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)

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)

Regrets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Years Go By

Four years.

Four years today.

It’s been four years since that really painful day. Four years since I saw my Dad for the last time. Four years since I heard the fateful words that my Dad was gone forever.

I was recently having a conversation about losing my Dad and I was asked “Does it feel like it’s been four years since he died?”

Yes it does. And no, it doesn’t.

Feelings are complex. And they feel even more complicated in the aftermath of losing my Dad. Questions that I could have once answered easily are so much more difficult now.

I responded to that complex question with a complex answer—the only way I knew how. The only way I honestly felt.

In some ways, it feels like the hours and days drag on, especially during that first year that Dad was gone. Immediately after Dad died, it felt like the hands on the clock had stalled. Days would drag on because my heart hurt so bad. There were times when life felt like a life sentence. I felt like I couldn’t escape the heartbreak of losing my Dad, and there were days when I felt like I was just living to run out the clock. So, yes, I feel the pain of those four years in each and every moment.

In these four years, I’ve had many sleepless nights. Many nights where I lay in bed and stare at the ceiling wondering, questioning, and obsessing over the fact that my Dad is no longer here with me. The pain of those moments is all too real.

But on other days, it feels like the trauma of losing my Dad happened just yesterday. At any given moment—sometimes in conscious wake and other times interrupted with the terror of a bad dream—I can be right back in that moment. I can remember walking towards my parents’ and seeing the police lights. I can hear the sirens. I can see the EMT’s and paramedics rushing around the yard and into my childhood home. I can still hear the terror of my Mom’s cry when we heard the news. I can feel the grass when I fell into the yard. I can remember the sights and sounds of that moment as if it just happened.

I wish I could escape it.

That trauma will be with me for as long as I live, and even though it’s been four long years since losing my Dad, the vividness of that tragedy is still just as sharp as it’s ever been. I expected the vivid feel of those immediate moments to fade and numb with time…but they haven’t. At all.

And then again, I feel like my Dad has been gone for so, so long. I haven’t had a conversation with my Dad in four years, but it feels like it’s been ages since I’ve seen his smile. It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve felt the strong embrace of one of his hugs and his beard would brush against my neck. It feels like its been a lifetime since I’ve felt the calloused skin of his hands as he would rub my hair when he saw me. It feels like eternity since I’ve heard him say “Seeya, bub” to me as he left for work or hung up the phone.

And when I think about that, it causes me tremendous pain because it’s only been four years. Four brutally painful years have felt like an eternity of separation, and that worries me. I have a long life to live on this Earth, God willing, and if the pain of losing my Dad is already this intense, how will it feel in eight years? Or twenty? Or fifty?

How will that pain feel when I get married? How will that pain feel when I have children of my own? How will that pain feel when those children are old enough to ask me about my Dad, their Grandpa? How will that pain feel in all those moments, big or small, when I need my Dad the most?

I can’t answer, because I just don’t know. But I know that the common denominator in all of this is a feeling of loss. A feeling of being robbed from a life taken too soon.

I know this truth: You can only feel tremendous pain if you’ve lived in tremendous love. You can only feel this absence if there’s love that is missing. You can only feel loss because of love. And my Dad loved me. And I loved him.

Yes it’s been four years, but I was fortunate to know that for 26 beautiful years, I lived on this Earth with the shining example of what a Father should be. And I’m thankful that I didn’t just have him here for those 26 years, but that I truly lived life with him for those 26 years. He was more than a Father. He was a Dad.

When I think back over those 26 years, I can’t think of a time where I went for more than a week without seeing him or talking to him. I went to college locally and stayed in my hometown after graduation, so I’ve had a privilege that I know not everyone has in this life.

But there was always one constant when you saw my Dad after a period of absence, be it short or long: a warm welcome home. A smile. A hug. A tender greeting delivered straight from his ridiculously caring heart.

It brings tears to my eyes to think that I might not have always appreciated those welcomes. It hurts my heart to know that I haven’t had one of Dad’s greetings in four years.

But it renews my soul and gives me unbelievable hope to know that the greatest greeting is yet to come.

Yes, I believe that my Dad will be waiting there for me when I eventually reach the paradise that God has promised me in Eternity. I’ll recognize my Dad, but he will be perfect in every way, even though he already seemed perfect to me when he was here on Earth. God promises the miraculous on the other side, so who knows…maybe my Dad will even have a full head of hair?! Selfishly, I hope he’s still bald when I get there. Because that’s how I remember him. I’m sure we will have a good laugh about his head either way.

I look forward to that good laugh. I look forward to seeing my Dad again, and I have each and every day over these past four years.

And I look forward to never, ever having to say goodbye to him again.

When I visualize the journey over these last four years as a physical terrain, I see what God means when he talks about life being full of hills and valleys. The valleys have been numerous and they have been deep since that awful July morning. They have been full of darkness and doubt and anger. And yes, as hard as it may be to imagine, there has been wonderful mountaintops where life has seemed happy again. Of course these moments have been tinged with sadness, but to think that life after loss is always hopeless just isn’t true. Life still has tremendous moments of beauty, thanks to the God I serve.

But there is a common theme in all these four years, whether I slogged through the valley or stood at the peak: God rules over both.

It’s no coincidence that God knew I would need this message on this anniversary. Today, when I got in my truck (always Dad’s truck), I made the decision to abandon my usual morning-news routine and listen to some music. And a song given to me by a friend a few weeks ago came through just when I needed it to remind me that God is always with me, both at the foot of the mountain and at its peak.

The song is Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells, and I’ve included the video here. Would you take a moment this morning, on this anniversary of my Dad’s death, to honor his memory by listening to this song? It would mean the world to me, to my family, and to all those who loved my Dad.

The reality for me is that God has been with me through these four years. And He will be there with me for all the years to come. And I’m thankful that my Dad is with him, and that all the pain he felt on this Earth is completely gone. My Dad is on the hilltop, and he will be there forever and ever.

So yes, it’s been four years. There are days when it’s felt like four days, and there are days where it’s felt like forty years. But the time here on Earth pales in comparison to the eternity I will spend with my Dad. I will never stop living the life he would want me to live for as long as God wants me to live it, but I know that all the pain of these past four years will wash away when I see that smile again.

Dad and Lucy in Pool with SB LogoDad, I hate that I ever had to say goodbye to you. It’s been four years since I said goodbye to you for the last time here on this Earth. I feel the pain of losing you each and every day. I would give absolutely anything to have you back, even if only for a day. For 26 years, you were always here for me, and now that you aren’t I feel the awful heartache of losing you. But I know that I could only feel that heartache because you touched my heart in ways no one else could. You taught me so many important lessons in this life, but more than anything you taught me that love matters above all else. In every moment of every day, I never doubted your love for me, for my Mom, for our family, and to all who mattered to you. You didn’t just tell people that you loved them, you showed them. And I’m thankful for that. The days stretch on without you, Dad. There are days, like today, when it’s all I can do to get out of bed at the thought of losing you. But I know that all of the wonderful moments we shared in our time together here will be completely outshined by the life we will live together in the glory of God’s grace. Thank you, Dad, for everything. I’ll never be able to tell you how much I loved you, but until that day when I try, seeya Bub.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)

Birthdays & Big Days

Yesterday, I hit a milestone…and I hit it begrudgingly.

I turned 30.

I say “turned 30” because “celebrated my 30th birthday” doesn’t properly capture my emotions towards this momentous occasion. It doesn’t properly reflect the terror I feel in my heart. The terror that…like my Father….I might start losing my hair at 30. Not to mention all the other age-induced physical changes one goes through as they get a bit older.

When people ask me if I’m turning 30 and I sadly tell them that I am, they often gush and glow and tell me that my thirties are going to be the best years of my life. They tell me this because their thirties must have been great….and most of the time they aren’t in their thirties anymore. I guess I would think my thirties were pretty darn great if I was sixty. And hairless.

I know, I know. I should be really, really, really grateful that God has blessed me with an amazing thirty years. And that he’s given me a mostly healthy life so that these years will likely continue to accumulate. I am thankful for those things, and I guess that it’s mainly vanity that is keeping me from turning 30 with a smile on my face.

Vanity, yes, but also the fact that every year that passes on is a year spent without my Dad.


My Mom and Dad always made birthdays a very exciting time around our house. Part of this good fortune was likely a result of my only child status, but most of it likely came from the fact that I just had really awesome and amazingly thoughtful parents. I look back on my life and I’m thankful for this: I never had to think about whether or not my parents loved me. I knew they loved me. And they showed it every single day. But birthdays were extra-special.

