Ask

I never asked.

I never asked my Dad if he was having suicidal temptations.

I wish I had.


With a pit in my stomach and many, many questions bombarding my thoughts, I stood next to my Mom for hours on end next to my Father’s casket. I couldn’t shake the feeling that we shouldn’t have been there. My Dad had passed from suicide, and other than his struggles with mental illness, he had lived a healthy life. I often hear people say “gone too soon,” but in that moment, it felt like more than a platitude. My Father was only 50 years old at the time of his death, and he had many, many more years ahead of him had depression not robbed him of that future.

Mom and I were hurting and struggling, but so were the nearly 1,000 people who showed up at Dad’s visitation. For hours, they stood in a line that wrapped through our church foyer and into the parking lot waiting to say goodbye to my Dad and to provide any comfort they could to our family. They provided that comfort—and so much more. Their sadness was a reflection of just how much my Dad was loved. Dad spent a lifetime loving people the way that God taught him to. This was the evidence of a life well spent.

We cried with and hugged so many people and had conversations about my Dad that rejuvenated our grieving souls. We talked with family members. We talked with colleagues. We talked with friends. We talked with people who had been in our lives long ago, and those who were also there every day.

There were many interactions that are imprinted on my brain from that night, but a handful that really stand out in particular.

Especially my conversation with Mary Bausano.

When I saw Mary approach the casket, my already tear-filled eyes welled up with a new flood of emotion. Mary compassionately approached me with tears of her own and open arms, and as I sobbed I kept repeating a confession to her that had been on my conscience since the moment I found out my Dad was gone.

“I didn’t ask him. Mary, I didn’t ask him.”


Mary Bausano is one of those unexpected life changers—the people who enter your life when you least expect it or in a super ordinary way that end up having an extraordinary impact. While I was a student at Miami University Hamilton, Mary was the Director of Student Counseling Services and the Assistant Dean of Students to my mentor, Dr. Bob Rusbosin. I interacted with Mary quite a bit because I served in the Student Government Association and spent considerable time in the Office of Student Affairs in Rentschler Hall (although I must admit, some of those visits were simply to pad my pockets with the free suckers that were on Miss Carol Stubblefield’s desk).

More than that, however, Mary was the very first college professor I ever took a class with. I was fortunate to be a student in Mary’s section of EDL 110: The University & The Student, which was a transition course to help new freshmen navigate their college experiences. As a first-generation college student who was a nervous wreck about the four years that were ahead, I needed this course more than I was willing to admit.

And Mary was the perfect guide to help me make this transition. Mary was approachable and confident and helpful and caring—all the traits that, in my opinion, are most important in being a good teacher at any level. Mary used a blend of discussion and course activities that brought a level of interactivity to the college classroom that I had not expected. I look back on the fact that I have now pursued graduate degrees and worked in higher education for quite some time, and I can directly trace the origins of my journey back to the course that Mary taught in a second-floor classroom of Mosler Hall. 

I would stay in touch with Mary during my entire time at Miami, and that friendship continued once I joined the staff at the Regional Campuses. But before long, I found myself back in the classroom with Mary, albeit for an unexpected topic.

A staff-wide announcement came across my inbox offering an opportunity for any Miami employee to participate in a free Mental Health First Aid training course at the Hamilton Campus. And to my surprise, Mary would be teaching the course! I responded quickly and signed up for the course, knowing that my motivations for taking the course were more complex than I was willing to let others know about.

During the first day introductions of our class, Mary asked us to share why we were taking the course with our fellow classmates. When my turn came, I made a conscious decision to hide my true motivations for being there. I mentioned that a neighbor had been exhibiting some signs of severe mental distress, and I said I wanted to learn more about the interventions that might be available to help this person and also protect my family.

Dad in Scrambler

My real motivations for taking the course, however, hit much closer to our own home than the neighbor’s. The deep-down truth was that my own Father had struggled with depression for his entire adult life (although I didn’t find out about it until later in his life) and I was grasping for answers. I felt completely helpless when it came to my Dad’s depression. I didn’t know what to do, what to say, or what to feel. If my Dad had been suffering from a physical ailment, I likely could have come up with tangible things to do in an effort to make him feel better; but when it came to a mental illness, I just didn’t understand how I could help.

There was more. The deeper, personal truth was that I was suffering from mental illness myself—and intensely. In the chapter of my life leading up to the course, I had been fighting through an intense battle with anxiety that had been completely debilitating. About a year before taking the course, I hit a breaking point and couldn’t function anymore. I was completely overtaken with angst, and unable to function because I had convinced myself that I was suffering from a fatal illness that the doctors could not diagnose. My brain illness had taken its physical toll as well. For months on end, I could only sleep for two to three hours each night, and on many nights, I would startle awake from horrific dreams in which I was an attendee at my own funeral. I struggled to eat and lost weight unintentionally. I felt constantly weak and struggled to maintain my sanity.

