grief.

“My son, obey your father’s commands, and don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.” Proverbs 6:20 (NLT)

 

Jeff Sullivan Bio ShotJeff “Sully” Sullivan

Jeff Sullivan is a 32 year old weekend warrior who still has a huge passion and love for the game of golf. Jeff was introduced to the game by his Dad at age 9 when Tiger Woods was making his run through U.S Junior and U.S. Am titles. Ever since his first trip to the driving range, he’s been hooked. Jeff lives in Charleston, South Carolina with his wife Sarah after growing up and living in Ohio his entire life. He played high school golf at Fairfield High School and went on to play college golf at Campbellsville University in Kentucky. Currently, Jeff writes for his blog Sully’s Sunday Feels where he shares his love of the game and purpose for playing.

Bonfires

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

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

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

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

Bonfires.

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

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

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

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

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

And by “device,” I mean a flamethrower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait…we actually paid for dirt?!

Stay focused, Bradshaw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Fight

“Why do I want to do this? Why do I want to do this?”

I sat at the desk in my office at home asking myself this question over and over and over again. My Dad’s death had been weighing heavy on my heart (as it does nearly every day), but there was something that felt different at this moment of my grief. In the immediate aftermath of losing my Dad, I was just trying to survive. I was just trying to make it through the different and unexpected challenges that accompanied each day. I didn’t know how to do it, and I simply took things one day at a time.

But a few years after losing him, I wanted to do something with my grief. I wanted to make sure my Dad didn’t die in vain. I wanted to help other people.

I wanted to fight.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, September is Suicide Prevention Month, which has caused me to think more and more about the larger fight against mental illness and suicide, along with the personal implications for my own journey. Suicide Prevention Month forces me to think about my own motivations for writing and speaking and advocating for a more open and honest discourse about mental illness.

So why do I fight?

I fight because my Dad didn’t take his own life, but because his life was stolen from him. My Dad was a victim of suicide, and in an earlier post, I’ve written about why that phrasing matters. My Dad didn’t take his own life. Depression and mental illness robbed him of joy, and eventually, his existence as well.

I fight because my Dad was robbed. He was robbed of the experiences he deserved to have. He deserved to enjoy retirement. He deserved more beach vacations. He deserved to be a Grandpa and play with his children (and probably feed them way too much candy before turning them back over to their Dad). He deserved more walks with my Mom and our dog. He deserved more bike rides and miles on his truck and chances to embarrass his son with his ridiculous Dad humor.

But depression stole all of this from him, and from my family. Depression told my Dad, falsely, that he didn’t deserve these things. I wish I could have told him more that he did.

I fight because I feel robbed. There are so many things I wanted to see and do with my Dad. Naively, I thought that I had so many years to check items off of our bucket list. In the blink of an eye, all of those moments were gone. We never got to go to a country concert together. We never got to go on a kayaking trip. We never hiked the mountains like we wanted to. We never went on a diet and started working out together like we said we would (Okay, let’s be honest…that one probably wasn’t going to happen anyway). There are so many “would-be” moments that are now gone forever. My heart longs to have those days back. I wish for nothing more than the opportunity to be next to Dad. To hear his laugh. To tell him how loved he was and always will be.

I fight against mental illness because it’s mental illness that stole all these moments away.

I fight because I’m angry at the true enemy. I don’t understand the ins and outs of depression and mental illness, and although I’m trying to learn, I don’t pretend to be an expert on the nuances, causes, and neurological forces that cause people to sink into such horrible and inescapable periods of darkness.

But I can name the enemy. And I can use the talents God has given me to advocate for those who are much better equipped to research and study and develop treatments.

And I can help expose the enemy by pulling back the curtain.

People who lose their loved ones to cancer don’t get mad at their loved ones. They get mad at cancer.

People who lose their loved ones as victim of violent crimes aren’t mad at their loved ones. They get mad at the murderer.

Therefore, I get mad at depression. I get mad at mental illness. I get mad at the pressures of our society that caused my Dad to hide his hurt.