I remember the birthday parties as I was growing up. A handful of my friends would always join us for a special day, and Mom did most of the planning and execution, but Dad was always there to help and have fun. Some years it involved a trip to a fun spot in our town, like Discovery Zone or Sports Zone. We would chow down on pizza, play arcade games, and run through tunnels and ball pits until our socks wore out. Other times, my parents would turn our backyard into a fun zone all its own, with Mom cooking lots of food and Dad setting up games or piñatas for everyone to have fun with. No matter the locale, it always felt like a special day; and all the while, my parents never failed to tell me they loved me.

I remember the elaborate gifts that my parents would buy for me. Like the year they purchased me a Sega Genesis (every 90’s kid is reading this and saying the “SEY-GAAAAA” jingle). I played Sonic & Tales and Aladdin until my eyes crossed. There was the year I got a CD player for the first time…and I thanked my heavenly Father that I would no longer have to rewind cassette tapes anymore! Okay, I am really starting to feel older than 30 now…

There was the year that my Mom and Dad had bought me a bike and stowed it at a neighbor’s house for safe-keeping until a surprise gifting planned for later that night. Already having dressed for dinner, I sat in the living room in front of our windows waiting for my Mom and Dad to get ready. Suddenly, I saw my Dad hoofing it across our front lawn, pushing a flashy new yellow and blue 21-speed Mongoose. I pointed out the window and looked at Mom with a quizzical face, saying “Hey Mom, am I going crazy or did I just see Dad run across the front yard with a bike? Is that my birthday present?!”

Mom and Dad had a brief “discussion” about how he should have brought the bike over sooner and how he shouldn’t try to hide a surprise by running it in front of our huge front windows, but it was eventually confirmed that, yes, the bike was mine. I remember running my hands across the sleek new frame, grasping the stiff and unused brakes, and pedaling up and down the street where we lived before Mom told me we absolutely had to leave for dinner right then. She promised me I could ride the bike when I got home, and I remember riding the bike that night as Mom and Dad sat on lawn chairs in our front driveway, making sure I got off the bike and stood in the grass every time they saw headlights. That bike and I traversed the trails of Rentschler Park hundreds of times of the years, and it eventually came to Oxford with me, helping me get from class to class and back to my apartment. It was a special gift. Special, and also built tough—I still have it, and it still looks brand new. My Dad always had a knack for picking out high-quality, durable, and usually brand-name gifts. Unfortunately, I’ve inherited his taste for nice (and more expensive) things.

As birthdays accumulated, the childlike whimsy and fun that I remembered was always harder to recapture—but my parents always did everything they could to try and make me feel special. Mom always offered to cook my favorite meal and make me a cake or dessert that I enjoyed. The favorite tastes of my childhood, especially my Mom’s cooking, always have a way to bring me back to a happier place. Both of my parents would always make sure they wished me a happy birthday before I left the house that day, each giving me a big hug. Some years we would go out to a nice restaurant, like the year we went to the Montgomery Inn Boathouse in Cincinnati. And they kept buying me gifts—like the year I turned 18 when they helped me buy a brand new set of golf clubs. The gifts and the meals were nice, of course, but they never outranked the importance of having a wonderful set of parents to celebrate with.

It’s hard for me to think about those great birthdays of the past without thinking of how hard it is to celebrate in a new way now. Without my Dad, it’s just harder to smile on my birthday.

This is my fourth birthday without my Dad being here with me. This is my fourth birthday without having him give me a hug and telling me that he loved me. This is my fourth birthday without receiving a text from him, usually in all caps, that reads “HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOY”. This is my fourth birthday without seeing him at my birthday dinner and sharing a cake or dessert together. My fourth birthday without a card that he thought was funny and without a laugh as he told stories from when I was little.

Birthdays just aren’t the same without my Dad, and there are lots of big days that aren’t the same without him. When I graduated from Miami with my Master’s degree, I was excited to have my family cheering me on in the stands, but I was so deeply saddened that Dad wasn’t there to watch. It was really hard to stop thinking about him that day, no matter how hard I tried to put on a brave face. When I got my current job at the Oxford Campus, I really wanted to call him and tell him all about it and hear his encouragement over the phone. I constantly wish I had the opportunity to introduce him to my girlfriend, but I can’t. There have been so many big moments that I haven’t been able to share with him. It’s amazing how your hurt can simultaneously be filled with happiness and hurt in those moments. This complexity is brand new for me, and it’s hard to understand.

There are big days coming in the future—big days where I know his absence will be even more profound. I think about getting married and not having him sitting in the first row with a big smile on his face. As happy as that day will be, it will also be terribly hard for me because he should be there. He should be there to talk to me right before the wedding and tell me all the important truths he’s learned about marriage. He should be there to tell jokes about how he thought this day would never come. He should be there to dance foolishly and laugh with all those in attendance. But he won’t be.

I think about big games and events that I’ve announced. My Dad was always there for those types of things, but he isn’t there to cheer me on anymore. He isn’t sitting in his typical seat at Foundation Field when I announce. He isn’t there taping and recording games that I’ve broadcasted, showing them to people and telling them how proud he is. My Dad was my biggest supporter, my best cheerleader. But he’s not here to do it anymore.

And of course, I think about having children. If you knew my Dad, you know he would have made a tremendous Grandpa. I can’t begin to tell you how much he was loved by kids of all ages. He was goofy and playful and hilarious. He knew how to make people smile, and he never tired of playing with children when he knew they were having fun. I struggle with this one the most. My Dad deserved to be a Grandpa. He deserved to have a set of little feet run up to him and wrap their arms around his shins. I can’t imagine my Dad being an even better Grandpa than he was a Father—but he would have been. But he won’t be now.

There is a sense of finality that is terribly painful as every year moves on. There are times when I can think about him and smile, but there are just as many moments when I think about his absence and all I can do is cry. As a Christian, I am thankful that I know I’ll be reunited with my Dad in Eternity—but it doesn’t erase the pain I feel right now from our temporary separation.

Since Dad’s death, my “big moments” in life have taken on an entirely new complexity. Those moments that should be happy are often constant reminders of the person who isn’t there anymore. Those big moments signal a new chapter in life, but it’s tough to come to terms with the fact that those new chapters are missing a very important character.

But I’m also reminded that even though he isn’t “here”, my Dad is still with me in these big moments—and he always will be. I can eat birthday cake until I’m sick and laugh because my Dad taught me to enjoy life and eat every piece of cake that is put in front of you. I can show my love for another person because my Dad taught me how to put the needs of others before my own. I will someday have the ability to be a good Father because my Dad taught me how to love unconditionally and parent with a purpose. My Dad isn’t physically here with me anymore, but I try and live the way he did—and in that way, he’s still here. And he always will be.

There are some things that I may have inherited from my Dad that I will gladly surrender—chief among those being the gene for hair loss that begins at the age of 30. But I’m proud to be Scott Bradshaw’s son. I’m proud that he taught me how to overcome life’s biggest trials and tragedies. I just wish I didn’t have to lose him to test those skills.

The little moments without him hurt, but so do the big ones. I will continue to live my life, even though I’d rather live it with him here. I’ll continue to blow out the candles on my birthday, wishing more than anything that he could come back. I will continue aging with grace, just like he always did. And I will continue to vigorously and nervously apply copious amounts of preventative Rogaine, because, after all, I will always be my Father’s Son.

Birthday Photo with SB LogoDad, A birthday just isn’t a birthday without you here to celebrate. I often think about the great jokes you would have had worked up for me now that I’ve turned 30. I guarantee that there would have been some hair growth treatments involved—you should know that better than anyone. As painful as it’s been to blow out the candles on a cake without you for the fourth year, I’m thankful that I got to spend 26 wonderful birthdays with you here. You always made birthdays so special for me, and I’ll always be thankful for your unbelievably fun-loving attitude towards life. You have a new birthday in Heaven now. One that represents the start of your eternal life in paradise. As much as I hate aging, I’m thankful that with every passing day I’m one step close to hugging your neck again and telling you how much I’ve missed you. I long for that first hug, because I know it will be even better than the last one we shared. We are going to have a lot of birthdays to catch up on! And I can’t wait to tell you about every day that you’ve been gone. You’ll always be here with me, even when you aren’t. And I’ll always be grateful that on this day 30 years ago, I received one of the greatest birthday gifts God could ever give me. The gift of loving parents, and a Father who made life worth living. Thanks for giving me life, and thanks for always adding love to it. Until I can thank you in person, seeya Bub.

“It is beautiful how God has done everything at the right time. He has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds. Yet, mortals still can’t grasp what God is doing from the beginning to the end of time.” Ecclesiastes 3:11 (GW)

A Joyful Noise

Some of my earliest memories of music are with my Dad. I used to ride around with him in his blue pick-up, strapped into my child seat. Bottle of juice in one hand, toy in the other, we would bounce along the road as his cassette tapes played through the rattling speakers.

