Wondering

My Dad’s death from suicide has left me in a constant state of wondering.

On Father’s Day, Paige and I found ourselves enjoying lunch at one of our favorite spots: Chuy’s. As I’ve written about previously, Father’s Day is an extremely difficult day for me to navigate. Every Father’s Day leaves me wishing I had just one more to celebrate with my Dad. He deserved a bigger celebration than any I ever gave him on this Earth, and each year that passes brings its own unique challenge and struggle within my emotions. Some years, it’s a tremendous sense of loss and grief that overwhelms me. Other years, its anger and frustration that mental illness stole my Father away from a world that loved him beyond words.

But this year, it was a sense of wondering—constant, ever-present, answerless wondering—that overtook my capacities.

While I plowed down a basket of chips and salsa (and then another…and maybe one more), I noticed a table nearby with about ten family members around it. There were mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, and one very adorable baby who smiled at me every now and then as she rested her head on her Mom’s shoulder. There were a number of young adolescent boys who all seemed to be extremely respectful of their parents, aunts, and uncles, which always warms my heart—especially when I see children who talk to their parents and adults in their lives over a meal instead of staring aimlessly into an iPad. I’ve always enjoyed people watching, and this was a fun family to watch. From the outside looking in, they looked like a near-perfect family in many respects.

My interest during most of the lunch, however, was drawn to the head of the table. Sitting there was an elderly man in a wheelchair. He had mostly-graying hair, glasses, a cheerful smile, and a hearty laugh that would bellow out every few minutes. Wearing a bright orange short that appeared to reflect his happy personality, the man was intensely present with every one of his family members sitting around the table. Although he seemed to be enjoying the chips and salsa just as much as I was, he listened to the stories of his family members, responded, asked them questions, and listened some more. In every moment, he seemed extremely invested in the conversation and the people he was talking with, and generally, he appeared to be so happy to be at the table with all of them.

I don’t know how the man got to the table that day, or the story of his family, but I could tell that he was a man who had earned the respect of those who were sitting near him. He was a patriarch who had clearly established a family built on love, trust, and loyalty.

I was extremely distracted during that lunch, and as much as I tried to look away from this man and his family, I was transfixed. I found myself struggling to focus on anything else but watching this man, the way he behaved, and the way his family treated him. I kept trying to imagine the years and decades full of wonderful life experiences that had brought them all together—both the moments of joy and the sadness of defeat or tragedy that they had likely experienced as a family.

And all throughout, I wondered.

I wondered what could have been within my own family, and I saw it pictured with the family in front of me.

From the moment that I heard my Dad was dead, my mind immediately had to make an important shift. Unfortunately, all the things that were “want to’s” with Dad—the bucket list of things we had always planned and wanted to do together—became “should haves.” Instantaneously, thoughts of how I had squandered or ignored precious time with the man who meant everything to me flooded to the forefront of my grieving mind. Because my Father had passed away so suddenly at the age of 50 without any prior warning that his final days were nearing, there was a feeling of the rug being pulled out from underneath me in a horrible, violent, life-altering way. I felt as if I had been robbed of a treasure that I didn’t even know I had. All of a sudden, that “thief in the night” scripture in 1 Thessalonians held a whole new, all-too-real significance.

And from that moment on, I began wondering.

A permanent sense of questioning and fruitless speculation began to take over my life on that July day in 2013, and it continues to manifest itself in so many different facets of my life; but it’s especially present on Father’s Day. Father’s Day is the day that I reflect on all the great moments that I shared with my Dad and all the lessons that he taught me; but it’s also the day in which I wonder about the rest of his life that he deserved to live. The life he should have had but never did.

As I looked at the grandfather sitting nearby our table, I wondered what it would have been like to watch my Dad grow old. It was clear that the man at the table next to me had suffered some type of difficulty that required him to use a wheelchair, but he also had remarkable, quick movements as he ate—I think at one point he even surpassed my chip/salsa intake! Clearly, some of the effects of aging had taken away a few of the liberties that he had once enjoyed, but he seemed to not let those obstacles get in his way.

It was stupendous to watch, and I wondered, silently, if my Dad would have aged with the same grace and determination that this man embodied. I have no doubt that my Dad would have aged well, as he rarely found himself in a situation where negative health effects overtook him. Yes, he likely would have gotten a few more wrinkles. Yes, his vision would have likely gotten a bit worse. But I knew that I would always be able to tease him about not being able to lose any more hair than he already had!

I’m sure the aging process wouldn’t have been all fun and games for Dad, but it would have been fun for me to watch the man that I had first known in his late-20’s and early-30’s grow and age into an elderly man—a patriarch. Sitting at the table that day, I wondered what Dad would have looked like. I wondered what clothes he would have worn. I wondered if his beard would have grayed entirely. I wondered about every seemingly simple and stupid detail of his life. And I grew frustrated knowing I would never have those answers.

I also wondered about the more profound things. How long would Dad have lived had mental illness and suicide not robbed him of the life he deserved to experience? I don’t have much evidence to back up my assertion, but I always believed my Dad would have lived into his nineties or hundreds, and I believe he would have been largely independent and self-functioning the entire time. That’s just the way he was. Dad had a zest and an appetite for life that led me to believe he would have wanted to hold onto every ounce of it for as long as he could—which is what makes his untimely death from suicide all the more perplexing. On this day, and on many others, I found myself drifting into a daze where I pictured my already-bald, wrinkled, bespectacled Father sitting across from me with his familiar laugh and twinkling smile shining through the weariness of time. It hurt me deeply to know that the vision I had imagined would be as close as I would ever get to seeing my elderly Father in front of me.

But as I watched this man at the restaurant, I began to wonder about more than encroaching wrinkles and receding hairlines. As the meal wore on, this Father/Grandfather took a keen interest in his family members who were sitting around the table. He listened and laughed as his sons and daughters told stories, just as my Dad had always done when I talked with him. He lowered his gaze and leaned low to meet the eyeline of his handsome, well-behaved grandsons, asking them questions about the sports they played, their schooling, and their friends and classmates. He made silly faces at his newborn granddaughter, and his entire face melted into a deep smile every time she clapped at him, reached for his arm, or offered a newborn giggle or coo.

You could tell that this man wasn’t here for a sympathy lunch or a meal born of obligation. This man was sitting at the head of the table because, in the eyes of those who loved him, he had completely earned that head spot and they wanted to celebrate him. Each family member assembled at the table had a sense of reverence for the man they were likely honoring at lunch, and it was heartwarming to watch their actions in a world where these types of selfless behaviors are all-too-infrequent.

I couldn’t help but picture my Dad in that man’s seat. I couldn’t help but flash-forward to a world that will never exist, wondering what life would have been like for my Dad as a Father, Grandfather, and patriarch of his family. As I enter a new chapter of my life with an impending wedding date on the calendar, I often wish that Dad and Paige could have met to share life with one another. In so many ways, they would have been peas in a pod. They would have appreciated one another’s humor—especially humor at my expense. He and Mom together would have treated Paige like the daughter they never had, and although it’s been a true blessing to watch my Mom enjoy welcoming Paige into our family, I also wish that my Dad could have experienced that same blessing. I know that Dad would have taken an interest in everything Paige did, and he would have been amazed by her talent, knowledge, and determination. On many days, I find myself wondering how they would have enjoyed growing together as father and daughter-in-law, and I constantly wonder what their relationship would have looked like. And it pains my soul to know they never had a chance to experience life with one another.

And although I joke about the nervousness I feel at the thought of becoming a Father myself someday, I know that God has a plan for me to raise children; and I know with more certainty than anything else that my Dad would have been an outstanding Grandfather. Even with this certainty, however, I wonder about the things I’ll never know. What would Dad have wanted to be called? Grandpa? Grandad? Papaw? Pops? Just wondering about the nickname his future-grandchildren would have bestowed upon him brings tears to my eyes. I wonder about all of the fun moments he would have been able to share with them—likely doing things that Paige and I would have told him they were not allowed to do. Candy consumption would have been at an all-time-high. Punishments would have been nonexistent with Grandpa. Trips to the amusement park and trick dives from the deck into the swimming pool would have been everyday occurrences. My Dad would have taken the charge for grandfathers to spoil their grandchildren to heart as his personal life mission. I have no doubt that he would have showered them with gifts and treats and experiences, but more than anything, he would have given them every ounce of love he had. He would have loved them, and I have no doubt that they would have loved him just as much.

And unfortunately for me, and for those future grandchildren of his, we will never, ever get to see him fulfill that duty. And it’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Suicide (or any tragic, untimely death for that matter) creates many unique grief-related emotions within those who are left behind, but most prevalently it creates the sensation that the victim and their loved ones have been robbed—robbed of time and of a future together. After losing Dad to suicide, I remember telling people that I felt like the victim of a theft. It may have been a strange analogy, but it accurately conveyed the grief better than any other example. One day, I had a loving Father with the promise of having him in my life for a very long time, and the next day all I had to cling to were memories and the broken pieces left behind.

That unnatural feeling of being robbed, at least in my life, likely occurs because suicide in and of itself is unnatural. As a Christian, I firmly believe that suicide runs counter to God’s desire for our life. In no way do I believe it is an unforgivable sin (a common myth which I’ve addressed previously and will continue to address in posts to come), but I do believe that God’s heart breaks when one of his children loses a battle to depression. Although God can redeem bad things, like suicide, I think he also had grander plans for my Dad. I believe God wanted to see him grow old. I believe God wanted to see him become the patriarch of our larger family and become a grandfather. I believe God wanted to see my Dad enjoy retirement and many more years of marriage to my Mom. I wanted these things. We all did. I believe God wanted these things.

And I know, deep down in the innermost parts of his being, my Dad wanted them too.

My Father’s death from suicide prevented him from ever experiencing a whole new phase of joy and prosperity that he so unbelievably deserved, and my heart breaks for him because he was robbed unfairly. I know that we don’t earn God’s blessings because He freely gives them; but if there was a way to earn them, my Dad had done everything in his life necessary to fulfill his end of the bargain.

Instead, suicide and mental illness stole those opportunities away from my Father; and they stole the joy of knowing and experiencing life with him away from all of us who loved him so deeply. It’s left all of us, including me, in a constant state of wondering that will never, ever be satisfied on this side of Eternity. I’m thankful that I know, one day, I’ll be able to see my Dad again and the pain of his absence will be a memory that is long and forever forgotten. That promise keeps me moving ever-forward; but it doesn’t diminish the pain I feel in this moment. It never fully eradicates the confusion, guilt, and loss that pervades every minute of my existence.

I continued to watch the family on this last Father’s Day at the restaurant, and my attempts to avoid the pain of Father’s Day were futile. Although it was painful to think about what I had lost as I watched this family, there was also beauty in the reassurance of God’s promise that I will, someday, greet my Father again. I will, someday, run to the arms that cradled me as a baby and tell my Dad how much I’ve missed him. Like that family, I’ll enjoy a meal with my Dad that will be grander and greater than any we ever shared together on this Earth. We will laugh together again. We will bond together again. We will experience a love stronger than this world could ever provide, together as Father and son.

And in that moment, a moment I’m patiently yet desperately longing for, I’ll wonder no more.

Dad HS Yearbook Photo with SB LogoDad, You lived a big and vibrant life while you were here with all of us, and your absence is even more noticeable and painful because the void left behind is so great. You deserved to live a fuller life than the one you experienced, and I’m sorry I didn’t do more to make that dream reality. Dad, I would have loved watching you grow old—even though it might not have been as much fun for you as it would have been for me. I would have loved seeing you on my wedding day, and you have no idea how much I would have appreciated your wisdom about navigating this new chapter in my life because you were such an amazing husband for Mom. And yes, I would have loved watching you become a grandpa more than anything else. I know you would have been silly and goofy and ridiculous—and completely adored by your grandchildren. But Dad, as much as I wanted to watch those things for myself, I’m ultimately saddened because you earned the right to experience all of those wonderful things. I hate mental illness and suicide for robbing you of these life chapters. Mental illness separated you from us and from many wonderful, beautiful moments that awaited your future. And although I won’t get to watch you enjoy life, and although I’ll always have questions about why this happened to you, I do find peace knowing that you’re not suffering any longer. I find a sense of comfort knowing that the unjustified feelings of shame and embarrassment that you experienced in this world are completely gone and fully redeemed. And I know that as great as any experience you could have had here with us might have been, you’re experiencing a joy and beauty beyond any other as you bask in the glory of Heaven and God’s everlasting love and paradise. Dad, keep watching over me, and keep reassuring me that you were called Home for a reason. I love you, and I wish we could have experienced more of this life together; but I know there’s a greater reward and an unbelievable reunion awaiting us. Thank you Dad, and until the day when we are reunited forever, seeya Bub.

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

Peter

Peter Headshot

This piece is dedicated to Dr. Peter Magolda:

A man who taught me that the written word offers tremendous power to those who can command it.

Peter, you taught me that writing can soothe deep hurts and wounds, but your lessons on brevity have yet to sink in.


 The doorbell rang at 8am. On most days, this would have been unusual; but it was July 25, 2013—the day after Dad’s death, the day after unusual and unexpected became our new normal. I gathered my strength after an evening full of futile attempts to find any semblance of rest. I opened the door, and standing on the other side, in a button down denim shirt with a wax-paper bag of donuts in hand, was Peter Magolda.

I smiled when I saw him, which wasn’t unusual. And then, I broke down because my life was anything but usual at that moment.


My friendship with Peter began only two years before losing Dad when I applied to Miami University’s graduate program in Student Affairs in Higher Education (SAHE). Although I had many people pushing me to go on to graduate school, I was reluctant to do it. Even though I had been a successful undergraduate student, I had an underlying fear that I wasn’t enough. I didn’t think I could handle the caliber of work that graduate school required. I wasn’t smart enough. I couldn’t work hard enough. I couldn’t be enough to get a Master’s degree. I was full of anxiety and trepidation as I wrote my essay for the application, constantly revising and resketching and reorganizing, scrapping the essay multiple times and starting again, hoping more than anything that I’d have the brilliant breakthrough that never came.

In my feverish anxiety, I told many people at Miami that I was in the process of applying for a graduate program at Miami, and whenever I mentioned that I was applying to the SAHE program, the response was usually the same: “Oh! Have you met Peter and Marcia?”

Peter Magolda Early CareerIt’s rare in the world of academia that a program is defined by the people who design and manage it, but Peter and Marcia were intellectual celebrities that earned every bit of that recognition and respect. Peter Magolda had been a faculty member at Miami since 1994, having earned a B.A. in Psychology from LaSalle College, an M.A. in Student Affairs from The Ohio State University, and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Indiana University. Peter’s work was ingenious. With respect and inventiveness, Peter was able to take anthropological tools and concepts usually associated with studying foreign cultures, and he applied those cultural study techniques in college settings. Prior to coming to graduate school, I would have never thought of that approach as a real or viable option for research; but Peter was exceptional at taking something that seemed undoable and bringing it to life.

Peter and Marcia BicycleHis intellectual acumen was only matched by that of his wife, Dr. Marcia Baxter Magolda. Marcia’s name was everywhere within the field of higher education. To this day, her work on student development theory and self-authorship serves as the cornerstone of many graduate programs in education, and many colleges and universities use her findings as their primary pedagogical foundation. That she and Peter were able to find one another and grow together as partners was always so wonderful to me.