And it makes me want to fight. And to deliver a knock-out punch.

I fight because, unfortunately, my Dad’s story is only one story in a host of others that have a terrible ending. As much as I’m fighting to remember my Dad, I’m also fighting because I want to live in a world where no one else ever has to experience the heartache that I have. I’m fighting because I live in a country where 30,000 Americans lose their life to suicide each year[1]. I’m fighting because I live in a country where someone becomes a victim of suicide every 16 minutes[2]. One death by suicide is one too many. And I’ll keep fighting because these victims, like my Dad, deserved better.

I fight because I have a printed copy of an article from CNN on my desk from December 2016, and I fight because it’s the story of Brandy Vela. Brandy was an 18-year old high school student in Texas with beautiful blue eyes and a bright smile. As all too many high schoolers know, bullying can be harsh. So much so that it forced Brandy to believe that her life was unlivable.

Brandy VelaBrandy’s classmates would make up fake Facebook accounts and message her and taunt her. The teasing was relentless. With maturity far beyond her years, Brandy chose not to respond, but her classmates were relentless. Brandy even went so far as to change her phone number and report the bullying to local police, but the authorities weren’t able to help because the perpetrators used an app that couldn’t be traced. The police told Brandy and her family that they couldn’t do anything until there was an actual fight or physical altercation.

On a seemingly usual Tuesday, Brandy sent a very unusual text to her family members from the bedroom of her home. “I love you so much,” the text read. “Please remember that, and I’m sorry for everything.”

Her family rushed to her bedroom and found Brandy with a gun to her chest. They begged and pleaded for Brandy to see that her life mattered. That her life was worth living.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Brandy responded. “I’m tired. I’ve come too far not to do it.”

Brandy’s life ended in front of the family members that loved her most.

Fortunately, two individuals have been arrested in connection with Brandy’s death. I can only hope that the individuals who invested their time in tormenting a fellow classmate will receive swift justice, but I hope the guilt for their actions feels worse than any punishment.

This is not normal. This is not acceptable. This is not an acceptable end for any man, woman, or child, period. If we value life, we will do everything we can to eliminate the forces that cause individuals to think that life isn’t worth living.

Our world and our society are both full of unbelievable and unnecessary pressures. These are pressures that drive people to think they aren’t enough. Pressures that drive people to think that the hurt and pain they feel will last forever.

Every death by suicide is unique and completely different, and there are contributing factors that make each case unique. The pressures facing Brandy Vela and her feelings were very different from those that hastened my Dad’s death, but there is one unfortunate commonality: left behind is a family full of grief, questions, and unending pain.

Like Brandy Vela’s family, I am left wondering “what if.” What if I had done more to try and help my Dad? What if I had forced him to seek medical attention? What if I would have stayed with him the entire day instead of leaving the house? What if my Dad was still here?

Suicide isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to those whose lives are cut unnecessarily short. It isn’t fair to the families who are left behind. Those victims and those families deserve the strength of an army to take down this enemy once and for all.

For my Dad and for every single family affected by this horrible epidemic, I ask you to join the fight.

Just Like Dad Picture with SB LogoDad, I miss you every single day. I replay our last conversation, the hurt I saw in your eyes, and our last words to one another. I also replay all the moments throughout life when I knew you were hurting, and although I can’t help you any longer, I want to help other people. I don’t want any individual to experience the pain you felt. I don’t want any family to experience the loss that ours has felt without you. Dad, I hope you will continue to be my guardian angel, watching over me as I do my best to honor your memory and your story. Thank you for always teaching me that it’s important to help those who can’t help themselves. Thank you for always showing me that love can heal all wounds. I hope your story reaches those who are hurting and causes them to get the help they deserve. I promise I’ll make you proud. Until the race is done, seeya Bub.

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)

[1] https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-suicide

[2] https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-suicide

The Church Must Speak (Part 2): Stigmas

This is Part 2 in a special three-part series on the Christian church and mental illness. Please make sure you check out Part 1: Silence.