My Dad and I were simpatico in the fact that we both had a deep, appreciating love for country music. I’m not sure when his started, but mine had been around since those early days. Amidst all the things that are memorable about my childhood, I remember that Dad had a mixtape with some late eighties country music on it, and we would ride down the road listening and singing whenever we got the chance. The tape had one of my favorite country songs of my youth on it—“The Church on Cumberland Road”, an old Shenandoah song that I still listen to on occasion to this day. Dad would sing and tap his hands on the steering wheel or beat his hand on the seat. He always took music and made it fun.

I spent a lot of time with my little cousin Jake when I was growing up, and when Dad would drive us around to go to softball games or get ice cream at Flub’s during the summer, the country music still played. Jake was a big fan of another country “classic”, a Tracy Byrd song called “Watermelon Crawl”. Dad would scan the radio dial back and forth until he found the song every time Jake was in the truck with us. Once he found it, Jake would try his best to sing along and we would both laugh as he jumbled the words.

I outgrew that car seat, cassette tapes went by the wayside, and Dad eventually traded that beat up blue pick-up in for a Gray Sierra and then a sleek Silverado, but one thing never changed. Dad always had music on in his truck. The artists he listened to might have changed a little bit over time. By the time I reached high school, Dad and I were listening to a lot of the same country artists: Jason Aldean, Montgomery Gentry, Joe Nichols, Travis Tritt, Shania Twain (you bet we did), and Brooks & Dunn. But his love for listening to music never changed.

And anytime he was working on a house project or fixing his truck in the garage, Dad always had a radio nearby. I was never much help on those household projects, but there was one simple thing that I could master. If a song would come on that my Dad really liked, he would look to me and say “Oh, this is a good one. Turn this one up.” Sometimes I agreed, and other times I didn’t, but I usually always went to turn up the volume knob for him. Or made a snide comment about a song that I didn’t like and criticized his taste.

Although we never had a chance to go to a concert together, Dad was a big fan of live music, too. Our family has always vacationed in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and one year Dad asked if I would take him to the Florabama—a local bar of with a legendary folklore that has been beaten by hurricanes too many times to count. Dad and I sat at one of the wooden tables covered in permanent marker messages of years gone by, and listened to the band that played Southern rock and oldies on that particular night. Dad sang along to the songs he knew, tapping his foot and bobbing his head like all middle-age Dads seem to do in the presence of a live band. It’s the type of move that embarrasses teenage sons worldwide.

Wherever we went, Dad always seemed to have music around him.

Listening to music and creating music, however, are two entirely different things. My Dad was not a musician, vocal or otherwise, in any sense of the word. Dad liked to sing in the truck, but I don’t know how many people truly enjoyed listening. He didn’t have a bad singing voice, but he didn’t have a good one either. He excelled at so many things in this life, but singing wasn’t one of them.

Among many genes, he has unfortunately passed this particular one along to his son. I’m praying that I inherited this gene in place of the “lose your hair at 30” gene, but I’m not holding my breath. I try to sing only when I know my voice will be drowned out because I’m embarrassed that I sound so off-key. I’m always in awe of those who have beautiful singing voices because mine is so unfortunately terrible. Like many other areas of my life, I’m easily embarrassed and overly concerned with what other people think of me—and my inability to carry a harmonious tune is at the top of that list.

Like me, I think Dad probably recognized that he didn’t have the best singing voice. I think that Dad knew what his talents were, and I’m sure he knew that singing wasn’t what God had called him to do as a profession or vocation.

But that never stopped my Dad from having a song in his heart, and one area where I’ll always remember this is in church. Knowing that he wasn’t called to sing, my Dad never signed up to sing a solo in front of the congregation, and he never joined the choir. I appreciated this for many reasons, one of which was that I always got to sit next to my Dad in the pew on Sunday mornings.

In the churches I grew up in, singing was always an important part of the worship service. As a congregation, we would all stand together and worship God together, singing hymns and songs together to show our love for our Heavenly Father.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been conscious of my less-than-harmonious voice, and I’ve always been embarrassed to sing in church. I don’t know why, but I’ve always felt extremely self-conscious during worship services. I wish I could blame this one on my Dad, too, but I can’t…

No matter how off-key he might have been, and no matter whether he knew the lyrics well or not, Dad always tried his hardest to sing in church. His singing voice in church was rather deep, and I can always remember hearing him sing next to me as I stood nervously next to him in the pew. Because his singing voice was so deep, it was almost like the pew would vibrate a bit when he sang. Occasionally, Dad would try and get me to sing along. But I would often shake my head no or ignore his request. But he never let that dissuade him from singing along in worship.

And now, sitting in a pew without him at church, I would give anything to hear his off-key singing again.


I have to confess, I hadn’t intended to write a post about singing; but God has this really weird way of putting a song in your heart (get it?) or a sermon in your podcast list. This week while driving to work, I was listening to Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Texas. Matt has become one of my favorite preachers to listen to since a good friend from the gym recommended him to me shortly after my Dad’s death.

For the past few months, Matt Chandler has been preaching a series on the book of Exodus[1]. In a recent sermon on the 15th chapter of Exodus, Chandler talked about singing and shared the following truth from Scripture that I never knew: There are over 400 verses in the Bible that refer to singing, and there are 50 explicit commands from God for his people to sing[2].

Even though God makes this a pretty black and white issue more than a handful of times throughout the Bible, this is one of those commands that I always try to gloss over or completely ignore. I try to play mental gymnastics and convince myself that God only wanted this command to apply to the people he blessed with a great singing voice, but the example my Dad gave me as a youngster has convinced me otherwise.

In his sermon, Matt Chandler refers to numerous verses, mostly in the Psalms, that clearly say “make a joyful noise”. Notice that God does not say “make a good noise” or “make a pleasant noise”, but instead instructs His followers to “make a joyful noise.” Chandler says “It’s not about you performing. It’s about you receiving. See, that’s the big confusion around corporate singing. No, no, no. We receive when we sing together as a body. We’re not performing…It’s not that God is in need; it’s that we’re in need.[3]

My Dad understood that singing in church wasn’t about whether or not he satisfied the standards of good vocal talent. My Dad knew and believed that singing in church was his way of saying “thank you” and “I love you” to the God of the universe. It was about connecting with God, similar to the way we do when we pray. It was about my Dad telling God that he was open to his guidance and direction for his life. In an imperfect voice, my Dad would cry out to our perfect Creator, asking for God to carry him in those areas of his life where he might have been weak.

I often think of what my Dad looks like on the other side of Eternity (full head of hair maybe?), but I have to confess that I’ve rarely thought about what he will sound like. I’ve rarely thought about the fact that my Dad now resides in a perfect Kingdom where he worships God each and every day. I’m thankful that he had a lot of practice here on Earth, and that he never let his musical inabilities inhibit his love for God.

I know that I should sing because God instructs me to, and I shouldn’t need any other motivation than that. But it doesn’t hurt that I had a real-life, personal example of the need to sing and honor and God. It’s been a painstaking process for me to come out of my shell and sing in the pew at church. There are some days when I do it without hesitation, and others where my embarrassment still gets the best of me.

And on those days, I remember my Dad. I remember that he never once told me, even as a child, not to sing, but instead encouraged me to do it. As a way to honor my Dad while also honoring God, I try and sing when I’m in church now. Even though I don’t always know the words, and even though the rhythm will sometimes get the best of me, I do my best to join in the chorus of the congregation, albeit quietly and still off-key.

And I apologize to the folks who sit near me and have to listen—you can blame it on my Dad.


When my Dad died, I was fortunate enough to inherit many of his things. Although the things can never replace the man, they do help me hold on to the memory of who he was here on this Earth and the impact he had on my life.

One of the things I was lucky enough to take possession of was my Dad’s book of CD’s. Yes, CD’s. The only iPod Dad ever owned was the hand-me-down iPod Mini that he got from me, and unfortunately he wasn’t with us long enough to use it substantially.

It wasn’t entirely full, but that CD book was something I always associate with my Dad. He kept it in the middle console of his truck at all times. Dad was the type of person (very unlike me) who would listen to an entire CD all the way through, and once it reached the end, he would start it again at the top. Then, after a few days of listening to that CD, he might switch to another. Or perhaps he would just continue to listen to the one that was currently in the player. My Dad enjoyed the simplicity of life, and listening to a CD was one of the simple pleasures he enjoyed.

