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)

Waiting

If you’re an impatient kid, the wait for Christmas can always be a bit of a struggle. If you have a parent who is slow to get out of bed on Christmas morning, however, that struggle escalates to an epic, herculean test of the human will.

For as long as I can remember, Christmas morning in our family home was always tremendously special. As an only child, Christmas was particularly fun because…I didn’t have to share it with anyone else! Nothing says “Season of Giving” like relishing in the fact that you get to keep everything for yourself, am I right?! As an only child, there was never that moment of frantically grabbing a package only to have the smile fade from my face after seeing a sibling’s name. On occasion, our family dogs might have got an interesting package, but because my parents wanted to make Christmas so special, they always had plenty of gifts around the tree for me. I felt like a little prince on Christmas, but in all honesty, my parents made me feel loved and valued every day.

In my childhood, I was always a bit of an early riser. I would often wake around 6:30 or 7 on most days—what I wouldn’t give to rise with that same ease and energy as I had as a child. Nonetheless, I learned early on that it was always best to let my parents—both of whom had jobs and worked hard—sleep in a little later if they wanted to, especially on those precious Saturday mornings. Being an only child often teaches you how to entertain yourself, and I got pretty good at that on those early Saturdays. I would turn on the TV and watch Saturday morning cartoons, play with toys, draw and color, or entertain myself with any other activity that was quiet enough to not disrupt my slumbering parents. I was a good kid, and I knew my parents worked hard and deserved as much time to rest as they wanted, so I tried my best to make as little noise as possible.

On Christmas morning, however, there was no chance I would ever sleep in to a reasonable hour, and there was an even lesser chance that I would let my parents sleep in either. The excitement and nervous anticipation would wake me up long before the sun would rise in the hopes I might catch a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh has he scurried to the next home. Sometimes, I’d lay in bed and try to force myself to go back to sleep so the hours wouldn’t drag on at a soul-crushingly slow pace. On most Christmas mornings, I would give up and head downstairs immediately. I would turn on the TV and watch Christmas shows and movies until I heard movement from my parents.

Let me rephrase that: I stayed out of their hair (or the spot where Dad’s hair should have been) until I heard the slightest movement from my parents, and that would serve as excuse enough to wake them up. If I heard a cough, a tussle, or a snore that I could mistake for a parental foot stepping out of the bed, I would bounce up the stairs, stand in the doorway, and stare at my parents as they lay there, still sleeping. Then, after a few minutes of realizing they were still asleep, I would make some type of innocuous noise that I thought might be enough to wake them up. Oftentimes, a repeated heavy sigh was my course of action. I’d fake a cough, or a sneeze if I was feeling particularly ambitious. I might be able to get a door or floorboard to creak loudly to create enough noise that I couldn’t be blamed for.

No matter what mechanism of noise-creation I used, Mom was always the first to wake up. She would always come down the stairs, wish me a Merry Christmas, and kiss me on the forehead or on the cheek as I played in the family room and pretended not to know where all those disruptive noises had come from. For as long as I can remember, Mom would usually head straight to the kitchen on Christmas mornings to whip up a special breakfast for all of us. Her famous breakfast quiche was always a tradition, with a nice big glass of sparkling cider poured into our family Christmas glasses that were decorated with red and green holly berry. Meals which are that good always leave an impression, and those flavors will always taste like Christmas morning to me.

But after she got a good start on breakfast, the waiting game would often continue because Dad was always the last one up on Christmas morning. Always. I can’t think of a single Christmas when my Dad was the first person to wake up. Don’t get me wrong—my Dad wasn’t lazy, and he wasn’t usually a late sleeper. When it came to work, my Dad worked very difficult schedules his entire life, laboring as a steel plant maintenance technician. His shifts would change from first to third and back again, yet he never complained about having to rise or fall at these different hours. But when Dad did have the opportunity to sleep, he savored it—just like he savored everything in his life. He enjoyed sleep, and if he had the opportunity to sleep a little later, he was going to enjoy it, Christmas morning or not.

The mind of a child, however, doesn’t recognize that perspective on Christmas morning. The mind of a six-year-old child is screaming “Why are you not waking up?! There are presents to be torn apart and insanely complex toys that need to be put together and broken within minutes of receiving them!” Dad’s leisurely pace on Christmas was infuriating for a child who enjoyed opening presents.

On Christmas, and in life generally though, Dad operated on his own clock. Dad reserved speed for the times when he was behind the wheel in his truck; in most other segments of life, Dad rarely sped things along. He took his time doing the things he loved, because why rush happiness to simply get on to something else? If Dad ate a good meal, he ate it slowly and drank a second can of Coke so he could linger a bit longer. If Dad was at a family get-together, he was always one of the last ones to leave the company of a family he loved. If Dad was at a baseball game, there was rarely a time when he left before the last pitch was thrown. And especially when wrapping Christmas gifts, Dad took all the time he needed to make sure the gifts were intricately wrapped, creatively inspired, and adorned with just the right mix of bows, ribbons, and other decorative elements. In all things, Dad took his time—and on Christmas morning, he took his time to make his way down to the tree, which drove me absolutely bonkers.

Dad would sleep in for a bit on Christmas morning. Looking back, I realize just how few days he had to actually sleep in, but Christmas creates an unbridled impatience within the heart of a child that is difficult to squelch. On those Christmas mornings when he slept in past 8:00, I would sit on the couch with my arms folded, huffing and puffing as loud as my young lungs would allow, hoping my sighs of frustration would drift up the stairs and cause such guilt that my Dad would immediately come downstairs and encourage me to rip open every gift and a few of his while I was at it. When the aggressive breathing technique failed to work, I’d simply yell up the stairs. “Dad! Are you ever going to come down here?”

“Maybe by next Christmas,” he’d joke back, turning over to see if he could squeeze out another few minutes of rest.

As the minutes ticked on, each one seemingly more painful than the one before, I would roll my eyes and shake my head with fury, channeling the impatience of a man 80 years my senior. Even as a child, I was a bit of an old soul—an old, cranky, impatient little soul.

Eventually, after much pestering that didn’t affect him whatsoever, Dad would eventually come down the stairs. Every year, regardless of how much pestering I had done, it was largely the same image. Same dark, matching sweatsuit. Same thick, woolly socks. Same oval-rimmed glasses. Same wide smile when he saw the tree, his wife, his dog, and his red-faced, annoyed son eager to become a human gift-paper shredder. Dad would hug us, and he would keep smiling, and he would soak up every single moment of time we spent together on Christmas morning.

And then, after all of those presents were open, I’d start waiting for the next Christmas.

And now, here I am, many years removed from those Christmases of my childhood, and I’m still waiting. I’m waiting on something I know I’ll never have on this Earth again.

It’s strange to wait on a Christmas that I know will never come. I’m waiting on a Christmas when my Dad comes down the stairs in his elastic-ankled sweatpants and takes way too many pictures on his camera. I’m waiting on a Christmas that occurred so many years ago—a Christmas I likely took for granted as a child. A Christmas that I likely thought would occur forever and ever and ever, but was suddenly and unfairly ripped from my life forever. It’s absolutely maddening to know that, when we are young, we beg for time to move on; but once we age and lose the things that really matter in this world, we beg for God to turn back the clock.

That guilt of taking those Christmases for granted tears my heart into pieces every time I think about it. I think of all those Christmas mornings where I would get annoyed with Dad’s extra 15 minutes of sleep, or his obnoxious obsession with taking pictures of our family dog opening gifts. I would give just about anything to spend another Christmas with him, and even though we had 26 wonderful holiday mornings together, I desperately yearn for 26 more.

This will be my sixth Christmas without my Dad. I keep thinking that Christmas without him will get easier, and more normal, but it never does. There’s always an awkward absence when he doesn’t come down the stairs. There’s always a longing to give him another gift, to share another laugh, to just be in his presence once more. On certain years, that sadness and waiting for Christmas with him again has completely overtaken and overwhelmed me to the point when I couldn’t enjoy the things that were right in front of me. During certain years, those moments of sadness have paralyzed me.

But there are also beautiful, loving moments when I’m able to remember him again and smile happily as I think back on those splendid Christmas mornings we spent together. Mom still uses tags that my Dad wrote out in his precise, all-capital print, so I still get a gift labeled from my Dad every Christmas. Just seeing his handwriting soothes my soul in ways that are hard to describe because it reminds me how real he was. I’ll look around the tree and see ornaments that he always hung, like the Elf Carpenter, and it reminds me how much humor and personality he brought to all of our lives. I’ll hear a song from the Christina Aguilera Christmas album—yes, you read that right—and I’ll laugh thinking about how much he enjoyed listening to that while he decorated the tree (he said he just listened to it because Mom liked it, but somehow he mysteriously knew all the words and ridiculous runs in every single song). There are lots of wonderful memories around this time of the year that, fortunately for me, have yet to fade.

Coupled with those happy recollections, however, is an extreme pain. There is a pain every time I look at the staircase leading to my parents’ bedroom, knowing that he won’t come bouncing down the stairs on this morning or any other. There is a pain knowing that I won’t be able to watch A Christmas Story six or seven times with him, and knowing I won’t hear his bellowing laughter every time Flick sticks his tongue to the flagpole. There’s a pain knowing that I won’t be able to see him unwrap gifts and eat Christmas cookies and nap on the couch. There’s a pain knowing that, no matter how many gifts might be under the tree, the only gift I really want is one that I’ll never have in this life.

There’s joy, however, in knowing that we will celebrate a more perfect Christmas once this life is over. That day is a long, long time away, and I won’t let the anticipation of a Christmas to come completely overtake my desire to experience the life I’m living. My Dad’s death has taught me that I can live in the moment, simultaneously experiencing happiness with the people I have in my life and sadness with he ones who are gone. I can know that there is a joy to be experienced in the life to come and joy in the here and now. Life is not divided into purely happy and purely sad—and neither is Christmas. Life after losing a loved one is perpetually characterized by that dichotomy: a happiness rooted in the memories that fill our hearts, and a sadness that those same memories will fail to come to life again. That balance between legitimate joy and deep despair has been difficult for me to navigate in the years since losing my Dad, but it’s especially tough on Christmas morning.

For these past six Christmases, I’ve tried to slow down. Partly to honor my Dad, and partly to give myself the time to experience Christmas in the moment, just like my Dad always did. I know that Dad wouldn’t want Christmas to be less enjoyable for his family, but the reality is, he lived a life that was so big that it inevitably leaves a gaping hole now that he’s gone. There will always be a tremendous sadness in a season known for joy, but joy will always prevail. And joy will prevail because, although I’m waiting for a Christmas with my Dad now, there is a promise in Heaven that, someday, I’ll never have to wait again.

Dad Lucy and Me at Christmas with SB LogoDad, I really miss Christmas with you. I miss so many things about the Christmas mornings and holiday seasons we spent together. I miss seeing your smile as you opened tools and other gifts that Mom and I bought you. I miss watching you laugh at and take videos of Willow or Lucy as they tore open dog bones and puppy toys wrapped in shiny paper. I miss the elaborate and precise details of your gift wrapping, and I really miss watching you try to explain why you bought Mom certain gifts that puzzled us all. You showed all of us how to find joy on Christmas, and you never took a moment for granted on those special holiday celebrations. For that matter, you never took any moment in life for granted, and I’m trying to do that more and more each day. Thank you for teaching me, in the way you lived your life, how I should live my own. Thank you for helping me remember, even in your death, that the moments we have in this life are meant to be savored and enjoyed. Dad, I’m really looking forward to that first Christmas that we will have together in the life after. I’m looking forward to a reunion unlike any other. And I’m so excited to see you again, that I might even let you sleep in an extra fifteen minutes. Thank you for being a great Dad on Christmas, and a great Dad every single day of the year. Thank you for continuing to watch over me, and thank you for always reminding me what matters most. Love for God, love for family, and love for life are lessons you’ll never let me forget. One of the best Christmas gifts I’ve ever received is having a Father who made life count each and every day. I love you, Dad. Merry Christmas, and until we can celebrate again, seeya Bub.

“As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. ‘Let’s get over toe Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.’ They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby living in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. But Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” Luke 2:15-19 (MSG)

Suicide & The Line of No Reasoning: Guest Blog by Rev. Dan Walters

Ty: I often wonder what my Dad was thinking in the final moments of his life.

I’ve mentioned many times that I suffer from anxiety. There have been times in my life when the intensity of anxiety is so real that it completely shuts me down—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It has caused me to call in sick to work. It has caused me to lock myself in my room and turn off all the lights.

But it has never, ever caused me to be suicidal.