I always answered the question about Peter and Marcia the same way: “No, I haven’t met them yet, but I sure have heard a lot about them!” In reality, I didn’t know a thing about Peter or Marcia before I came to graduate school. I felt like one of the few people in my cohort who had not familiarized myself with the readings of the field before coming to graduate school, so their names and academic accomplishments were completely foreign to me.

Nonetheless, I submitted my application to start in the SAHE program as a part-time student, and I was fortunate enough to receive an interview. The anxiety of the application process and essay writing faded only temporarily, and I was paralyzed by worry when thinking about taking that next step. “Surely, they’ll see through the act in person,” I thought to myself, still believing that my success in the application was a complete fluke. I was full of doubt and dread as I thought about the interview. In my best suit and tie, I made my way into the office at McGuffey Hall in Oxford, and prayed I could find the strength to get through the day.

This was the day I first met Peter. I wasn’t actually scheduled to meet with him, but his office just happened to be right next to the room we were interviewing in. In typical, inquisitive, Peter fashion, he poked his head into the room to see what was going on. I looked up and was a bit surprised to see a man with glasses and long, gray hair asking in an East-coast accent “So, what’s going on in here?” He wasn’t at all what I expected.

And in the years that I got to know Peter, I always loved that he was never, ever what I expected. As a teacher, as a mentor, and as a friend, Peter was always much, much more than I could have ever imagined.

On that interview day, Peter moseyed into the room and shook hands with the three of us who were interviewing to become part time students, nodding curtly as he repeated our first names and shook each of our hands. With the same curiosity that he applied in all of his intellectual pursuits, Peter started asking questions about each of us. He joked about my tie and said I was entirely too professional to be in the program, and I laughed and wondered if I should run out at exactly that moment and buy a button down, drab green sweater like the one he was wearing…

After Peter left the room, I continued with the rest of my day, considerably more at ease than I was before meeting him without knowing quite why. And a few days later, I got a call from Peter delivering the good news—I had been admitted to the program! Peter told me to take some time to think about whether or not I would like to accept a spot in the program. I took his advice and waited about 14 seconds before letting him know that I was definitely in. He laughed and said he looked forward to being my advisor, and I felt overjoyed as I hung up the phone. I was a first-generation college student who had never thought about graduate school as a realistic opportunity. In a few months, I would begin working on a graduate degree at Miami. Life takes many wonderfully beautiful and surprising turns. I was glad that this turn led me where it did.

My first semester in the program was difficult because that was also the time when my own struggle with anxiety began and when I first started seeking out help from a counselor to manage my mental illness. My anxiety wasn’t fully caused by starting graduate school, but it did contribute to the feeling of being overwhelmed and insignificant. As the semester wore on, I began to feel like I was finally on an upward trajectory, personally and academically, but I was still suffering from a healthy dose of impostor’s syndrome. In each class period, I had multiple instances of self-doubt where I thought to myself “I’m not smart enough to be here,” or “I can’t stack up against the intellect of many of my classmates.” It was a nauseating feeling, and it constantly kept me on edge in my classes and when I was working on assignments.

The other thing keeping me on edge that first semester? Knowing that I would be taking EDL 666 in the Spring.

Any graduate of the SAHE program from the Peter Magolda era will certainly know about EDL 666. The course went by many names. The official name on the course bulletin at Miami was Student Cultures in the University Environment. Most of the students in the program just called it “Cultures” or “The Cultures Course.” Some people had other not-so-family-friendly names for it, depending on how close they were to the midterm or finals being due. But more than anything else, I heard people call the course “Peter’s Course.” Everyone knew that this course was Peter’s baby.

The gist of the course was simple yet powerful. Peter wanted future student affairs professionals to take the principles of anthropology and ethnographic research that were typically used to study unfamiliar people and apply those in our study of college students. He wanted us to take what we thought we understood—what we thought to be familiar—and look at it through an entirely different lens. Peter wanted students in his course to understand the different subcultures that existed within the university environment, avoiding the tendency of lumping all college learners into stereotypical categories or generational molds. Masterfully, Peter was able to take very important, often difficult readings about cultural studies and anthropological fieldwork, and apply those to our study of and practice with the students on our campus. It was a brilliant approach—and I don’t think I realized just how brilliant it actually was at the time because I was so freaked out about actually having to take the class.

Peter always loved the frenzy and hysteria that his course created. Not in a sadistic way or anything, but he did find it fascinating that people were so worked up about something that seemed so natural to him. Although, Peter did love the fact that the most challenging course in the program was given the course number “666.” He laughed about that many times throughout the semester, and I often wondered if he indeed went to the University Registrar to request this number for the course rather than having it assigned. Aside from the number, however, Peter didn’t understand why people lost their minds about this particular course. Yes, it was challenging—but aren’t the most important things to learn in life often challenging, difficult, and complex?

I’d love to say I understood this, but when I started in Peter’s course in the Spring of 2012, I completely bought into the hysteria. I was a nervous wreck. The topics looked intense. The readings were extensive. The assignments were hefty. THE COURSE NUMBER WAS THE NUMEROLOGICAL REPRESENTATION OF THE DEVIL! For someone who already felt he didn’t have the intellectual chops to hack it in graduate school, the looming danger of this course was real and paralyzing.

Nervously, I waded into Peter’s course in a corner classroom at McGuffey Hall, and my first experience with Peter in the classroom was not what I had expected. My classmates had filled me in on the academic rigor of the course and how Peter challenged his students to really grapple with the material to understand it and apply it. I had expected Peter to be this expert, this fountain of knowledge, spewing information for two hours and forty minutes every Thursday afternoon in the hopes that we could just retain an ounce of his brilliance. That wasn’t Peter—at all. Peter would often come into class, throw out a quote from a reading we had done, and then he would sit back in his chair with crossed legs and a hand on his chin, saying very little throughout our discussions, and sporadically brushing his long, gray hair behind his ears. On occasion, Peter might probe or push someone on a particular idea or thought if it was unclear. But most of the time, Peter just wanted to sit back and watch the action. There was never a day in all the classes I spent with Peter in which I felt like I was simply and passively absorbing knowledge that he was giving. He was helping us to discover it on our own, always present, gently guiding and shepherding us along.

As comforting as his presence in the classroom was, however, this didn’t ease my trepidation as the midterm due date loomed on the horizon. Peter had given us our midterm questions very early—and they were doozies. Each question was a paragraph long and required us to synthesize multiple readings and apply them within real life scenarios we observed in our work at Miami. Peter asked us to limit the first two responses—to six pages each! The last response need only be three pages, and I had never been so excited to only have to write a three-page paper in my entire life.

As I began to write my midterm, my anxiety got the best of me. I began to panic as sentences refused to form. I would scan highlighted passages from our course materials that I had read and understood in class, and my breath would draw very tight when those concepts no longer made any sense to me. Before I knew it, I was spiraling. I would write a paragraph, read it back to myself, realize it was incoherent, and delete the entire thing, only to repeat this vicious cycle for hours on end. Before I knew it, an entire day had gone by and I had only two pages of a fourteen-page midterm complete. I remember laying on the ground near the desk in my parent’s home and starting to tear up. The voice inside my head just kept saying “See, I told you you aren’t good enough.” It had only taken one course to expose me for what I was—an academic fraud.

I’m glad the voice in my head was overridden by Peter’s voice just one day later. In my panic, I dashed out an e-mail to Peter letting him know that I was struggling extensively with the midterm. He called me the next day, as the due date for the exam was quickly approaching, and Peter talked with me on the phone for nearly an hour, helping me walk through the questions on the midterm and process my thoughts. He didn’t give me the answers. He didn’t tell me what I should write. He just asked me important questions that helped me put my own disconnected thoughts into a more coherent argument. What readings stood out to me as being important? What were those readings saying? Did I see evidence of that in the students that I interacted with as an admission counselor? How could I connect one reading with another and find relevance and common ground between the two? On that day (and many more to follow) Peter did what only the best teachers are able to master: he took complex, seemingly unrelated concepts and showed me why they were important to my work and my own life.

I wrote the midterm essays—not easily, not quickly—but I wrote them. And I submitted them to him. A week or so later, I got Peter’s feedback on the essay. His notes were extensive. Sometimes, they were illegible (Handwriting was not his strongest asset), but once deciphered, they were extremely valuable. Peter gave me positive feedback in the areas where I had earned it, but he also pointed out sections and passages where I might have been able to improve the quality of my work. He gave me this feedback not because it was his job to find holes in my arguments, but because he wanted me to be the best student affairs professional and educator I possibly could be.

I laughed when I saw his comments on the last page of my exam: “Exam Grade: A-. Well done. If this represents your confused state, I look forward to reading your paper on topics you claim to understand.”

Midterm GradeWith just fourteen pages of thoughtful, handwritten notes that were altogether positive, sometimes critical, and always constructive, Peter helped chip away at the feelings of doubt and insecurity that had been holding me captive for that first year of graduate school. For the rest of that semester, I reminded myself of the faith Peter had in me. Anytime a reading was incomprehensible, I read through it twice. If a concept didn’t make sense to me, I asked Peter about it outside of class. I wasn’t trying to impress Peter—I was just trying to live up to whatever he saw in me that I could not see in myself.

I did my best to keep that positive attitude throughout the biggest obstacle of the semester: the infamous Cultures fieldwork team assignment. Peter didn’t just want us to learn about anthropological principles and the value they held in working with and researching college students—he wanted us to live it, and to experience it firsthand. With that charge, Peter divided our class into teams based on the functional areas we showed interest in, and we were tasked with conducting a fieldwork project that ran the entirety of the semester. In our fieldwork teams, we would serve as participant-observers and write a hefty narrative and cultural analysis of the student groups we studied. Fortunately, my group was granted access to the Division I basketball team at Miami thanks to the connections of one of my classmates, and we spent the entire semester attending practices, sitting courtside at games, interviewing coaches and players, hearing post-game talks in the locker room, and trying to make sense of the unique dynamics that characterized this college subculture.

Before graduate school, I don’t think I ever had the desire to write a 60-page paper with two of my classmates. During the process, I don’t think I always enjoyed writing a 60-page paper about the basketball team. I especially didn’t enjoy the night that I locked myself in my office at Miami Middletown putting my finishing touches on the paper until 5:00am the next day—one of only three all-nighters I ever pulled in my entire student career at Miami. But looking back with the perspective I have now, I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much from an assignment in my entire life.

Through that assignment, Peter taught us more than what it takes to write a lengthy and coherent paper. He taught us that we should refuse to accept everyday, ordinary things at face value. He taught us that we should always dig deeper. He taught us that we should take things that we thought we understood and ask a lot of questions about them, because nearly every we would learn that we never knew as much as we thought we did. It was the goal of a masterful teacher, and Peter was that…and so much more.

As much as I remember learning from the intellectual challenge of that course, however, I remember Peter’s hilariously quirky and snarky personality making those nearly-three hour meetings memorable and fun. Peter would do and say things that he likely didn’t intend to be funny, and those things would often put all of us in the class in stitches. Like the day he declared that he was boycotting the Jimmy John’s in Oxford.

Our class started at 12:45 each Thursday, and on most days Peter would order a sandwich from the Jimmy John’s in Oxford as he ran between classes, meetings, and his third floor office in McGuffey Hall. Peter typically ordered a #5 (The Vito, probably just because he liked the name), and even though he ordered a sandwich to be delivered multiple times a week to the same exact location, the driver was continuously getting lost.

“I just don’t understand how you get lost coming to the same place multiple times a week,” Peter exhaled after meandering into our class one afternoon. “I don’t want to have to do this, but I think I’m going to have to boycott Jimmy John.”

“Like, the restaurant?” one of my classmates asked. “Or the guy himself?”

“In essence, I’m doing both. But I hope he takes it personally,” Peter said.

I don’t know how long his boycott lasted, but my classmates and I couldn’t resist trying to serve as peace negotiators. The following week, we went to the Jimmy John’s uptown and ordered a Vito to go. As we walked to McGuffey Hall, we took out a permanent marker and wrote a note on the sandwich paper.

“Dear Peter, This is Jimmy. I miss you. And I’m sorry. Please forgive me for the wrong I’ve done. I promise I’ll never get lost again. Love, Jimmy John.”

When we handed the sandwich to Peter, we got to hear that all-too familiar chuckle as he threw his long hair back, and his face turned red as he laughed about the note. He opened the sandwich and took a few bites. And then, he just turned to us and said he wasn’t sure if the boycott would end, but he’d think about it. One of my classmates, Ashley Korn, even kept the joke going when she introduced Peter at our program’s graduation ceremony

“Okay, Peter,” she said, “I know you hate people talking about you, so I’ll try to make this freaky fast…unlike your Jimmy John’s deliveries to class.”

It was that type of fun-loving, carefree personality that caused students to adore Peter, even though the last thing he cared about or craved was the adoration of others. Only Peter could get students to write 60-page papers about observing the Ultimate Frisbee team or the Secular Students organization at Miami. Only Peter could get students to willingly read books about hegemony and privilege and the principles of ethnographic fieldwork and have meaningful, thoughtful conversations about those topics for hours on end. Only Peter could launch a boycott on a national sandwich chain and make a semester-long running joke of it.

Only Peter.

Only Peter could get me to take a summer course on qualitative research at Miami during the precious months of May and June. My fifteen classmates and I knew we were in for a wild ride when Peter suggested we meet for 8 hours on a Saturday to kick of the class in an effort to knock out a few weeknight sessions. On that long, dreaded Saturday while reviewing the syllabus, Peter informed us of his philosophy on summer courses.

“So, this is a three credit hour course that lasts for four weeks. And some professors here at Miami think that during the summer, you should take it easy and pare down the curriculum and workload to fit within those four weeks. I don’t believe that. So, we are going to do sixteen weeks worth of work; we are just going to do it in four weeks. Sound good?”

For some unknown reason, my classmates and I all nodded our heads yes as our hearts sunk into our large intestines.

Peter was right. Those four weeks were absolutely jam packed. We did four different assignments in that short class, including a participant-observation analysis, a midterm examination, and a 25-page research assignment that walked us through as many phases of the research process as humanly possible in a short amount of time. His reading list for the four-week class was even longer than the list for the Cultures class! I nearly admitted myself for psychiatric evaluation when I found myself thinking that I wanted to go back to EDL 666….

Those four weeks, however, were some of the most important and entertaining weeks of my time in the graduate program. I learned more about the different types of qualitative research methodologies and research paradigms than I ever knew existed. Prior to that class, I had always wondered whether or not I could be an effective researcher; Peter showed me that I could. He took complex and mundane readings about research guidelines and paradigms and showed us how they applied to our everyday lives and the work we were all going to be doing with college students.

Even with Peter’s break-neck curricular pace and expectations for such a quick course, we all found ourselves laughing together on most nights. Specifically, I remember Peter needling one of my classmates over his laptop. My classmate, Travis, had a Toshiba laptop that was a bit…vintage and out of date. On occasion during our class, Travis’ laptop fan would start to buzz and whir, and each time it did, Peter couldn’t resist. He would look at the laptop with a pained expression, like he was afraid it was getting ready to cause the classroom damage.