I didn’t understand how to help my Dad; but I also didn’t understand how to help myself.

The good result from the bad breakdown was that, after confessing my struggles to my parents, I was finally able to find the help I needed. I began taking anxiety medication with the advice of my doctor, and I began regular appointments with my therapist Jeff Yetter to work through the issues associated with my clinical anxiety. I was finally starting to feel as if I was regaining some sense of control over my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that had been desperately absent during these dark days.

Things had gotten better, and I was fortunate for that. Even having gone through my own personal struggle, I still felt ill-equipped to help my own Father. I didn’t quite understand all of the reasons why I had gotten better, but I also recognized that my Dad and I, although both suffering from mental illness, suffered very, very differently. I suffered from anxiety caused by a traumatic event which created an unhealthy (and completely unfounded) fear of death; my Dad, on the other hand, suffered from depression, a disease that (when not controlled) made death appear to be a relief from the pain and difficulty associated with it.

Nonetheless, I buried these motivations under the surface and dove in to the course head-first with Mary guiding us through the curriculum. If you’re unfamiliar with Mental Health First Aid (and I absolutely was when I entered), the program has two primary goals: (1) to familiarize individuals with the wide-array of mental illnesses and the unique nuances of each, and (2) to prepare those individuals to respond to those who are suffering in a way that prioritizes health and healing. The goal for those who complete the course is not to be therapists or psychiatrists themselves, but instead to respond in a way that can encourage those suffering from mental illness to get help from those trained individuals. Think of it as someone who completes a CPR course. You don’t have to be the doctor who performs the heart surgery; you just have to know the skills to keep that person alive until the doctor/medical professionals can arrive on the scene. Mental Health First Aid is very similar. MHFA responders become the catalysts for healing and conduits who connect those who are suffering with those who can help.

Partially because of the content and partially because of Mary’s amazing skills as an educator, I dove right into the course. I was amazed at how little I actually knew about mental illness even though I had suffered myself and been so closely associated with my Dad’s struggles. There was so much about depression I did not understand, including its prevalence in our society. Even having suffered from anxiety, I did not understand how easy it was for a psychological disorder to then manifest itself in physical symptoms. I grappled with the pain that individuals with psychosis must have felt when they experienced regular delusions or hallucinations, and my heart ached as I heard the stories of those struggling with substance abuse or eating disorders. As I’ve mentioned here before, there was a pain-filled world existing around me that I had been blind to, either unintentionally or intentionally. The course opened my eyes in ways I had not expected.

What was even more beneficial, however, was the application phase of the course. With a gentle, steady, and determined style, Mary worked with all of us to develop the skills, behaviors, and techniques needed to respond to those who were struggling with any host of mental illness. She helped each of us to realize that, although difficult, we could grow into this role and help those who were hurting.

Like any good training course, Mental Health First Aid offered a great acronym to assist those in the first responder role as they entered into a conversation with the person who was in crisis: ALGEE.

A – Assess for risk of suicide or harm.

L – Listen nonjudgmentally.

G – Give reassurance and information.

E – Encourage appropriate professional help.

E – Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

All of the steps in the ALGEE acronym made sense to me, and pacing through each of those steps intentionally helped me to understand what types of statements, behaviors, responses, and actions were appropriate or beneficial to someone in the throes of a mental health crisis.

But I must admit, the first step gave me pause. Part of the assessing phase of the mental health first aid response was spotting the physical and tangible manifestations of mental illness, or those things that could be outwardly observed or experienced: threats of suicide, talking or writing about death, expressing hopelessness, exhibiting unexplained anger or rage, or even withdrawn behaviors or physical effects. The more difficult part of the need to assess risk for suicide occurred when the person in need of assistance might refuse to talk, engage, open up, or readily send up any warning signs. That interaction required the skill and acumen of a confident responder, because it required asking a question that no one likely ever wants to ask.

Effective assessment, according to all the research, might require us to ask the individual across the table if they were contemplating or considering suicide.

When Mary started to talk about what we needed to do during the “Assess” stage of our conversations, I remember the shock my classmates and I felt. Asking that difficult question just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

Together, we read this portion of the textbook: “If you suspect someone may be at risk of suicide, it is important to directly ask about suicidal thoughts. Do not avoid using the word suicide. It is important to ask the question without dread and without expressing a negative judgement. The question must be direct and to the point. For example, you could ask:

  • ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?’
  • ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’” (Mental Health First Aid, 2009, p. 25)

“How many of you are surprised by this?” Mary asked us. It felt as if everyone in the room was as surprised as I was by the recommendation that was being offered. Asking this question, and especially using the word “suicide” with someone who was hurting, led us to believe that we were planting the thoughts of lethality into their already suffering minds.