Even in the darkest depths of my anxiety, I’ve never had a suicidal thought or temptation. I’ve never had the urge—conscious or subconscious—that I should run towards death. Mental illness manifests itself differently within the mind, body, and spirit of each sufferer; and those manifestations are widely varied.

Which is what makes my Dad’s death so difficult to understand, and explains my curiosity about his thoughts in those final, desperate moments. My Dad suffered from depression, which is entirely different from the mental illness I’ve combated. Because of this difference, it’s hard for me to understand how my Dad could have died from suicide. As someone who has never had that urge or temptation, it’s hard for me to understand how my Dad’s mind could have become so ill that it told him to take his own life—even though I’ve never blamed him for his death. I want to understand the incomprehensible so I can sympathize with my Dad for the years and years that he suffered.

Which is why I’m so thankful for Reverend Dan Walters.

This is Pastor Dan’s third installment at SeeyaBub.com, and in this extremely vulnerable post, my friend does something that very few men (and especially ministry-leading men) have been unable to do—he speaks honestly and courageously about his own suicidal temptations and urges. Reverend Walters also tells the stories of the distraught individuals that he ministered to throughout his journey—some of which were saved, and some who were not. Personally, Dan Walters has done for me in this post what I thought I’d never be able to achieve—he’s given me a snapshot into the mind of someone who has been tempted to die from suicide.

I’m glad that Pastor Dan is still here. I’m glad that he’s here to write this important message. I’m glad that he’s here because he matters. And you matter. And more than anything, his words will help those of you who (thankfully) don’t suffer from mental illness recognize its destructive power.


Rev. Dan Walters: It is said that a man can live about 40 days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.

The causes for suicide are many. However, one thing that is common among all suicidal victims is the feeling of hopelessness. The apostle Paul wrote “If we have hope in this life only, we are of all men, most miserable,” (1 Corinthians 15:19). The apostle Peter wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3). It is only because of God’s grace and this living hope that many more of us do not become victims to this dark, mentally unstable state of mind called suicide.

Sometimes we feel hopeless as a result of making a major mistake, suffering a big disappointment or loss, or when we have to deal with an overwhelming situation which leads us to despair—which is the feeling of not having any hope left. That which leads an individual to this kind of “hopeless despair” is very complex and difficult to understand to say the least. However, a person who has experienced this kind of despair, and lived to tell about it, indeed is a person who has been plucked from the grip of suicidal death—That would be me!

In my own experience with the temptation of suicide, I came so close to crossing over what I call the “black line of no reasoning,” where I could not distinguish between the “conscious mind” which deals with the present reality, and the “unconscious mind” which deals with things that it perceives to be true. According to many psychologists, the unconscious mind influences our feelings and our judgements and ultimately becomes the driving source of our behavior, which will eventually conquer the conscious mind and affect how we perceive reality. I read somewhere, and I believe to be true, all of us have the capacity to practice brainwashing on ourselves. If we do not or cannot find our way back into that state of mind which deals with the reality of the present, we can ultimately find ourselves without hope – and as I said earlier, no one can live one second without hope!

The “black line of no reasoning” is the line of demarcation between the “conscious mind” and the “unconscious mind.” This is the place where the battle for hope is fought and the will to live is won or lost. It is here where the victim crosses over into the total darkness of despair where hope is diminished and there’s no way back. It is here where suicide and death appear to be a friend and the only solution from unbearable mental pain. While I cannot explain it in professional terms, I can say that I was there and felt the coldness of total darkness and experienced the lure of suicide—which appeared to be the only victory over my mental war.

I wrote in my book The Trap of Silent Depression that I could not openly reveal my battle with depression to anyone for fear that they would not understand and label me as sick and unfit to pastor my church congregation. This ultimately led me deeper into a state of “emotional isolation.” I had this feeling of being cut-off and alone, and at times even forsaken by God, and it was this aloneness in the intense darkness that I could not bear, and it was tempting me to cross over the “black line of no reasoning” from where there could be no return.

As a pastor, I had dealt with so many families who suffered losing a loved one to the terrible act of suicide, and in some strange way these experiences may have been a factor in keeping me in touch with reality when suicide came luring me into its darkness. When I cried out for mercy, I could hear the many voices that cried out to me across the past many years, and it would shock me back into reality—at least for the time being.

My first memory of a suicide victim was a man in his late forties who had a beautiful wife and teenage daughter. He was a Christian man who loved God and his church. One day I received a call that he, without warning, had taken his life and the family was overwhelmed with grief. His mental pain was finally over, but the family’s pain had just begun.

The Bible says in Romans 14:7 “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.” This is especially true in the case of a loved one who dies from suicide. The act itself may be a self-inflicted wound on just one person, but the after effects will be long lasting wounds that will be inflicted on many who are left behind. More often than not they will deal with the painful thoughts, the negative feelings, and unanswerable questions such as: What could they have done to prevent it? Whose fault was it? Should I have said or done something different? And the blame game begins as we think to ourselves “if I would just have been there,” or “was it something I said or did?” The questions never go away, and it’s a difficult burden to bear.

The funeral service for this man was one of pain, sorrow and terrible guilt, especially for his teenage daughter. The last words she spoke to her father were unkind and hurtful. This would be the final conversation and lasting remembrance of her dad in this life. And now, reality had set in, and the father she had always taken for granted was gone forever. I will never forget the scene at the end of the funeral service. I’ll never forget that young woman becoming so emotionally overwhelmed, and laden down with guilt, that she literally tried to climb into the casket and pull her father up to herself as she cried “Daddy, Daddy please forgive me, Daddy, Daddy I’m so sorry, Please wake up Daddy, I want to tell you that I love you.” It was a horrible ending to a life otherwise well-lived. The truth is this—we must live each day as if it is the last and give our roses while we are still living. The Proverb writer reminds us “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring,” (Proverbs 27:1).

Several years ago, there was man who had checked into a Holiday Inn in Ft. Mitchell Kentucky. My name plate sat on the bedroom dresser which read, Rev. Dan Walters – Chaplain – and my phone number. I received a phone call after midnight from this man who was holding a gun in his hand. He had just left his wife and children and he said to me “Do you know of any reason why I should not kill myself tonight?” I consoled him and pleaded with the man to allow me to come to him and talk about his troubles. After a while, he agreed that he would not shoot himself until he heard me out. I nervously arrived at the motel at approximately 1:30 in the morning, and there he sat on the bed in his room with a loaded pistol in his hand.

I first prayed for my own protection and then I pulled from the dresser drawer a Gideon’s Bible and began to read scriptures about God’s love for him from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The “unconscious mind” that was losing touch with reality slowly surrendered to the “conscious mind” and he returned to reality and now was seeing things through the eyes of hope. We prayed together and he repented before the Lord and accepted Christ into his heart. Christ restored his hope, and he packed up his suitcase, got into his car, and went back home to his wife and family and reconciled. Suicide was defeated and death was cheated—all because of the hope he found in Christ Jesus—Good  ending!

God has a plan for each one of us. He says so in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” However, we also have an adversary, our enemy Satan, whose desire is to destroy us. This is why so many become weak in their faith. In their weakness, they are lured to the “the dark line of no reasoning” and if hope can be dispelled just for one second it could be enough to cause them to cross that dark line where sense and logic has no reason.

In Ephesians 6:12, the apostle Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” He warns us that we are in a “struggle” for life-and-death. That’s the kind of battle all humans face every day to varying  degrees; however, for the person who is fighting mental illness this struggle is magnified many times over!

Finally the lingering question is always this: “What about the Christian father who for some unknown reason took his own life?” Whatever the momentary weakness and brief lapse of hope that caused him to take his life remains a mystery. Why he lacked courage to face the future we may never know, but in his state of mental illness he crossed over the “dark line of no reasoning” and it finally proved to be too much. One thing I am sure of for the Christian who dies this way, no amount of good works can earn God’s salvation, and no amount of bad works, such as a mental illness, disqualifies a person from God’s saving grace. There is a great difference between Satan getting a temporary upper hand and Satan being the Lord of life. While the battle for this life may be tragically lost for some who unintentionally cross the line of no reasoning, let us remember that the war over death and the grave was won on the cross at Calvary when Jesus looked up to his Father and said “It is finished. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).  This is our hope!


Ty: Just like the man in his story, I’m thankful for Dan Walters. I’m thankful that he can provide such clarity to the spiritual and psychological battle of suicidal ideations. To the outsider looking in, these battles might seem trivial; but they are complex, and the consequences of these struggles can be detrimental.

Ultimately, we must do what Reverend Walters has done in this post. We must share our burdens with one another. We have to refuse to live with our mental illnesses in isolation and solitude. We must speak our troubles into the light; first to God, and then to one another.

I have no doubt that Satan is real, and I have no doubt that he rejoices when we suffer from mental illness and suicidal temptations. And just like he did on the day Jesus was crucified, I’m sure he is satisfied when another child of God dies from a successful suicidal attempt. Ultimately, however, I would give anything to see the look of shock and bewilderment on his face when Jesus welcomes that suffering son or daughter through the gates of Eternity. On the cross, death was defeated—for everyone. And that includes the son or daughter who struggles with mental illness.

It gives me tremendous comfort to know that one of those sons is my Dad. It gives me unbelievable peace to know that my Dad, despite his faults and failings, will be welcomed into the everlasting love and mercy of a God who forgives and understands. It gives me hope that I’ll see him again—I’ll hug him, and touch his face, and hear his laugh once more. That reunion is coming—not because of anything I’ve done, but because of what Jesus does.

But it’s just as important that we not use God’s mercy or forgiveness as an excuse to stop fighting to prevent suicide. Mark my words—suicide is never, never a part of our loving God’s plan. Everything I’ve read in the Bible and learned from spiritual counselors tells me that suicide is not a desire for a loving God. In fact, suicide occurs, in part, because of a lack of love for oneself, and God tells us over and over again that he cherishes us as his most prized possessions. Suicide disrupts love and life, and it leaves too much collateral damage amongst those who are left behind to pick up the pieces, just like the young daughter from Reverend Walters’ story.

But our God redeems bad endings. Our God finds fertile ground within the soil of destruction. He doesn’t ever wish for suicide; but He redeems the awful pain that occur when it happens.

I’m thankful that He’s offered redemption to Pastor Walters. I’m thankful that He’s offered redemption to my Dad. And as I struggle to navigate the difficulties of life without my Father, I’m thankful that he continues to redeem my own pain day by day.

Sitting in Dad's Lap with SB LogoDad, There are many moments when I think about your last day here on Earth and wish, desperately, that it would have ended differently. I can’t even begin to fathom or understand the pain and despair you must have felt in those moments. You loved life so much, which shows me how much hopelessness you were experiencing to believe that life wasn’t worth living any longer. I cry when I think of those moments because, Dad, you were so loved by so many. You should be here, right now, living life and loving every step along the way. You deserved that type of hope. But Dad, even in the midst of the pain you probably felt in those last few minutes, I’m grateful that you aren’t experiencing that pain any longer. You now reside in an everlasting paradise of joy, hope, comfort, and eternal fellowship with the God who loves you and loves all of us. Dad, I wake up every day wishing I could see you again. I picture your face and I can see your smile, and I just want you to be back here with us. But because you’re not, I’ll take comfort in the fact that I know where you are. And that I know I’ll see you again. I love you Dad. Until that wonderful reunion, seeya Bub.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

Dan Walters HeadshotReverend Dan Walters

Dan Walters answered the call to preach in 1977 at age 31. He left secular employment in 1979 after fourteen years with the Ford Motor Company to enter full-time ministry. In 1982 Dan was ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene and graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene College that same year. He pastored churches in eastern Kentucky and southwestern Ohio. He retired in 2017 after almost 33 years as senior pastor of Tri-County Church of the Nazarene in West Chester, Ohio. Dan has been married to his childhood sweetheart, Darlene, for 53 years. They have three grown sons, Danny Scot and his wife Jenny; Darren Joel and his wife, Jody; and Devon Paul. They also have two wonderful grandchildren, Makenzie and Silas, who round out the Walters family. The family still resides in West Chester. Dan is co-author, with the late Stan Toler and Dan Casey, of an all-church discipleship program titled Growing Disciples. He has also developed a church leadership and growth program called “The G.R.E.A.T. Church.” Reverend Walters’ first book The Trap of Silent Depression: My Untold Story of Rejection, Depression, and Deliverance was published in 2018 and is currently available at Amazon.

Lucy (Part 3)

This post marks the conclusion of a special, three-part series at SeeyaBub.com. Before continuing, be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 of “Lucy”.

I couldn’t sleep. Insomnia was pretty typical in the immediate aftermath of losing Dad. He had been gone for only a few days, and although I desperately wanted to sleep, rest of any form completely eluded me. I would lay in the bed for hours on end, physically and mentally exhausted, and I would close my eyes as tightly as I could, hoping, praying that the pain of Dad’s death would fade. It rarely did. I didn’t know how life would ever feel normal again.