Every now and then, especially on days where the thought of losing him is too much to bear, I’ll pull out that CD book and grab a disc to listen to. I’ll throw it in the CD player of my truck, and although he might not be there with my physically, there are times when I can see him riding in the passenger seat next to me. There are days when I can hear his voice again. There are moments when I swear I can feel the vibration of his thumb tapping the steering wheel. And on those days where it seems like he’s right there with me, I am thankful that for the 26 years I spent with him, my Dad always had a song in his heart and never shied to share that song with those he loved.

dad-in-redhawks-sweater-with-sb-logoDad, What I wouldn’t give to hear you sing another song right next to me. What I wouldn’t give to go back to those days where we would ride around in your truck and listen to country music together. I’m thankful that you always set the right example for me in church by singing along with the worship songs. I’m thankful that you always remembered that singing songs of praise and worship aren’t about us but are about developing a relationship with God. Certain songs come on the radio, and I still think of you. I’ll always be appreciative of the memories you gave me as a young child listening to country music in your truck. Thank you for being a Dad who always had a song of love in your heart. Until we both join the chorus of heavenly angels together, seeya Bub. 

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100:1-5 (NIV)

References:

[1] http://www.thevillagechurch.net/resources/sermons/series/exodus/

[2] http://thevillagechurch.net/mediafiles/uploaded/e/0e5770908_1483456017_exodus-part-17-from-bitter-to-sweet-t.pdf

[3] http://thevillagechurch.net/mediafiles/uploaded/e/0e5770908_1483456017_exodus-part-17-from-bitter-to-sweet-t.pdf

23 Pushups

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but I actually go the gym four to five times a week. And I know what you’re thinking… “Man, you should really demand a refund.”

I joined the LA Fitness in my neighborhood many, many years ago with grandiose dreams. I was hoping to go from chubby to Channing Tatum in about six weeks. I could feel a six pack just lurking underneath the surface of the five or six Frisch’s Big Boys I ate every week. I planned to put in a few hours at the treadmill each week, a little bit of time throwing some weights around and grunting, and before you’d know it I would have to buy all new shirts because my biceps would tear holes in the old ones.

In what is an inexplicable physical anomaly, I can guarantee you that my muscles haven’t even come close to warranting a new wardrobe. Oftentimes, I find myself embarrassingly being outlifted by nearly everyone in the gym, including one hilariously painful endeavor where I dislocated a rib doing dumbbell flys with…well, not much weight. I’ve blacked out on treadmills, slipped from pull up bars, skipped nearly every leg day, and taken it upon myself to provide a nightly comedic act for the other patrons of LA Fitness.

But since Dad died, I don’t go to the gym for the same reasons I used to. Don’t get me wrong—if God wants to bless me with a Herculean physique, I’ll be grateful and gladly accepting of this gift. But if that doesn’t happen (and let me assure you, it really will take a miracle of God), I’ll still keep at it because there’s more at stake than muscle.


After Dad died, I knew that I would need to take some time off from work and my usual routine to get some clarity on the entire situation. I ended up being away from work for about four weeks, which was a blessing that I’ll always be thankful for. My supervisors at Miami made it possible for me to take all the time I needed to recollect and regroup before I got back into my new normal, and I did my best to heed the advice of so many others I had talked to about grief when they told me “Don’t try and rush things.”

The unintended consequence of all this time off, however, was that it gave me more time to sit and think about everything that had happened. As people started to return to the routine of their own lives, I began to have more and more time to myself. And for someone who can easily get lost in the drama and intensity of my own thoughts, this wasn’t always a good thing.

So, by week two I knew that I was going to have to start filling my time with things that were more productive and would occupy both my schedule and my mind. Summer was nearing its end, which gave me plenty of options. I could attend baseball games, or go to the movies, or visit the park and spend some time outdoors.

“Or,” I thought one morning, “I could start going to the gym again.”

Because things had been so busy earlier that summer, the gym had become more of an inconvenience than an opportunity for stress release. Every night, I found myself coming home and reading and working on assignments, so the gym just wasn’t an option on a regular basis.

So to try and get my mind off of all the trauma it had experienced, I promised myself I would go to the gym every day I could. I would show up for a few hours each day and do my best to get active. Instead of obsessing over the tragedy that had occurred, I would go there and challenge my mind instead.

I’m not going to tell you anything new that you haven’t heard from the fitness addicts in your own life, but it’s another voice to add to the chorus: When I went to the gym, I felt better. It was hard to explain because I didn’t know how to feel better having just lost my Dad so suddenly and unexpectedly, but my body and my mind felt better during those hours at the gym than trapping myself in the solitude and emptiness of my house.


A few months later, I would get some clarity on why I felt so much better. I had the privilege of joining my mentor and friend, Dr. Bob Rusbosin, and a few Miami undergraduates for a research presentation at a conference at Florida State University. The conference was on college student values and the concept of wellness, and we submitted a presentation on the research we had been doing on television icon Fred Rogers. As I perused the conference booklet, I noticed an interesting keynote that would take place later in the week. A psychiatrist and M.D. from Harvard, Dr. John Ratey, would be speaking about wellness and health from a medical doctor’s standpoint.

Dr. Ratey is the author of a book called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science Exercise and the Brain (visit the “Library” section of this page for a description and link). At about 9am midway through the conference week, Dr. Ratey engaged in a heavily scientific explanation using phrases related to brain anatomy, neurotransmitters, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and a million other scientific terms and processes that were completely foreign for this particular audience member.

And I was completely and utterly fascinated.

Dr. Ratey says it much more intelligently than I ever could, but the premise of his argument is this: physical exercise benefits the brain just as much as it does the rest of the body.

And for my particular life situation, Dr. Ratey gave an explanation that really hit home—that physical fitness could lead to the prevention of mental illness like depression, thereby also diminishing the likelihood of suicide.

The introduction to Dr. Ratey’s book says it all. It’s a quote from Plato that reads “In order for man to succeed in life, God provided him with two means, education and physical activity. Not separately, one for the soul and the other for the body, but for the two together. With these two means, man can attain perfection.”

Let me give you the best explanation I can of the research Dr. Ratey has done (please keep your author in mind, as there have been episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy that have tripped me up before). And forgive me for the technical description, but please understand–this disease killed my Father. I want to know everything I can about it so I can prevent it from happening to anyone else.

Brain signals are sent via neurotransmitters, or chemicals that send messages from one brain cell to another. Psychiatry has identified three primary brain transmitters that regulate everything the brain does: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. When the levels of these neurotransmitters are unbalanced, mental illnesses can occur. Most medications target one or two of these neurotransmitters, but exercise has a different effect. Exercise and physical activity actually have the capacity to elevate and regulate all three of these neurotransmitters simultaneously.  Exercise also increases the presence of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF), a crucial protein that can help our brains maintain and create healthy neurons. Dr. Ratey calls BDNF “Miracle-Gro for the brain” (I’ll reiterate, he explains this all much better than I ever could, and I would really encourage you to grab his book).

Here’s what all this talk of neurotransmitters and brain chemicals equates to:

  • Exercise helps our cognitive functioning and ability to learn
  • Exercise can help us relieve stress
  • Exercise can be an effective in the prevention or treatment of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and attention deficit (or can help in conjunction with other treatments)
  • Exercise can change the way our brains react to addiction
  • Exercise can help fight off brain-related aging diseases, like Alzheimer’s

Even though there were many factors at work in my Dad’s death, and even though he still had many more years to live, I constantly remind myself that my Dad fought successfully against this demon for decades of his life. I can’t help but think that the extremely complex concepts Dr. Ratey so beautifully articulated were playing out behind the scenes of my Dad’s own brain chemistry, helping him fight off his own periods of darkness for many, many years.


Although he didn’t do a very good job of passing the athletic genes on to his only son, my Dad was often the epitome of an active lifestyle.

My Dad was always an extremely energetic and “on the move” type guy. He was the Father who never got burdened by his son asking if they could go outside and play together—because he was usually the one doing the asking.

“Hey boy, you want to go for a bike ride?” was his common refrain after our family dinners. My Dad loved riding his bike. My family was fortunate enough to live close to a beautiful local park, and my Dad loved riding his bike back through the woods and the trails on a warm summer night. Much more adventurous than me, Dad would fly through the trails on his 21-speed mountain bike, never allowing fear to outweigh his desire to have fun.

Summer nights after dinner were always full of some kind of physical activity, even on days where I knew Dad was tired from a long day at work. Tossing a baseball, swimming in our backyard pool, or taking our family dog for a walk—Dad always found a way to get up off the couch and get moving. But more important than the movement was the smile on his face the entire time.

And Dad, a man who loved people, usually found a way to stay moving in the company of others. For as long as I could remember, my Dad had always played weekly pick-up basketball games with the guys from our church. He loved the competition, and he definitely loved showing the younger players a thing or two as he’d easily outsmart them as he cut to the rim for bucket after bucket.