We talked through our reservations with Mary, and I’ll always remember her sense of openness and her giving us the space (as people who were not experts) to talk through the difficulties we saw with this approach. Without judgement, Mary listened to each of our concerns, but then, slowly and purposefully, helped us work through them to understand why asking the question directly might help someone in the midst of a life-threatening crisis.

“If you appear confident in the face of a suicide crisis,” our books and Mary explained, “this can be reassuring for the suicidal person. Although some people think that asking about suicide can put the idea in a person’s mind, this is not true. Another myth is that someone who talks about suicide isn’t really serious. Remember that talking about suicide may be a way for the person to indicate just how badly they feel,” (p. 25).

My classmates and I still voiced our concerns. “But I feel like asking that question could do harm,” we responded. “What if the person isn’t thinking about suicide, and then we put the thought in their head?”

But Mary reassured us that asking was better than leaving the conversation unsaid—and the research that is being conducted in mental health and suicide prevention resoundingly confirms this (for more information, see the resources I’ll include at the end of this post). The trainers for Mental Health First Aid were not encouraging responders to run around asking every single person they interacted with if they had contemplated suicide. This isn’t a blanket response. Instead, the trainers encouraged responders to use their newfound knowledge of the warning signs related to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other forms of mental illness to spot someone who might be having suicidal ideations or who could be headed down that path. Then, in those specific situations, responders have a duty to ask a question that can often turn the stomach of the person asking it.

I am a man who trusts experts because the expertise they’ve earned is often hard-fought; and in this circumstance, even though it sounded counterintuitive to me to bring up the topic of suicide with someone who was in pain, I vowed to follow the instructions. I believed, in my heart, that the individuals at Mental Health First Aid and my teacher, Mary, had the best of intentions and wanted to equip my classmates and me with the skills to help those who are suffering from mental illness.

Fortunately, Mary did more than just implore us to ask this question (another sign of what a wonderful teacher she is). After giving us space to question and engage with the idea, Mary then put us into pairs and told us that we would have an opportunity to practice asking the question.

As awful as it might feel, we were going to role play asking this question.

Mary gave each of us a small sheet of paper which included our “acting directions,” which were signs and symptoms that we needed to exhibit when playing role of the person suffering from a mental illness. We were to do our best to showcase the symptoms that had been described to us in the “character directive” and to make the role-play-situation as real as possible. Then, the person serving in the role of the mental health first aid responder would respond with empathy, sincerity, and ultimately, ask the individual about any potential for suicide.

Even in a simulated environment, I was amazed at how difficult it was to ask another living, breathing human being if they were considering self-harm. My palms were sweaty and my hands were shaking. I felt a lump in my throat as I asked my class partner if she was contemplating suicide. When she responded that she was (in character), I did my best to empathize, normalize, and tell her how much she mattered. Then, mutually, we worked together to try and devise a plan to get help, which included seeking the treatment offered by a licensed therapist.

We continued to practice, and I must admit…although the words and processes started to become more standardized, routine, and familiar, I don’t know that the emotion of having to ask that question ever faded.

What did change, however, is that I slowly became a bit more confident and accustomed to the emotion of the moment.

Mary gave us time and space in the course to talk through the emotions we felt asking that question. Hearing how difficult it was for my classmates was also reassuring. It was good to know it wasn’t just me who struggled. But we also listened to the reaction of the person playing the individual who was suffering. Being on the receiving end of that hard question, they largely mentioned that hearing someone care enough to ask that question made them feel as if they mattered. It gave them hope. It let them know they were not alone.

Throughout that 4-week course, we continued to practice asking that question at Mary’s direction. The more we practiced, the better our responses became. The more our confidence was built. We were not only able to detect the signs of someone who might be suicidal, but we were also able to try and respond with helpful resources, tools, and action plans that might help the suffering individual find the treatment he or she needed to survive. In addition to these questioning and response techniques, we also learned more and more about the varying typologies of mental illnesses and the differences in their symptomatic manifestations. It was heartbreaking and simultaneously enlightening. Prior to this course, I had never considered the complexity of mental illness and the different ways that it played out in the lives of so many individuals. I was blown away by the prevalence of mental illnesses in the lives of others in our country.

In every example of mental illness that we discussed, I must admit I thought of my Dad; however, I never, never once considered that my Dad would become a part of such a scary statistic.