“Is that your laptop?” Peter exclaimed. “What is that thing?”

I remember him making jokes about Travis’ laptop getting ready to take off or explode; but Peter’s humor was never meanspirited. It was always fun and enjoyable, and he knew how to bring levity to each and every interaction.

Peter had an uncanny way of making the simplest moments fun. During that same course, myself and a group of classmates had to facilitate a portion of the class and share our understanding of the case study methodology. For our task, we decided to do an activity that involved poster boards and markers. I grabbed my markers from the house before leaving for class, and one of the marker packs happened to be a 10-pack of scented Mr. Sketch markers.

Mr Sketch MarkersUpon starting the activity, Peter spotted the Mr. Sketch markers. “Hey. Are these those markers that smell?” he said, not intending to be funny at all, but causing all of us to laugh. He grabbed the markers and went through each one, taking the cap off and waving it under his nose, giving us a play-by-play commentary of each scent. “What the hell is that supposed to be? Lime? I’ve never smelled a lime like that,” he said.

Our class activity continued, and Peter continued to sample and sniff each marker. When my classmates and I were up in front of the class trying to facilitate the discussion, I nearly doubled over laughing when I looked back at Peter in the back of the room. He was in his typical thinking position—leaned back in a chair, legs crossed, and hair thrown back. But this time, he was sniffing a blueberry Mr. Sketch marker with reckless abandon. For our entire class meeting, Peter huffed Mr. Sketch markers while simultaneously teaching us the principles of qualitative research.

And I’ll never forget it—the lesson, or the way in which it was delivered. And if it took me getting my professor high on a Mr. Sketch blueberry marker to get an “A” in a summer course on qualitative research, it was worth it.

To celebrate the end of the grueling four-week course, Peter invited our entire class to his and Marcia’s home in Oxford for a grillout and final class meeting—something that Peter and Marcia did rather regularly when they taught at Miami. We spent a few hours in Peter’s basement study talking about the lessons we had learned about qualitative research over the last few weeks, and then we moved to the back patio where we watched Peter grill hamburgers while he asked us questions about our plans for the rest of the summer. We enjoyed the conversation, and we definitely enjoyed the meal, but there was one thing Peter was looking forward to more than anything else on that evening. He had been talking about it for weeks.

Snow cones.

Of all the things I expected Peter Magolda to be obsessed with, snow cones were not at the top of the list. But he had informed us that he loved snow cones, and that he loved them so much that he had bought a snow cone machine, and all the flavorings, and all the paper supplies, and he intended to make snow cones for anyone who wanted one. And if you didn’t want a snow cone in June in Oxford, Ohio, according to Peter, there was likely something wrong with you.

After plugging in the machine, Peter stood in his kitchen and joked that he wasn’t allowed to make snow cones when Marcia was home because the machine was too loud. With unanticipated glee, Peter then proceeded to make snow cones for each of us, and he was supremely interested in the flavor combinations we all chose and what they said about our personalities. After he made himself a large snow cone with cherry and blue raspberry flavoring, he led us out of the house to return home. One of my favorite images of Peter Magolda is looking back over my shoulder on that night. Peter was sitting on his front porch, in a denim button down and jeans with brown boots, leaning back on his left arm with a snow cone in his right hand, soaking in the rays of a beautiful Oxford summer sunset with a mischievous grin on his face.

There was absolutely no one in this entire world like Peter.

I went on to do a few independent studies with Peter as my advisor, but that summer course on qualitative research was the last time that I had Peter as a teacher in a formal classroom setting. Nonetheless, I learned more from Peter in the years that followed as a mentor, colleague, and friend than I ever thought was possible. He taught me just as much about life outside the classroom as he did when I was in it.

And then, my life shattered on July 24, 2013. Everything I thought I knew and understood came crashing down when I found out that my Father, Scott Bradshaw, had died—a victim of suicide at age 50.

Dad, Lucy, and MeI had heard the news of Dad’s death and collapsed in the front yard before being whisked away by my neighbor, Billie. She took me into her home and sat me on her couch, tending to my grief with love and thoughtfulness. I was trying to process my thoughts and come to terms with the tragedy that was my life without the man who had been my hero, all while our family and the authorities were trying to get a handle on the crisis. After meeting with a detective and answering his questions to the best of my knowledge, Billie asked me who I needed to get in touch with immediately to inform them of the news. I said that I needed to talk with my pastor, Harville, and to my undergraduate mentor and Dean of Students, Dr. Bob Rusbosin. And when I talked with Bob, I asked him to get in touch with Peter to relay the message. I knew that I was going to need a good teacher to help me navigate the valleys of desperation I was headed towards.

Thank God for Dr. Peter Magolda.

Within minutes, I had a call from Peter. And it renewed and refreshed my soul in a time of complete and utter desperation. Peter had a way of doing that, and I thank God for him in that moment and all the moments that followed.

Peter knew that we didn’t have much time, but he expressed how sorry he was. He told me that he knew how much my Dad meant to me and my entire family, and that his heart was broken for the magnitude of our loss. He talked about the interactions he had with my Dad when he and Marcia attended my housewarming party just one year ago, and how friendly and caring my Dad was to him. He apologized that he couldn’t get to the house on that day, because he was in the process of traveling home.

But the next morning, Peter arrived. And I’ll always remember those hours we spent together.

When I opened the door on that morning, Peter walked into the house and wrapped me into one of his familiar bear hugs that I always got upon meeting him or parting ways. When I first met him, Peter never struck me as the hugging type—but when I look back on our interactions together, I remember getting a hug from him every time we parted ways. After walking into the house that morning, he handed me the bag of donuts, and I feebly ushered him into the living room where we both sat on the couch. The blinds were open, and the morning sun illuminated the golden walls of my small living room; but my heart was completely darkened. I was lost, baffled, confused, and reeling from the pain of losing my Father.

Thank God for Peter Magolda.

Peter and I sat there together, and like he had done in so many classes, and in so many research projects, and in so many genuine and loving conversations he had with thousands of students and colleagues in his career as an educator, Peter listened. Intently. With purpose. Free of judgement. Peter just let me talk. And sometimes, he let me sit there silently, collecting my thoughts. When it was appropriate, he asked me questions. He offered encouraging words.

And in that moment, even though the wounds of grief were still fresh and new, I remembered thinking that life would eventually be livable again—so long as I had people like Peter to help me get through it.

Peter stayed at the house that day, not just for an hour or so, but for five hours, and his presence was calming and full of a grace that human words can’t fully articulate. That isn’t an easy thing for anyone to do. A house full of grief and inconsolable loss, riddled with inexplicable tragedy is not a fun and welcoming place to be. It’s depressing and sad; but Peter didn’t care about any of that. He was there for me—and for all of us—when we needed him most.

Peter had met my parents and some of my family before, but his interactions on that day would have led outside observers to believe he had known the Bradshaws for years and years. When my Mom entered the house and saw him, she broke down in tears as she made her way towards him. With a tenderness that I’ll never understand, Peter, a rather tall man, wrapped my tiny, grieving Mother in his loving arms, and told her how sorry he was for her loss. Mom and I sat together and talked with Peter, and when we couldn’t talk because we didn’t know what to say, Peter didn’t try to force or speed along our grief. He didn’t try to give us any quick solutions. He just sat there with us, with the patient understanding that goes beyond all understanding. As more and more family members and friends made their way to my house, Peter had conversations with everyone. He talked with my Grandfather, Vern, for a long time and gave him valuable encouragement. He talked to one of our family pastors, Dave, and they got to know each other in spite of the horrible circumstances that brought them together.

Despite the uncomfortable nature of a house stricken with grief, Peter was there. He was just there. And he stayed there. And him being there on that terrible, terrible day was one of the greatest gifts God gave me in the aftermath of losing Dad.

By the time Peter had gone for the day, many members of my family and close inner circle felt they had known him for years. That was the type of man Peter Magolda was. He was a gentle but memorable presence, and he made people feel loved, valued, important, and listened to. And every bit of that—every single bit—was 100% genuine. That was Peter Magolda, and I’m so thankful for him.

Peter wasn’t just there in that one, crucial, critical moment, however; he was there in all the important, difficult moments that followed, especially during that first year after losing Dad. Although I’ll never forget Peter’s service to me and my entire family on that horrible July morning, it was his compassion and constant attention in the days and years after Dad’s death that left an impression on my heart and soul that still carries me forward. Immediately upon leaving, Peter took it upon himself to communicate with our entire cohort of SAHE students, the faculty on campus, and other individuals I knew at Miami to let them know about the tragedy and the forthcoming services. Peter orchestrated a network of support that enveloped me within days of losing my Dad. He took care of all the things that he could to help to remove a burden from me—and he helped me carry that burden through the weeks and months to come so I didn’t have to do it all myself.

After the funeral services, life started to fall into a new, different, and often painful normal for me. Peter and I had a heart to heart discussion about whether I should continue with my scheduled classes for the Fall or take a semester off, and we both agreed that it was worth a shot. Peter and I both believed that getting back into the classroom, a place that had been very comfortable for me for as long as I could remember, could actually be a healthy coping mechanism—and he was exactly right.

Throughout that first challenging semester (along with the other faculty members in the SAHE program), Peter made it a point to check in on me regularly. Often at the most unexpected times, I would get a phone call from Peter. After hearing the cadence of his familiar greeting (always a simple salutation, saying my name as “TY-ler” with a higher emphasis on the first syllable), Peter would ask me the most basic but important questions that so many other failed to ask during that phase of life. How was I doing? How was my family? Was I taking care of myself? What things were working, and what things made my grieving more difficult? Peter would often talk with me about my church family and how helpful it must have been to have a community of fellow believers as built-in support during those difficult moments, and I would explore some of my biggest fears and doubts with Peter because I felt safe and secure in those moments. I would tell him about my sorrow. I would tell him about my anger towards depression. I would tell him about the guilt I felt in moving on and enjoying life again in spite of losing Dad. All the while, Peter would sit and listen—something that made him famous in both his academic life and his vast personal relationships—and I always, always felt better after talking with Peter.

We spent many an hour on the phone or at a local Oxford restaurant catching up and talking with one another, and in those moments Peter showed me how valuable it was to a grieving soul to be vulnerable. It was over one of those meals when Peter shared his own feelings of grief over losing his Father. He shared how difficult it was to go through some of his personal possessions, but how much those things meant to him—something I had been struggling with tremendously at the time. Peter had an uncanny way of knowing exactly what needed to be said at the exactly right moment.

It was during one of those discussions when Peter had shared with me the influence his Father had made in his love for photography. As if being a stellar, world-renowned academician wasn’t enough, Peter had a talented eye through the lens of a camera. Whenever there was an event, big or small, formal or informal, Peter was always there to snap a picture or seventy of the festivities and all the people he loved. In fact, it was Peter who insisted on taking a few pictures of me in the parking lot of a Frisch’s in Hamilton after breakfast one morning.

2015Holidays-298On that morning, I had shared the miraculous story of recovering and buying my Dad’s truck that had been sold after his death. Peter could not believe that my Dad’s truck had been returned to the dealer on the exact day I had inquired about purchasing a new vehicle, and he couldn’t wait to get a few pictures of me with the truck. He sent those pictures along to me and told me how thankful he was that I had posed for them and shared the story. I had no idea how valuable those pictures would be to me. I cherish them now because of the story they represent and because of the kind-hearted artist who captured them.

Peter Taking a PhotoOf all the pictures he took, however, he would rarely pose for a photograph himself. If you did ask for a photo with Peter, he would often make jokes about how he would only take one, and he would scramble and squirm to get out from in front of the lens as quickly as possible. I look back on those moments, however, and his anxiety over being photographed and preference for being the photographer make perfect sense because Peter Magolda was one of the most humble, other-centered men I have ever met in my entire life. Peter’s academic career was spent observing and telling the stories of others. His works—which were vast and impressive in both quality and quantity—were never braggadocious. Peter wanted to shine a light on those who he felt were overlooked and undervalued. His photography was just an extension of this life calling. He spent an entire life snapping pictures of the people he loved because he knew it made them feel the love they deserved.

The loving heart of Peter Magolda is one of the main reasons I was able to graduate with my Master’s degree less than a year after losing my Father to suicide. Peter’s calls, lunch meetings, and continual encouragement helped push me towards the finish line when my grief was telling me to lay down, to stop fighting, and to give up.

Especially when it came to the phase of our study that every student in the SAHE program dreads and fears: Comps season.

Our program required the completion of a comprehensive exam: a 35-page, 3-question written exploration of our pedagogical philosophy and vision for the future. The examination’s varied questions required that we dig deep into the knowledge we had developed during our entire residency in the program, drawing upon the theories and studies that would inform our practice working with college students moving forward. We were all given about a month to complete this assignment, which often induced more panic because of the extended timeframe. More time to work often meant more time to freak out in the fetal position in the corner of the room. Students in our program talked about comps as if they were a 35-foot monster looming on the horizon, just waiting to tear us limb for limb. “Comps” took on a life all their own. Care packages were sent to one another. I’m sure tears were shed. Laptop computers were smashed in frustration (although I’m sure the whirring Toshiba withstood the punishment). I had seen the anxiety over “comps” take down many a capable and determined student.

Peter never, never understood the hysteria. He and I talked often about the madness that comps seem to create within the cohort, and Peter was baffled. “If you’re reading what we ask you to read and thinking about the material critically,” I remember him saying, “this should be easy.”

Once I started writing the examination, I realized how right Peter was (I realized this about a lot of things in life that Peter had discussed with me). The exam wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I found myself remembering more about the readings than I thought I could. It was difficult, yes, but Peter had taught me that difficult assignments could also be extremely valuable. I submitted the examination with a sense of relief and pride, but also with a nagging seed of doubt that maybe, just maybe, I would be the student that completely missed the mark.

The worst part about the comprehensive examination was not the assignment itself, but the waiting game between submission and getting word from your faculty advisor that you had passed and would, indeed, graduate in a few weeks. On one April evening, word got out amongst the members of our cohort that calls were being made. Within a few minutes, while doing some landscaping work in my backyard, I saw my phone light up with the name “Peter Magolda” across the screen. I threw off my work gloves and leaned against the greenhouse in my backyard.

“Hi Peter!” I said, mixing my excitement with the anxiety of big news to come.

“TY-ler,” he replied. “How’s it going?”

“I’ll let you know in a second,” I replied.

“Oh yeah, that comps thing,” Peter said with feigned interest. “Yeah, you passed. You did a really good job, and I enjoyed reading it. Now, let’s talk about stuff that actually matters. How are you doing? Work okay? How’s your Mom holding up?”

That was classic Peter Magolda—and I loved it. Peter knew what mattered. Although it was a big accomplishment, at the end of my life, I doubt I will be all that proud of having my faculty approve of a 35-page paper that I wrote. But I will be proud of the legacy I left behind. I’ll be proud that, in spite of it all, my family grew closer together during a time of tremendous heartache. I’ll be proud that my Mom and I overcame the grief of losing my Dad to suicide. That’s what will matter most, and that’s what Peter wanted to hear about. On that night, we talked for nearly an hour, just as we did with nearly every phone call we ever shared, and Peter reminded me of the need to connect with one another on a human level.