I tried to lay down on the mattress in my spare bedroom. Mom was staying at my house, and likely would be for the next few weeks. I was glad that I lived next door and could provide a place for Mom to stay. I knew she would eventually have to go back to the house, but I didn’t know how. Dad had died in the house, and I didn’t know how Mom would ever be able to go back in with the circumstances of his death. I knew that she eventually would; I just didn’t know how. Nonetheless, I was happy that Mom could stay here with me. Even if it just provided a temporary relief from the heartache of losing her husband, it was worth it.

While she stayed, I relocated myself to the twin mattress in my spare bedroom to let Mom stay in my room. At night, I would lay flat on my back in the dark and stare upwards towards the ceiling. On most nights, I would lay there helplessly for hours, wondering how my Dad—a happy, jovial, loving man—could have possibly become a victim of suicide. There wasn’t much I could do to stop my racing thoughts. They would swirl around and consume me, and on many nights I’d find myself drenched in a flood of tears.

There was always one thing I could count on to help, however. Always one thing that I knew could make the pain slightly recede.

And that help came from Lucy, who would poke her snout through the partially-opened door at just the right moment.

IMG_0399Most nights, Lucy would make her way into my room, usually at just the right moment. She would push the door open with her snout, tail wagging feverishly, and climb up onto the bed. After arriving, Lucy would place a paw on either side of my shoulders and lick my face until I begged her to stop. A twin mattress doesn’t provide much room for a grown man and a 70-pound dog, but Lucy made a way. She would curl up alongside me and lay her head across my chest. And in those moments, even though she was a dog and might not have understood human emotions, Lucy soothed my heart in ways I’ll never be able to describe.

Having Lucy there alongside me was like I had a living, breathing piece of my Dad still with me. When you tragically lose a loved one, you hold onto anything—big or small—that reminds you of that person. I held onto many of my Dad’s things, especially thanks to my Mom’s thoughtfulness. Scratchpads with his handwriting, t-shirts, tools, baseball equipment, his cologne—they all became precious treasures.

But having Lucy was different. Lucy was like an extension of my Dad because her personality was so similar to his. Lucy was fun-loving and playful and hilarious—just like Dad. She reminded me of him in so many ways, and every time I looked at her, my mind forgot about the pain of losing Dad and instead recalled images of the two of them playing together in the backyard. Her presence alone helped distract my mind from the disaster that had been the last few days. My focus shifted from the terror and heartache to the 26 wonderful years I had enjoyed with my Father in my life.

DSCF0842Lucy also helped soothe my pain because of the fact that Dad had wanted her so badly in the first place, despite my stubborn protests. Dad had insisted we get another dog after losing our family pet, Willow, and even though I felt it was too soon, Dad knew that the time was right to bring another puppy into our house. Looking back, it was easy to see how wrong I was to claim we shouldn’t get another dog. Having Lucy was a reminder that life does move on—if you let it. In a sense, her presence alone was reassurance that I would get through this difficult, disastrous storm, even if I couldn’t see the entire journey.

On that night, and on many other nights, Lucy would stay with me until I fell asleep. Other nights, she stayed with Mom. It’s uncanny, but it was like she knew which one of us needed her most. I never knew what people meant when they talked about dogs having an unusual knack for picking up on human emotions until I saw Lucy helping our family heal after losing Dad. Seeing how much that puppy loved us was a reminder that, even in the darkest moments, love still prevails—especially from our four-legged companions.

DSCF0797It was that puppy companionship, along with many other wonderful people and things, that helped me heal and grieve my Dad properly. I had so many wonderful people who knew exactly how to minister to me after losing Dad—my Mom, my grandparents, my church family, my friends, my coworkers, my neighbors, and even complete strangers. I also found little things I could do to help me grieve for Dad properly—things to help me forget about the pain of losing him. I read my Bible frequently in my study. I wrote feverishly—some of those scrawlings eventually turning into the foundations of this project. I exercised frequently, although the Ryan Gosling physique (or anything IMG_0133remotely close) still eluded me.

But being around Lucy was a more powerful salve than I ever thought it would be. Among other things, being around Lucy saved my life and helped me see that life was always worth living.

Lucy and I would take long walks together quite often, just as she had done with Dad on so many occasions. We would escape to Rentschler Park near our home and, surrounded by the beautiful natural setting that my Dad had loved so much, we were able to find peace and joy, even if only for a few moments. I would let Lucy off the leash in the soccer fields and toss a Frisbee over and over and over again until she grew too weary to continue. Then, I would sit next to her in the summer-scorched grass, petting her gently as she would pant and slurp water.

IMG_0848On other days, I would let Lucy hop up into the passenger seat of my car and we would take a drive together. Lucy really enjoyed driving around town, and her excitement created smiles and laughter in neighboring vehicles as she sat calmly next to me in the car with her seatbelt on. I would make a conscious effort to go through drive-thrus with Lucy to show her off to anyone who would remark about what a cute pup she was. She was cute—she deserved the adoration!

And during most evenings, a long game of fetch or a bottle-rope-tugging battle in the backyard were enough to distract me from the pain of losing Dad. Lucy loved playing, and Mom and I loved watching her. It reminded us of the simplicity and joy that life provided. It reminded us of easier times when Dad was still alive and full of happiness. It reminded us how much he enjoyed life. It reminded us how much we loved him.

When you lose a loved one—to suicide or any other mechanism of death—there are lots of unpredictable emotional storms. In the months after losing Dad, I found myself suffering through a lot of those unpredictable and uncontrollable moments. Randomly, I would find myself suffering from flashbacks of Dad’s death that would hijack my mind. I would immediately retreat to the terror of finding out what had happened, and the feelings of loss—the feelings of having Dad’s life stolen away—would overcome me. As I would ruminate on these thoughts, I would begin to cry. That crying would well into sobbing, and before I would know it, I was deeply enmeshed within the throes of a full-blown fit. Sometimes, the storm would pass quickly. Other times, it might continue for hours into the night.

But no matter how long or short the attack, Lucy was always there when I needed her.

IMG_0627It’s hard to describe, but in those moments, Lucy would nervously saunter up to my side when she knew I was hurting. It was like she understood that she needed to be by my side. And that’s what she would do. She would hop on the couch and lay her head in my lap. She would leave all her toys (and boy did she love toys) to just lay near me. I would gently pat her head or her back, and slowly, her presence would help me escape from that immediate terror. She did more for me in those moments than I could ever tell her. Lucy showed me what it meant to be “man’s best friend.”

Whether she was playing, barking, frolicking, doing silly things, or simply sitting next to us, Lucy provided a steady companionship that helped all of us grieve. For me, Lucy provided stability. Her never-ceasing presence was a constant reminder of God’s love in the midst of difficult, turbulent times. It was an ever-present reminder that even dark days, the light finds a way to shine through.

I had no idea how quickly that light could be snuffed out.


Shortly after beginning my job at the Oxford Campus, about a year removed from Dad’s death, I felt my phone vibrating. I saw my Grandpa’s name flash across the screen, and I nonchalantly answered his call. Grandpa and I talked regularly, so his call didn’t seem out of the ordinary.

Everything I thought I knew about ordinary vanished in that moment.

“Ty,” Grandpa said. “I need to tell you something.”

I immediately knew this was bad. Grandpa was speaking in the same voice I had heard him use about a year earlier when he told me that Dad was gone. My chest tightened. My palms and forehead began to sweat. I started having flashbacks to that awful July morning, and I worried that something just as bad had happened again.

“I don’t really know how to tell you this,” he said with a boding despair, “but Lucy died.”

“What?” I said with controlled shock. “What do you mean she’s dead? What happened?”

Grandpa then began to tell me the horrible story of what had happened. Dad had always groomed our family dogs, but when he passed away, Mom had to begin taking Lucy to the groomers. Neither one of us were prepared to groom a dog, and Mom had no choice. She tried a few groomers in the area, and one day, I spotted a groomer on my way home from work called Ruff 2 Fluff. They were located in Liberty Township, and they had a number of signs advertising their services. I told Mom about the groomer and mentioned that she should try taking Lucy there.

Like she had done a few times before, Mom took Lucy to Ruff 2 Fluff for her somewhat-monthly haircut. Lucy had been to that groomer a few times, and although we had minor concerns about the attitude of her groomer, we still trusted them with our precious family pet. We shouldn’t have. On that day, Lucy’s grooming appointment had turned into an unnecessary disaster. The groomer—a negligent, inattentive individual named JJ—had tied Lucy to the grooming table. Like most dogs, Lucy was nervous and full of anxiety when she had to go to the groomer’s, just like humans often grow anxious when they have to go to a doctor’s appointment. At some point during the appointment, JJ neglected his responsibility to care for our dog, our family pet. He walked away from the table that Lucy was leashed to and she jumped, fatally injuring her neck. According to the groomer and the business owner, neither of whom deserve my trust, both tried to resuscitate her but were unsuccessful. They rushed Lucy to a nearby animal hospital, but there was nothing they could do to save her life. She was gone. The pet that my deceased Father had brought home to brighten our family, the four-legged friend that had been by our side since losing Dad, had passed. Lucy was only three years old—full of life, and full of love that my family desperately needed.

Grandpa grew more and more emotional as he told me what had happened. Even in the midst of my own loss, my heart broke for him. This was the second time in under a year that my Grandpa had needed to deliver devastating news to Mom and me. At the same time, I knew how much he was hurting in that moment as well. Grandpa had loved Lucy just as much as any of us. Oftentimes, he would come out to our house in the middle of the day when Mom was away at work just to spend a few hours playing with Lucy. My Grandpa is a strong man, but even the strongest of men have deep and important feelings of love and loss. I wished he didn’t have to be the bearer of awful news again, but he did it with a compassion and directness that I’ll always appreciate.

I shut my office door as Grandpa continued to try and explain the inexplicable. I ran my hand across my clammy forehead, trying to get my brain to process this awful news. After hanging up with Grandpa, I sat in my office and began to cry. Tears slowly streamed down my face as I tried to make sense of this heartache. Immediately, I began to reflect on the bigness of the situation. I called out to God pretty quickly. “Isn’t it enough that I’ve lost my Dad?” I questioned. “Now our dog? Is it ever going to stop?”

Weakly, I gathered my things and told my colleague at our front desk that I would need to leave for the day. I explained what happened, hopped in my car, and drove towards the animal hospital in Trenton. The drive was a silent, horrible experience where I kept trying to convince myself that my world was not real. I told myself that I would get to the hospital, and there’d be a miracle. Lucy would be there, tail wagging, ready to greet me. It was hard for me to believe the spunky dog I had just seen was now lifeless. I would escape the thought for a few seconds, and then the pain would immediately re-invade.

It felt like it took a few hours to make a twenty minute drive. When I arrived at the animal hospital, I could feel the sense of dread from the folks who worked there. They led me back to a private room, and I saw my Mom and Grandpa gathered in the corner, teary-eyed and full of dread. Mom walked to me, sobbing, and threw her arms around my neck. We both cried and tried to console one another, but there was just nothing we could say or do to make the other feel any better. This situation was bad, and as we had learned from Dad’s death that there were no shortcuts through grief.

Then, Mom turned, and I saw her. Lucy was lying on a nearby medical table, void of the spirited life that had made her so special.

I broke down. I walked over to her slowly, as if I could somehow avoid the inevitable sorrow that lay ahead. My hands were shaking, but I slowly stroked Lucy’s side. Lucy had always loved petting, but there was no response this time. My pain began to overwhelm me. I was fully of misery and sorrow that I can’t even articulate. The longer I saw her laying there lifeless, the more uncontrollable my sadness became. I spent a few minutes there next to Lucy, until I knew it was time to say goodbye forever.

I spoke to Lucy in that moment, and I told her how much I loved her. I told her how thankful I was that she had come into our lives. I thanked her for helping me during all of those difficult days after losing Dad. I told her how she had helped me get through so much, and that I couldn’t have done it without her. I apologized for my initial stubbornness when she came home as a pup. I told her how much I had enjoyed playing fetch with her, taking her on walks, and carrying her around the house. I told her that I wasn’t mad about her ripping my dress pants any longer. I told her how much I would miss her, and that life wouldn’t have the same brightness without her. I told her how much I loved her, and how I was sorry that I hadn’t protected her.

I pulled myself up from the table and walked out of the room, nauseous and completely overtaken by the emotion of the moment. I drove home to a darkened bedroom, and found myself reliving the nightmare of the past few hours.

I couldn’t believe she was gone.