Sitting across from my Dad in the darkened family room of our family home on July 24, 2013, I tried to talk with my Dad. In the heat of what I knew was likely the darkest moment of my Dad’s battle with mental illness, I tried to rapidly think back through all the things I had learned from Mary and the Mental Health First Aid course.

Just a few hours before his story morphed into a tragedy, I asked my Dad a lot of questions. I asked him how he was feeling, even though I knew that his answer would not even come close to reflecting the true pain that tormented his soul. I asked him if everything was okay at work. I asked him about other burdens he was carrying in his life and whether or not these felt overwhelming. I asked him about the doctor’s appointment he had scheduled for later that afternoon. I asked him about his misgivings and apprehensions related to seeing a counselor or therapist, although I couldn’t seem to convince him that this would help.

Successfully in some respects, I employed many of the tactics I had learned from the course. But in the midst of all the questions I asked my Dad on that fateful day, I did not ask him if he was having suicidal thoughts.

No matter how much practice I had, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I could not bring myself to ask the man who had guided me through this life if he had thoughts of ending his.

Unfortunately, it’s the question I didn’t ask that still haunts me.


Standing near the casket on the day of his visitation, I wept and confessed my guilt to Mary. In true Mary Bausano fashion, she stepped forward and she grabbed both of my shoulders. In a compassionate and empathetic voice, she brought her hand to my cheek and did her best to minister to me in that moment of grief and guilt.

“Tyler. He was your Dad. You have to understand the dynamics of the relationship and how that affected your conversation that day. Your Dad was an authority figure in your life, making it even more difficult for you to ask him if he was contemplating suicide. He was your Father. Tyler, you are not responsible for this.”

I needed to hear that validation from Mary, the person who had taught me how to respond to those who were in the throes of a mental health crisis. I needed her encouragement and reassurance that I had not been the lynchpin in my Dad’s tragic end.

Standing near my Dad’s casket, I felt it was important to talk with Mary for a long time because her instruction had been so important to my understanding of mental illness. Even though My Dad’s life had ended from suicide, I also felt that the information Mary had taught me helped me to be more empathetic and understanding of my Dad’s struggles (and eventually my own) when he was here in this life. As she had encouraged me so many times before as a student, Mary refused to let this moment defeat me. We stood there, and with a tender heart, Mary helped me understand how deeply my Dad was hurting and suffering, even if his wounds and injuries were not physical or visible.

I was thankful to Mary on that day. And I’m still extremely grateful for all she taught me. Even though my Dad’s life might have ended prematurely, much of what I learned about helping those who are struggling with mental illness I can trace back to Mary’s course.

And I’ve been in many situations since losing my Dad when, thankfully, I’ve had the confidence to ask that difficult question. Ultimately, I know how important it is to ask.

Here’s the truth: A person who is suffering from depression and already feels like a failure will likely hide those feelings behind a mask. If we expect those same individuals to readily offer up their suicidal ideations without being questioned, we are fooling ourselves when it comes to the hard truths of mental illness.

The reality is this: I did not think my Dad was suicidal. I don’t think anyone in his life did, and in some senses, I try to remember that when I feel guilty for not asking him. My Dad was too bright, too outgoing, and too full-of-life (in my mind) to ever be suicidal. It just didn’t compute with the image of the man I knew.

That being said, I still wish I had asked. I’m not writing these words to beat myself up over what was left unsaid. I’m writing this in the hopes that those who are reading and find themselves in a similar position that I was in might have the courage to ask.

My Father’s death offers important lessons, and when I can help to prevent this same occurrence in the lives of others, I’ll do it. The lesson when it comes to asking this question is this: in most cases where a suicide occurs (like my Father’s), it’s rare that those around them could have ever envisioned this as a likely scenario. Whenever I talk with survivors of suicide (individuals who lose a loved one to suicide), they typically all say the same thing: we never could have imagined our loved one was suicidal. Yes, there are some cases where there may be visible warning signs on the surface or previous suicidal attempts (it doesn’t make suicide acceptable, but some instances are more predictable in others). Even in those situations, however, I think that no one really envisions suicide as something that is “likely” to occur. That’s because it’s unnatural. That’s because it shouldn’t occur. Life wasn’t designed that way.

But the unfortunate statistics bear out: it is occurring, and it’s occurring at a heartbreaking clip. Recent statistics are beyond frightening, showing an average of 130 deaths from suicide per day according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.[1]  On average, that’s a death from suicide roughly every 11 minutes in the United States.

So, the message is clear. We must ask. When we suspect a suicide might occur, we must root it out. We must give the suffering individual hope and a path forward other than death. We must overcome our own fears and ask a difficult question, because it may be exactly what the recipient of that question needs to hear to know they matter and bring them out of the cloud of hopelessness they are living within.