Graduation day brought many, many mixed emotions for me and for my entire family. Although I was looking forward to the excitement and finality of earning a graduate degree—something I never thought I’d be able to accomplish—this new marker also represented another phase of life completed without my Dad. I felt proud and guilty all at the same time. That guilt was constantly nagging away at me, and as much as I looked forward to the day itself, I was also dreading the ceremony of the entire moment without my Dad.

I walked into Yager Stadium on that windy May afternoon in 2014, and my mind instantly flashed back to my first college graduation in that same stadium in 2009. On that day, I remembered looking back into the stands and eventually locating my family —Mom and Dad and the rest of my family, standing in the stands, waving at me amongst the sea of red caps and gowns. I could picture my Dad—clad in his favorite khaki suit—smiling from ear to ear. I don’t know what he was saying on that day, but I wanted to believe he just kept saying “That’s my boy, my son.”

Now, just five years from that moment, I looked back into the stands and saw my mother, wiping tears from her eyes, no doubt feeling the same painful absence that I was.

I was happy, and I was proud; but above everything, I just wanted to have my Dad back.

After the large commencement ceremony at Yager Stadium, my family and I went to a smaller graduation ceremony that was held for students in the SAHE program. As wonderful as the pomp and circumstance of the big ceremony was for me, it was this ceremony that I was more excited to participate in. During the SAHE ceremony, each graduate got to pick an important person in their life who would deliver a graduation speech to recognize their accomplishments.

Without hesitation, I chose Peter.

Before the ceremony started, Peter came up to me and wrapped me into one of his usual bear hugs. He said hello to my Mother, my grandparents, and my great Aunt, and then he pulled me aside for a second.

“Hey, I thought I should check with you. I’ve got your speech written up here. I was planning to talk about your Dad. That okay?”

“Of course,” I said to Peter.

“Good, because I guess I can’t really change it now anyway,” he said through a chuckle.

Peter Magolda Graduation 2When Peter called my name (same cadence as always), I stood next to the podium, and tried as hard as I could to hold back tears as he talked and shared my story. He talked about how proud he was that I had worked part time at Miami University Middletown all while earning my graduate degree. He talked about my ability to deal with adversity, recounting a story from shortly before Dad’s death when I had extinguished a severe electrical fire in my home that could have caused me to lose my entire house less than a year into owning it.

And then, he told the story of my Father—beautifully, eloquently, and with compassion and love. Peter shared how much my Father had meant to me and our entire family, and how his loss had affected us deeply. He said that my Father would have been proud that, in spite of the trauma, I had still worked hard to earn my degree. And Peter shared how proud he was of me.

Hearing that two of the men whom I deeply idolized—my Father and Peter Magolda—were proud of me was more valuable than any piece of paper the University could bestow.

He stepped back from the podium and gave me a tender hug as tears streamed down my cheeks, and in that moment I knew that I’d never, ever have a professor and teacher as special as Peter Magolda as long as I lived.

Peter Magolda Graduation


I had the honor of being one of Peter’s last advisees. Peter gleefully retired from his faculty role at Miami shortly after I graduated, and he would often joke about how I had driven him into retirement sooner than he had planned. Although I knew that Peter would miss the people that he worked with at Miami, I also knew that he would not miss the bureaucracy, the politics, and the drudgery that can accompany even the most exciting jobs. I always loved it when people asked if Peter was excited about retiring. “Excited?” he’d respond, and then he would pull out his cell phone and open the countdown app that showed—to the minute—how much longer he had until reaching the finish line. He would then make a joke about a number of people at Miami who probably had the same countdown clock on their phones anticipating the moment that they’d never have to deal with him again.

I laughed to amuse Peter, but in my heart I kept thinking the same thing over and over again: Miami University would just not be the same without Peter Magolda. Yes, Peter would definitely miss some aspects of Miami after retiring; but there was no doubt that Miami University would miss him more. His teaching skill, his intellectual greatness, his capacity to think deeply, and his quintessential kindness had all made Miami University a much better place.

Peter did retire from Miami, doing his best to shun the well-deserved attention that folks all across campus tried to shower upon him. He and Marcia moved to a beautiful home in Blacksburg, Virginia, and although our face to face visits grew less and less frequent, they never became less meaningful.

Peter helped me in so many ways, even after his retirement from Miami freed him of that obligation. I’ll never forget his wisdom when I navigated a career crisis in 2016 which caused me to leave Miami, only to return less than four months later. After briefly diagnosing me with Stockholm Syndrome, Peter gave me the confidence I needed to swallow my pride, admit I had made a mistake, and return to a place that had been and would always be home in spite of its faults and my own faults. Peter helped me work through all of those confidence issues, and he reminded me that my work was about the meaning I made of it, not the means that came from it.

Whenever Peter was back in town, we always did our best to get together for a meal and reconnect. Although his dodgy cell reception in the mountains of Virginia could often make it difficult to connect for a phone call, he always found time take an hour or two out of his day to catch up. I so enjoyed hearing about his retirement escapades—his family get togethers, his travels to speaking engagements, his continued research, and his love of spending more and more time with Marcia. We would text and catch up, promising to stay in touch and inquiring about one another’s family. And most importantly, even though years were passing along at a rapid pace, Peter never, ever quit asking me how I was coping with my Dad’s death.

Because of his reception issues, Peter and I had been communicating through e-mail more and more as of late. Through e-mail, Peter and I would trade greetings, articles we thought would interest one another, and I always anxiously awaited each December when Peter would send along his infamous holiday newsletter.

Peter always joked with me about the newsletter and how, each year, he did his best to find the most uninteresting and ordinary things to include in the newsletter. “I mean, who the hell would ever want to read this thing?!” he would say to me every year, laughing about how he had done his very best to include even the most mundane snippets of his life in the newest edition. He would include photos he had taken, conferences and workshops he and Marcia had attended, and well-wishes to everyone who received the letter. He often told me that, although I had always viewed it as a blessing to receive the newsletter, it was probably a horrible, terrible punishment for something I had done in a previous life. “People are probably trying to get me to their Spam folders every year they see it!” he would joke.

As much as he joked about preparing the newsletter, I think Peter actually loved putting it together. Not because of the stories that he shared within it, but because it was an impetus for connection. Without a doubt, Peter’s inbox would be inundated within days of sending out the newsletter, and it gave him an excuse to do what he loved most: to talk with other people and hear about their lives.

This past year, I received Peter’s newsletter, and on the day I returned to work after the holiday break, I read through it with the same frivolity I did each and every year upon its arrival. Among pictures of family and friends who had visited Peter and Marcia in the past year, Peter also included a picture of a black bear captioned “Our Bear” and told readers that this was a neighborhood bear that was currently hibernating. He told stories of Marcia decorating their beautiful home with seven full size Christmas trees, his trip to Jazz Fest and an annual Reds game, and other highlights of the year. I hammered out an e-mail to Peter and let him know how much I always enjoyed reading this newsletter, even if he didn’t understand why people were interested in his life. I told him that I hoped he fed the bear daily, and that it was likely still more friendly than some of his former colleagues in Oxford, and I asked him if he might have time to chat in the coming week.

That evening, I got a phone call—not the call from Peter that I had anticipated, but a call about him. Tyler Wade, a dear friend of mine from our days as fellow graduate students in the SAHE program, was on the other end of the line.

“Tyler,” he said, “I have some horrible news. Peter died today.”

The news of Peter’s death sucked the air out of my lungs. I didn’t even know how to respond. Hours earlier, I had been emailing him to let him know how much I enjoyed hearing updates of his life, and now I was hearing that his life had ended. Peter had passed away, unexpectedly, at his home with Marcia at his side. I was reeling, unable to string together a coherent sentence. It wasn’t just the rug that was pulled out from under me with that phone call; the foundation itself was crumbling. After thanking Tyler for calling, I shared the horrible news with Paige. Then, I sat down at our kitchen table. As the magnitude of losing someone whose life was so important began to wash over me, I began to cry and weep uncontrollably.

And now, nearly two months after his death, I still find myself crying when I think about Peter. I will walk by McGuffey Hall and think of sitting with him in a classroom or his office, and I will immediately tear up. I see his handwriting on the papers that he graded, and I fall apart. I see pictures of him that hundreds of former students posted online after news of his death began to spread, and I wonder why a man so caring, so gentle, and so important is gone from a world that desperately needs people like him.

Peter Headshot 2Peter’s death has not felt real to me; and now, nearly two months after hearing the news, it still doesn’t seem real that he’s gone. I can still hear his voice, his chuckle as he told amusing stories, and his unmistakable dialect. Over the past two months, I can’t begin to count the times when I’ve wanted to call Peter and seek his wisdom. As I continue to work on my doctorate, I want his advice about research topics and resources and dissertation committees. As I navigate challenging circumstances professionally, I desperately want to hear his perspective and vent with him. I want to tell him about my upcoming wedding, and I want to hear all about how much he is enjoying a retirement that he deserved more than anyone I know. I cry when I talk to others about Peter because I already feel the deep pain of his absence, and I feel an unrelenting guilt that I should have done more to connect with him and make our friendship a priority.

But I can’t share those things with Peter, and the finality of his loss hurts at a soul level. Peter’s death still hangs over me because he lived a ridiculously impactful and significant life; and now that he is gone, there is an emptiness to my world that only he could have filled.

My pain is also magnified, however, because of the vital role Peter played in helping me grieve the loss of my Father. There were so many wonderful people that were absolutely essential to surviving my Dad’s suicide and death—and Peter Magolda was one of those central pillars.

I have often said that the God I serve, all-knowing and omniscient, began to surround me with people that I would need to help me grieve and survive long before Dad’s death actually occurred. I firmly believe that God didn’t try to replace my Dad with a single individual, but instead, He created a team of people who each kept a certain element of Dad’s personality alive in my life.

Peter at ConcertPeter was my encourager. Peter was my jokester. Peter was the man, just like my Dad, who reminded me that I didn’t always need to take life so seriously, and that I should enjoy those little moments. Peter was my conversationalist—the person I could talk to for hours on end, never feeling weary or bored because he was so engaged and so interesting. Peter was my processor and my wise mentor. His perspective, advice, and words of wisdom were a beacon of maturity and thoughtfulness to me—a young, often brash, emotionally charged rookie in the world of student affairs and college administration. Peter was my teacher—just like my Dad—giving me guideposts for how to live an authentic, significant life. That was who Peter Magolda was for me, and losing him feels like I’m losing another piece of my Dad all over again; and although Peter never claimed to be a replacement for my Father, he was surely there to be a Father-figure when I needed one most. And Peter, I will never, ever be able to say thank you enough.

That is who Peter Magolda was for me, and I have no doubt that he was that and more to the thousands of family members, friends, students, colleagues, and research participants that he spent his entire life loving and connecting with. My story is unique, but it is not uncommon or atypical—and that is because Peter Magolda was a humble man of influence who would deny he ever made a difference.


Campus Custodians Book CoverIt’s fitting that Peter’s last book—and in my opinion one of his greatest legacies—was an ethnographic study of campus custodians. Peter spent years working side-by-side campus custodians at different institutions across the country, and he wrote a brilliant analysis of the many ways that college campuses overlook, ignore, and diminish the contributions and value these individuals bring to the academic community. Peter believed that custodians were the lifeblood and true loyalists within most college campuses, and he was upset at their lack of recognition as educators and sources of organizational knowledge. Peter believed this because he had worked side-by-side with many custodians doing research for his book, and I believe he wrote this book to give voice to their stories. By the same token, those of you who are interested in supporting Peter’s legacy can contribute to the Peter M. Magolda Custodian Emergency Fund at Miami University (click the “Give Online” link near the bottom of the memorial).

I read the book shortly after it came out, and I found myself smiling and laughing from the moment I started to read. Peter’s opening to that book—which is classic Peter—reminds me why I love him so much:

“For the past 39 years I have worked on college campuses as a student, student affairs educator, and faculty member. Needless to say, I have participated in thousands of icebreakers and acquaintanceship activities, and I abhor them. Revealing my favorite color is hardly the way I forge meaningful relationships with strangers. A common getting-acquainted activity involves answering the question, “Who do you most admire in the world?” I especially dislike this question for two reasons. First, I struggle to pay attention to participants’ responses because I am too busy brainstorming a list of likely responses, like “Gandhi,” “parents,” “Rosa Parks,” or a third-grade teacher. Second, sharing my true response, “Juanita ‘Pat’ Denton,” who was a campus custodian, could mistakenly convey I am mocking this activity. Although I seldom seriously analyze others’ responses to this question, I am intensely serious about my response.”

I think there was likely a third reason why Peter hated these ice-breaker activities. I think that Peter likely hated these types of ice-breaker activities because they forced him to talk about himself when all he really wanted to do in this life was tell the stories of others. That’s what made Peter Magolda so special—a rare treasure. In a world focused on “me,” Peter Magolda led a life that was focused on others. Peter was a storyteller, advocate, and voice for those who deserved to have their stories told. I hope, in some small way, I’m able to tell his story in this new phase of life without him, because Peter’s life matters, and it was tremendously significant because of the choices he made.

In one of the first articles I ever read written by Peter Magolda (“Using Ethnographic Fieldwork and Case Studies to Guide Student Affairs Practice, 1999), he outlined a perspective of his work (which I heard him repeat quite often) that characterized his perspective on intellectual pursuit. The goal of Peter’s work, which he credited to Michael Quinn Patton (1990), was to make the obvious obvious, make the obvious dubious, and make the hidden obvious. When Peter first tried to explain this concept to me, my head spun. As I look back on his life, however, it makes all the sense in the world. In his work and the way he treated others, Peter refused to simply accept what he saw at face value. He wanted to dig deep, trying to affirm the things he knew, question the things that we thought we knew but likely didn’t, and reveal underlying insights that were often hidden from a face value interpretation.

Peter didn’t do this with abstract research subjects; he did this with people. Colleagues, friends, family members, students. Students like me.

And I am a better person because of Peter Magolda.

I’m glad that Peter Magolda saw me as more than what I represented on the surface-level all those years back. I am a better person—and thousands of others are better people as well—because Peter wanted to know more about us. He wanted to learn about our lives, and to see behind our masks into our most personal motivations, doubts, and fears.

Peter had another mantra that he lived his life by, and one that will stick with me for as long as I live. Peter always encouraged us to look at the espoused values of any individual or organization and ask whether or not those espoused values aligned with the enacted values. Did what a person said match what they did? Did they walk the talk they put into the world, and if not, why? Did mission statements actually reflect what was happening in the organization? Were people “doing” instead of simply “saying”?

Each day, I think about that lesson that Peter taught me in my own life. I claim to be a loving, caring individual…but do my actions fully represent that value? Did the terse response I gave at work seem loving? Did my neglect of a loved one represent a caring heart? Did my less-than-loving-gesture to a fellow driver—albeit entirely deserved—reflect the grace and forgiveness I hope to receive from others?

Peter Magolda, even in his death, is challenging me to be a better educator, a better eventual-husband, a better son, a better colleague, a better writer—and a better human being. Peter’s contribution to the world is magnified because he instilled this character calling into the lives of all the students he educated.