Over the next few days, my grief took many different forms. Ultimately, I found myself in a deep depression—over losing Dad, and over losing Lucy. Every day was different and full of completely different emotions, but sadness was always at the root of it.

IMG_0941That sadness would often give way to anger. Lucy’s death was completely avoidable and unnecessary. A groomer that we had trusted—a groomer who knew the despair of our family situation—had cared so little about our family and our pet that he let her die as a result of his negligence. As you might imagine, the story of Lucy’s death attracted the attention of a local news station. Mom and I had agreed to talk with the reporter, mainly because we wanted to spread the word about this business’ carelessness to prevent a similar situation for other families. The callous, irresponsible, half-hearted apology from the business owner, Karen Eikens, complicated our grief even more. To this day, I don’t think she truly understands the pain she caused our family. To our dismay, we found out that Lucy wasn’t the first animal to die or be injured after visiting Ruff 2 Fluff. It’s clear that this business was soulless and callous when it came to understanding the trust their customers gave them.

Over the next few weeks, my anger would amplify as I drove by the groomer’s business and saw them still operating as if a precious family pet had not died in their care. Believe it or not, this business is still open and operating despite my attempts to spread the word about their carelessness. I’ll never quit trying to tell people about what happened to our dear, sweet Lucy. I feel like I owe that much to Lucy and her memory. It angers me that the business is still open. Deep down, I hope the owner of Ruff 2 Fluff reads my words and understands the severity of the pain she caused to my family. I’m not a vengeful person, but the lack of sympathy she showed to my family after losing Lucy scarred me and my entire family in ways I can’t describe. It complicated our grief and made the grieving process even more difficult than it already was. I hope Mrs. Eikens realizes the heartache she is directly responsible for, and although I’ve long since forgiven her for Lucy’s death and her cold insincerity after the incident, I’ll never stop doing everything I can to try and redeem Lucy’s death by spreading the word about her business’ negligence.

That anger consumed me early on, but it’s been easier to control as time has passed. Over time, that anger has been replaced with a love and appreciation for Lucy and the role she played in helping our family heal after losing Dad.

Sometimes, the sadness of losing her hits in unexpected ways.

Like when I’m eating licorice.

Those of you who know me well know that I’m quite the candy fanatic. I can down a box of Sour Patch Kids in 47 seconds flat. I’m constantly popping peppermints, and those little tiny boxes of Nerds are definitely my kryptonite. But I’ve always loved a good Twizzler.

Twizzlers are one of my favorites, and my Mom always knew this. Being a gracious and loving mother, Mom would always keep a bag of Twizzlers in a bowl on our family room coffee table. When I came home or when I was laying on the couch, I would reach into that bowl and grab a few sticks of licorice. It was always a delicious treat, and a bad habit I keep up with to this day.

Lucy always had the tendency to beg for human food, and one day I made the mistake of giving her a Twizzler of her own. Apparently, licorice addictions are contagious because Lucy went nuts. After downing that first Twizzler, she jumped onto the couch and tried to grab the remaining pieces of licorice that I had in my hand! I didn’t know dogs liked licorice—but Lucy loved it. Every time I had a Twizzler, I had to make sure that Lucy got one too.

Lucy’s addiction was so bad that her ears were even attuned to the candy. If Lucy was in another room of our house, all I had to do was give the Twizzler bag a slight touch. The crinkly plastic would crunch a bit, and before I knew it, Lucy was barreling down the stairs and jumping onto my lap. Lucy could even be asleep in my parents’ bedroom, and her ears would perk up at the slightest touch of the licorice bag. It was hilarious, and as a result, she often got to eat way more licorice than any dog ever should.

Just a few months ago, Paige and I visited a new retro candy store in Hamilton. I was in heaven for the fifteen minutes we spent perusing all of the amazing candy selections. Chocolate covered peanuts. Single-flavored gummy bears in a multitude of options. Sour belts. And my all-time favorite: Red Licorice Scottie Dogs.

Red Licorice Scottie Dogs.jpgI bought a pound of the licorice dogs (and a few other goodies, of course), and the second Paige and I got into the truck, I opened the bags and started chowing down. I tasted the licorice, and it brought back all the memories of Lucy and how funny it was to watch her eat licorice. I began recounting the story to Paige, and before I knew it, I was flashing back to the moment I lost her. All of the sadness and despair of her death was as real then as it was on the day I lost her—all because of a piece of licorice that reminded me of her.

A great dog has an unbelievable impact on your life—and when they’re gone, the pain lingers for a long, long time.

I grieve that dog every single day. She’s been gone for four years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over losing her. I don’t know that I ever will.

When I lost Lucy that day, I also lost one of the last, living, tangible pieces of my Father. That’s what made her death so tragic and heart-wrenching. That’s what made the callousness and thoughtlessness of the Ruff 2 Fluff owner even more painful. My Dad had been the one to bring Lucy into our lives. My Dad had trained her and loved her and instilled many of his own unique quirks and personality traits into her. Dad had taught her how to play and how to catch a Frisbee, and after he died, a piece of him lived on through her. I think that was why it was so wonderful to be consoled by her. Because she reminded me of Dad, it was almost like he was there with me, telling me that it was okay. Telling me that I would get through his death. Telling me that he still loved me.

Over time, I began to think more about the happy moments than the day I lost her. Although I never forgot—and likely never will forget—the awful pain of losing her, I began to think of that less and started to think of her love more. Even though she wasn’t there to help us in the same way she did in the year after Dad’s death, she was always there. And every time I see a Frisbee or find a tennis ball, I think of her.

Mom eventually got a new dog—another Airedale Terrier named Sadie—who has been a wonderful addition to our family. She’ll never be able to replace Lucy, but she has her own unique spunk and character (and tendency to want to nip at you) that brings a great dose of happiness to our lives.

But even still, I think of Lucy. Even still, I think of how lucky we were to have her in our life.

Lucy and Ty on PatioOn occasion, I’ll put on that navy blue, pinstriped suit that Lucy bit a hole in…although I’ve got to squeeze into those pants with a lot more difficulty than ever before (maybe it’s the licorice?!). When I eventually stuff myself into that suit, I’ll look down at the left thigh and see a bit of a disruption in one of the light pinstripes. There’s a gap in that stripe with a bunch of navy-blue threading that one of our family friends sewed in as an attempt to repair the hole. It’s not a perfect fix, but enough to not be noticeable. It reminds me that life isn’t perfect, but sometimes the imperfections and disasters can blossom into beautiful memories. When I wear that suit, I often run my hands over that patch of thread and think happily of Lucy. I think about how much I loved her—I think about how much I still do.

I’ll always love Lucy—because she loved us all when we needed it most.

Dad Lucy and Me at Christmas with SB LogoDad, I need to tell you that I’m sorry and that I’m thankful. I’m sorry that I acted so stubborn when you chose to bring Lucy into our family. I’m sorry that I acted like a “little jerk” (your words…and mine) when you were just doing what was best for us. Ultimately, I’m so grateful that you chose Lucy. I’m grateful that you raised her and trained her and taught her to be a fun, family dog. We had no idea how much we were going to need her fun-loving, thoughtful companionship after losing her. In a way, I feel like Lucy carried on so many of your personality traits after you were gone. She was a constant reminder of the zest and excitement you had for life. She was there to help us grieve in so many ways after you left us. I think Lucy was your angel here on Earth for us. I think that she was your way of telling us that life, even when it’s painful, can still have a lot of joy and happiness. Losing her was like losing you all over again. It was as if another piece of you—a very important piece—was gone forever. But Dad, I know that we will never lose you entirely. Your memory will always live on in our hearts and in our minds because you made such an indelible mark on all of us. Dad, thank you for Lucy. Thank you for teaching her to love us when we needed it most. Although I miss you both dearly, I hope that you are together again in heaven—and I hope there are plenty of Frisbees to toss. You deserve paradise, Dad. You deserve the greatest things that God can offer, and I can’t wait to experience that joy alongside you. Until that day where you and I are together again in a life that knows no end, seeya Bub.

“And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:24-25 (NIV)

Overcoming the Fear of Failure: Guest Blog by Rev. Dan Walters

Ty: There’s a lot that we don’t yet understand about mental illness and depression. In fact, it seems the only thing experts can agree on is the fact that we don’t quite understand the complexity of mental illness. When we do recognize the complexity, however, we acknowledge that the root causes of mental illness for each individual person could be entirely different. For some, it could be entirely biological and physiological. For others, it might be a previous trauma that sparks their feelings.

And for some, it could be fear.

Fear is a natural feeling. We feel it when we are little and we cry in the darkness. We feel it as we grow into adolescence and worry about rejection. We feel it when the pressures of this world become too much to bear. And we feel it as we age and wonder about what lies beyond.

And sometimes, we feel it for no reason at all.

When we think about fear in the context of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, it’s easy to see a connection. It’s easy to be afraid in a world that demands more and more of us each and every day. That fear can become paralyzing, and in my Dad’s story, that fear can become fatal.

Reverend Dan Walters is back to continue telling his story of battling with mental illness. I commend Rev. Walters for doing something that so many pastors are afraid to do. Dan is being vulnerable. Dan is being authentic. Dan is being courageous. And Dan is still giving glory to our God in the midst of his struggles.

He is speaking life into our suffering, and if you’ve arrived at Seeya Bub because you’re struggling, I hope you realize Rev. Walters is speaking directly to you.


Dan Walters: I recently wrote a book about “The Trap of Silent Depression.” It describes my story of depression caused by rejection from my significant others. I spent many years thereafter trying to prove to my rejecters that I was worthy of their approval. Many people are trapped in this prison of silence in hopes that someday they can hear the words from a mom, a dad, a family member, a teacher, a spouse or some other significant person from whom they have longed to hear and set them free from the silent disorder that lies within.

One of the greatest torments of many depressed persons today is their fear of failing. I know, because it was an ongoing torment in my own life. The fear of failing may be the result of various disorders and traumatic life situations. For me, it was the trauma of being rejected by a pastor and friend when, as a young man, I announced my call to ministry. What should have been a celebration turned into a ridicule. It was a sucker punch that I did not see coming, and the effects would have life changing consequences for years to come – which manifested itself in a silent, unspoken depression.

In my case, the fear of failing produced within me an almost constant anxiety, and became an irrational and abnormal driver to succeed. The problem with the “fear of failure” is while on the positive side it served to drive me onward, on the negative side it served to drive me downward and inward. In other words the “fear of failure” had a devastating effect on my physical and emotional being. Physically, I experienced ongoing anxiety and panic attacks, along with episodes of intense stress, which often times made it difficult to even breathe. Other times it caused chest pains that made me feel that I was having a heart attack. These physical effects required medications to partially control them. However, the medications required to control anxiety and panic attacks induced weight gain, which produced even more anxiety since I was already overweight. I gained 14 pounds in one month from one medication. It was a hopeless vicious cycle.

In my depressed state of mind, failure was not an option, which only intensified my fear of failing; and while this fear of failing was driving me to be successful in order to gain approval from my significant others, it was also driving me deeper into the prison of silent depression and despair. Note: Take into consideration that fear of failing is magnified for the person of a melancholy/perfectionist personality. Thankfully, there are various treatments today for the different types of fears. However, I would like to share with you some simple truths that set me free from the fear of failing and can help set you free from your fear of failing also.

First, understand that failure is universal, and everyone experiences it. Whether it be eating properly, brushing our teeth after each meal, obeying the speed limit, etc., the truth is we all fail at one time or another. Everyone fails – you are not alone. Thomas Edison, the great inventor once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” So remember failure is not new; it’s been around for a long time. The Bible bears this out in the book of James 3:2 “For we all stumble in many ways…” If you were to do a study on the rate of humans who fail you would find that the failure rate is 100%. Everyone fails! This includes the great men of the Bible like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and modern day people like you and me. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that only Jesus, the Son of God has never failed. I read somewhere that “Failure is when you feel like your best just isn’t good enough.” But our best is good enough for God because we are made in His image.

The second truth to overcoming the fear of failure is to remember that failure is not final. Proverbs 24:16 teaches us “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again…” The late Billy Graham said when he was asked to preach his first sermon he had prepared four sermons and he was so nervous he preached all four of them in under 10 minutes. Can you imagine if Billy Graham had said, “You know, I’m just not cut out for this. I don’t want to endure that kind of embarrassment again”? The world would have missed one of the greatest preachers of all time. Failure doesn’t have to be final. We need to learn to make the most of our mistakes. I heard a humorous story of a man who worked both as a veterinarian and as a taxidermist. The sign on his office door read: “Remember, either way, you get your dog back!” We must look for the positive side of failures – it is one of the ways we become successful. So, remember failure is not final.