Dad Holding Me as a BabyI didn’t write this story to wallow in my own guilt; I wrote this story to serve as an example to everyone in this life who loves someone or cares about someone that struggles with mental illness—and if the statistics tell us anything, that’s likely everyone. I wrote this story in the hopes that we might be able to normalize and de-stigmatize the conversation around mental illness. I wrote this story in the hopes that, in the same way we might inquire about someone’s health in the midst of a physical injury, we might learn to do the same in the throes of a mental injury. I wrote this post in the hopes that, someday, the question of “How are you doing?” can be met with more honesty than a perfunctory “I’m fine.” I wrote this story in the hopes that, someday, just one person who is unfortunately sitting across from someone who is hurting under the surface might find the courage to ask this unbelievably difficult question and save a life.

Had I asked this question, I don’t know what my Dad’s response would have been. There is a good likelihood that he would have kept his mask on tightly (as he did so many times before) and responded that he was not feeling suicidal even if he was. There is a good chance the question might have caught him off guard and sent off a warning sign that would have put myself and my family into a different mode of response. There is a good chance that he might have answered with honesty and we would have had an opportunity to talk him through how important he was to all of us who loved him while moving to get him the medical attention he so desperately needed. There is a chance we could have had a breakthrough.

No plan is full-proof, but even if there was an infinitesimal chance that it could have saved his life, I desperately wished I had asked it—even if the response from my Dad was not truthful.

Take it from me: I wish I had asked.

Sometimes, I wonder how I would have felt had my Dad told me that he was not suicidal only to have him die from that mechanism a few hours later. Would I be riddled with guilt that I put the thought into his head?

Here’s the truth: Knowing what I know now, the thought was already there. Maybe it had been there for longer than any of us knew. And it’s a thought that, unfortunately, is there for so many individuals who are struggling with mental illness. It’s a thought that burrows under the surface and invades our psyches when we are mentally ill. It’s a thought that, when given too much power, can close off our rational mental processes. And it’s a thought that, sadly, cannot be exposed unless someone from the outside shines a light on it.

It’s a thought that might only come to the surface if we find the courage to ask.

Asking that question is our way to shine a light on this epidemic. Asking individuals if they feel suicidal doesn’t put the thought there; it exposes a thought that is likely already in existence. Most importantly, asking the question is the only way to open the doors to healing and treatment for many who struggle to ask for it when they need it.

I won’t live my life wondering if I should have asked my Dad this question because I know I should have. That being said, I will not give into the temptation of guilt and feel responsible for my Dad’s death. There is no one, no one, who is guilty for what happened to my Dad on that fateful July morning—including my Dad. I don’t blame him. I don’t blame anyone in his life. I blame mental illness. I blame depression. I blame the stigmas developed in our society.

The only way to counter these is to ask. Mary taught me that—and having gone through a tragic loss of a loved one to suicide, I still believe she was right.

The only way to clear the path to that vulnerability and healing is to ask. When you interact with a loved one who you think might be suicidal, ask them and respond accordingly. Keep an eye out for warning signs. If they are suicidal, stay with them and find them the help they need offered by medical and psychiatric professionals.

And most importantly, love them. It might not seem like it, but just by asking this very difficult question, you are showing love. You are showing compassion and tremendous care by asking someone who is struggling if they’re contemplating a dangerous and unthinkable end. You would only ask that question if you loved that individual—remember that yourself, and remind the person that you’re asking just how much you love them.

In the end, those individuals that you ask will thank you for doing the difficult thing. And as a son who lost a beloved father to a horrible mental illness, I’ll thank you for helping to make sure that my Father’s story does not become someone else’s.

Together, we can learn to ask this question—and together, we can learn how to respond with empathy and care to those who answer it.

Family on Gulf Shores Dolphin Cruise with SB LogoDad, I miss you more and more each day that goes by. As much as I don’t want to, I often sit back and replay our last conversation together and wonder if I could have done more. I wonder what would have happened had I asked you whether or not you were experiencing suicidal thoughts. I don’t know that you were. I just know that I miss you. I just know that I wish I could have done more because we all loved you so much. You brought such vitality and fun to all of our lives. You were the glue that held so many of us together in unique ways. You were important to all of us, and even thought it has been more than seven years since your death, you are still missed beyond belief. Dad, I would give anything to be able to sit down with you again on that day—not for me, but for you. You deserved a long life. You deserved to grow old, and become a Grandpa, and retire, and all the things that come with a long life. Even though you’re gone, I am grateful that your story lives on and that you continue to inspire all of us through the way you lived your life. Dad, I have so many questions for you; but I’m thankful that when I get to the other side, none of this will matter. All of the hurt and pain that we experienced in this life will be gone. Together, we will be able to rest in an everlasting paradise where the pains of this life are a disappearing vapor. Until that day, know that I love you. Know that I’ll continue doing everything I can to keep your memory alive. Thank you, Dad, for always being there for me—I can still feel you here now. I love you, Dad. And for now, seeya Bub.