Unspoken prayer requests are unspoken for a reason.

I know that not every unspoken prayer request is related to mental illness; but I do think that a large majority of those who suffer from mental illness are afraid to make it known.

And the last place they should be afraid is the Christian church.

But they are.

When I started this series, the easy part was realizing that the Christian church largely stays silent on the topic of mental illness. The difficult part was understanding why. Why would a caring, loving church stay silent on a topic that affects so many parishioners who sit in the pews week in and week out? Why would the church choose to stay silent when people are broken and hurting? When lives are being lost? When families are being torn apart?

There’s a reason why those unspoken requests continue to remain unspoken.

The stigmas that surround mental illness, although mostly untrue, are just as pervasive in the church as they are in any other institution in our society. And these stigmas are preventing people from finding the peace they deserve—and the love that Christ wants them to experience.


So what are these stigmas? What are these faulty thoughts surrounding mental illness and suicide? Why are they still alive in the modern church? How foolish are they? And what can we do to counter them? I have my ideas.

To prevent these stigmas from spreading, we’ve got to understand just how faulty they actually are. So, for the rest of this post, I’m going to ask you to engage in a bit of a metaphor with me.

I want you to imagine that a man comes to your church with a broken leg. He hobbles in on crutches. A huge, fiberglass cast holds his shattered bones into place. After some uncomfortable shuffling, he eventually finds a pew near the back of the church in an attempt to avoid the eyes of his fellow worshipers.

Now, imagine that you notice this man. And imagine that you immediately judge him negatively because of his broken leg. Or you question his walk with God. Or worse…you completely ignore him and his pain.

Crazy, right?

If someone has a broken leg in the church, we don’t ask any questions about why their leg is broken, but we offer to help. In any way we can.

If someone in the church has a brain function or thought process that is broken, however, our reaction is very, very different. And this differentiation is at the heart of the stigmas that prevent the Christian church, largely, from serving the mentally ill.

That, my friends, is the heart of my argument. Although the response and treatment for an injured leg and an injured brain are vastly different, our Christian response to each of those injuries should operate from the same exact place of love and compassion, not judgement. We must counter the stigmas; but to counter them, we have to call them out, one by one. Although there are many stigmas about mental illness that run rampant in both the church and everyday American society, I believe these three are the most particularly dangerous and damaging.

STIGMA 1: If you suffer from mental illness, your spirit is weak, your faith is low, or you are distant from God. Situate this stigma in the context of the conversation we had just a moment ago. Imagine if I had the audacity to question the physical or spiritual fortitude of the man with the broken leg. “Man, you must have some pretty weak bones there fella,” I would say to him. Or “That’s what you get for not drinking enough milk!” Or worse, imagine if I said, “Wow, what did you do to make God so mad that he broke your leg?!” If I ever responded to anyone with a broken leg with an attitude like that, everyone in the church would immediately call me a hypocrite. They would call out my lack of compassion—rightly so!

But there are believers in the Christian church each and every day who make those same judgments about their brothers and sisters who suffer from mental illness. They secretly call them crazy. They avoid interaction with these people. They question whether or not they actually believe in God at all.

This type of thinking is completely unacceptable.

I can’t speak to the root of each and every person’s own individual struggle with mental illness. I can’t say with 100% certainty that all cases of mental illness have nothing to do with a larger spiritual battle. But I can say that believing every case of mental illness stems from a person’s personal walk with Christ is foolish.

And I can also say I’ve encountered this stigma.

No, I’ve never interacted with someone after my Dad’s death who comes right out and says, “Your Father must have been mad at or distant from God,” but they don’t have to come right out and say it. I can see it in their eyes. I can tell that they don’t want to engage because they think of my Father as someone who must have had little faith in God.

But I can tell you that my Dad believed in God. He believed in the power of the Cross. He loved Jesus—and more importantly lived his life in a way that showed people how much he loved Jesus. But my Father’s mind was highjacked by a horrible, complex, and devastating disease. Just like someone who loses a family member to cancer or heart disease, I lost my Father to suicide. Suicide, a debilitating disease that clouds the mind and warps the senses stole my Father. In fact, I think my Father’s faith is probably the thing that allowed him to fight as successfully as he did for so long.