A true renaissance athlete, Dad was also a tremendous softball player—in fact, the best season I ever saw him play was cut short by his own untimely death. He never hit for power. Actually, in all the years he played softball (over 30), he never hit a single home run (the critical sports announcer in me always reminded him of this weakness). But he was fast, and that gave him an advantage at any church softball league where most of the players had partaken in far too many Sunday potlucks. He could cover ground in the outfield better than anyone. He could turn a lazy single into a double, and usually a triple if the fielder had a poor arm. He would play any position he could, and could usually do it with ease. I was always in awe of his contributions to the team and the seamless ease with which he performed.

Unlike me, my Dad’s mind seemed to clear when he was playing a sport. If you aren’t familiar with my lack of athletic prowess, read….well, pretty much any other post I’ve ever written. Everything just seemed to click when my Dad was active—life was in harmony, completely balanced. He found happiness in the activity, and joy in the camaraderie.

When Dad was happiest, he never wanted to sit still. I was just never sure whether the happiness caused the activity, or the activity caused the happiness. And because I now know how happiness and being active were so intricately intertwined in my Dad’s life, I’ll try and do the same.


Every day, I do at least 23 pushups. I do them with strained effort, and probably incorrect form, but I make sure I do those 23 pushups. The 23 reps are not a random number—there’s a method to my madness.

At one time in this country, it was reported that 22 veterans of the United States Military (particularly the most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) were victims of suicide. This led to the creation of great military support organizations, like Mission 22[1], which provide resources and support for veterans struggling with mental illness. Recent numbers have shown the number is probably closer to 20[2], but even if the number was 1, it would be entirely too high.

I added that last pushup in for my Dad. No, my Dad was not a veteran, but mental illness is the enemy we all fight against, service member or not. Military family or not, anyone who loses a family member or loved one to suicide suffers a similar heartache when those we love leave us earlier than they should. When I do those 23 pushups, I’m simultaneously honoring the people that suicide touches and making sure that it never ever impacts my life in the same way it has theirs.

I’m very aware of my need to go to the gym, because I know that every time I step foot on a treadmill or lift a weight, I’m fighting back against the same depression and anxiety that took my Dad away from me. People say that depression and mental illness are so difficult to fight against because they are invisible—and I agree with this claim. But the things we can do to fight against these unseen enemies are often very visible, and very tangible. Staying active is just one of the many tools I’ll use to fight back against the darkness.

I’ve also found that going to the gym allows me to work through my grief. I’ve made great friends at the gym, Godly men who have listened to my pain and helped me work through it. There have been days where instead of lifting, we’ve stood near a machine together and talked about our lives and how God loves us in spite of our circumstances. I have been able to share things with my friends at the gym and connect with them on a brotherly level that I never would have been able to articulate in any other environment. In the same way that a therapy session clears my brain, I’ve found the same peace and sense of calm after spending a few hours at the gym with my friends.

There are plenty of days where I just don’t feel like going to the gym—and my body is probably a reflection of giving in to that impulse for far too long. But the fact that I don’t feel like going to the gym is exactly why I need to go. As Dr. Ratey has found, every time I choose activity over laziness, I’m boosting my brain’s capability to fire on all cylinders. I’m re-wiring my brain to choose action of victim-hood, bravery over surrender.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying—if you are suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts, a 15 minute sprint on a treadmill alone might not save your life. You should still seek treatment on all fronts, including medical or psychiatric care. You should still seek professional help. You should still talk to someone who can help you in your fight. But physical activity is one “tool in the toolbox” that can help in that fight, and combined with other forms of treatment, it can be a very powerful remedy.

Whether grieving from a loss or trying to prevent your own mental illness, exercise and physical activity can play an unbelievable role in the road to recovery. No matter how pathetic my physique might appear, I’ll always be a staunch advocate that those dealing with mental illness or those fighting through grief should try and find relief by getting up and getting going.

And if all that activity and brain boosting just happens to lead to six pack abs along the way…even better.

dad-mom-and-lucy-walking-with-sb-logoDad, I always admired your energy and vitality. You attacked life and took on new challenges, and you were never that Dad who loved the couch more than he loved spending time with his family. In your life, you always seemed to be able to find a good balance between rest and being active, but when you were active, you always made the most of it and there was always a huge smile on your face. Whether it was riding bikes, walking the dog, playing softball, schooling a bunch of youngsters in basketball, or simply goofing around in the backyard swimming pool, you realized that life was designed to be lived. Even though I didn’t always listen (and boy do I wish I would have), you always encouraged me to get up and get going. You always encouraged me to believe there was life outside of a TV set or computer screen, and since you left I’ve tried to live this out. I’m looking forward to many bike rides together on the other side of Eternity. And if you could talk to the Big Guy upstairs and have him send me a little more muscle mass, I’d be appreciative. Until then, seeya Bub.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1 (NIV)

References:

[1] Mission 22 Website: http://www.mission22.com/#ourcause

[2] http://www.militarytimes.com/story/veterans/2016/07/07/va-suicide-20-daily-research/86788332/

The Walk: Guest Blog by Jeffrey Yetter

Ty: “Huh. They really do have couches.”

When I entered a therapist’s office for the first time, I’m ashamed to admit the curiosity of “Do they really have couches?” had overwhelmed me in the days leading up to the visit. Under the surface, however, my preoccupation with couches was simply masking my complete and utter terror at the fact that I was going to visit a therapist in the first place.

Here’s what you don’t know: that first therapist’s visit came nearly two years before my Dad died. And I’m not, in the least, ashamed to admit it. In fact, I’m ashamed that I didn’t go sooner.

For a whole host of reasons, I was dealing with severe anxiety. A completely bizarre illness a few years back had scared and scarred me so tremendously that my mind had been consumed with a completely irrational thought—something that the doctors couldn’t explain was going to kill me.

For nearly 9 months, I slept about 3 hours a night, usually always interrupted. I lost weight because I couldn’t convince myself to eat. I would obsess over WebMD posts and online discussion boards in an attempt to diagnose myself with something that the doctors couldn’t (let’s save the “Don’t go on WebMD if you’re anxious” discussion for another post). I was distracted at work, I was distracted at church, and I felt so sad around my family because I thought I was leaving them soon that I disconnected and spent endless hours in solitude.

Until finally, I broke down. In a moment of weakness, I confessed all the anxiety to my Mom and Dad, and scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the next week. My doctor, in an effort to rid me of the dark thoughts in my mind, agreed to run every test imaginable to show me that I was perfectly healthy, which she did. She walked through the original diagnosis from the previous hospital stay, and confirmed the results of what the doctors had eventually settled on. And then, she gave me a different type of prescription.

“I think it would be a good idea for you to go visit a therapist. I have someone in mind.”

Enter Jeff Yetter—a man who God knew I would need in that moment and the many moments to come. At the time, I don’t think I quite understood why God was leading me to go see a therapist, and I definitely didn’t understand why He was putting me through this unnecessary storm.

Now, I have perspective, and just like my Bible has promised, God works everything together for a purpose. That period of anxiety led me to go see Jeff, and I’m convinced that God allowed me to experience that so that I would have Jeff in my life when Dad’s death would strike a while later. Even in the midst of the storm, God is always in control, and having Jeff in my life convinced me of that more than anything.

When I started this blog, I knew that I wanted Jeff to be the first guest post. Yes, because of his knowledge of mental illness. Yes, because of his personal experience with my story. Yes, because he is a clinician that can provide help to so many people who need it. But most importantly, I wanted Jeff to write because he is a man who cares. He is a man who counters every negative stereotype that might exist about the counseling profession. If all the people who hesitate to go to therapy could just meet Jeff, I’m convinced they would change their minds—and Jeff would help heal theirs. Hearing Jeff talk about my own experience gives me so much clarity, and his writing will provide comfort to so many people who are hurting or lost.


Jeff: Before I begin, I want to offer a “qualifier” to my effort here. This is my first ever blog entry. I’ve written professionally before, but never in such a precious capacity. When Tyler asked me to be a “guest blogger” in this space, speaking on such a personal and powerful topic, to say I was honored would be a tremendous understatement. I am honored and blessed to participate in this amazing undertaking, authored by a loving son who so tragically lost his amazing father. So, bear with me, as this is my first foray into the blogging world, and I want to do both Tyler and his father proud with my effort.

That First Visit…
When I noticed that Tyler Bradshaw was on the schedule to see me on August 1, 2013, I thought to myself, “Cool, Tyler is coming in. It’ll be really good to see him. It’s been awhile”. Yep, I’m a clinician, and I actually like my patients. Love them, really.

You see, I’d seen Tyler in the past for a handful of visits for some stuff he was going through at that time, and we had a good rapport, he seemed to like the therapeutic techniques I use, and we shared a love of baseball, so I was genuinely looking forward to “catching up” with him.