“For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” 1 John 3:11 (NIV)


Additional Resources: If you’re like me, you still struggle with the idea of asking someone you love and care for whether or not they are considering suicide. It’s a difficult idea to come to terms with, because those conversations about life and death are not fun to have. But the research is clear—your asking someone whether or not they are considering suicide or having suicidal thoughts could, in fact, save that person’s life. If you are struggling with this idea or have additional questions regarding this important part of assessing risk for self-harm, please explore these additional resources. I promise you that the time you spend reading them will be worth it to the individual lives that will be impacted by your desire to learn more and help:

“How to Ask Someone About Suicide” by Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2019)

“How to Ask Someone You’re Worried About if They’re Thinking of Suicide” by Dr. Anthony Jorm (The Conversation, 2018)

“Evaluating Iatrogenic Risk of Youth Suicide Screening Programs: A Randomized Controlled Trial” by Madelyn S. Gould, PhD, MPH; Frank A. Marrocco, PhD; Marjorie Kleinman, MS (The Journal of the American Medical Association [JAMA], 2005)

“The Question That Could Save a Life” by Karen Young (Hey Sigmund)

“The Truth About Three Common Suicide Myths and How You Can Help Someone in Crisis” by The Jefferson Center

And of course, I recommend that you learn more about the life-saving techniques offered through Mental Health First Aid, and if possible, I would encourage all of my readers to enroll in and complete a course.

References:

[1] https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/

Wrestling

“ONE!”

Slam!

“TWO!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-A-HALF!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-THREE-QUARTERS!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-SEVEN-EIGHTHS!”

Slam!

“TWO-AND-THIRTY-FIVE-THIRTY-SIXTHS!”

“Dad, I don’t even think that’s a real thing!”

Slam!

“THREE!” Slam! “Pinned you again!”

“Alright, let’s go again,” I’d respond, knowing that there wasn’t a chance I’d ever win.

This was the common refrain that echoed through the Bradshaw family room after dinner on an almost-nightly basis, drifting up the stairs into the kitchen where my Mom was likely cleaning up after another delicious, home-cooked meal that she had crafted. Dad always said he needed time to digest, but I’d pester and bug him until he’d rise up out of the recliner acting like he was too full, and then in a super sneaky sweep, he’d catch me off guard and the evening wrestling match would begin—no entrance music or bell needed.

For a little, skinny kid who realistically had no chance at ever winning a wrestling match (or any physical competition for that matter), it’s perplexing to think that I actually challenged my Dad to wrestle so frequently. Must have been early-onset-Napoleon-complex. A board game would have been more of an even battle, and even then I’d still be at a disadvantage; but a wrestling match between a seven year old and a 30-something year old wasn’t that evenly matched. While I was wrestling against my Dad, I’d try to emulate the moves that I had seen from my all-time favorite WWF superstars….even though I wasn’t supposed to know what a WWF superstar was.

Mom never let me watch wrestling—rightfully so. Have you seen what happens on an episode of Monday Night Raw? Wait, is Raw still a thing? The name might have changed, but the lack of actual “wrestling” likely has not. The stuff is pure trash. There’s rarely a punch that lands within three feet of someone’s face (I will applaud the acting, however), and there’s more time spent talking into a microphone than there is jumping off the turnbuckles. It’s essentially a soap opera with simulated violence and more fake blood.

Although, a few of those steel-chair-smashes to the cranium did look awfully life-like…

Yes, I have to admit that against my Mother’s absolutely-justified and entirely-well-advised orders, I did sneak in a few episodes of WWF* wrestling from time to time (*that’s right, I liked wrestling when it was a “Federation” in the days before they admitted it was pure entertainment and changed the name). I’d quickly flip the channel if I saw her come into the room, but then it’d be right back to The Undertaker getting stunned by Stone Cold Steve Austin, or The Rock delivering a dramatic People’s Elbow to the solar plexus of Triple H with Good Ole JR screaming “OH MY GOD! HE’S KILLED HIM!” from the ringside announcer’s table.

Okay…maybe it was more than just a few episodes.

On occasion, I’d watch Monday Night Raw in my bedroom with the door shut, telling myself that I’d need to keep quiet if I wanted to throw Mom off the scent of the electric mayhem and debauchery on the 14-inch television set atop the dresser in my bedroom. Around 9pm, the festivities would begin, and I’d be able to keep quiet until about 9:07. By then, some ridiculous plotline would have been introduced (I SWEAR I SAW VINCE MCMAHON EXPLODE INSIDE THAT LIMO!!!), and I’d be jumping up and down on the bed from pure excitement trying my best to hold in the shrieks of enthusiasm.