Thirdly, try to recognize the benefits of failures. Romans 8:28 reminds us “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…according to His purpose” – Yes, that includes failures! Failure isn’t special – everybody does it. But to learn from failure is special, and wise people learn from their failures. One benefit of failure is it often becomes a stepping-stone to trying something new. Remember Ray Kroc who failed in real estate and decided to start a restaurant franchise called “McDonalds.” Or how about Colonel Sanders who failed at everything in his life until he was about 70, and then started “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Another benefit to failures is they tend to make us more sympathetic and less judgmental with others who fail.

Lastly, a sure way to fail is to continually compare ourselves with others – this is the root of a lot of our failures. We live in a competitive society…Everybody competes with somebody else…Parents compete with each other through their kids, through their sports, the clothes their kids wear, the stuff they buy, and the competition goes on and on. This is one of the downsides to Facebook. When you compare yourself with others, you set yourself up for the fear of failure. Speaker Beth Moore says “On Facebook we see only the highlight reels of other people’s lives, while we only see the behind the scene reels of our own lives.” It creates jealousy, and jealousy is the predisposition to failure. The Bible says “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else.” (Galatians 6:4).

Where in your life are you afraid of failing? Are you seeking someone’s approval like it was with me?  Maybe you fear failing in your future plans, or that new job interview. It could be a relationship, the fear of failing in your marriage or perhaps you are afraid of being single. Whatever the fear of failure you are dealing with today try this: Commit yourself to Christ by placing your faith in Him as your Savior, for the greatest failure is when we fail to respond to God’s love. And, remember that everyone fails, but we can overcome our fear of failing when we understand that failure is not final, and failures can be beneficial when we use them as stepping stones to something else, and particularly when we don’t compare ourselves to others.


Ty: I mentioned this in Rev. Walter’s first guest blog at Seeya Bub, but I so wish that my Dad would have been able to talk about their struggles with one another while Dad was alive. I think Rev. Walters would have given my Dad unbelievable perspective, encouraged him, and built him up in ways no one else could. Moreover, I think Rev. Walters would have been able to normalize my Dad’s fears.

I don’t claim to know exactly what caused my Dad’s death. In fact, I think it was a collision of multiple factors that all combined to create the whirlwind that made my Dad feel as if life wasn’t livable. But I do know that one of those factors was fear.

My Dad had a fear of being inadequate. He had a fear of letting people down. My Dad was a fixer his entire life. He fixed houses when they fell apart. He fixed our home appliances when they failed to work. He fixed ceiling fans and cars and well water pumps and lawn mowers. As a matter of fact, Dad’s job as a maintenance technician at Matandy Steel in Hamilton was to fix huge machines that processed steel products. Dad had an uncanny and impressive understanding of the mechanical world—one that I could study for my entire life and still not understand an ounce of what he did. When something broke, my Dad was the man with the answers. He was the man everyone came to when they wanted to figure something out.

And that’s why I think Dad was afraid. He was afraid to admit that there was something he couldn’t fix. He was afraid of letting people down. He was afraid and ashamed that the problem he couldn’t fix was his own.

But that’s the danger of mental illness; it falsely convinces us we are letting the people we love down, when the opposite is true. Mental illness isn’t self-induced. Like any other illness, mental illness is something we should never fault individuals for experiencing. And my Dad had nothing to be afraid of because he has never once let me down—in his life, or in his death.

You might be saying “That fear is irrational,”; and you’d be exactly right. But an irrational fear isn’t any less real in the mind of the believer. An irrational fear isn’t any less threatening. An irrational fear isn’t any less paralyzing. How many times have you been afraid of something that isn’t real or never happened? I can count at least six times that’s happened this week alone! In varying degrees, we are all afraid that we aren’t enough, that we won’t be enough, and that we don’t matter.

But God speaks truth to this lie. He tells us that He created us for a reason, and that our life matters. He tells us that we have the power, through Him, to overcome the challenges that face us. God doesn’t say we will be immune from challenges—that would be a fairy tale; but He tells us that He will always be by our side. He will be there with us through our fear, through our anxiety, through our sadness, and through our doubts.

And He also said he would put wonderful people at our side to help us in our struggles. I’m thankful that He’s put Rev. Walters in your life and in mine. And I’ll always be thankful that he gave me a Dad who never failed me—not once.

Dad and Seagulls with Seeya Bub LogoDad, There have been so many times when I’ve thought about the fear you must have experienced in your life. You were always my Superman—that strong rock and foundation in my life when everything else seemed dangerous. On the outside, you were always “Mr. Fix It,” and I know it bothered you that you couldn’t solve your own struggles with depression. On the surface, you always held everything together—for your family, for your friends, and especially for Mom and I. But Dad, I wish I could have told you that your struggles with mental illness were never a disappointment to any of us. We never thought less of you when you battled with your depression. Sick or healthy, we always loved you and wanted to be near you. You were never a failure to us, Dad. You never failed us, and I wish you had known that more. I am afraid of doing life without you. I have a fear that I can’t do what God is calling me to do to tell your story. But I know that He is with me, and I know that you are with me. I know that you are watching down and pushing me and urging me onward, just as you always did when you were here with us. We all miss you, Dad. We will never stop missing you. You never let me down, and I can’t wait to tell you that in person. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

 Dan Walters HeadshotReverend Dan Walters

Dan Walters answered the call to preach in 1977 at age 31. He left secular employment in 1979 after fourteen years with the Ford Motor Company to enter full-time ministry. In 1982 Dan was ordained as an elder in the Church of the Nazarene and graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene College that same year. He pastored churches in eastern Kentucky and southwestern Ohio. He retired in 2017 after almost 33 years as senior pastor of Tri-County Church of the Nazarene in West Chester, Ohio. Dan has been married to his childhood sweetheart, Darlene, for 53 years. They have three grown sons, Danny Scot and his wife Jenny; Darren Joel and his wife, Jody; and Devon Paul. They also have two wonderful grandchildren, Makenzie and Silas, who round out the Walters family. The family still resides in West Chester. Dan is co-author, with the late Stan Toler and Dan Casey, of an all-church discipleship program titled Growing Disciples. He has also developed a church leadership and growth program called “The G.R.E.A.T. Church.” Reverend Walters’ first book The Trap of Silent Depression: My Untold Story of Rejection, Depression, and Deliverance was published in 2018 and is currently available at Amazon.

Dad’s Rules: Last One Up

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 #143: The last one up at the end of a beach day wins.

I have a lot of visual images of my Dad that will randomly pop into my head from time to time. Whenever I think of him, I get recall visual snapshots of him playing with our dog in the family room floor. I can picture him kicking a playground ball high into the air and watching him laugh as I would frantically (and unathletically) attempt to catch it. I can picture the sweat dripping off his brow as he worked in the yard wearing a gray work t-shirt, his infamous navy-blue workpants, and steel-toed boots. I can see his silhouette surrounded by the orange glow of backyard fire.

Nearly everywhere I look, I see my Dad.

But the first picture that always comes to mind when I think of my Dad is an image of him in a beach chair, watching the waves roll in across the shoreline. I’ll never quit seeing that image—and I’m so thankful for that.

Dad on the BeachWhen I was extremely young, my family never took beach vacations. To this day, I’m not sure why because we all loved the beach so much. My very first time seeing the ocean was on a family trip to Panama City, Florida as an eighth grader. Our entire family (grandparents and cousins included) spent a wonderful week on the Gulf Coast, and I remember the momentous nature of that trip, even as a middle schooler. A 12-hour, multi-day car ride had finally concluded, and my Mom and Dad walked me out towards the ocean once we arrived. With my parents, I saw the ocean for the very first time and I got to experience its magnitude. I got to touch sand, and taste saltwater, and splash in the world’s largest pool. Even as a young kid, I appreciated the significance of this experience.

And from that point on, the hook was set.

Each year, I would dream of going on a beach vacation. And, for the most part, my family tried to make that a regular occurrence. We had fun at Panama City, but dreamt that there was probably something better out there. As all good Ohioans will do, we made a trip to Myrtle Beach…and as we spent an hour on the main drag trying to get to dinner one evening, we vowed to find another beach for our family trips.

I ended up finding that beach when I asked my Mom if we could go to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

“Alabama?” I remember her saying to me. “Is there even a beach in Alabama?”

Truth be told, I didn’t know either. But, I had seen a commercial that talked about a beach in Alabama, and I desperately wanted to go. (For those of you who work in the marketing and branding fields, this should be undeniable proof that commercials still work on some people.)

We talked about it as a family, and Dad seemed excited. So Mom and I spent some time locating a condo in Orange Beach (which runs along the Gulf strip in Alabama), and just like that, our vacation had been booked!

Dad Mom and I at San Roc CayAfter a really, really long drive, my family finally arrived to our condo in Gulf Shores. Shortly after arriving, I think we all knew then that we had found our family vacation spot. There was something about it that made us feel like we were home.

And when it came to being by the beach, Dad was never more at home.

The beach was where my Dad belonged. It was the perfect culmination of awe-inducing nature, relaxation, and playfulness that my Dad deserved to experience. I got to spend many wonderful beach vacations with Dad over the years, and they are always so memorable because of the joy I saw my Dad experience every day. Dad always worked so hard, and I remember thinking how much he deserved every vacation we took. He enjoyed those vacations so much for so many different reasons, and I’m glad I have so many cherished memories of Dad near the beach.

He was the king of the beach walk. Dad could kick off his flip flops and walk for miles along the coastline. Sometimes he would walk with me, sometimes he would walk with Mom, and sometimes we would all walk together; but no matter who he was walking with, Dad was always talking. He would look out into the waves and point out things he saw in the distance: dolphins, oil rigs, sandbars. He would look down and grab shells before the tide pulled them back into the ocean. He would take those shells and turn them over and over with his rugged hands, marveling at the beauty of a small piece of God’s creation. He would stare up at the sky and take in the clouds, predicting what the weather would be like for the rest of the day.

And always the talker, it seemed that Dad would inevitably find someone along the shoreline and strike up a conversation with them. He made friends everywhere he went, and the beach was the prime breeding ground for finding new friends. Dad would often spot something unique about someone through his darkened glasses: a team’s logo on a beach tent, a nifty device that helped someone scoop up shells, a crafty beach sculpture, or just a friendly smile and wave from a stranger. I even saw him start a conversation with someone who was fishing on the shore once—and my Dad did not fish regularly! Dad would use those seemingly mundane things to get to know people. He would find out about where they came from, what they did for a living, their families, and what they loved about the beach.

On the beach, as he talked with complete strangers, Dad taught me that people love talking. And I think his mission in life, even when he was on vacation, was to listen to them and get to know them.

Although Dad could nap with the best narcoleptic, he rarely used his time at the beach to nap. “Why would I want to close my eyes and sleep when I’ve got all this to look at?!” he said to me once. Sure, he might nod off every now and then, but most of his time was spent having fun and doing playful things. And I’m thankful that no matter how old he got, Dad never lost that sense of playful whimsy when he went to the beach together.

Dad Throwing a Frisbee at BeachAs I’ve written before, Dad was a tremendous athlete. And also as I’ve written before, I was a horrible one. But Dad never let my lack of athleticism curb an opportunity to play. At the beach, Dad and I could throw a frisbee for hours—as long as the wind cooperated. We would warm up close to one another and gradually step back as we threw until we would finally hit a point where we had to wind our torsos like a corkscrew to get the frisbee to sail over the white sand. Dad and I would leap and dive into the sand to catch a frisbee—his leaps and dives always significantly more graceful than mine—and we would yell at each other for not being able to properly hit our target. “Did you actually expect me to catch that?!” we would yell across the beach at one another. “You’re gonna kill a kid with that thing if you don’t learn how to throw it!”

And of all the essentials that needed to be packed for a beach vacation, our gloves and a baseball were at the top of the list. In fact, Dad and I never had a single beach vacation together without our gloves in tow. We loved standing in the sand and tossing back and forth, even though Dad’s arm was always a bit stronger than mine. Okay, more than a bit. It was so peaceful, and so rhythmic. The beach, in my mind, is the perfect place to throw a baseball. On occasion, I’ll still shake my glove out and feel grains of sand fall out of the leather. It reminds me of all those wonderful hours we would spend near the ocean tossing a baseball back and forth.

But Dad’s fun was never limited to what people “his age” should be doing because he never let adult expectations overshadow his inner youngster. Dad would dig holes in the sand for absolutely no reason other than to see how deep he could dig. Sweat would drip from his bald head and sand would stick to his arms, and just like a child he would constantly beckon Mom and I to see how deep he was able to dig. “See that water down there?” he’d say with the excitement of a young boy eager to show off his accomplishments. And Dad didn’t have time for cheap, plastic, inefficient beach-store shovels. Dad started bringing his own shovels from the barn back home, attempting to beat his own personal record year after year.