I think one of the most Christ-like things we can do is admit that sometimes, we just don’t know why certain things happen. And I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always understand depression and mental illness. It could be spiritual, for some. It could be neurochemical and physiological for others. It could be brought on by dire circumstances or a whole host of other influences. But, like Jesus, I want to listen to people who are hurting. I want to listen to people who are suffering, hear their stories, and help them find comfort in the arms of Christ. And if I automatically assume that every battle with depression is entirely spiritual in nature, I’m missing the point of Jesus’ ministry—and so is His church.

STIGMA 2: Suicide is the unforgivable sin, and if you’ve ever entertained it or had suicidal ideations, you’ll never be forgiven. As a Christian, you should just know this isn’t an option. Somehow, we’ve come to believe in the church that suicide is a sin that is elevated above any other—and, unfortunately, we lump mental illness into this bucket of “unforgivable sins” that don’t actually exist.

Go back to the poor man I described in the previous section with a bum leg. Put yourself in his shoes (and cast). Imagine if someone told you that your struggle to stay healthy must be a punishment from God for some sin you had committed. Would it make you want to serve Him? Or would it scare you?

I don’t know about you, but I serve a loving God. I serve a compassionate, forgiving God. And I serve a God who says I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22, NIV).

Unfortunately, there are a whole host of people in the larger Christian church who, whether consciously or underneath the surface, believe that there is something unforgivable about mental illness and suicide. I don’t understand this, and I never will.

Charles Stanley is one of the most knowledgeable Christian speakers and scholars of our time, and I remember being given a copy of his book Emotions by my pastor, Harville, after my Dad’s death. I tore through page after page because I loved Stanley’s approach to dealing with our emotions (more on Stanley’s book in the Library section), but then my heart froze when I got to page 243 in a chapter entitled “Despair.” My eyes fixed on the word “suicide”, and I began to panic. My palms began to sweat because I was afraid of what might come next. Stanley is a Baptist minister who started his career behind the pulpit in the 1970’s, and I made assumptions about his beliefs on suicide. I worried that a man like Stanley—a studied and learned man—was going to tell me something about my Father’s eternity that my heart couldn’t bear to hear.

And then, with the tenderness I needed in just that moment, Stanley penned the words that my broken heart needed to hear. He wrote:

“Now, before we move on, let me clear up a misconception I frequently hear repeated. If you or someone you love has attempted suicide, please be assured that it is not the unpardonable sin. Some believe it is because the person does not have the opportunity to repent, but nothing in God’s Word suggests suicide will not be forgiven” (p. 246).

I put down the book, and I began crying. God knows my heart, and He knows I’m a natural skeptic, and he knew that I would need the perspective of a Biblical scholar like Charles Stanley to convince me that my Dad’s heart—and his Eternity—belonged to the Lord and Savior he served.

And it’s not just Stanley. After reading his book, I sought out more and more perspectives. And everywhere I looked I found the same thing from Christian scholars I knew I could trust—mental illness and suicide are not the unpardonable sin.

But the words of men shouldn’t be enough to convince us. Those of us in the Church should let everything we do be dictated by the Word of God, and nowhere in the Bible am I able to find evidence that those who suffer from mental illness or suicidal ideations are not welcome at the foot of the Cross.

In fact, I find example after example of broken, hurting people finding comfort in the arms of Jesus Christ.

Don’t miss what I’m saying—I don’t want to minimize the devastating impact of suicide. It’s horrible and it’s irreversible. It leaves a chaotic imprint on the hearts and minds of those who are left behind to deal with the trauma, anguish, and confusion. My Dad’s death has put questions on my heart that I know I’ll never have answers to on this side of Eternity. This one isn’t easy. We have to find a way to talk about mental illness and suicide in the Church without encouraging emotionally vulnerable and hurting people to do something they might regret. We have to let them know that even though all of our sins are forgiven, it doesn’t erase the collateral damage that a suicide might inflict. In showing God’s love, the suffering and potentially suicidal person will hopefully see the love of a fellow Christian that will encourage them to find help.