Panic would set in as I’d hear Mom coming up the stairs. “What are you doing in there?!” Mom would yell through the closed door.

READING DR. SUESS!!!” I’d scream back as I jumped up and down on the twin box spring, just as Mankind shoved Mr. Socko down the throat of a guy who was definitely going to need some Listerine.

I’d always, inevitably, get caught and I’d be banned from watching wrestling again. Fortunately, I was able to recreate my own matches in the basement with Dad (minus any steel chairs, ringside graves, or beer trucks equipped with firehoses of course…). Looking back, I enjoyed those matches way more than any match I ever watched on television. No ridiculous WWF plotline could ever entertain me more than a wrestling match with my Dad. Our family room floor was better than any sold out arena because my Dad was a supreme entertainer.

I can always remember the laughter when Dad would have me jump off the couch like I was jumping off of a turnbuckle (sorry Mom, but this is why the armrest cushion padding was always a bit smushed on that one side…). He’d pretend like he was asleep or mortally wounded until the very last second before I would jump. Somehow, he’d spring up and catch me in his arms, spin me upside down, and pin me on the ground without doing too much cranial damage. I’d laugh, even though I was losing—frequently.

Aside from the fun, Dad would also challenge me to “get mean” and toughen up while I was wrestling with him, making sure that I never gave up even though he rarely (if ever) let me win. I wasn’t a very “mean” kid, and I think in some respect, my Dad never let me win because he wanted to toughen me up and have me prepare to wrestle in bigger battles that would inevitably come my way throughout life. When all was so seemingly perfect in my childhood, I don’t think either one of use could have ever envisioned the toughness we would both need to build to face what was looming for our family on the horizon.

I couldn’t have guessed that wrestling would define so much of our lives—both my Dad’s and my own. And it wasn’t the physical wrestling that ended up defining us. It was mental wrestling—and it’s still going on to this day.

It wasn’t until I learned that my Dad suffered from severe, clinical depression that I realized how much he struggled and grappled with his own emotions. He was constantly wrestling inside his head with fears of inadequacy and doubt. In his darkest moments, he was plagued with questions of whether or not he was enough, even though God and everyone in his life tried to encourage him. Mental illness is a unique enemy. I won’t say it’s any more or less difficult than other things we all face in life; I’m just acknowledging that it’s unique. If you’re struggling at work or school, you can go home and find rest. If you’re struggling with a friend, you can distance yourself. But our heads are always with us, and for the individual who is mentally ill, there’s no off switch. Those feelings can be so unrelenting, and at times, it can feel like there’s no escape. I honestly believe that’s why my Dad’s response when his depression reached its peak was to physically escape from the world around him—even though that approach offered little hope of long-term success or wellness.

I believe the most difficult part of my Dad’s wrestling stemmed from the fact that he was facing off against an invisible enemy and he didn’t always ask for a partner to tag in and help. As I grew older, I learned not to blame my Dad for his mental illness, and I was fortunate that at the time of his death, I never dealt with feelings of blame towards my Dad for the way he died. Don’t get me wrong—I was angry. But not at my Dad. I was angry at depression, mental illness, and a disease that cut his life entirely too short.

But just because I didn’t blame my Dad doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t do things differently if given the opportunity, and at the top of the list is a wish for my Dad to have reached out to get the help that he needed and deserved. My Dad would take medication to help with his depression, and then when he would start feeling well again, he believed he no longer needed the medication to help him (a vicious cycle that many, many individuals struggling with mental illness deal with). Because my Dad was a strong guy who could fix just about anything, he also didn’t seem to have it in his DNA to go and see a therapist or professional counselor who could help him talk and work through his illness. My Dad was a helper in every area of his life, and I think that led to him not being able to ask for help himself when he needed it most.

I hate that my Dad often wrestled behind the curtain. I hate that he felt such unbelievable shame that he couldn’t bring it upon himself to share his struggles with others or seek professional help in the form of counseling or psychological therapy. It’s like watching that tag team wrestling match in which the guy in the middle of the ring clearly needs to tag his partner, but he just can’t bring himself to admit that he might need the assistance.

Watching my Dad wrestle has taught me a lesson—a lesson I never thought I’d need to learn about how we deal with mental illness, but also how we deal with grief.