So, at 11:45am, I greeted Tyler in the Waiting Room, and escorted him down to my lower level office. As we greeted in my office, and before he sat down on my sofa, I could see that something was “different”. See, Tyler is a very warm and friendly young man. Not “phony” friendly or “overly-gregarious” to where you would doubt his sincerity, but genuinely friendly. Kind. Loving. The type of person with whom you immediately feel at-ease. Always quick with a kind smile and a genuine, “How are you doing?” But this day was different. The usual smile and friendly greeting were replaced with vacant eyes, desperately trying to hold back tears, and looking “distant” and “lost”. I said, in a voice that did not conceal my concern, something to the effect of, “Welcome back, brother. What’s going on?” And that’s when Tyler, this amazing, smart, kind, genuine, loving, and eloquent young man, began to disclose to me the details of his father taking his own life, just one week before this visit.

Disbelief
Tyler’s Dad?? What??? I found myself, a clinician of 20+ years at the time, trying to make sense of this, asking myself if I’d heard him accurately. But I could see everything in Tyler’s face. His friend, his mentor, his hero, his comedian, his confidant…his Dad, was gone, and in the most tragic and traumatic way imaginable. I know there’s a brief “Bio” of my academic and professional history below, but I can tell you as a clinician and as a human being that nothing, NOTHING, prepares you for what was being discussed in my office that day. And, I can tell you that, in an instant, my entire heart, mind, and spirit went out to Tyler and his family and everyone affected by this tragedy. And in that very moment, Tyler and I began what he and I have referred to as “our walk” through this heart-wrenching journey. A day at a time. A session at a time. Through tears, and pain. Through occasional smiles and a bit of laughter. All of it. This was to be “our walk”, and I am a better person for having accompanied Tyler thus far on this journey.

The Walk
In this first guest blog, I wanted to give an account as to how Tyler and I began “our walk”, through this incredibly tragic and painful event in his young life. But as a clinician, I would also like to speak to the importance and necessity of reaching out for help.

Tyler has asked that I “guest blog” in the future, and as was the case in this instance, I am honored to do so. In future offerings, I will directly speak to “walking” through and seeking help during times when it does not seem possible to crawl, much less walk. But for now, I will say this: we are all hurting in some way or another. Our pain is “ours”. It is unique to us in that we are “experiencing” it. It is “ours”. We feel it ourselves, we behave relative to it, ourselves.

But we are not alone. We are never alone. There is someone who cares. Someone who will talk. Someone who will listen. Someone who will validate. Someone who will hug. Someone who will simply “be” with us. Family, friends, clergy, professionals—someone. You are never alone. Please do not hesitate to contact a local agency or office, if you are hurting. Talk to a friend. Someone. You are not alone. You matter, and you are worthy. And you are worthy because you matter.

Until we speak again,
Jeff

“I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)


Ty: Jeff’s therapeutic approach helped me because he didn’t offer to snap his fingers and instantly make things better. He didn’t give me a list of five things I needed to do to make life better. He recognized the hurt, he validated it, and acknowledged that the pain was real.

But he did offer a remedy. Not a quick fix, not a magic wand, but something better. He just offered to be there. He offered to listen and give me honest feedback. He offered to pick me up when I got low and carry me through, “arm in arm” as he’s said so many times during our visits.

There is a stigma in our country, particularly among males, that this type of “arm in arm” walk somehow reveals weakness. More than anything, I want this post and Jeff’s future writing to reveal an important truth: Seeking help when you need it is one of the most courageous and brave things you’ll ever do.

I don’t fault my Dad for his death, but he was a victim of this societal mentality. My Dad, the man who deserved this type of loving treatment most, could never bring himself to seek it out. Ironically, our family doctor had recommended that my Dad go visit Jeff—the same therapist who is helping me in the aftermath of Dad’s death. I’m confident that Jeff and my Dad would have been great buddies, and wish they could have had the opportunity to meet. For both of their sake.

I author this blog for many reasons, one of which is to reach out to people who are suffering from mental illness to let them know that getting help from someone who deals with these issues specifically is of paramount importance. Reaching out to a counselor, like Jeff, in your area could be the difference between a lifetime of darkness and finding the light. Yes, my Dad’s story here on Earth didn’t end the way we wanted it to—but yours can have a different ending. Your loved ones can be different. In future posts, Jeff will do so many things to help us all have a better understanding of mental illness, grief, God’s love, and so many other things. But in this first post, let’s all agree that when we need help, no matter the public perception, we will ask for it.

And in case you needed more convincing…the couches are super comfortable.

dad-and-lucy-poolside-with-sb-logoDad, I would never fault you for the sickness you experienced, but I sure wish we could have gotten you the right treatment you needed. You had so much to live for and experience, and I know that Jeff could have helped you fight off the demons and doubts you were facing. I’m still learning from you even after you’re gone, and because I love you I promise that I will always get help when I need it. I’ll never let my emotions overwhelm the plan God has for my life, and I’ll always encourage other people to get help when they need it. If nothing else, you would have loved talking baseball with Jeff. I’d give anything to see the two of you meet—and someday you will. But for now, seeya Bub.

“So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:7 (NIV)

jeff-yetter-headshotJeffrey Yetter, M.Ed., LPCC
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Jeff Yetter has practiced in the field of counseling and psychotherapy for the past 24 years. He has worked in both the public and private sector, and is currently in Private Practice in Middletown, Ohio. Jeff has also been an Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School of Counseling at Xavier University. Academically, Jeff completed his undergraduate study at the  College of Mount Saint Joseph (now, MSJ University) in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He completed his Master’s Degree in Agency and Community Counseling at Xavier University. He completed his Post-Master’s Endorsement in Clinical Counseling at Xavier University as well.

Shockwaves

“He’s gone.”

My body had never experienced a physical response like it did in that moment. It was as if every bone in my entire body had suddenly disappeared. Against my own desire to forget, I remember that moment very vividly. I grabbed the Kentucky hat I had thrown on that morning and threw it violently across the front yard. I collapsed onto the grass and began to sob. Everything had gone black. My Dad was gone, and so were my senses.

I remember hearing my Mom screaming. I remember hearing my Grandpa attempt to corral the chaos that was enveloping in our front yard. But before I knew it, the sounds were drifting away. It was almost as if I was under water—I knew there was noise and commotion, but I couldn’t make out or process what any of it was. Everything sounded muffled as the sea of emotion overwhelmed me. My body was so overcome with emotion that it seemed to be rejecting any stimulus of the physical world around me. My mind had been hijacked, and in my head, a track was stuck on repeat, playing those words over and over again: “He’s gone. He’s gone. He’s gone.”

The dark and muffled moments that followed were difficult to comprehend. At some point, our neighbor, Billie, made her way into the front yard. I remember hearing her voice, feeling her hand on my shoulder as I lay weeping in the front yard. I remember her saying “Tyler, come with me. We need to get you out of here.” Without even wanting to, my body lifted itself from the ground—but I had no strength at all. Billie had to support me as tears streamed down my face. Had I wanted to run from the scene, I couldn’t have. My body seemed to be paralyzed.

We crossed the street into Billie and Sam’s driveway. As a youngster, I had made that trek so many times. As a grade schooler, I had always enjoyed going over to their house—partially because of the can of Dr. Pepper I knew Billie would always bring me, but also because they made me feel so loved. They were genuinely interested in me as a young boy, and when they talked to me, I felt like the most important person in the world. Fortunately, as I grew older, their sincerity never changed.

All the comfort and memory of a childhood chat with the friendly neighbors across the street had been shattered a few minutes earlier. That walk across the street to their driveway would now be forever tainted, no matter how many trips I ended up making into that familiar landscape. No matter what the occasion, I always knew my mind would be flooded with the thoughts of that morning. “This is where you walked the morning your Dad died. This is the door you came through the morning your Dad died. This is the chair you sat in the morning your Dad died.” The thought of life being different from that point forward had already set in, and my Dad had only been gone for a few minutes.

I was walking, but I wasn’t taking anything in because my mind was so consumed with the evil voices telling me that I would never forget, that I would never be able to move on. I walked down that driveway. I walked through their door. And I sat on a couch in their patio room. Billie, silent as I sat down, was in as much shock as I was. She stood there, not knowing what to do—and neither did I, as I held my hanging head limply in my hands. We had both entered a new world. The things we had once known would always be different. I searched for answers, and so did she.

“Do you need something to drink?” she said.

More than anything, I wanted a can of Dr. Pepper and to be seven years old again.