But in order to even bring those people into the conversation, we have to make them feel loved. And sending them the signal that their pain is unforgivable will immediately close off their path to the Cross.

STIGMA 3: I want to help you, but I don’t know how. In the Lifeway study that I shared last week, a large number of pastors who said they don’t regularly talk about the topic of mental health in their churches brought up a common reason for avoiding the subject: they said they aren’t prepared to help those people who are suffering. They worried that they didn’t have the knowledge or academic background or expertise to aid the mentally ill and potentially suicidal, so they avoided the topic all together.

Guess what? You’re more equipped than you think you are. We all are.

Let’s jump back to my metaphor once more. Imagine going up to the person with the broken leg in your church and saying “I would love to help you, but I’m not a doctor and I don’t know anything about how to mend bones. So best of luck!” It’s ludicrous, but it’s also what we are doing with mental health.

Pastors and church leaders, you are right. I don’t expect you to have the same knowledge as a trained clinical professional in the field of psychology. I also don’t expect you to have the medical knowledge of a physician, but I do expect you to talk about dealing with tragic illnesses. I don’t expect you to have the training and knowledge of a financial planner, but I do expect you to talk to Christians about their finances and God’s perspective on money and wealth. I don’t expect you to have the scientific background of Einstein, but I do expect you to talk about how Christians should treat the gift of God’s Creation.

So yes, I expect you to talk about mental illness, even if you don’t have all the answers.

You may not have the academic training or credentials, but you do have the wherewithal and perspective on the power of the Holy Spirit to direct hurting and broken people to the resources they need. No, you may not be able to fix the problem yourself—but isn’t that the point? Isn’t the true message of following Christ a desire to let the Holy Spirit work in our lives to pick us up when we can stand no longer? Isn’t the point of the Church to bring together people with different talents and functions and backgrounds to serve God and serve one another? You might not be able to solve the problem for that person, but you can pray for a solution. You can pray over their problem with them and pray for answers from above. Those answers may come in the form of a Christian counselor, a medical physician, or a clinical psychologist or therapist who can help that suffering person find the treatment they deserve.

I’ll say it as clearly as I know how: A lack of knowledge is not an excuse for a lack of empathy.

And that help is exactly why I write. I don’t point out the faults of the Christian church’s approach to mental illness purely as a critic. I come to the table desperately seeking solutions. I come to this conversation with a positive and optimistic belief that, together, God’s people can unite as a strong army in the fight against mental illness, depression, and suicide. I believe that we can counter these stigmas head on in our congregations and communities, and I believe we can change the world, just like our Father calls us to do.

I recognize the silence. I know there are stigmas.

What do we to counter all of this?

I’ll offer those solutions in next week’s conclusion.

Dad, I’m ashamed to say that it took your struggle and your death for me to realize just how hard the struggle to overcome mental illness really is. And it took losing you to soften my heart for other people who are hurting. It took watching you suffer to realize that mental illness is complex and hard to understand. It took your hurt for me to understand that mental illness is unpredictable and so very difficult to counter. It took losing you for me to understand how the judgement of mental illness weighs on an already heavy heart. It took losing you for me to realize that there are simple ways to help hurting people that might make all the difference. Dad, I think about you each and every day, and I think what more I could have done as a son and as a fellow follower of Jesus Christ to help you find the comfort and peace that you deserved. But I know, deep down, you’ve found an abundant and everlasting peace in Heaven. I would do anything I could to have you back here with me, but for now I’ll fight to help others who, like you, are hurting and fearful that they will never find acceptance. I love you, Dad, and I miss you dearly. Until my fight is complete, seeya Bub.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

The Church Must Speak (Part 1): Silence

From the time I was little, I grew up in churches where the pastor would beckon for prayer requests from the pulpit. Over those next few minutes, the pastor would look out over the congregation and field requests from the flock. Physical ailments, family struggles, and difficult job situations always prevailed.