And above all, I am thankful that all of the values Peter Magolda espoused—namely love, care, and compassion for his fellow man—were enacted in every single moment of his all-too-short but insanely consequential life.

The legacy of Dr. Peter Magolda lives on in my heart because he put his convictions and espoused beliefs into action, and that life consistency was my most indelible educational moment. He may have spent an entire career telling the stories of others, but for me, Peter’s story is one that will always be worth telling for as long as I live.

Peter Magolda Hug with SB LogoPeter, I know exactly what you would say had I been privileged to share this post with you: “This is entirely too long, and you make me sound entirely more important than I actually am.” I feel as if I could have written many, many more pages, however. Even then I would have been unable to capture the impact your life made upon mine. Peter, you were an educator in every sense of the word. In the classroom, you taught me to analyze, and to examine, and to criticize and better the world around me. In our friendship, you taught me to enjoy life and spend less time worrying about the things that didn’t matter. And in the depths of my despair, in the darkest moment of my life, you helped me see through the walls of grief and loss that threatened to consume me. Peter, I will never be able to say thank you enough for the value you brought to my life and my journey. After losing my Dad, you were a Fatherly figure in my life. You helped council me and offered advice during difficult decisions, just as my Dad had always done. You encouraged me and pushed me with a perfect balance of compassion and motivation, just as my Dad had always done. And just like my Dad, you helped me laugh again. Peter, losing you has felt like losing another piece of my Dad, and even though you taught me how to be resilient and courageous, I’ll always be deeply saddened when I think of a life without you. Peter, your loss has already left a void in my life that is hard to articulate, and there are so many others who loved you that feel the same way. We wish you were still here, because we were all better people when you were in this life. In your honor, Peter, I hope we are all able to carry on the things you taught us. And Peter, thank you for never giving up on me.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us…[If your gift] is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach.” Romans 12:6-7 (NIV)


Writer’s Note: I would like to offer a special thank you to my former classmate and colleague (and former student and friend of Peter’s) Dave Sheehan for reviewing, editing, and ultimately improving this narrative. Dave’s advice, authentic reactions, and suggestions helped to dramatically enhance my writing and recollections of a man we both loved and cared for deeply. I am deeply appreciative for Dave’s time, his generosity, and most of all, his brilliant intellect and kind friendship. Dave, thank you for fighting through your own grief to share stories and important moments from your last conversation with Peter; they’ve helped me grieve positively more than I could ever thank you for.

A Pat On The Head

Life’s treasures are held in the simplest moments, the everyday routines of uncomplicated love. I miss those expressions of love from my Dad the most, and I’d give anything to find those treasures again, because there is indescribable joy wrapped up in those moments.

My Dad was not a man driven by routine—but there was one routine that drove his mornings, and it’s a routine that I dearly, deeply miss.

Out of necessity, my Dad was mostly an early riser on work days. Working as a maintenance technician in a few different steel plants throughout his career, Dad was always required to get up and get going at often odd hours of the day. If he found himself working a first shift job (which he always appreciated), he was often at work by 7, leaving the house around 6:30 or so. During those horrible second or third shift years, he found himself sleeping and rising at very odd hours. As a maintenance technician, however, the hours weren’t always so predictable. Machines often choose to break at the worst time of the day or night, and there were many times when Dad’s cell phone would ring at 2 or 3 in the morning, beckoning him to work for a long shift to make a repair. I really hated the moments when Dad’s phone would ring shortly after he had gone to bed. I knew how tired he must’ve been, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to get a phone call only fifteen minutes into your slumber that you have to come into work.

Those odd hours often put us on opposite sleep schedules. Whether he was on day shift or night shift, it always seemed that he would have to rise and shine at a time when I was sound asleep. If he went in during the morning hours, it was too early for me to get up; and if he worked a third shift, his departure usually occurred long after my bedtime. While Dad was ready to work, I was already asleep—or at least he thought I was.

I was a fairly light sleeper as a child, and there were occasions when my Dad’s relatively simple and rapid pre-work routine would disrupt my sweet dreams. It didn’t take Dad long to get ready, as he would always lay out the familiar navy coveralls with his stitched name that he wore the night before. He would dress, brush his teeth, rub his hand across the now shiny head where his thick hair used to be, eat a small breakfast, grab his keys, and lumber out the door. It was a rather simple routine that reflected the life of a beautifully simple man.

But before he left the house, there was always one part of his routine that was my absolute favorite. Every morning, after he was dressed and right before he left to get into his truck, Dad would quietly make his way into my room. Never turning on the light, Dad would delicately tread across my royal blue carpet, attempting to dodge any stray toys I might have left out from the night before. Finding my bed, Dad would reach down, rub my hair from side to side, and quietly whisper “Seeya, bub.”

Even though I was a light sleeper, I’m sure there were many days in which Dad said goodbye to me this way that I didn’t notice. But some mornings, if he had made a little extra noise downstairs in our kitchen, or maybe dropped something on the floor in the bathroom down the hall, I was awake for the daily hair tussling, even if still dozing in and out. Some mornings, I would return the greeting with a simple “Seeya, Daddy” or “Bye Dad” just to let him know that I loved him and appreciated him saying goodbye to me. But other mornings, being the only little boy who loved attention from his parents, I would close my eyes, pretend I was asleep, and let Dad go on with his routine without letting him know I knew it was happening. There was something pleasant about pretending to be asleep, because it showed me that Dad wasn’t doing this for my approval—he was truly saying “Seeya, bub” to me every morning because he loved me, whether I was able to reciprocate that love or not.

I craved this greeting, even if I didn’t know how much I craved it at the time. On the mornings that I was awake, I would often lay calmly in my bed and wait for it to happen, knowing Dad would leave the house about 25 minutes before his shift was to begin. As a kid, the morning minutes felt like an eternity. But finally, like I knew he would, Dad always made sure he came to say goodbye to me. And it was so special, and so full of love. I used to jokingly think he only came in to rub his hand through my hair because his own hair had disappeared so many years before, but I knew better. It had nothing to do with my healthy head of hair, but everything to do with his overflowing heart.

And then, one day, it didn’t happen.

Every now and then, we all slip from our routines. We forget to floss one morning, or we forget to take a multi-vitamin. We forget to grab our lunchbox, or we leave the garage door open. It happens to the best of us. But there was one day that Dad faltered in his routine that I never let him live down. And to my knowledge, he never did it again after that.

Around the time I started high school, Dad’s morning routine had to be slightly adjusted when we welcomed our new dog into the household. Willow was an Airedale Terrier given to us by our neighbors. They were moving to a condominium in Florida, and knew a nearly 90-pound pooch wouldn’t be happy cooped up in a crowded space. So as much as it broke their hearts to leave their dog behind, it made ours soar because we were able to have a new family member.

Willow brought a lot of joy to our house. She was a lively dog—curious and intelligent, loving but mischievous. I called her “Honey Bear” and she answered to that nickname just as much as her actual name. Oftentimes, I was the first one home each day to greet her after an afternoon of lonely solitude. As I would go to unlock the door, I’d jiggle the handle and wait for a response. Willow, wagging uncontrollably on the other side of the door, would bang her nose into the handle so it would jiggle back on the other side. The clunk-clunk of that golden handle still plays in my mind anytime I open the front door, even though she hasn’t jiggled back for many years. I loved that dog.

But she loved my Dad more. No question about it. I’m almost positive the word “slobbering love affair” was created after watching how the two of them loved one another. Yes, I was the one who let Willow outside after a long, boring day inside the house. Yes, I was the one who fed her every night around 5 ‘o clock, trying not to gag as I dumped horrible, reeking canned dog food into her bowl. She loved me well-enough for those things, but when my Dad came home, it was like I never even existed.

My Mom and I would always comment about how horrible it was to not be the favorite of your family pet. No matter how much we tried to hide it, it hurt deep down when my Dad would get home, because Willow wanted nothing to do with us. Like I often did as a child, Willow would run to the door, wagging more than she ever did with me, jiggling the door knob so viciously that I thought her wet dog nose would be permanently damaged. Dad would throw open the door and go crazy petting her, laying down on the floor so Willow could place her two paws right above my Dad’s shoulder. Then, in something I’ve rarely seen a dog do, she would bend down, nuzzle her long snout underneath his neck, and lay there in her own version of a doggy hug. She showed him such wonderful affection, and he never failed to give it right back.

For the rest of any evening after Dad had arrived home, Willow’s entire attention was focused solely on my Dad. If he moved, she moved with him. If he laid down, so did she. If he went into the restroom, she waited patiently outside the door. And if he went into the garage or outside, there was a form of doggy depression that would set over her entire body. I had never seen a dog worship its owner the way she did. Remember—I was the one who fed her!

My Dad loved to joke that Willow was the favorite child. And one morning, I seriously questioned if he was joking. Willow’s bed was positioned right outside my door and right in front of my parents’ bedroom. A watchdog at heart, it was a perfect watch tower. She could keep an eye on my Mom and me, but most importantly, she could be alerted the second my Dad would wake up in the morning.

In most cases, no matter how early his alarm clock sounded, Willow would follow my Dad around. She became a part of his morning routine. He would let her outside while he ate a small breakfast in the kitchen, and she would come bounding in the house shortly after, often the recipient of his leftovers. Eventually, as he continued to ready himself for the day, Willow would make her way back to her bed, still watching my Dad’s every move.

When Willow joined the family and became my four-legged, Father-adoring sister, she also got a “head pat” in the morning before Dad left for work. He would crouch over her as she lay on her bed in the hallway, rub her head a few times, and say “Bye, pretty girl” or “Bye, honey” or “Bye, favorite child” (okay, that last one was probably made up). Then, as he’d always done, he would make his way into my room, toss my hair around, and give me the familiar “Seeya, bub.”

I loved this routine because it was steady, reliable, predictable.

Until the day it wasn’t, that is.

On the morning in question, Dad’s routine was a little louder than it had been normally. I think the favorite child got distracted by a squirrel in the backyard a few minutes earlier, waking me from deep sleep before I left for school. I heard Dad continuing his routine downstairs as I feigned sleep in my upstairs bedroom. I heard the familiar clang-clang of dishes as he pulled a cereal bowl out of our jam-packed kitchen cabinets. I heard the shoosh-shoosh-shoosh-shoosh of his toothbrushing in the bathroom down the hall. I heard the rustling of denim as he pulled on his coveralls, and the jingle-jangle of keys as he neared the end of his morning rituals. All the while, I laid in my bed, eyes closed but fully conscious, pretending I heard none of his early-morning antics and eagerly waiting for his visit.

The finale was coming—the familiar Head Rubbing of the Children ceremony where the village chief blessed his offspring (human and canine alike). Eyes still closed but mind wide awake, I heard the floorboards creek as Dad crouched down to pet Willow’s head and bid her adieu. Then, pretending to be asleep with the acumen of a seasoned actor, I heard a noise from the routine that was unfamiliar, out of place, and in the wrong sequence. It was the thud/creak, thud/creak, thud/creak, thud/creak of Dad going down the stairs. My eyes flew open and I stared at the red ambient glow of the alarm clock in horror.

“Wait a second!” my mind screamed. “Where’s my hair tousle? Where’s my ‘Seeya, bub’? Where’s my morning goodbye?” I couldn’t go back to sleep! For the first time that I had ever noticed, Dad had forgotten about his only son, and his only child with opposable thumbs at that! I was starting to think this whole favorite child thing might be more than a joke…

I obsessed over it at school, thinking of ways I could get back at him. After getting home from school that day, I stewed a little bit, thinking of how I would bring up this egregious treason with my Dad when the workday concluded. “Stewing” might be a bit of an exaggeration, as I wasn’t really mad. But my Dad and I had playfully teased each other for years about Willow being the preferred child, and I knew that I would have the upper hand for quite some time with this story.

Dad and I loved picking on one another, and this opportunity was too perfect to pass up!

In the midst of my scheming that evening, I heard the familiar click-click-creeeek of the front door. All Willow had to do was hear the first click, and she was off. Her ears would perk up, her head would snap forward, and suddenly she would explode from whatever resting position she had been in, lunge up the stairs, and attack my Dad at the front door. I followed her this time, and stood right around the corner from our front door. I heard him loving all over Willow. “Hi puppy! Are you excited to see me? Yeah? Are you excited to see me? Oh that’s a good girl! Goooooood girl!”

He came around the corner, with Willow tagging along at his feet, and when he saw me he instinctively said “Hey, bub” as he continued to roll through his after-work rituals—sitting his keys on the bench, unlacing his steel-toed work boots, emptying his pockets, and of course, continuing his love fest with Willow.

“Oh, you’ve got time to say that now, do you?” I said with feigned anger. My arms were crossed as I stared at him, doing everything I could not to break character. I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t let my face show it.

“Do what?” he said, realizing it wasn’t our typical exchange.

“You heard me” I said, with the severity of a Wild West standoff.

“What are you talking about, boy?”

“You forget to do anything this morning before you left for work?”

“Shampoo my hair?” he said with a smile. I had to admit, this was a solid comeback. He had gone bald at least ten years before.

“Don’t try to be cute. You know what you did.” I was playing my part really, really well.

“I honestly don’t,” he said, “but it must have been pretty bad.”

I turned up the heat. “You honestly don’t remember forgetting to do anything this morning?”

“No! What are you talking about?” I could tell he was starting to get really confused. I had him right where I wanted him. Vengeance was mine, and it was going to be sweet. And unrelenting.

“Well you remembered to tell some of us goodbye, but that must be reserved for favorite children only.”

He was starting to connect the dots, but I could tell the moment of realization was still a few steps away. His mouth was agape, and he just stared at me.

“This morning, I’m laying in my bed as you’re getting ready for work. You came down the hallway, and told Willow goodbye, and patted her head, and probably kissed her, maybe even on the mouth because you two are sick like that. And then, while the least favorite child is waiting patiently in his bed for a little goodbye, you just take off down the hallway like I didn’t even exist. You said goodbye to the dog and not me!” Boom.

He threw his shiny head back and laughed hysterically. When Dad was really amused, he got a higher pitch to his laugh. It was something I had to work hard to earn—only the funniest of jokes would bring out the high-pitch laugh, and I had just done it in record time. I couldn’t help but crack a smile, while still continuing in my role as the offended and overlooked child.

“Are you sure I didn’t say goodbye? I thought you were asleep!” he said, trying to outrun his forgetfulness.

“Oh, so now you want to try and deny your treason? I can’t believe this!” I threw my hands into the air in an exasperated fashion and stormed into the kitchen while his laughter still filled our living room. “You’re not even trying to deny that she’s your favorite! You’re just trying to get off the hook! Not this time, buddy boy. I’m gonna remember this for a long, long time. The first chance I get, you’re going in one of those bad nursing homes. I’m never letting you live this down.”

“Well, she is a lot cuter than you are” he said, and I couldn’t help but laugh back.

It became a recurring joke between Dad and I, the infamous day when he patted the pet and circumvented the son. I even started telling the story at big family events to try and embarrass him, and the high-pitched laugh never dissipated. He laughed with the same intensity each and every time. It was one of my absolute favorite moments, even if there was a kernel of envy rooted deep within me that was jealous of my “baby sister.”