I describe the moments after my Dad’s death as “shockwave” moments. They were moments where the pain radiated through my body in ways I had never experienced. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of earthquakes, and that was how my life felt in that very moment—except the pain had been centralized to one particular family and community of people. I could look across the landscape of my life and recognize the terrain and familiar aspects—but they were irreparably damaged and fractured. There was a devastation sweeping over our family home, and it was completely unexpected.

Although I still felt trapped underwater after being ushered over to Billie’s house, I remember my emotions switching dramatically from one feeling to the next. My inner dialogue ran high with what I hoped was my own voice, but which likely could have been Satan trying to drive me deeper into despair. I didn’t know who to believe, and I didn’t even know if I could trust myself.

I felt overwhelming loss. For my entire life, I had known my Dad. I had relied on him for so many things. He was my provider. He was my trusted resource. He was a problem-solver anytime an engine failed or a piece of furniture needed constructing. He was my personal comedian anytime I needed a laugh. He was my catcher when I wanted to toss. He was my biggest fan when I realized I would never make it as an athlete and needed to transition into the broadcast booth. In every moment, and in every memory, Dad was there. Every aspect of my life that was good seemed to involve my Dad.

I felt confusion. And I desperately searched for answers. If life was that good and that enjoyable, how could Dad have wanted to end his? How could the quality of his life sink that low to make it appear inescapable? Was it something I had said? Could I have said something differently that would have helped him avoid this end? Could I have told him how much I loved him one more time? How could a loving God allow me to lose one of the people I needed most? How could a loving God allow one of his most authentic followers to meet such a demise? Was God really loving? These questions all swirled around in my head, beating my soul mercilessly and without interruption. I had all the questions in the world, but not a single answer.

I felt abandonment. It was irrational, but completely real—but sometimes our most irrational fears are the ones that captivate us most. Yes, I would have people in my life that would surround me. I still had a loving Mother who would support me and love me to the ends of the earth. But it felt like I had nothing. Having the man who had been my superhero for my entire life suddenly ripped from my everyday was bone-chilling. My Dad had been there in nearly every capacity of my life, and he was more than just a Father. He was a Dad—involved, and loving, and always there for his child. I was in my twenties, and from a legalistic definition I wasn’t orphaned, but I felt like I was.

I felt doubt. Even in the minutes after Dad’s death, I began to think about all of the things that would be different now that he was gone. If I wanted to call him, I wouldn’t be able to. If I wanted to go have dinner with him on the nights that Mom worked late, I would have to go alone. If my car broke or the house caught on fire again (long story for another post…), I would have to deal with it on my own. I would need to help take care of Mom when she needed it. I would have to do all the things my Dad normally did. And there was no way I could live up to the example he set. There was no way I could ever be a fraction of the man he was. The life that lay ahead of me seemed to be clouded with eminent failure. It was inescapable.

And yes, I felt anger…but not at the source most people would probably assume. I’ve talked with other survivors of suicide, and many of them told me “It’s okay to be angry with your Dad,” but I never was—not even in the immediate aftermath of his death. How could I be mad at my Dad? It wasn’t his fault that he dealt with depression. He didn’t want to feel sad on purpose. Even if I had tried, I couldn’t have been mad at my Dad.

I was angry at the forces that led to his depression, and I didn’t even know what they were at the moment. I was angry at a chemical imbalance, if that was the result that had led him to suffer. I was angry at the life circumstances that had put unnecessary pressure on him and driven him further into the pit. I was angry at the medication that had not done what it had promised. To this day, I’ve felt anger at all of those things—but never once have I felt anger towards him.

And deep down, I was angry at myself. Why had I left him that morning? Why had I not stayed with him the entire day? Offered to take him out to lunch? Or just watched television with him? Why had my life gotten to such a point that a graduate school presentation seemed more important than making my Dad feel like he was loved? Call it guilt, or self-doubt, or inward-directed-anger, or any other name you can think of—but I felt like I could have done more, even though I consciously realized I had probably done all I could have.

I felt everything, and I felt nothing.


What I also remember feeling was a feeling that I was sinking. I lost all track of time, but I couldn’t shake the feelings of being both in the moment and completely disconnected from it. That “under the water” sensation was still there, and it lingered for days and weeks after he passed. I knew people were talking—and I could see their lips moving and I could hear the words they said. But I couldn’t put them together. I couldn’t get anything to make sense in my head. I couldn’t find meaning in what was happening. Everything still sounded jumbled and muffled, as were the thoughts in my head.

On the same morning of Dad’s death but prior to the incident, I had been sitting at the desk in my cozy home office, working on a PowerPoint and sipping a warm tea. Now, I was sitting in front of a detective from the Fairfield Township Police Department answering questions about my Dad and what had gone wrong.

I don’t even remember his specific questions, but I do remember that this particular police officer was gentle. As gentle as a police detective can be, that is. He understood the sensitivity of the situation. I remember him walking into the room, putting his hand on my shoulder, and saying that he was sorry he had to do this. I was sorry he had to do it, too.

I remember him saying that he didn’t want to have to ask me questions right now, but because of the tragic nature of the morning’s events, they needed to collect as much information as possible to find out what had happened to my Dad. Their goal was to help me, to help my family, in any way they could. As I sat up on the couch, I nodded my head and wiped away the tears. I had no desire to answer his questions, but maybe the quicker I answered them, the quicker he could leave me.

He would ask me questions about what my Dad and I had discussed that morning, and how Dad had responded. I tried to string together answers to his questions, but my mind was still drowning in emotion. I heard a dark voice inside my head over and over again saying “This is your life. This is what you are now. This is your new life.” And it was completely overwhelming. The same glazed-over look my Dad had earlier that morning when I went to talk to him, I now replicated to the police detective who sat opposite me.

I had answers for the detective’s questions, but I knew that no matter how much information I gave him, he probably wouldn’t be able to have answers for mine. Yes, he might be able to create a timeline of events and a file full of evidence, but he wouldn’t be able to tell me why my Dad had felt life was so painful that he had to resort to suicide to escape it. He wouldn’t be able to tell me why the combination of my Dad’s biological and life experiences had collided together in a lethal mix. He wouldn’t be able to tell me how to navigate life without a Father. The more I thought about all the questions I had, the more overwhelmed I became.

Eventually, the detective had everything he needed. The one vivid detail I do remember is that, when he arose from the chair across the room, he walked over to me and extended his hand. Weak and failing, I reached out and limply shook his hand with as much strength as I could muster. He looked at me, with genuine, caring eyes.

“I truly am sorry about your Dad and your loss. I met him before, and he was a great man. Please let me know if I can do anything to help. We will be here to support you any way we can.”

Boom. Another shockwave. It was the first time that anyone had ever told me they were sorry to hear about my Dad’s death.

“Dad’s death.” The words hit me with the force of a boulder barreling straight for my chest. I couldn’t absorb it, I couldn’t comprehend it. Everything still felt very, very unreal. A lazy summer morning had turned into an unbearable new chapter of my life, and I didn’t know how to survive the shock.


With any earthquake, there are significant aftershocks, and those aftershocks have continued to strike for the past three and a half years.

There are days where the underwater sensation returns, and I feel like I’m barely treading to stay alive. Even though I’m years removed, I will still have those days where the thoughts of missing my Dad are so powerful that I can’t concentrate. There are still days where the words just don’t sink in and I feel like I’m drowning all over again.

Fortunately, there are also days when I’m reminded that our God doesn’t let his people drown. When the nation of Israel was being pursued by Pharoh and the Egyptian Army, God used Moses to part the Red Sea. He let his people through to safety, and then called the waters to crash back down on top of their trailing enemies (Exodus 14). When a storm struck the boat carrying Jesus and the disciples through the Sea of Galilee, he told the waves to stop their tossing—and they did (Matthew 8, Mark 4, Luke 8). And when Jesus called Peter out onto the water, and Peter’s lack of faith caused him to begin drowning, Jesus literally reached out his hand and prevented him from going under (Matthew 14).

When I look at my life, I see the mounting waves; but when I look at Jesus, I see the solution.

It doesn’t always make life easier. It doesn’t automatically remove the obstacles. The waves are still there. The Israelites still had to run through the wall of waves. The disciples still had to guide the boat, and Peter still had to get out of his. But Jesus was there through all of it. And little by little, in every single moment, he’s helped me navigate through the waters just like he did thousands of years ago. The same power that rescued those men and women still rescues me.

My emotions still run deep when I think of that initial day, and it’s hard to deal with the thought of losing my Dad. I find little ways to deal with the storms, and while some are successful, there are many that don’t work. I have my good days, and I have my days where I feel like I’ve made no progress from that fateful Wednesday morning.