Usually, about halfway through the list of prayer requests, someone would raise their hand and ask for prayer for an “unspoken request.” Then, the pastor would ask the congregation if there was anyone else with an unspoken request, and a spattering of hands would shoot towards the rafters.

I remember people asking for prayer for sick family members and neighbors. I remember prayer requests for job situations. But in the litany of prayer requests that were offered, I can’t remember a time in my life in the church where someone asked God to heal their particular struggles with mental illness, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, suicidal ideations, or any of the other brain illnesses that plague our society.

But I heard and saw the requests for prayer regarding unspoken (and apparently unspeakable) issues. And it wasn’t until my Dad died from suicide that I began to connect the dots between mental illness and unspoken prayer requests.

The Christian church must speak.

God’s people need to hear it.

I need to hear it.

And God wants His Church to speak—I’m confident of that.


I grew up in the Christian church and I am still a proud member of the Christian church, and I’ll be the first one to admit this unfortunate fact: Largely, the Christian church in America remains silent when it comes to the issue of mental illness.

My accusation is not an original one. Listen to Perry Noble, the former pastor of NewSpring church and author of the book Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry. Noble has had his own struggles with depression, and the church wasn’t a place that was equipped to heal his suffering:

“In late 2008, I sank into a black hole that I now know was depression. It was the darkest time of my life, and I honestly wanted to die. I was so desperate to find relief that I seriously thought about ending my own life. And it wasn’t because I didn’t love Jesus, but rather because I had allowed my life to get out of control.

Believe it or not, people [who belong to the church] on the right side of the cross struggle with depression.

The sad thing is that in all my years of church work, I can’t recall hearing a single message on the subject of depression. I’ve even heard church leaders say that if a person is dealing with depression, it’s because of some unconfessed sin that needs to be dealt with.”[1]

Listen to Dr. Frank Page. Page is the president and CEO of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a pastor for more than three decades. Personally, Page knows the pain of depression in a way few others could understand, as his daughter Melissa tragically lost her life to mental illness and suicide. In a special study I taught at my church, Paige writes:

“We readily pray for one another when we’re dealing with sickness, surgeries, cancer, or some chronic illness. Mental illness, on the other hand, is not often mentioned. Mental illness can take many forms, and it is estimated that 1 in 10 people suffer from depression. People suffering from mental illness are all around us, including the church. Instead of ignoring the issue, let’s consider a far more positive approach.”[2]

(Both of these authors have amazing books that I’ve listed in the Library section of Seeya Bub if you’d like to check them out and read more.)

Listen to nearly any pastor in the Christian church today, and I think that if they’re being honest they will readily admit that mental illness is often something that is either ignored or could be discussed more within their own congregation…until it’s usually too late for someone.

Listen to the numbers. Lifeway Research conducted a comprehensive survey in 2014 where they talked to pastors about mental illness and the response of the church to these issues. In that survey, Lifeway asked how often pastors speak to the church in sermons or large group messages about mental illness.

  • 3% of the pastors surveyed said that they spoke about the topic of mental illness several times a month.
  • 4% said they spoke about mental illness at least once a month.
  • 26% said they spoke about mental illness several times a year. And an overwhelming 66% of the pastors surveyed said that they spoke about mental illness once a year, rarely, or never at all.[3]

So…7% of pastors are speaking about mental illness regularly, and 92% either infrequently or never discuss a topic plaguing a large number of Americans and certainly congregation members.

The reality is this: People who sit in the pews week in and week out are suffering from these issues. I’ve suffered, my Dad suffered, and countless Christians that I’ve had conversations with have had these same struggles. But for some reason, the church doesn’t speak to them.