The next morning, Dad returned to my room with a “Seeya, bub” and an added chuckle, and I made it a point to be awake for that one. I acted as if I was asleep, but right after Dad offered his familiar farewell, I kept my eyes closed and grumbled under my breath “Glad to see you remembered I exist today.” He laughed again, rubbed my hair with a little more vigor than usual, and left my room. As long as I lived in their house, which was longer than most kids, Dad never forgot to come say goodbye to me in the morning. And as difficult as it was for me to wake up early, I loved hearing him call me “Bub” and say goodbye to me because I knew it was love in its purest form.

For years, this became a running joke in the Bradshaw home. I never let Dad live down the fact that he had said goodbye to the dog and not me on that morning, even though he never failed again. We would still joke about it and laugh together thinking about that morning, and I’m glad that we found humor in that moment. We only found humor in it, however, because I never, ever questioned how much my Dad loved me.

As life moves on and tragedies, like my Dad’s death, inevitably happen, you start to appreciate all of the little things you took for granted in life. The simple dinners. The afternoon truck rides. The arguments over television shows. The moments of laughter. The hugs. The head pats. The morning goodbyes. At the time, these things don’t seem as valuable; but as life changes and loss occurs, you realize that life’s true treasures lie in those very moments, those simple interactions.

I desperately miss those morning goodbyes. I think about how impatient I was as an adolescent. I think about all the times that I wished life would move faster. I wanted the wheel to turn faster towards graduation, and then another graduation, and the next job, and the next fun moment; and in those moments, I see now that I was so often looking forward to the “next” moment instead of appreciating the “now” moments for what they were. I’m trying to learn from my Dad’s death, and I’m trying to find ways to give those little expressions of love to others because I know how much they mean—and how much I miss them once they’re gone. I’ll spend a lot more time cherishing the treasures wrapped up in those everyday expressions of love, all the while wishing for just another pat on the head and a “Seeya, Bub” from the man who continues to teach me about life, even in his death.

Sitting in Dad's Lap with SB LogoDad, I know you were a busy man, but it meant so much to me that you would come into my room each and every morning to say goodbye before you went off to work. I don’t know if I told you at the time, but I look back on those moments and realize how lucky I was to be able to start each and every morning knowing that I was loved. I’m so glad that we can laugh about the time that you forgot about me (I’m going to tease you about this on the other side, too), but more importantly I’m glad that the absence of a morning goodbye wasn’t routine for you. Dad, your life routines were based in love for other people. Your interactions with those around you were always rooted in care, grace, and a desire to let people know how you felt about them. I know that I don’t always live this lesson out, Dad, and I’m thankful that I have your life and plenty of those little moments to continue teaching me how to live in love with others. Dad, I pray that you never stop teaching me through your example. I pray that your life is a beacon to me and the multitude of people who knew you, and I hope that we never forget the ways in which you showed love to others. More importantly, I pray that we have a greeting rooted in love when Eternity calls, because I’ve missed you so very much. Thank you, Dad, for living a life led by love. Until I can get another pat on the head (after Willow, of course), seeya Bub.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)

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)

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)

Five Years

“I’ve spent my whole life building up this ivory tower, and now that I’m in it I keep wishing it would fall.” (Josh Gracin, “I Want to Live”)

Five years. Five long, sometimes-painful, seemingly-redemptive years.

It’s been five years—to the day, in fact—since I lost my Dad. 1,827 days full of a multitude of different emotions that I often can’t explain. Five years of heartache balanced by little victories all along the way. Five years of wondering what could have been had July 24, 2013 not happened. In those five years, a lot has happened; and a lot hasn’t happened because my Dad wasn’t here to make it so. I’ll always wish I could turn back the clock and change it.

Dad Holding Me as a BabyEvery single day is difficult—all 1,827 of them; but every single year, July 24 is a date that stares at me from the calendar. It looms in the distance for months, and when it passes, I always breathe a sigh of relief that it’s come and gone. But I know, deep down, that it’s coming again. It will always be there. No particular July 24 has been more or less difficult—just different. But because of the nice, round number, this one feels like a milestone. A milestone I wish I didn’t have to reach.

And, likely incoherently, I’d like to share a bit of my heart with you today.

For this post, I’m doing something that I don’t often do when it comes to writing my story at Seeya Bub, I’m actually writing this story less than 24 hours before I’ll publish it. Those of you who read regularly know that I’m a verbose, wordy guy (this one might be a record). I hope it also shows through that I spend a lot of time on these posts. I do this not out of an effort to impress people who read. I do this because it’s a labor of love for my Dad. I enjoy sitting down and writing for hours at a desk because keeping my Dad’s memory alive is the least I can do to repay him for all the wonderful things he did for me. That being said, I often start working on posts weeks before they’re due. One post could be the end result of 1-2 months worth of thinking, writing, producing, editing, re-writing, editing again, and second-guessing. I try to write weeks (if not months) removed from the publication date so I don’t feel rushed to share my Dad’s story. His story is too important to write about carelessly. I usually don’t have trouble getting motivated to write. After all, I’m doing this for my Dad. What more motivation could I need or possibly want?

Today’s post is different. It’s hard for me to admit this to you, but I’ve been putting this one off for a while, and I’m struggling to tell you why. It wasn’t a surprise. I map my posts out months in advance, knowing what I’m going to write and when I’m going to write it. Sometimes it changes on the fly, but I knew this never would. When I turned the page to the month of July in my planner, I knew that I’d be publishing today. I didn’t know the message, but I knew the title of the post would be “Five Years.” It’s not like this snuck up on me.

Below the surface, I know the reasons why I’ve waited. I’ve been trying not to write this post because I simply didn’t want this date to come. I didn’t ever want to reach a point in my life where I defined time by losing someone I loved, and I definitely didn’t want those moments to turn into ever-increasing numbers. Subconsciously, I’ve been telling myself if I didn’t write this post, I wouldn’t have to deal with the grief of losing my Dad.

img08202017_017_002But guess what? No amount of procrastination could stop that date from coming. No amount of denial could stop me from thinking about what this day represents. This day would come—and yes, it would eventually pass—but the second it did, the clock just begin counting down towards another unfortunate milestone. The next Christmas. The next birthday. The next Father’s Day.

Time is relentless. It is unforgiving and cruel and unabating.

And then, ironically, time also heals. Never fully, and never without first inflicting severe pain, but it does heal partially. Time builds up scars to help us avoid certain elements of the pain we feel, but the scars are always there. We stare at them. We obsess over them. And yes, we feel them.

This has been my life after losing my Father to suicide. A life full of complexity—feeling everything, and at the same time feeling nothing. Wanting time to stop one moment, and then wanting it to speed up the next. Even though I try to do it through writing, it oftentimes feels impossible for me to explain my grief. But in this post, I want to tell you how I feel—honestly, authentically, and without much polishing. I want to tell you about some of the feelings I’ve felt over the past five years. Unlike how I usually write, I don’t have a central theme or focus for this post, other than giving you some insight into what the emotional experience has been like for me. I just want you to know what I’m feeling—mainly because I wish I had known more of how my Dad was feeling.

It’s important that we talk about our feelings, even if there isn’t any other point in doing it than to lift the burdens they have on our lives. I’ve felt a lot of different things over these five years. And more than anything, I just want you to know that although time might change some feelings, there is one that will never change; and that is the unconditional love that I feel for my Father.


I feel shock. At least every day, although at different points throughout the day, I have to face the truth of my Dad’s death. At some point every single day, I have to tell myself, “He’s gone.”

I hate facing that moment head on. I absolutely hate it, but I live with it. And I know I have to do it.

In the immediate aftermath of Dad’s death, this happened almost instantaneously every morning. I would wake up, and the first thing I would think about is the fact that Dad had died. “Dad’s dead,” I would hear over and over again in my head, almost like someone was taunting me. My mind would lock in and obsess over this. It was hard to let that thought go—or maybe it’s hard to get that thought to let go of me. Some days it never did.

Time wears on. And some years down the road, it was still the first thought I had. But on other days, it would sneak up on me. On those other days, I might go for an entire hour before the thought of Dad’s death would cross into my mind.

And I’ll admit that this made me feel unbelievably guilty.

On those days when I was able to live for an entire hour or two and not think about Dad’s death, I felt guilty because there was something inside of me telling me I needed to obsess over it. There was an evil voice inside my head saying “See, he’s only been gone for a few months and you’re already forgetting about him. You’re pathetic.” Unfortunately, I started to believe that voice. How was it possible that I could go for a period of hours without thinking about the man who had given me so much? I knew that I shouldn’t beat myself up over this—that not obsessing over his death was not a reflection of my love for my Father. But our feelings are often very difficult to interpret, and sometimes we listen to the voices we shouldn’t. For a long time, I let that guilt eat me alive. And some days, I’m still living it.

There’s only one type of day that’s worse than this one, however. It’s the days when the shock and truth of Dad’s death completely blindsides me. Five years removed from his death, there will be the occasional day where the busyness of my life distracts me from the reality of Dad’s death. But then, something great will happen. And I’ll reach into my phone, pull it out, and go to dial Dad’s number.

And when it hits me that he’s gone, I completely crumble.

I beat myself up for not thinking of him earlier. I accuse myself of being so focused on myself that I can’t focus on others. I feel guilty and horrible, as if not thinking of my Dad’s death is a sign that his life didn’t matter. I tell myself that I’m not living life the way I should, that somehow I’m not “grieving enough,” as if that were even a thing. I dwell in the self-doubt and accusatory guilt that keeps me from being the man I know God wants me to be.

Eventually, I escape from that prison; but even five years removed from Dad’s death, I still have a really hard time coming to terms with the fact that I am a survivor of a family suicide. Before losing Dad, suicide was always something that happened to other people. Not me, not us. My family was “normal.” My family was “perfect.” My family was the American Dream. Suicide and mental illness couldn’t touch my family.

But it did. And I am one of those people left behind in the aftermath. And no amount of denial will ever change that fact. I still have a hard time telling people that my Dad was a victim of suicide because I don’t know how they will react. I know how judgmental I would have been when receiving that kind of news prior to my Dad’s death, and I don’t want those folks to make false and unfair assumptions about the man he was.

I am staring suicide and my Dad’s death in the face every single day. Some days I deal with it better than others. Some days I don’t deal with it well at all and I have to completely disconnect and disengage. But it’s always there—hovering overhead, continuing to send shockwaves through my system. I wonder if that shock will ever fade entirely.


I feel terror. I’m yelling, even though the rest of the house is quiet.

It’s happened again.

I roll over and look at the time on the clock. 3:26 AM. This was a particular night, but it could have been any night. I know that I’ve just been yelling—likely something inaudible. I’m in a cold sweat, but my face is wet from tears, not perspiration. I can feel how tense my body is, and my limbs are shaking. It’s happened again. I’ve just had to relive everything.

I didn’t want to. In fact, I never want to relive the pain of that day again. But in my dreams, the same memory often invades me. The flashback and vivid memories of the day I lost my Dad.

It’s those dreams—nightmares really—that you wish would never occur which often plague you most frequently. The day I lost my Dad was the most consequential day of my entire life to this point. Horrible? Yes. But also consequential? Unfortunately.

I don’t ever think I’ll stop seeing it, reliving it, and experiencing it in my head—no matter how hard I try.

Honestly, it’s happened less and less over time. When Dad first died, I was waking up in the middle of the night on a fairly regular basis. I was worried that I might never get another full night of rest ever again, because those early nights were so painful.

As farfetched as some dreams can be, it’s amazing how lifelike others are. They can throw you in the midst of a sensory whirlwind that places you back into a particular moment in time. Dreams of my Father have often been like this. I hate to say that I rarely have dreams about all the great times we shared together. Instead, the dream I experience most often is the dream of that horrible day.

When I have this dream, my stomach still turns just like it did on that morning when I heard the news that there’d been an accident involving my Dad. I can feel things and hear things and smell things that don’t even matter to the end result of the story, but I experience them nonetheless. But it’s that horrific 20-second vignette that constantly replays in my mind. I can see my Grandpa walking out of the house. I can feel his strong arms pull my Mom and I into a hug as my Mom sobs. I can hear my Grandpa’s breaking voice when he looks at us, hopelessly, and says “He’s gone.” For as long as I live, I’ll never be able to escape the sound of my Mother’s anguished scream. I feel myself falling to the ground in the front yard, and I feel that familiar sensation of being thrown into the depths of a deep ocean and sinking under the weight of the waves. I can sense a feeling of evil hovering above me. And in my dreams, I feel this all again—just as strongly as I did on the day it happened.

Some memories fade after five years—and the ones you want to fade often don’t.

On this particular night, I rest on the edge of my bed, closing and squinting my eyes so hard, trying to shut out the memory and the pain of that experience. I grab my ears, trying to get the sound of my Mother’s cry to stop. It’s like I’m trying to physically shake this memory free from my consciousness.

But I can’t. At least not immediately.

Before I know it, I’m in a completely inconsolable position and unable to control my own physical movements. I know why this memory continues to haunt me. I know that the trauma of this life-altering experience has burned and branded the sights and sounds of that moment onto my brain forever. Painfully, I know that I’ll always experience these moments to a certain extent.

But I just want it to stop. I don’t ever want to forget my Dad, but I want to forget the moment I lost him. I want to be able to escape the pain this moment causes me, but I wonder if I could ever escape it without forgetting how much I loved my Dad. I’m sure there will be a day at some point in my life when the flashback of losing him is easier to manage. But it won’t make that memory any less intense. It won’t make that memory any less severe. It will just be different. I know I’ll feel different at some point, but on a night like this one, I feel scared. Scared by the ghosts of a past image continuously haunting me, and scared by when the flashback might occur again.


I feel exhausted. “I’m sorry man,” I type. “I know we had plans, but I just don’t think I can do it tonight.”

I can’t even begin to think how many times I had to send this message to friends and family members and coworkers in the aftermath of Dad’s death. Especially after Dad died, there were many people—well-intentioned people—who tried to get me out of the house. They wanted me to get out and do things to try and get my mind off of losing my Dad, and I’ll always appreciate those moments of normalcy I had with them after losing Dad.

But there were some days—many days—when I just couldn’t. My grief kept me in bed. My grief kept me locked in the house, unwilling to face the world around me. My grief kept me disconnected and wrapped within my own darkness.

There were some days when I just couldn’t go to work, because everything at work felt so trivial in the aftermath of losing my Dad to suicide. I would actually grow angry towards my job—a job I loved—because it felt like nothing else mattered anymore. It was weird to, for the first time, feel a lack of desire and passion for my work. I had never experienced this before, and I wondered if I’d ever find pleasure and satisfaction in any activity that didn’t involve grieving my Dad’s death.

Social activities felt that way, too. I knew that my Dad’s death had taught me the need to love those in the world around me, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put that into action. It felt like I should be doing something more important, even if I didn’t know what that “something more important” should have been.

Those nights when I would bail on plans were usually very difficult and isolating. I would lock myself in the house with blinds drawn and lights dimmed, and I would wallow in the grief I felt. I wouldn’t eat, and I’d retreat to sleeping hours and hours on end.