But I’ve learned that feelings aren’t facts. Just because I feel helpless doesn’t mean I am. Just because life feels hopeless doesn’t mean it is. Just because I have bouts of confusion doesn’t mean I’m living a confused life. Just because the world looks overwhelming doesn’t make the words of my Bible any less true. I so wish that I always lived my life every day like I believed this, but step by step, I’m navigating the waters. And you will too.

dad-in-easter-suitDad, I don’t think a single day goes by where I don’t replay the sights and sounds of that awful July morning. I constantly fight against my mind to not let the tragedy overshadow the love you showed me, but I’m not always successful. There are days when it’s hard for me to feel happy. There are days when it’s hard for me to feel like I couldn’t have done more to help you. But I never questioned your love for me and for our family. In the moments where life gets really tough and the waters especially overwhelming, I can always feel your presence right there with me. I can always feel you helping me fight against those aftershocks. I’m thankful that you taught me how to love others. I’m thankful that you helped prepare me for the difficulties that would come my way. I’m grateful to have had a Dad who always knew how to comfort me, and I’m thankful that, even from Heaven, you still continue to love me and direct me. Until then, seeya Bub.

“When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Silence! Be still!’ Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:39 (NLT)

The Time Line

On page 673 of my Bible, there is a line drawn at the end of the 68th Psalm. To the side of that line, there’s a note written and outlined in a box: “7/30/13: This is where I resume my reading of Psalms after my Father’s suicide and death. I miss you Dad.”

The line that’s there in my Bible is an important one. I had been in the process of reading through the entire Bible from start to finish when Dad passed away. I had started by reading through the New Testament first, and I was in the middle of working my way through the Psalms a few chapters at a night. When I closed my Bible on July 23, 2013, I had no idea that the trials and storms I had read about over so many chapters were getting ready to become very real for me and my family.

Over the years, I had written many notes in my Bible. Since college, I had always been an avid “underliner” in the books I read, constantly writing notes in the margins, boxing in concepts that stuck out to me, and marking up each and every book I could get my hands on (to any frequent readers who find red pen marks in their library books…please don’t report me). Grab any book on my bookshelf, and you’ll usually be able to tell if I’ve read it or not by red pen markings or the lack thereof. My Bible, of course, is the most marked-up book that I own because its marked my life more than anything else. I mostly use pencil or a soft highlighter because of the tissue-paper-thickness of the pages, but even in graphite my handiwork is pretty evident.

But no marking is more important than that line on page 673. It’s a line in the most important book I’ll ever own, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the most important line I’ve ever drawn, and it’s one I had never expected to draw in the first place.

When Dad died, the way I described time became very, very different. Suddenly, every time I told a story, the time descriptor I used resembled the language I had heard in so many history lectures. I found myself saying “Before Dad died…” or “After Dad died…” every time I told a story.

At no other point in my life had I ever used a single event or circumstance to define when I had done something. Yes, there was the occasional “In fourth grade…” or “When I was a kid…”, or “That one time I got rejected by a girl in high school…” (which was used more frequently than the rest), but those descriptors usually changed based on the story. Now, no matter the content, I was using “B.D. and A.D.” time to preface every story (Before Dad died, and After Dad). It’s a feeling that I think anyone who loses a loved one begins to experience, and it’s much more than a simple line. Understanding the significance of that line can help to understand the magnitude of grief that permeates a survivor of suicide or any traumatic experience.

I remember drawing that line. It felt like a momentous, life-defining exercise. It had only been a few days after my Dad’s death, and just a day after his funeral when I felt the urge to retreat to my office, close the door, and pick up where I had left off. I partly wanted to escape and just be by myself for a while, because for the past week it felt as if I hadn’t been able to spend a moment’s time to myself. I knew that my thoughts were building up, but I hadn’t even had time to process them just yet. Mostly, I wanted to try and recapture some of the normalcy of my life, because things had been anything but normal for the past six days. Sitting at my desk and reading my Bible had become the most regular activity of my life over the past year or so. It seemed only natural to sit down and resume the work, but there was also an immense guilt that swept over me. My life’s history was transitioning periods from B.D. to A.D., and there was a mourning in my soul that told me if I refused to draw the line, maybe things would go back to normal. It’s irrational, but it’s natural.

When I drew that line, there was a sense of finality that swept across my mind. One chapter, an extremely significant chapter in my life had closed shut rather abruptly. And the conclusion of that chapter would affect all the ones that came after it. That realization weighed heavily on my shoulders.

But I drew it anyway. With tears in my eyes, I slowly and weakly drew a single solid line across the page, deliberately and slowly recognizing the magnitude of the moment. But the fact that I drew a line at all helped me comprehend one very, very important truth.

There is life after the line.

It sounds insensitive to even write those words. Even now, three years and more removed from Dad’s death, I feel guilty when I write that. But I can’t deny truth, and I refuse to let evil thoughts and the storms of this life hinder the joy that can still exist all around me. Yes, life isn’t the same after Dad died; but there is still life. And for all the dark moments it’s been filled with since he’s gone, there have also been beautiful moments that celebrate everything that my Dad loved.

When Dad died, there were moments, heart-wrenching moments, where it felt like life couldn’t go on, even when you know deep down that it will. Convincing yourself that life will go on in spite of the tragedy is the difficult part, but it does.

Life after the line isn’t easy. As a matter of fact, there are days where it feels impossible.

But guess what? Just like life before the line wasn’t always wonderful, life after the line isn’t always horrible. Don’t get me wrong—I would give anything to completely erase that line from my Bible and my memory and have my Dad back with me again. Life was just better when he was in it, and life will never be the same without him. But even though it’s not the same as it once was, there are moments in life where I see glimpses and snapshots of the joy I once experienced when Dad was alive. Since Dad has died, I’ve met wonderful friends and had tremendously fun moments with them. I’ve reconciled friendships from the past that have made life more enjoyable. There are times when life feels normal again, even though its dramatically broken, and instead of feeling guilty about those moments, I’m slowly learning to accept them. Day by day, I’m learning to live life after the line. I’m learning that it’s okay to hurt, but that it’s also okay to live. If I needed to learn anything from my Dad’s death, it’s that truth.


I don’t think it’s any coincidence that God put me where He did within my Bible-reading journey, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that that line is drawn where it is. God knew that I would need the words that would follow in the 69th Psalm to guide me through my life beyond the line, and those words continue to speak to me when I think about my Dad’s death. The first section of that Psalm, the words I read through tearstained eyes on the evening of July 30, 2013, will be with me forever:

Save me, O God!

The water is already up to my neck!

I am sinking in deep mud.

There is nothing to stand on.

I am in deep water:

A flood is sweeping me away.

I am exhausted from crying for help.

My throat is hoarse.

My eyes are strained from looking for my God.

(Psalm 69:1-3)


May my prayer come to you at an acceptable time, O Lord.

O God, out of the greatness of your mercy,

Answer me with the truth of your salvation.

Rescue me from the mud.

Do not let me sink into it.

I want to be rescued from those who hate me

And from the deep water.

Do not let floodwaters sweep me away.

Do not let the ocean swallow me up,

Or the pit to close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O Lord, because your mercy is good.

Out of your unlimited compassion, turn to me.

I am in trouble, so do not hide your face from me.

Answer me quickly!

Come close, and defend my soul.

Set me free because of my enemies.

(Psalm 69:13-18)

When those words were written, God answered David. And when those words are read thousands of years later, God answers me. He responded to my cries on that July night a few years ago, and he continues to respond as I navigate life on the other side of the line.

The dawning of another year always causes me to think about my Dad and the loss we all feel not having him around. I still quantify life by his passing, and I have no doubt that on New Year’s Eve this year, I’ll consciously start the counting in my head. 2017 will mark the fourth year of “A.D.” life for me. It’s a difficult chapter of life to embrace. But I’ll remind myself that life after the line isn’t always bad. I’ll be thankful for life in general—before or after the line. I’ll be grateful for the opportunity to have had a wonderful Dad for 26 years of life on this Earth, and I’ll rest easy in the fact that I’ll have a Father for all eternity that can lead me through this into a greater relationship with Him.

The line will always be there, but the Scriptures that surround it will never be outdone.

bible-page-with-sb-logoDad, I’d do anything to go back to that awful day in July 2013 and never have to draw a line in my Bible. But the fact that I’m even drawing that line means you made a tremendous impact on me and my life. You always approached your work with the utmost sincerity and dedication, but there was no job more important to you than being my Dad and the leader of our family. I’ll always be appreciative of that. I’m sad when I see the line, but I smile when I remember the man whose memory deserved it. I promise that my life after the line will honor you and make you proud. I promise that you will not have died in vain—that people will live their lives differently when they hear about you. Keep watching over me. Seeya, bub.

“Come close and defend my soul.” Psalm 69:18 (GW)