He would build sand castles. And he would make silly sunscreen patterns on his tanned head. And he would feed seagulls, and I would yell at him that birds were created by Satan and that I hoped they would peck his eyes out after he ran out of Cheez-Its just to teach him a lesson.

And Dad, as he always did, would laugh about everything. And on the beach, he always taught me that you’re never too old to be a kid again. He taught me that in order to make memories, you have to make life fun.

Mom and Dad at BeachAnd at the beach, Dad never played it safe. More than anything, I think Dad and I probably got the most enjoyment of our daily game of “See Who Can Swim the Furthest Out from the Shore and Make Mom Freak Out the Most” (catchy, no?). Much to my Mom’s displeasure, Dad and I were notorious for jumping into the water and swimming straight ahead until our arms gave out. The water would grow colder and colder the further we would swim, and periodically Dad would stick his arms high above his head and straight-dive down to see if he could still touch the bottom. If he could, we still weren’t out far enough. All the while, my poor Mother would sit anxiously in her beach chair watching our bobbing heads grow smaller and smaller in the waves. The best version of the game was on the beaches where there were life guards on duty, and in those scenarios, we tried to see how loud we could get them to blow their whistles at us! We knew we were really killing the game if we could swim far enough to encounter a deeper sandbar, and if we did, we would sit out on the sandbar and rest until it was time to swim back in. Dad would wave to Mom on occasion from the depths of the mighty ocean, and it was amazing how peaceful the deep ocean water can be. All the ambient noises of the beach fade away when you’re that far out (you especially can’t hear life guard whistles or motherly-shrieks).

I loved it. And I miss it to this day.

Dad found fun things to do when he was at the beach, even if those fun things could’ve risked personal injury. He would usually find a day to rent a wave runner and skip across the glistening waves, going entirely too fast. And he only ran that wave runner onto a hidden sandbar that one time. He went parasailing once with my Grandfather, and they joked about whose weight would create more drag, making it harder to get the sail in the air. At the urging of my Grandpa on a full-family vacation, Dad was one of the four brave individuals who took a ride on the infamous Banana Boat. If you’ve ever ridden a Banana Boat, you know that the goal of any Banana Boat driver is to mercilessly throw the passengers into the ocean as many times as possible. My Dad, Grandpa, Uncle, and Aunt were only flung into the ocean about six times, and my Uncle Lee only threatened to remove himself from the family once. Dad laughed every single time he retold the story of being on the Banana Boat and Lee’s raging anger at my Grandpa for making him do it in the first place, and Dad never let go of the wild and uncontrolled joy he felt any time he was doing something fun near the ocean.

On the beach, Dad taught me that sometimes, in order to do something fun, you’ve also got to do something that might have an element of danger to it. As a kid who was pretty risk-averse, Dad knew I needed that reminder.

And although he was busy with hole-digging projects and shell-collecting expeditions, Dad never let the busyness of home invade his vacations. Unlike some Dads I watched on the beach, my Dad was rarely on his phone. He didn’t see the need to take phone calls—the world back home would function just fine without him, and he had more important things to focus on. He was there to love his family and make our lives more enjoyable. He was there to create lasting memories with all of us. We were on vacation, which meant home could wait.

But Dad had one rule at the beach that trumped all others. One central rule that was most important, and one rule that he lived out every single day that he was shoreside:

He would always, always, be the last one up.

My family’s routine at the beach has always been very simple, very consistent. Each day we are at the beach, our schedule always looks the same.

Morning: Go to the beach.

Afternoon: Enjoy the beach. And eat lunch at the beach so you don’t lose valuable beach time.

Late Afternoon: Stay at the beach.

Evening: Go out to dinner.

Late Evening: Go to sleep so you can wake up and do it all over again.

“Beach, Eat, Repeat” has always been the mantra of our family vacations, and none of us would have had it any other way. There is too much to witness at the beach to even think about doing anything else.

But around 4 or 5 o’clock, the stomach begins to growl. And all of the wonderful seafood restaurants of Gulf Shores begin to beckon the hungry Bradshaw’s. So, reluctantly, we would pack up our beachside oasis and make our way back up to the condo.

Mom was always first, because she took the longest to get ready. I would follow next. And Dad was always last.

And it wasn’t even close.

Getting Dad to leave the beach each day was like trying to pull a lion out of a freezer of fresh Kobe steaks. Dad loved everything about the beach, but he especially loved the beach at dusk. Always the nature buff, Dad enjoyed watching the sun set into the ocean. He loved watching the orange glow dance off the tops of the unrelenting waves. But even though he was a people-person to the millionth degree, I think the thing he liked most about the beach at dusk was that he felt like he had it all to himself. All those suckers who went up to their rooms at 4 or 5 were missing out on having solitude along the shore. Dad would sit there with his chair in the shallow water, digging his toes into the sand and staring out across the Gulf.

Dad Grandma and Grandpa at BeachMy Grandpa even told a story at Dad’s funeral about his love for always being the last one up. On occasion, my family would take vacations with our extended family, which included my Grandpa Vern, Grandma Sharon, my Uncle Lee, my Aunt Beth, and my two cousins Jake and Megan. Those were always wonderful vacations, and every day, my Grandpa and my Dad were always the last ones up to the condo. But even my Grandpa couldn’t hang with my Dad.

“Scott,” he’d say, “I think I’m going to head on up so we can head out for dinner. You coming?”

“Okay. Yeah, I’ll be up in a minute,” Dad would respond.

And 45 minutes later, he’d still be sitting there, camped on the shore looking out over the blue water.

And had it not been for my impatience, he probably never would have left.

As Mom and I grew hungrier and hungrier, I would pace on the balcony and look down at my Dad. From a distance, all I could spot was the back of his shiny bald head, and I would grow angrier and angrier that he wasn’t coming up to get ready. Didn’t he know all the families of 18 with annoying kids went to dinner at 6?! If we didn’t get in the truck within the next 10 minutes, there was a good chance that the entire slew of restaurants in Gulf Shores would simultaneously run out of seafood and we’d be stuck eating lunchmeat and peanuts in the condo for dinner?!

So, I would do what all impatient sons do; I annoyed the bajeezus out of my Dad. I would call his cell phone repeatedly, and he would rarely pick up. On the times he did, I would tell him that Mom and I were tired of waiting and that if he didn’t get up here within the next ten minutes we were going to leave without him. Hearing my threat, Dad would laugh and tell me that he was very, very scared, and he would sit back down in his chair as I fumed from my balcony overlook. If he waited long enough, I would even begin yelling from the balcony—which is a really mature thing to do, by the way.

Eventually, although never quick enough, Dad would come up. And he would take way too long in the shower (how does a guy with no hair still take a thirty minute shower?!). And all the while, my stomach would slowly eat away at itself. And then, we’d go out to dinner, and they’d still have seafood, and my hangriness would fade, and I’d feel bad that I had treated my Dad that way.

And now that he’s gone, I feel horrible for the way I acted. And I wish I could apologize. But more than that, I wish I could just sit next to him again and not worry about the clock.

I feel bad because I think, deep down, my Dad understood how precious his time at the beach was. No matter how long he lived, he would never be able to spend enough days at the beach. He would never be able to get enough of God’s most beautiful creation. And no matter how long he stayed there, I think he knew that he would only have a limited number of those sunsets in his life. So, he stayed there as long as he could to soak them all up.

I’m glad he was always the last one up, because it made him happy. And I’d do anything to stare down from the condo balcony and see him parked in a beach chair again.

Most people don’t know, but my family was actually scheduled to go on a beach vacation at the end of July 2013—the week after my Dad’s death. We had the trip booked for months. In fact, the night before he died, Dad was shopping online for a cap for his truck bed to protect all of our luggage. After he passed away, some people told Mom and I that we should have went on the vacation anyway to get our mind off things, but how do you get your mind off of losing an immediate family member? And do you even want to get your mind off of that? Mom and I didn’t even entertain the idea of going to the beach without Dad. His absence was palpable, but it would have been magnified and exacerbated in unbelievable ways had we gone to the beach without him.

Mom and I decided to stay home, and secretly I wondered in my head whether or not I’d ever be able to go back to the beach again. The grief I felt in that moment scared me. I was afraid that every time I went to the beach without my Dad, I’d feel that same sense of pain and despair. The thought alone was debilitating.

About two years after losing Dad, my good friend Steve asked me if I wanted to go to the beach for a week as a Christmas gift (talk about having good friends!). I had wanted to go, but I was still worried about going. I was worried that, emotionally, the trip might be too much. I was worried that I hadn’t given myself enough time or space to grieve properly. And in the back of my mind, I still worried that I might not ever be able to go to the beach without thinking of Dad and picturing him there.

And guess what? I was right. I was right about the fact that I would never, never go to the beach without thinking of my Dad and conjuring up images of us there together. But I was wrong in assuming that those reflections would always be grief-inducing. Yes, there would be plenty of sadness, but there were also so many wonderful positive memories of Dad at the beach that brought a smile to my face even while I was upset. Going to the beach had the effect of flipping through a photo album after losing a loved one; yes, there would be tears as you turned each page, but it would also remind you of happy moments that you tend to forget in the midst of your loss.

I took Steve up on that offer, and I remember seeing the ocean for the first time after Dad’s death. When we grieve a loss, we tend to divide every aspect of our lives into before and after chapters. Instead of having the “first time” with any given activity, you have two first times. There’s the real first time, and then the first time after the tragedy. The first time after life changes permanently. Standing on the shore for the first time and touching my toes in the Gulf for the first time in my life on Earth without Dad was a pretty monumental and overwhelming experience. I remember standing there and thinking about Dad, and I began to tear up as I watched the sunset—a sunset that Dad certainly would have loved.

Dad and I At the BeachStanding there at the beach, I told Steve how much I missed my Dad. I really didn’t have to say anything, because Steve knew—and he was experiencing the grief himself. Steve had been tremendously close with my entire family, and my Dad treated him just like he would treat his own son. Instead of only crying, though, I was able to share tremendous memories and stories of my Dad, telling Steve all about the funny things he had done at the beach on our family vacations. I shared stories about Dad’s Banana Boat expedition, his wave-runner sandbar collision, and how he was always the last one up for dinner. Little by little, the tears were slowly replaced with a smile and laughter. I didn’t miss him any less; I just had a different focus. Instead of focusing on the loss, I was able to focus on his life. Instead of focusing on the time we didn’t have together, I focused on all the wonderful times we did.

I’ve been to the beach a few times since losing Dad, and whenever I go, memories of Dad are always in tow with me. There will never be a day when I go to the beach and don’t think about my Dad. But instead of just thinking about him, I try my best to live by his beach rules. I get up extra early so I can watch the sun rise. I swim out as far as I possibly can into the ocean—much to Paige’s dismay—and once I’m far enough out, I talk to my Dad and tell him how much I miss him. I talk with complete strangers on the beach and get to know them because that’s what Dad would have done.

And of course, I’ve taken up Dad’s throne of being the last one up.

Megan Jake Ty and Dad at BeachI spend a lot of time on the beach during dusk as many of the families on the shore will begin to retreat to their condos. And I do this for a simple reason: that’s what Dad would have done. I’ve learned why he loved it so much. As the beach starts to quiet down from a busy day of frivolity and fun, there’s a quiet stillness that begins to wash across the shore. That stillness is enticing and comforting, and it’s in those moments that I often feel closest to God. And I think about how peaceful those moments must have been to a man who struggled with depression. Dad treasured that peace. And now, I treasure the memory of his life during those peaceful moments, and I try to live it out every chance I get.

So, when everyone else starts to pack up their chairs, I plant mine a little closer to the water to honor my Dad. I let the waves wash across my sand-worn feet. I look out across the beach, and I smile. And in my heart, I thank my Dad for all those wonderful summer vacations. And I thank him for showing me the beauty of being the last one up.

Dad Burying My Head in Sand with SB LogoDad, there has never been a time when I’ve gone to the beach without thinking of you—and there never will be. You made our time at the beach together so memorable, but more than that, you taught me so many important life lessons while we were there. You taught me to slow down and relax. You taught me to soak in God’s beautiful creation. You taught me to be kind to people and get to know them, because God created them, too. You taught me to let go of all the busy things from back home and simply enjoy the life that was in front of me in that moment. I take these lessons with me everywhere I go, but especially when I go to the beach. Even though I’m still able to have fun when I go, it just isn’t the same without you. I miss our throwing sessions, and sometimes I’ll just carry a baseball in my backpack to turn over and over in my hands and think of the time we spent together. I miss trying to see who could swim the furthest out, and watching you beckon me further even when I felt like I couldn’t keep swimming. I miss walking along the shoreline with you and listening to your stories about oil rigs in the distance or planes flying overhead. You had an inquisitive, appreciative spirit for all life had to offer. And more than anything, I miss watching you enjoy those moments on the shore by yourself being the last one up. It’s strange, but sometimes it’s like I look down from the balcony and I can still see you sitting there. Dad, I know you’re still with me. I know that you’re guiding me and watching over me in everything that I do. Thank you for always being my best teacher. Thank you for being a Dad unlike any other. And thank you for always teaching me that the last one up wins. I love you, Dad. I miss you tremendously. I sure hope there are beaches in heaven, because if there are, I promise I’m going to swim further out than you. Until that day when we can be beachside together again, seeya Bub.