Some of the nights when I did go out, however, were just as bad. It sounds insane to say this, but I often felt like I was wearing this sign around my neck everywhere I went that read “My Dad Died from Suicide.” It was like everyone was staring at me, even though they weren’t. It was like I was the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. I’ve never been claustrophobic, but if there’s such a thing as social claustrophobia, I felt it then.

And there are many days, even five years down the road, when I still have to scrap what’s planned to deal with unplanned grief. I’m learning to be okay with it. I’m learning that grief, just like mental illness, is unplanned and impossible to predict. Unfortunately, I finally understood what it meant for grief to take a physical toll on someone. It sapped and eroded every ounce of energy I had.

If I stayed at home, I was emotionally exhausted. And if I went out, I was emotionally exhausted. It felt like, no matter what I did, I was going to be perpetually worn out from my grief. I worried that it would never end, and to a certain extent, it hasn’t. These days are fewer and far between, but when they occur, it’s like I’m right back where it all started.


I feel angry. “Okay. I’ll be praying for you. And if there’s anything I can do for you or your family, please make sure you let me know.”

I end the phone call with undeniable sorrow. A phone call I’ve had all too often since losing Dad.

It’s a phone call with another individual who has just lost someone they love to suicide.

When I started speaking and writing publicly about my Dad’s death, I had two overarching goals: (1) to try and prevent suicide from happening to anyone else, and (2) to minister to people who are affected by suicide in the scenario that we can’t prevent it. I knew that part of my ministry would be to do something that makes me completely uncomfortable. I would need to talk with people who are grieving and distraught and try to help them make sense of their new world, their new and darkened reality. Prior to losing Dad, I didn’t even like to attend funerals because of how uncomfortable they made me. Now, I wasn’t just watching the storm from the shore; I was driving straight into it. I was saying that I would walk alongside people in their grief, no matter how uncomfortable it made me.

I’ve learned how to be more compassionate. And I’ve learned how to identify with the sorrow of others by feeling it myself. But shortly after that sorrow begins to fade, I get angry.

Not at my Dad. Never at my Dad. In fact, I can say with 100% certainty that I’ve never once been mad at my Dad. I’ve never once held him responsible for his death. My Dad was a victim of suicide, and that’s more than just fancy phrasing. My Dad was attacked by a mental illness—depression. Had he died from cancer, I wouldn’t be made at my Dad. I’d be mad at the cancer. Or I’d be mad at the heart attack. Or whatever other illness might have taken him away. Not at him—and I can’t be mad at him in this scenario either. Yes, my Dad died from suicide; but the root cause was depression. In his right mind, my Dad would have never left us. He wanted to be here to love us, and I firmly believe that. An illness warped his mind into thinking he didn’t matter.

But I do get mad at other things. I get mad at a society and culture that portrays mental illness as a personal weakness. I get mad at a culture that says that to seek help in the form of counseling or treatment is a sign of weakness. I get mad at the culture of comparison that we’ve created that says we must do more, be more, and earn more to matter, when God tells us that none of these things are actually important. I get mad at the unfair pressures that were put on my Dad and everyone else impacted by suicide. And yes, I even get mad at individuals who, I think, contributed to my Dad’s death by putting unfair pressures on him. But more than anything, I get mad at a disease that we can’t seem to figure out. I get mad because I have questions. I get angry because I want to drive down the rates of suicide in our country, and because I know that there is more we can do.

I feel angry because I feel like I’ve been robbed. I’ve told this to God many, many times. He knows how I feel, so why would I ever try to hide those feelings from him? I feel like my happiness was stolen from me on July 24, 2013, even though I’ve been able to experience it in the aftermath of losing him. I feel like a thief came and stole away the promises of all the wonderful things that were to come in my Dad’s life and life of our family. It was completely unnecessary that my Dad was gone so soon, and I feel angry that we didn’t get to have the moments together that we should have had.

As much as I hate feeling this anger, I know that it motivates me. I know that it pushes me do more to try and prevent this story from replicating itself throughout my community. I don’t care to spend hours on the phone talking to people or meeting with them for dinner when they’ve been hurt just like we have. That anger towards my enemy—mental illness—is unrelenting, but I’m channeling it into something that I hope will help others who are hurting.

But I’ve never been angry at my Dad. And I know I never will be.


Even after feeling all of this, I still feel redeemed. “Wow, I had no idea that Dad did that…” I find myself saying this all the time, because I find myself learning new things about him. The fact that I can smile while hearing these stories, even if I might simultaneously shed a tear or two, is a sign that God is guiding his hand over the ashes of my life to bring something good out of it.

It’s strange to say that I feel hopeful, because there were moments after my Dad died when I never thought I’d be hopeful about anything ever again. Those moments when life felt empty could be paralyzing.

And then, a little victory would occur. And I would start to see the redemptive power of God’s love and his work.

There were moments when I would talk with people and they would tell me a story about something my Dad had done to positively shape their lives. People he had talked to—and boy, did he talk to a lot of them. Money he had given to help people when they were down on their luck. Money he had given to causes simply because he was charitable. Tools he had lent, knowing that he would never get them back. Things he had repaired for people even when he had no idea how to repair them until he got in the thick of the job.

I’m ashamed to say this, but it took my Dad’s death for me to learn about him because there were so many good things that he did which he would have never wanted credit for. And when I hear these new stories about my Dad, it’s like he’s still alive. When I learn new things about him, it’s like new life is breathed into his memory.

Sometimes, the victories have been seemingly insignificant; but to me, they’ve held tremendous power. There was the time I went into one of my Dad’s favorite restaurants for the first time without losing him. I was actually able to focus on the great memories we had shared there together rather than obsessing over losing him. Moments when I could drive by his work without breaking down. Times when I could see his writing or go to a softball game and think positively about his life.

Those little victories began to build—one after the next, one on top of the other.

It showed me that God has been working.

Don’t get me wrong—I’ve still got lots of questions for God that I plan to ask him. Why did this happen? Why did it happen to my Dad? Why did it happen to us and our family?

In spite of all my questions, I know this. I know that God didn’t cause this pain, but I do know that He’s building up the broken pieces of my life. I know that he’s bringing lots of people into my life who each take up a mantle of my Dad’s role in my life. He’ll never be replaced, but different people can live out some of his best qualities. I’ll latch onto those people, and I’ll cling closer to Jesus Christ. I’ll listen to His direction, and I’ll celebrate in the calm or in the storm. But as hard as it is for me to celebrate in the midst of a bad situation, I’ll keep searching for those little victories. Dad would have wanted it that way.


I hate this post. I hate it because it’s messy and unfocused and at times confusing.

Which is exactly why I’m leaving it the way it is. The control-freak inside of me who wants order and perfection wants to change it, but I’m letting that go. I’m letting that go because that’s the way our feelings work. Feelings are messy. Feelings are hard to control. Feelings are difficult to interpret and almost impossible to manufacture. Feelings are complicated and sometimes competing, conflicting, and contradictory.

But our feelings are real. And even when they are irrational, they are still very real.

I also hate this post because I could have written for twenty more pages about hundreds of other feelings and still never finish. I used to be a believe that we could classify or typify grief into stages; but now that I’ve had to experience it and live it, I know how fruitless any attempt is. Five stages to grief, you say? It’s not that simple. Sometimes, I experience all fives stages in twenty minutes. On any given day, I feel a hundred different feelings, and they are impossible to escape.

And all of these feelings—every single one of them—are rooted in a deep and never-failing love for my Dad. I can’t even begin to quantify how much I’ve missed him over these past five years. At Christmas, I miss being around the tree with him opening gifts. I miss having dinner with him in the evenings around our family dinner table. I miss watching him get excited about UFC fights and making fun of him for actually liking to watch them. I miss going to Kings Island with him and hearing his familiar scream of “Yeehaw!” as we rode each and every ride in the park. I miss sitting on the couch and watching episodes of The Office with him. I really, really miss those little moments.

I miss the big moments as well. There is no phrase that will capture how much I missed him on the day I proposed to Paige. I can’t even type that sentence without wanting to break down entirely. Gosh, he should have been there. He would have wanted to be there. He would have been smiling from ear to ear and talking about how Paige was too good for me (and he would have been absolutely correct). I think about how much he and Paige would have loved each other, and it bothers me every single day that I never got to introduce them. He would have loved having a daughter, and she would have been the perfect one for him.

I missed him when I graduated with my Master’s degree from Miami. My entire family was there, and it was wonderful—but I couldn’t help but gaze back in the bleachers at Yager Stadium in Oxford to see a gaping hole right next to my Mom where he should have been. I know she felt it too. Throughout all of those festivities, it hurt not having my Dad there. He was always so proud of the work I did in school from the time I was little. It made me believe I could do anything. I miss that reassurance from him.

And I obsess over the moments to come that I know he won’t be around to enjoy. For any of you who knew my Dad, you know that this is the understatement of the century: He would have made an amazing Grandpa. He was already bald and silly and loved naps—which is like half of what you need to make a great Grandpa! But my Dad loved children, primarily because he never let his inner child die. I often think about what it’s going to be like when I have children of my own. I’ll tell them about their Grandpa, but I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to paint an accurate portrait of the man he was. I hope they’ll love his memory as much as I loved him. But it’s unfair, because they deserved him. And he deserved them.

I feel love. And loss. And despair. And temporary relief. And sadness. And anger. And shock.

But all of these feelings—the good and the bad—are rooted in love. Five years have passed, and I love my Dad more and more each day. All these feelings may come and go randomly, but a consistent foundation of love has helped me face these five years one day at a time. And it will help me to face the 50 or 60 or 70 years still to come.

As daunting as the idea of facing that grief might be, it’s what is awaiting me on the other side of that gulf that gives me hope.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the other side of all that grief and sadness, there will be an everlasting love made whole again. On the other side of that grief, there will be a man whom I recognize, smiling and welcoming me into his arms. In that moment, I’ll love never having to say “seeya, Bub” again. That day is coming, although it’s very far off.

Five years. 1,827 days. Each new day different from the last. Each day a little darker without my Dad’s bright smile and engaging charisma. He. Is. Missed. Each and every moment. And in every moment, he is loved. By me, by my family, and by everyone in the world around him that he made better.

I constantly remind myself that, although I’ve had five years of life without my Dad, I had 26 years of unconditional love that inspired a foundation that will live on forever. And Dad spent 50 wonderful years living and loving those around him in ways we should all strive to do. Sure, it wasn’t enough. Sure, there should have been more. But my Dad made a big impact in his 50 years—an impact that some people who live double the age aren’t able to make. His impact lives on in me, and I know it will live on in our world forever.

I’ve survived these five years, and I’ll survive how ever many more come my way. I’ll fight for life because of what waits on the other side of Eternity.

And no matter how long that fight is, I’ll always love my Dad.

Dad Lucy and Me with Seeya Bub LogoDad, I cry so much when I think that it’s been five years since you and I last talked. Sometimes, those tears are unstoppable. We never even went five days in this life without talking to one another. Dad, it really has felt like an eternity—but sometimes your memory is so real and so vivid that it seems like it was just yesterday when we lost you. But I know the real time. I know that it’s been five whole years since we’ve been able to be in your presence. And life simply isn’t the same without you. We all cling to your memory. We marvel at the things you built and the way you provided for our family. We laugh about the funny things you did to make life more fun. But I also weep when I think about how much life you had left to live. Dad, I’m so sorry that you were sick. I feel horrible that we couldn’t do more to help you find the cure you deserved. I’m sorry that you were robbed of the life you deserved to enjoy. I’ve felt so much guilt in losing you Dad. I know that you don’t want me to feel this way, but I just wish there was more I could have done. You deserved that, Dad. You deserved more, because you gave everything. As painful as these five years have been, Dad, I find peace in the truth of Eternity. I find comfort knowing that you are enjoying God’s eternal glory in a paradise that I can’t even begin to fathom. Dad, thank you for watching over me for these past five years. Thank you for never giving up on me—both in this life, and in the next. Thank you for giving me a lifetime of memories and an example of what fatherhood should be. I love you, Dad. I always did, and I always will. Thank you for loving me back. Until I see you again, seeya Bub.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:28-30 (NIV)

“Selfish”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, the radio personality wrote back:

“I can’t disagree.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, you wouldn’t.

And no, we shouldn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it wasn’t selfish.

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

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

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

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

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

“What a selfish act.”

How do you feel? Did it help?

No, it doesn’t—and it never will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paige

This past weekend, something magical and miraculous happened.

I asked the love of my life, Paige Marie Garber, to become my wife.

IMG_0336The greatest miracle? She said yes! And I’m the luckiest man alive to know that I’ll get to spend the rest of my life loving her.

Paige came into my life unexpectedly to say the least. There were so many times and moments where I was cornered by doubt and skepticism when it came to finding love. After searching and searching for the woman that God wanted for me, I was honestly starting to wonder whether or not the gift of a significant other would ever happen for me. I would hear people say over and over again that true love would happen when I least expected it. True love, they said, would come about when I wasn’t searching for it. Every time I heard this, I would laugh and roll my eyes, and nervously curse those people who thought that was helpful for me to hear.

And just like they said, that’s exactly what happened.

IMG_3449I cherish the unexpected when it comes to the way our paths crossed with one another. I know that God has been orchestrating little life moments all throughout my 31 years with the knowledge of eventually bringing us together. I know that God had a master plan, slowly but surely fitting all the puzzle pieces together at exactly the right moment.

Paige has supported me in ways that I can’t even begin to articulate. Life is more exciting and more adventurous because she is in it. She makes me laugh (sometimes unintentionally), and she can put a smile on my face like no one else can. When life has broken me down, she builds me back up and strengthens my confidence. She is the companion I’ve longed for my entire adult life, and being able to propose to her was the greatest honor of my lifetime. Saturday was a day I’ll remember as long as I live.

Saturday’s engagement was full of tremendous happiness—just as the past two years have been filled with happiness since Paige came into my life. When I knew that I wanted to ask Paige to be my wife, I felt that excitement and happiness, but I also felt a tremendous sense of sadness and longing desperation.

Because more than anything, I desperately wanted my Dad to be there. For me, for Paige, and for us.

For those of you who know Paige and knew my Dad, you probably know that they would have been two peas in a pod. They are alike in so many ways, and at times I’m reminded that this is likely one of the reasons that God put her into my life—to fill a portion of the void in my heart that my Dad’s loss left behind.

I often think about what it would have been like to introduce Paige to my Dad. He would have been his usual, gleeful self when he met her. I can see him smiling from ear to ear with that familiar twinkle in his eye when he saw her. I would bet my next paycheck on the joke he would have delivered—“Well, I see you are way out of his league!” He’s definitely right about that. She’s a blessing that I don’t deserve, but that’s what makes it special.

I think about what it would have been like to watch Paige get to know my Dad over time. He would have given her one of his ridiculous nicknames. In all likelihood, he would have called her Paigey-Waigey. And, in all likelihood, I would have rolled my eyes at him every single time he said it and begged him to stop. I can picture the two of them cracking jokes at my expense—likely in regards to my lack of athletic ability—and laughing hysterically with one another. Paige is also a tremendous athlete, as was my Dad. I am a tremendously horrible athlete. They definitely would have done anything they could to rub this in my face. Paige is a cryer when she laughs, and I can guarantee she would have been in tears (good ones) around my Dad all of the time. Whether it was jokes at my expense or ridiculously stupid Dad-humor that my Dad would have expensed, it would have been a life full of laughter around the two of them.