And I believe people all throughout Biblical history have suffered from depression, even if they didn’t have a formal name to put to it. In the book of Psalms, David swings back and forth from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. And boy, are those lows really, really low. Take a look at Psalm 6 where David says:

Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint;O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? Turn, O LORD, and deliver me;
…I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. (v. 2-7, NIV)

Sounds a lot like some stories I’ve read from those suffering from mental illness…

The Apostle Paul accomplished more than any man in the church after Jesus Christ, in my opinion. He had more to boast about and be happy in than anyone, but some propose that even he suffered from a period or bout of mental illness. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 shines some light on this claim:

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (NIV)

And don’t even make me get started on that poor Job fella…

I’m confident that God included these Biblical examples in our history to offer comfort to those who are suffering centuries later. If men like Paul and Moses and David and Job and Noah could suffer and still be loved and used by God, so can I. So can you. So could men like my Dad. I think God is telling us that it’s okay to not be okay…but that it’s not okay to stay that way. That’s where the church should come in.

Whether they are talking about mental illness or not, our churches are all sending a message about mental illness; unfortunately, the signal sent through silence is not the one that I believe Jesus wants us to send. When the church is silent on the topic of mental illness, it sends the message that the church doesn’t care. Or worse, that the church knows people are suffering but refuses to do anything about it.

This all comes back to my belief (not my original words) that the Christian church should be a hospital for broken people, not a museum for perfect people. If there is anywhere that people with mental illnesses should feel free to talk about their struggles, it should be the church. If there are any people that should be trusted confidants and judgement-free sources of help and support, they should be God’s people. If there is anyone that should be able to tell those with mental illness that God loves them and wants to see them healed, it should be God’s mouthpieces here on Earth doing the encouraging.

Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (GW). I know my Dad and the millions of others who suffered from mental illness felt tired. I know they felt weary. Jesus didn’t tell them to take their problems somewhere else because the church isn’t equipped. He said to bring those troubles to His feet.

We can’t be silent anymore. Jesus doesn’t want us to be silent. He wants His church to speak. And speak we must.


In the next few weeks, I am going to embark on a journey through this blog to encourage the Christian church and all believers to reflect on what they can do in the fight against mental illness, depression, and suicide. This is an important fight. It’s a fight for our lives and the lives of those we love.

In the next part of this three-part series, I will talk about the faulty thinking that I feel is at the root of the church’s silence. I will dig deep into the myths of mental illness that have paralyzed the church’s progress in this fight.

I’ll conclude this series by talking about solutions. I think Jesus commands His church to serve those who are suffering, including the mentally ill. I’ll talk about the practical solutions that will make the church relevant in this battle, and the need for all churches to stand up and speak out.

Above anything I write, I ask in this moment and in the weeks to follow for your prayers. I am not trained or educated in theology. I am not a pastor. I am, however, a hopefully-humble servant of Jesus Christ, and a grieving son who longs to protect others from the fate that found my Father. I ask that you pray for me in the days and weeks to come as I write, share, and engage. I hope you will ask God to direct my hand in everything that I do through this series. I’m speaking because I wish the church had spoken to my Dad. I speak because I want the church that I love dearly to speak, too.

I speak with the hope that some other boy will be able to sit in the pew next to his Dad longer than I did.

Family Easter Photo with SB LogoDad, Since the time I was a little boy, you always taught me the importance of my relationship with Jesus. But you always taught me that my relationship with Jesus always needed to be reflected in my relationship with other people. I can’t imagine how many times we must have went to church together when you were hurting more than I ever knew. I wish I knew what to do then. I hope that I know what to do now. I’m trying my hardest to change the world around me, to make it a better place for those who are suffering like you did. Thank you for giving me a lifetime of inspiration, Dad. I’ll never get over losing you, but until we are together again, seeya Bub.

“Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (GW)

References:

[1]Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry by Perry Noble (2014), p. 35.

[2] Bible Studies for Life, Fall 2014 Leader Guide: Ministry in the Face of Mental Illness by Frank Page (2014), p. 161.

[3] http://lifewayresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Acute-Mental-Illness-and-Christian-Faith-Research-Report-1.pdf