“O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions—This great and wide sea, in which are innumerable teeming things, Living things both small and great. There the ships sail about; There is that Leviathan which you have made to play there…You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth.” Psalm 104:24-26, 30 (NKJV)

I’m Here

I think the college crisis is worse than the mid-life crisis.

I mean, come one, at least you get a motorcycle out of the latter.

I was in college. Away at college. And I felt like I just needed to get away.

I think I’ve always dealt with anxiety to a certain extent. In a sense, I think I’ve had those moments where the world just feels too overwhelming at different points throughout my life. It’s likely that I’ve suffered here and there from anxiety before I could even put a name to it.

But even though I didn’t quite know what was going on or why, my Dad seemed to know. And he seemed to understand.

And most importantly, he was there.

The Fall of my junior year in college was not the Fall I had anticipated. I was living in an apartment in Oxford, and I was navigating one of those difficult moments of my life where the road was not only less-traveled, but it was windy and curvy and full of potholes and empty of any road signs. A road that had once seemed so straight and so predictable was suddenly anything but. It was treacherous, and I was trembling.

For the few months leading up to this moment, I had been questioning so much about my journey, mainly my vocational call. For my entire life, for as long as I could remember, I had said I wanted to be a teacher (except for that one weird phase when I mysteriously wanted to be a park ranger… too much Yogi Bear I guess…). When I was little, I would actually make-believe that I was a teacher in a classroom before I even started going to school myself. Once I went to school, I took an immediate liking to it. I enjoyed being in classrooms, and I always got along with my teacher and had deep admiration and respect for them.

As a youngster, I said I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher—mainly because kindergarten was all I knew. And it was awesome. We had fingerpaints, and snacks, and we were home by noon. Even as a little kid, I would often think about all of the fun activities I would someday replicate for my own students. I pictured the joy they would experience, all the coloring we would do, and the impact I would have in their little lives.

But then, once I got into middle school, I began to really enjoy my English and Social Studies and Science classes (no offense, math teachers), and my dream of teaching kindergarten began to fade. I was slowly warming up to the idea of teaching a single subject and working with older students. Also, Barney had lost his appeal…thank God.

And just when I thought I had everything figured out, I made it to high school…and, go figure, I decided I wanted to be a high school teacher. Specifically, I wanted to teach high school English. I loved my English classes. I loved reading, and I enjoyed writing, and I really appreciated the opportunities to be creative, explore different worlds, and express myself in ways that only literature and the written word could provide. I dreamt of sharing that excitement with my high school students. I longed for the days when I could choose the books they would read. I thought intensely about lectures I would give, activities and discussions I would lead, and the hundreds of students I would be able to reach.

It was no surprise to people who knew about my dream that I decided to go to Miami University and pursue a degree in teacher education. What was a surprise to those who knew me best, however, was my decision to leave it all behind and run in a different direction.

At the end of my sophomore year, I was having serious misgivings about my vocational choice. I had taken a number of education courses, and I just didn’t enjoy them nearly as much as I enjoyed the content-focused courses in the English department. Especially one class, taught by an arrogant and demeaning faculty member who was supposedly an “expert” in classroom techniques, even though he had spent only one year in the field actually teaching (wow, I guess I’m still bitter about that!). I learned I would rather be reading fiction novels than reading about how to teach them. I realized I wanted to work in education, but not the education I had always known.

So, I changed majors. To American Studies. The study of America. It sounded interesting. And…it happened to be the first major listed alphabetically in Miami University’s course catalog. The divine providence of the English alphabet still amazes me.

I dug into the curriculum, and the major looked perfect for me. I could take courses in all the areas I was passionate about and largely self-design a major that met my academic interests and desires. Literature. Communications. Political Science. Media and Journalism. History. Psychology. Nothing was off the table. It was a perfect mix.

It was also completely terrifying. People who got teacher education degrees became teachers. People who got American Studies degrees became…professional American Studiers? I had no idea what I was going to do with this degree, but I knew that studying those particular topics would make me extremely happy. Even though I was confident in my content choice, however, it didn’t diminish the employability concerns I had.

All of those feelings then decided to collide in the Fall of my junior year. Classes had only been in session for a few weeks, and I was unbelievably worried that I had made a huge mistake by dropping out of the teacher education program at Miami. Being a teacher was what I had wanted to do forever. Now, I was taking great classes, but also closing myself off from what had been my lifelong dream. Had I made a huge mistake? An irreversible one?

I was also dealing with many other huge life changes. I had made the transition from Miami’s Regional campus in Hamilton to the main campus in Oxford, and life on a residential campus was great—but it was also much different from what I was used to. Any transition, no matter when it happens, causes some anxiety. Making this transition into adulthood while simultaneously questioning the only dream I had ever known collided together in a wave of desperation and doubt, and on a random Wednesday night, I could only think of one thing…

I needed to get away.

I had been sitting in my apartment all day attempting to study. Instead, I was obsessing over the decisions I had made and convincing myself that they were all mistakes. At that time, I wouldn’t have even known what an anxiety attack was; nor would I have ever believed I was having one. Now, knowing what I know about mental illness, it’s easy to see that I was in the midst of a really severe period of overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety. The worst part is that I had kept all of this to myself. Like my Dad, I wasn’t crazy about letting people into my world far enough to see my darkness. I didn’t like the idea of telling other people I was hurting or confused or overwhelmed. I would internalize all of these feelings and endlessly ruminate over them, which likely fed a vicious loop of self-criticism and doubt that paralyzed me emotionally. And near the end of that night, I decided to get in the car and drive for a bit because getting away was the only thing I knew to do.

I got in the car and didn’t really know where I was going. In the age before smartphones or GPS devices, this was always a bit of a scary endeavor for a directionally-challenged individual like me. So I told myself to turn right out of my apartment complex, drive in a straight line, and see where it would take me.

As I drove in my silver Envoy, I passed cornfields and….well, cornfields. I began to think about everything, and my emotions started to get the best of me. Before I knew it, with the radio turned all the way down, I was beginning to tear up. I started to call myself names, questioning how I could have been so stupid to do what I had done over the past few months. How was it possible that one person could make so many idiotic decisions? And…why did that person have to be me? I drove across the Indiana state line—which sounds super dramatic to those who don’t know the geography of Oxford. Indiana was only about ten minutes away from campus, but there was something metaphorically significant about crossing a state line that made this drive feel scary. I felt like I was running away from something. I felt like I was giving up.

It was in the midst of all of these thoughts and doubts when my cell phone (a sweet Motorola Razr) began to buzz. I looked at the screen and the caller ID read “Incoming Call, Dad.”

I hesitated to pick up the phone, but after a few seconds I knew I had to. I collected myself and flipped the phone open (remember when phones used to flip?!) and put it to my ear. “Hey, Dad,” I said lightly.

“Hey, Bub. I’m here. Can you let me in?”

“You’re where?” I replied nervously.

“At your apartment. I’m standing outside,” he said.

“Oh, uh….I’m not home,” I answered.

“Where are you?” he questioned, a bit surprised.

“I….I don’t know,” I said. And then, I started to fall apart again.

I told my Dad how I just needed to go on a little drive. That I didn’t know where I was going, both on this drive and in life. I shared everything with Dad, and I let him in.

My situation hadn’t changed, but there was an immediate relief in being able to finally tell someone that I was having serious doubts.

“Bub, why don’t you come back and we will sit together and talk?” he said to me.

I listened. And I turned around. And I drove in a straight line until I was back at my apartment where I saw my Dad standing on my front porch.

The reason this story is so important is because I hadn’t told my Dad anything about how I was feeling before he drove to Oxford to visit me that night. And driving to Oxford on a whim like that was not a regular occurrence. My Mom and Dad were always planners. They came to visit me pretty often when I lived in Oxford, but they always scheduled it ahead of time. Even in college I kept a really busy schedule, so we usually had their visits to Oxford scheduled in advance.

Which is why Dad’s visit on that night was all the more special—because Dad had picked up on the fact that something was wrong. We had talked earlier in the day, but I thought I had concealed my feelings pretty well. I thought I had been able to keep my sadness to myself.

But Dad had realized that something wasn’t right. He could pick up on the fact that there was something troubling me. He knew that I wasn’t okay.

And because I wasn’t okay, he was there. He was there without warning. He was there in a moment’s notice. He was there as long as I needed him. And he was there at just the right moment.

Eerily, I look back on that night and it is strangely reminiscent of the last conversation I ever had with my Dad, even though our roles were reversed. On this night, I was the confused wanderer, perplexed by my inexplicable emotions. Dad, on the other hand, was the encourager. The trusted confidant. The Father full of wisdom and, most importantly, love.

We sat in my apartment and talked through all of the things I was feeling. I told him about my concerns for an eventual job after graduation, and Dad told me not to worry. He told me that I could major in anything, and that I would find a way to be successful. “You’re too talented,” he would say, “and any career you decide to pursue will be a good one.” Dad built up my academic confidence, reminding me that I had many years of success in the classroom that were proof of my ability to conquer the road ahead. Even in the midst of our serious conversation, Dad found a way to land a perfect joke or two at just the right moment at my expense. “How many girls have you had over to your apartment OTHER THAN the ones in that Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition calendar you have?”

Comeback? Anyone? I had nothing.

I don’t remember all the things that we talked about on that night, but I do remember this: I felt better. None of my circumstances had changed, but I felt relief. None of my decisions were any better or worse than they had originally been, but I felt hope. I felt security. I felt confidence.

And I felt all of this because of two simple words my Dad had spoken.

“I’m here.”

It was more than just physically being in my apartment. When Dad said “I’m here,” he meant he was there. He was in my corner. He was rooting me on. He was leading the way on that windy, curvy, confusing road when I couldn’t see far enough ahead to make sense of the journey. He was giving me all of the support and encouragement I would need. I don’t know whether or not my Dad agreed with my major switch, and I’m thankful for that. Instead, I know that Dad said he trusted my ability to make my own decisions. He trusted that I would find success. He empowered me to believe in myself.

Dad stayed at my apartment for a few hours that night. If my memory serves me correctly, he eventually coerced me into going out for dinner against my will. We came back to the apartment and watched television together for a little while. And then, when the night was nearing its end, he hugged me and told me that he loved me before he left for home.

My Dad didn’t have all the answers that night, so he did something even better.

He was there.

And I wish he was still here because there have been so many moments, just like this one, where I still need him.

There have been moments in my life, and there will always be moments, where I will revert to that same young college kid from many years ago—a young, lost, and wandering boy who just needs his Father for a little encouragement and advice. There have been moments when I’ve been at a crux in the road with an important decision to make that I’ve grabbed for my phone (no longer a Razr) and began dialing those familiar numbers, only to realize that he will never again pick up on the other line. There have been moments when I have felt his loss so deeply that I break down inexplicably, unable to escape the grief of losing him so suddenly, unexpectedly. Those moments are completely paralyzing. They rob me of my joy; but they can never rob me of my Dad’s memory.

That’s because even though Dad isn’t here, he is here. Even though he has been gone from this Earth for nearly five years now, I still feel Dad’s gentle hand guiding me and directing me on a daily basis. Although I can’t experience his physical embrace, I feel his watchful eye from up above, encouraging me when I doubt, celebrating with me when I find joy, and telling me that he is proud of me over and over and over again. When I open my eyes, I only see his absence; but when I close them, I see that beaming smile, those kind eyes, and a Father who is still with his wandering son.

I still feel my Dad saying “I’m here” in those moments where I crave his presence most. I hear him reminding me that he is here with me in each and every moment. There will be crises and good moments and desperate moments that fill the pages of my own life story, but it will be my Dad’s spiritual presence that is the common denominator in all of those moments. I am fortunate that I have a Heavenly Father who guides and directs me in the God I serve, but I’m lucky because I have another Father in Heaven doing the same exact thing.

My Dad may be gone, but he is still here.