IMG_0253Both Paige and my Dad have a mutual love and appreciation for all things nature. From parks to puppies, Paige has always loved being surrounded by God’s creation. Secretly, I have a fear that I am going to be that husband who comes home and finds that his wife has picked up six puppies on her way home from work because she “just couldn’t say no to them!” (Note to Paige: Mentioning this on the blog is not an endorsement for you to actually do this.) My Dad had a way with animals that I’ve never seen before. Our family dogs always looked to my Dad as their favorite human. My Dad was able to befriend dogs in our neighborhood, horses on nearby farms, and I even have one picture of him petting—yes petting—a baby deer in the park close to our family home. Both Paige and my Dad just loved being in nature. My third date with Paige was at Sharon Woods, and I remember watching an indescribable sense of peace wash over her as we navigated the trails, creeks, and waterfalls (I tell myself it was my presence, not the natural surroundings, that provided this peace, but I digress…). My Dad had that same sense of calm and wonder any time he was in nature—which was often. My Dad would find any excuse to be outdoors, even if his son would claim it was “too hot” or “too sticky” or “too-not-television”. I think my Dad, and Paige, both feel that they are at their best when they are taking in God’s creation—and I’m thankful that they both remind me to slow down, look around, and join in the wonder.

My Dad loved life, and he loved injecting fun into his life and the lives of others in any way he could. Paige has that same fun-loving attitude. It’s one of the many things I love about her, and I love that she’s able to reflect my Dad’s spirit having never even met him. The journey through life with my Dad was always full of fun and laughter, which has taught me to value the wonderful moments in life I’ve been able to share with Paige. It made my decision to ask for her hand in marriage an easy one, but my Dad’s death also made the emotional tumult of this unique season of life even more intense.

IMG_0343All throughout this journey, from the moment I decided I wanted to marry Paige to the moment she said yes, I felt tremendous joy; but it was a joy accompanied by sadness because I really, really wanted to have my Dad there for everything. In each and every moment, I wanted him there right alongside me. In moments like this, a boy needs his father. My Dad deserved to be there for all of it.

There are so many things that a boy relies on his Dad for throughout this life. When my Dad passed away, I knew there were going to be many, many moments throughout my life when I needed his guidance, wisdom, and help. After he died, I felt the shock of his being gone rather quickly. When things would go wrong at my house, I wanted to call him to get his advice…and likely talk him into doing the repairs. When I finished my graduate school studies in 2014, I wanted my Dad to be there to join in the celebration; but he wasn’t there. I wanted his career guidance and advice when job opportunities started to become available, but I couldn’t call him. Every time I had a new announcing opportunity come my way, I wanted to share the great news with my Dad because I knew how happy he would have been.

But he wasn’t there, and he’s not here. He’s not here for any of that. I would obsess over this fact, and every day, no matter how much time may pass, I constantly have to remind myself, painfully, of his absence.

I’ve felt his absence in every moment, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt the weight of his absence as severely as I have throughout my decision to marry Paige.

I knew early on that Paige was the woman God had promised me. I could sense that she was my person—the person meant to compliment my shortcomings, build me into a better man, and journey with me throughout the ups and downs of this world. It didn’t take long for Paige to show me that she was a treasure greater than any other, and although I knew this in the deepest crevices of my heart, I still wanted to be able to talk with someone about how I felt.

I desperately wanted to talk with my Dad.

Don’t get me wrong—I had plenty of wonderful people to talk to about my love for Paige. I remember telling my Mom about Paige on a trip we took to Gulf Shores. I shared how special she was on that night, and in all those nights to come, and she’s loved Paige just like she would a daughter. I was able to talk with other relatives and close friends about my love for this amazing, spectacular woman. I had lots of amazing people who were willing to talk with me and listen to me and help me feel loved. I’ll always appreciate their wise counsel.

But sometimes, a boy just needs to talk to his Father. There is a connection between a father and a son that is unlike any other—not any better, just different and unique. When that void is there, the emotional pain can be very distressing. It’s helpful for young males to get guidance from older males, just like it’s helpful for young females to have guidance from older females. Our trajectories have similarities because men and women are different, and there’s a sense of safety in that similarity. This is why I needed to talk to my Dad. I needed to tell him that after many years of searching, doubt, and questions, God had answered my prayers and given me a wonderful woman that I wanted to marry.

I also wanted my Dad’s advice on how to navigate this journey because he had done it so well himself. I’ll be honest—I don’t know as much as I should about how my Dad came to know that my Mom, Becky, was the perfect woman for him. We never really talked about that in our time together, but had he been around when I decided to propose to Paige, I’m sure he would have shared his story. My Father found the perfect woman for him—a woman who complimented him wonderfully, encouraged him, and served as a faithful partner for nearly 30 wonderful years. My Mom deserved my Dad, and my Dad deserved my Mom. They were two Godly influences in my life they were built to serve one another in very unique ways. They taught me the value of hard work, the absolute necessity of kindness, and the importance of service and compassion. I know that they couldn’t have done this individually. These messages only could have wrung true had they come from both of my parents. It’s no easy feat to pick a mate in this life. In fact, it’s probably the biggest decision one could ever make. I would have loved to pick my Dad’s brain about how he knew my Mom was the woman God had sent for him. We never got to have that conversation, but I’m sure it would have given me solace, peace, and comfort throughout my own journey. Dad would have reassured me with his enthusiasm, kind heart, and unique sense of humor. He would have been the Father to me that I needed as I made that important decision.

But he couldn’t be there, and I hate it.

I vividly remember the night that I bought Paige’s ring. It was the night before Valentine’s Day, and with my chief-negotiator Chris Beatty at my side, we perused diamonds and settings and learned more about precious gems than I could have ever imagined.

The first diamond they showed me was the diamond I bought for Paige. It sparkled beautifully, just like her smile has done since the moment I first met her in 2016. The diamond was flawless, just like I see her. It was a stone worthy of only the most perfect woman, and I wanted to give it to her as a promise that she deserves only the best of me and all the things that this world can provide. That diamond ring, as beautiful as it may be, is still not enough to tell her how I feel about her.

After buying that ring, I remember getting in the truck and driving home. And I remember crying forcefully on that ride home, because I just wanted to call my Dad and tell him all about it. My Dad had been through the process of looking at rings and buying one for my Mom. It would have been so reassuring to hear his story. In fact, had he been alive, I probably would have had my Dad right next to my side as I picked out the ring. Those of you who knew my Dad know that anything he bought was always of the highest quality. From home improvement gadgets to clothes and gifts, my Dad was a man obsessed with quality.

Even though I never got to show it to him, I think my Dad would have been proud of the ring that I bought. He would have looked it over and asked ridiculously annoying questions about the materials to the salespeople, but ultimately he would have been excited to see me, his only son, buy a ring for the girl I love. And he would have done all this because he loved me, and because I know he would have loved Paige.

Shortly after buying the ring, I knew that I wanted my Mom to be the first person that I told about it. Over lunch at High Street Café in Hamilton just a few days later, I shared the good news with my Mom. I told her that Paige was the woman I wanted to marry, and that I had bought a ring to show her my love. We were both extremely happy, but we were also very, very sad in that moment as we thought about how badly we wanted my Dad to be there.

We were sad because we were sitting at a table for two, when we should have been sitting at a table for three.

Yes, the happiness was there in that moment. The happiness for a bright future filled with love and excitement. But you can’t experience that happiness after losing a loved one without simultaneously feeling sadness at their absence. And this, dear friends, was that double-edged moment. This was that complicated moment of undeniable happiness and inescapable heartache, grief, and longing.

And then, of course, there was the proposal. I’ve always appreciated theatrics, and I wanted to do something big and romantic that would show Paige just how special she is to me.

I proposed at the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields (JNMLF), a place that is very special to me, and also a place that Paige has come to know and love throughout our relationship. I serve on the Board of Directors for the JNMLF’s, and Paige has accompanied me there for numerous events. I’ve seen the goodness of her heart as she watches individuals with physical and developmental disabilities play the game of baseball with a smile on her face and a tear in her eye. Watching her there the first time we visited was also one of those cornerstone moments in our relationship when I knew that she had a heart for those who are less fortunate.

So, I orchestrated what I hoped would be a miraculous (and hopefully surprising) night for her at the fields.

After an Oscar-worthy phone call from Kim Nuxhall, I convinced Paige that we needed to stop down at the fields and reset the security system before we went to a graduation party that evening. I had to grip the steering wheel of my truck tighter than I’ve ever gripped it before so she couldn’t see how bad my hands were shaking.

As we approached the fields, Paige and I got out of the truck as I slipped a small, black box into my left pocket. We slowly walked up the stairs to the concession stand under the main pavilion as the sun was setting to our left. Feigning confusion, I looked at the old-school concession board on the wall and said to Paige, “Something looks off on that board…”

Slowly, Paige scanned the board until she saw the message:

TODAY’S SPECIAL

DIAMOND RING

JUST SAY YES

5-26-2018

IMG_0326“Why does it say diamond ring?” she said to me nervously, and then, I placed my hands on her shoulders, and I told her how I felt about her. As I did this, photos of us together began to scroll on the video boards at the fields. Then, I got down on one knee (one very nervous, shaky knee) and asked her to marry me. She said yes, and all the promise of the next chapter of my life overwhelmed me with earth-shattering joy. I was able to envision our life together and see years into the future—and I absolutely loved what I saw.

After we embraced and held one another crying (don’t let her fool you, she definitely cried more than I did…), I rapped my knuckles on the walls of the concession stand. The concession windows flew open, and our families and friends greeted us with a cheer. Even if she knew I was going to propose, I don’t think she saw this part coming! I love Paige for a number of reasons, but her love of family and those around her has always been unbelievably impressive to me. The way she loves my Dad, even though she has never met him and never will in this life, is indescribable. Watching her eyes light up as she hugged each of our family members brought me tremendous joy.

And in my head, as I stood behind her, I pictured what it would have been like to watch her hug my Dad.

IMG_0358As our family members started to trickle out to the after-party, our dear friend Megan took some amazing pictures of us at the fields. As we smiled and posed for shot after shot, Megan asked us if there were any other pictures we would like to get before we left.

“There is one more, if you don’t care…” I said to Megan nervously.

Paige, Megan, and I walked around to the side of the concession stand towards the memorial wall, a spot at the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields that is very important to me. On that red brick wall is a silver plaque graciously donated by Kim Nuxhall and the Nuxhall family that reads “In Memory of Scott Bradshaw”. They donated it shortly after my Dad died, and it makes me feel his presence each time I’m there. Every time I’m at the fields, I walk by that plaque, run my hands across the metal surface, and say a little prayer for my Dad.

On the day when I asked Paige to marry me, the most important day of my life thus far, I wanted to make sure I honored my Dad the only way I know how. With one of his handkerchiefs in my back pocket, Paige and I each put a hand on the metal plaque that bears my Dad’s name: Paige’s diamond-clad hand on the right side, and my hand on the left. I worked to hold back tears as Megan’s camera snapped away. All of the emotion of the past few months and the months and years to come were just brimming at the surface. All of the pent up feelings of loss and despair were right there with me; but so was my Dad’s spirit. I could feel him there with us. I could sense that we weren’t alone in that moment.

IMG_0406

And I could sense, more than anything, that we will never be without him in these really important moments to come throughout our life together.

On the ride home that evening after a party at Paige’s parents’ home, we talked about what a whirlwind of a day it had been. Numerous times, we just looked at each other with surprise and shock and said, “We’re engaged!” We talked about how great it was to have the privacy of the proposal but also share it with our families. Then, I shared with Paige how much I wished my Dad could have been there, and naturally began to tear up. I watched as her hand (much shinier than it previously was) slid over and gripped my forearm. I turned and saw the tears in her eyes as well, as I’m confident she knew this moment would come at some point in the evening.

And that’s another thing I love about Paige. From the moment I first shared the details of my Father’s death with her, she has shown me a compassion and care that surpasses understanding. The sense of nervousness I felt when I proposed to Paige was very similar to the night that I told her that my Father had died from suicide. Having just started to get to know one another for a few months, I didn’t know how she would react. I didn’t know how she would look at my Father, never having known him, with this revelation in mind. But on that night, just like she did in the truck after I proposed, Paige put her arms around my shoulders and comforted me. She understood that my Father was not defined by his depression or his death. She believed that my Father, the man who raised me and loved me into existence, was sick with a disease that he couldn’t understand. Watching and feeling her reaction was one of the most important moments of our entire relationship. It led us to this moment, and it will serve as the foundation of all the moments we have to come during a lifetime of happiness and unconditional love.

IMG_0412Of all the things I’m fortunate to have in this life, I’ve always said I’m most fortunate to be the son of Scott and Becky Bradshaw. Now, I can add one more title to the list. I’m the luckiest man alive because I’ll get to call Paige Garber my wife. Although she never met my Dad, I know that she still loves him—and that’s the greatest type of love anyone could ever give. It’s unconditional, Christ-centered, and life-changing. It’s the same type of love that my Dad gave to everyone he knew. It’s the love I still feel him providing from Heaven. It’s the type of love that sustains, builds up, and encourages in spite of difficult circumstances. It’s a love I wish I could have reminded my Dad of on his last day here with us.

An engagement unites individuals together, and in doing so, it’s brought Paige into my family. I wish, more than anything, that my Dad could have been a Father-in-law to Paige. They would have been a match made in heaven.

But I’m confident that my Dad, from Heaven, is telling Paige just how much he loves her. In that way, he’ll always be here with us. For these reasons, and so many more, I’m thankful for the love of my fiancée, the love of a Father, and the promise that we’ll all be together again someday.

Proposal Hands on Dad's PlaqueDad, You would have absolutely loved Paige. You are so alike in so many ways. I often think about what it would have been like to watch the two of you interact with one another—laughing at the same jokes, enjoying sitting around a bonfire together, and just generally appreciating the beauty and simplicity that life together affords. It would have been one of the greatest honors of my life to introduce her to you, but I would have felt that same honor in introducing you to her. Dad, I desperately wish that you could have been here for our relationship. I wish that you could have given me the wisdom and guidance that only a father can provide to a son when it comes to love and marriage. But even though you aren’t here with us right now, I can still feel your presence. I can still feel you prodding me along and helping me make the right moves in this life. I can imagine you would have said to me soon after meeting Paige, “You better hurry up and propose before she wises up!” And Dad, you’re exactly right. She is more than I deserve and more than I could ever hope for, and I thank God for that. On the night I proposed, and every night for that matter, I’ve wanted to have you in our life and in our relationship. You may not be here with us, but in so many ways you are here with us. Your memory lives on in everything I will do as a husband, and I’m thankful that I could watch your patient, kind example over the many years that you loved Mom and me. You are here with me, and you always will be. I promise that no matter how life might change, I’ll never, ever let your memory go. Thanks for loving me from afar, Dad. Thanks for loving us—all of us. I love you, and wish we were here together. Until that day when we are united again, seeya Bub.

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” Proverbs 18:22 (NIV)

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)