Me Dad and Lucy at Picnic with SB LogoDad, There were so many moments just like that night in college where your presence alone was all I needed to find happiness. You had an uncanny way of knowing the moments when people needed you most, and you responded with grace and unconditional love each time you were called. Nearly every day, Dad, I experience a moment when I just wish more than anything that you were here. I miss your smile, your voice, your heart, your shiny bald head, and everything that made you so very special. But in those moments where I experience your loss most severely, I try and remind myself that you are here. You are still watching. You are still listening. And you are still loving me and all those who feel your absence. Dad, thank you for always being there and for still being here. Thank you for being at my side at a moment’s notice–both in the moments when I knew I needed you, and especially in those I didn’t. I’ll never be able to say thank you enough. But, until that day when I try my best to let you know how much you are missed and how much you are loved, seeya Bub.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15 (ESV)

Masks

“We had no idea.”

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

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

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

“We had no idea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But most of the time, he was happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inside Cover

Usually, I only write my last name on the inside cover of the books I own (which is too many). Mostly in bright red pen, I emblazon “BRADSHAW” in all capital letters in the top left hand corner of most of my books. Just in case I decide to lend my precious books out and they don’t find their way home, I want the perpetrator to be haunted with the guilt of their thievery forever and ever.

But my Bible? Well, that’s a different story…

Since shortly after graduating from Miami, I’ve carried a hardcover Zondervan Bible. It’s a TNIV (Today’s New International Version) men’s Bible called Strive that I picked up at Half-Price Books. I love it, and I always have. It has great inserts with thought-provoking questions, profiles of historical figures from my faith’s past, and counters to modern-day myths associated with a man’s journey as a Christian.

This is the Bible I’ve always read since I started drawing closer with my faith after college. I read all the way through this Bible from cover to cover, which was a big accomplishment for me. I’ve marked that Bible up with underlinings and notes and circles of passages that grabbed my heartstrings or caused me to think of my faith in a new light. This was the Bible I was reading before my Dad died that has a deeply significant timeline drawn between Psalms 68 and 69—the before and after line marking my Dad’s death during my reading journey. It’s the Bible that I’ve carried with me to church each and every Sunday—on the days that I’ve wanted to go, and on the days when I’ve been so shattered by the grief I feel that I have to drag myself there. This Bible has traveled with me in countless rental cars and hotel rooms when I travel for my job. The thin plastic protective cover has started to peel, and some of the pages might be creased, but it’s never diminished the value of the precious words inside.

The words in the Bible tell the story of my faith; but the words I’ve written on the inside cover help remind me why I believe.

A year or so before my Dad passed, I made a decision about the inside cover of my Bible. I told myself that I was going to wait for the most poignant, thought-provoking, powerful statements about my faith in God and lodge them there. Once I heard those phrases, I would write them on the inside cover of my Bible. It was a pretty simple premise, but one that I took seriously.

I took it seriously because the inside cover of my Bible is precious real estate. It’s the first thing you see when you open the book. Once you use up all the space on the inside cover of your Bible, it’s gone. You can never get another inside cover.

That first quote on the inside cover of my Bible is still my favorite one.

I didn’t write the date (an addition I would add to future quotes). I didn’t note the particular sermon. I didn’t even write it in red pen! (My coworkers probably are probably shocked to see my writing in anything but red pen.) I do, however, remember the speaker who introduced that quote to me.

It was my pastor, Reverend Harville Duncan. I always loved Harville’s messages because they were intellectually challenging, thought-provoking, convicting yet hopeful. His messages always had powerful themes and nuggets of wisdom all throughout that challenged me in my faith in ways that I didn’t think was possible. He also made a somewhat-weekly LA Fitness reference which I conveniently tallied on a post-it note in the back of my Bible (and just in case you’re curious, he told 67 LA Fitness stories between 2013 and his retirement in 2016, with a +/-3% sampling error for the services I missed).

More important than any LA Fitness reference, however, was the quote from Reverend Duncan that founds its way into my Bible:

“You should not go to the Lord and tell Him how big the mountain is. You should go to the mountain and tell it how big your God is!”

It wasn’t an original quote, but it was new to me—and it was beautiful. I had never heard that phrase, but I loved it. It gave me courage that I never thought I’d need. It helped me visualize strength in the midst of difficult circumstances. I just loved it, and I knew the second that I heard it where it should belong.

I grabbed a pen from the pew in the middle of his sermon, and I inscribed the quote in my typical all capital (albeit blue) writing on the inside cover of my Bible.

It’s been there ever since; but more importantly, it’s been in my heart and mind every single day since I wrote it down.

I loved the quote—and in a few months, I would need that quote.


When I decided to speak at my Dad’s funeral, I honestly had no idea what I was going to say. I had no words for what had happened just a few days prior. What could I possibly say at that lectern to capture the love I felt for my Dad and the grief I felt in losing him? It just wasn’t possible. I didn’t have the courage.

I did something on that day that I have rarely done when it comes to public speaking. I didn’t prepare at all. I didn’t write out any notes. I didn’t rehearse my eulogy like I typically would any other time I spoke in public. I didn’t even have a general outline. I played a few things through my head during the few quiet times I had in the days after Dad’s death, but nothing would stick. I just prayed that God would give me the strength to say what He wanted me to say in that moment. I didn’t know what to say—but He did.

In an effort to try and prepare, I sat down at my desk the morning of my Dad’s funeral. Adjusting my black suit as I sat down, I said a quick prayer and asked God for guidance, perspective, and a courageous spirit. I told him how beat down I was. I told him that I had never felt this kind of pain before, and that I didn’t know what to do with any of it. I told him that I was completely lost, and insecure, and doubting whether or not I could live life without my Dad.

And then, I opened my Bible. And there it was:

“YOU SHOULD NOT GO TO THE LORD AND TELL HIM HOW BIG THE MOUNTAIN IS. YOU SHOULD GO TO THE MOUNTAIN AND TELL IT HOW BIG YOUR GOD IS.”

Bible Inside CoverGod wanted me to hear that message the day that I originally wrote it down, but he wanted me to live it in this new storm. That was the message God gave to me in a moment of ease to prepare me for a lifetime of perplexing grief. That was the message that God put on Harville’s heart, knowing he would need to pass it along to the members of the flock he cared for. That would be the message of my life, given to help save it.

And that would be the message I would need to say goodbye to my Dad.


I spoke at the funeral that day, and although I didn’t have a clear framework of where I wanted to head with my message, I knew that God wanted me to share this one truth. He had put it on my heart (and on my Bible cover) for a reason. This was that reason.

I didn’t talk long that day. I physically couldn’t. I talked about my Dad and how much I missed him. I talked about the sadness we felt as a family and the gaping hole we would feel in his absence. I shared some stories about his sense of humor. And I was honest with the few hundred friends and family members who had gathered to say goodbye to my Dad. The truth that, deep down, I didn’t know how my Mom and I would ever get through this. I was deeply confused, and I had questions that I feared would never be answered.

But I told them that Harville had shared an important quote with me and our church shortly before my Dad’s death. “We should not go to the Lord and tell Him how big the mountain is,” I said with slowly mustering confidence. “Instead, we should go to the mountain and tell it how big our God is.”

I looked out across the darkened sanctuary, and although I saw tear-stained faces, I also saw nods. I saw people nodding, and smiling through their grief, and encouraging my Mom and I to never give up. I saw people believing that my Dad’s death would be a huge, looming mountain; but I saw them believing that God could help us climb that mountain and conquer it with the strength only He can provide.

The mountain of grief we were facing would never, ever go away; but neither would the Almighty God who could help us climb it.


A few weeks after the funeral, as life began to ease its way into a difficult new-normal, I got an unexpected gift from my Uncle Lee. Lee was my Mom’s only brother, my Dad’s only brother-in-law. Dad and my Uncle Lee may have been brothers-in-law, but they had a bond of brotherhood that was enviable to this only child. They grew up as teenagers playing softball together. They played pick-up basketball together with members of our church from the time I was little. They would always count on one another for help with big household projects, appliance repairs, and the ever-occurring backyard swimming pool problems. I think Uncle Lee and my Dad always got along with one another because they are unbelievably similar—for all the right reasons. They are two of the most hardworking individuals I’ve ever known. They provide for their families without ever begrudging the hard days and long hours. They are each humble to a fault, never boasting or seeking credit for the amazing work they do. I know that when my Dad died, Uncle Lee was just as devastated as anyone else—and rightly so. My Dad had been the brother that he never had, and now he was gone.

In the immediate aftermath of losing my Dad, Uncle Lee was one of the first people on the scene—and one of the last to leave. He stayed with my Mom and I anytime we needed him. He helped us with countless chores and projects around our homes, cutting our lawns and helping with other repairs. He was there for emotional support, even though he was grieving himself.

His personal grief was real, but he always found a way to make sure he was a source of strength for my Mom and I whenever we needed him. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for the support he gave us, and his gift to me after losing my Dad inspires me in new ways every day.

His gift was a sign—a beautiful sign. Uncle Lee wanted to give me a reminder that the words I spoke at Dad’s funeral were more than just words; they represented an undeniable truth. He knew that I would need to do more than remember those words—I would need to live them. So, to help me remember, Uncle Lee made me a beautiful sign that read: “Don’t tell GOD how big the mountain is, Tell the mountain how big GOD is!”

Sign from Uncle Lee

I cried like a baby when I saw that sign for the first time. I ran my hands to and fro across the sign as I read the words and wept at the thought of losing my Dad and living life without him. But I also smiled and nodded my head through the tears because I knew those words were absolutely true. I knew that those words would guide me through the unchartered waters of grief and loss. I would go to that mountain of grief and despair, and I would let God guide me to the peak. This sign was an overflowing of the love in my Uncle’s heart. I’ll always be thankful to him for loving my Mom and I, and I’ll always have this sign to remember the courage and belief he had in us to overcome.

And let me tell you…I’ve needed the reminder many, many times.

Those words would become a mantra to me in the months and milestones that passed after losing Dad—and they still are. Especially in the weeks that followed after losing him, I would recite those words to myself over and over and over again first-thing every morning. I would wake up from a restless, nightmare-laden night. I would take a few deep breaths, trying to shake away the reality of losing my Dad. I would dread having to face the world without my Dad by my side. And on those days when it was hard to believe, I recited the words that I knew would carry me through: “Don’t tell God how big the mountain is; tell the mountain how big God is.”

On nights filled with paralyzing pain, I would have trouble peeling myself off of the couch. There were many nights when I would collapse in the floor of my living room, convulsing and weeping at the mere mention of my Dad’s name. And in those horribly painful moments, I would say those words again: “Don’t tell God how big the mountain is; tell the mountain how big God is.”

And on days when Satan crept into my mind and tried to convince me that my Dad’s death from suicide was unforgiveable, I would beat back his ploys with the truth of God’s love. I would remind myself that God doesn’t just love a chosen few. He chooses to love all of us—including my Dad, mental illness and all. And I would say, with a smile on my face and an eye towards the heavens “Don’t tell God how big the mountain is; tell the mountain how big God is.”

That beautiful sign hangs above the window in my home office, my favorite retreat nestled in the back corner of my home. It’s the office my Dad helped me paint. It’s the office where he installed a beautiful chair molding to help me execute the vision I had for a lovely baseball-themed workroom. And there, above the window where I stare out and daydream, hangs the sign that my Uncle Lee made me with the words that have carried me through my grief. I look at it often, especially when I write. I let it remind me God has a bigger purpose for our pain. He doesn’t demolish the mountains in our lives. He grabs us by the hand and helps us navigate the terrain until we reach the mountaintop.

I live my life relying on those words. I live those words knowing that they were written in the inside cover of my Bible for a reason. That reason is bigger than anything I’ll ever be able to explain on this side of Eternity; but I still trust them. I believe that they are true because they’ve carried me this far. No mountain will ever be too big for my God, and every time I open my Bible that truth jumps out at me—both on the inside cover, and in every single story those pages tell.

Dad in Easter SuitDad, You were always so courageous and so brave, and I wish I had more of that in me. You never let a daunting challenge intimidate you. You believed in your ability, and you believed in your God. Ironically, it was watching your brave example that prepared me to survive the grief of losing you. You taught me that I could do anything if I believed in God and let Him lead my way. Dad, I don’t focus on the one battle that you lost with depression. Instead, I focus on the many years that you fought successfully and conquered your sickness. You tried so hard—for me, for Mom, and for those who loved you. You fought the hardest fight of your life each and every day, and you were unbelievably brave. I’ll always remember that. I’ll always live my life through your example. And until I can see you again and tell you just how courageous you truly were, seeya Bub.

“Then David continued, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. He will see to it that all the work related to the Temple of the Lord is finished correctly.’” 1 Chronicles 28:20 (NLT)

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)