Since losing Dad, I’ve spent a lot of time wrestling as well. Unfortunately, I think it’s the burden that many of us who lose a loved one to suicide are dealt. Could we have done more? Could we have said more? Could we have loved more? What could we have done to build a shelter for the storm forming on the horizon? It’s a difficult place to be that’s riddled with guilt, sadness, and perpetual questions.

However, I believe there’s great growth in the wrestling that happens in our lives. It isn’t always pleasant, and we often leave bloodied and bruised, but time and life circumstances can provide perspective if we are willing to seek it out.

I firmly believe that when it comes to our thoughts and beliefs, we have to wrestle with them in order to understand why we believe them in the first place. That’s why I think so many people struggle with Christianity in America—it’s always been something that’s just there and accepted, which means we often take it for granted and don’t wrestle with the deep tenets of our faith to understand what they mean and why they are important. I’ve seen this principle play out in my life in so many different areas. I firmly believe that the best lessons I’ve learned in the college classroom have been the ones that I’ve had to fight hard with to comprehend. The best books I’ve read have been the ones that have challenged me with complex characters, extensive vocabulary, and elaborate plotlines. And even when I think back to my own childhood, my Dad was my greatest wrestling partner because he was stronger than me and because he didn’t let me win. I learned something in the struggle.

And wow, have I wrestled with my Dad’s death. In the dark night of the soul that often accompanies our weightiest grief, I’ve struggled to come to terms with how a loving God—in control of every aspect of the universe He created and every son or daughter who lives in it—could allow mental illness and suicide to defeat my Father. There are some moments of wrestling in which I can answer that question quickly. I can accept the fact that God loves me, loves my Dad, and in no way intended for this to be the way his life on Earth ended.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to more difficult moments of wrestling. Sleepless nights full of tears when the answers are elusive have been a regularity in the months and years since losing Dad. Maybe you’ve been there too. Maybe you’re there now.

God, in my opinion, calls us to take those burdens that we wrestle with and let Him carry the weight. That doesn’t mean that we stop wrestling. It doesn’t mean that we stop the questions with the clasp of our hands in prayer, but it does mean that we trust Him to eventually help us find the answer, and we believe that there’s a purpose to our confusion, grief, and lack of understanding. The answer may not come when we want it, and it may not come in the form we hope for—and we should be grateful for that. It will come in a way and at a time that is more perfect than we could ever imagine.

The result of our wrestling is not automatic or instantaneous peace—it’s a path forward. That path may look difficult and be quite unwelcome. That path might include regular counseling, medication, a dedicated health regimen, forgiveness (both for ourselves and others), or confession. But any path towards health is better than a wrestling match that never has a resolution. I’d rather risk a loss or misstep here or there, or even brief momentary pain, than to be caught in a perpetual state of not-knowing.

When it comes to mental struggling or emotional wrestling, God never puts us in a tap-out position. We might be in pain. We might be hurting. We might need to reach out and tag in a partner to help us. We might have to ask our ringside coach for a bit of advice or wisdom. But God never wants us to tap out. He gives us all the strength and resources we need in those instances if we are just willing to admit that we need it.

For those of us who struggle with mental illness in any of its forms and manifestations, we must believe that there is a purpose to the wrestling. We don’t need to welcome the pain with an ever-present smile, because that’s phony. I don’t trust people who act like they embrace pain—there’s a whole different set of clinical disorders to describe that. But even though wrestling can be painful and might not yield an immediate victory, we realize and recognize that there’s a deeper purpose and more intricate plan tied to every aspect of our lives that will, eventually, reveal itself to us. With that perspective, like any good athlete, we learn to welcome the wrestling even if it’s difficult work. We learn that our greatest beliefs will only be strengthened if they are challenged and grappled with. Most importantly, however, we acknowledge that wrestling is worth it when our teammate—God—always provides a way out, even if we can’t see it in the midst of our struggle. The wrestling isn’t always fun, but it’s worth it.

When we wrestle well—meaning that when we recognize that in our struggles we are never on our own and when we are willing to admit our difficulties and ask for help—we learn and we grow tremendously. We build spiritual and emotional muscle that helps us to overcome some of life’s greatest difficulties. Even though my Dad might have eventually been overtaken by his mental illness, I’m confident that he did wrestle well throughout his life. He is not defined by that one failure, but he is defined by all the years within which he lived healthy and happily. He is defined by the wife he loved, the son he raised, the people he helped, and the God he served. One day on my Dad’s record of life cannot and will not erase the fact that for fifty years before that, he wrestled victoriously. And as long as I live, I’ll remember those lessons that my Dad taught me in his everyday life, as well as in our mock family room Wrestlemanias.

And even thought you might not always win, never forget….jumping off of a couch “turnbuckle” is a ton of fun. When your significant other or parent isn’t home, give this one a try.

Dad Burying My Head in Sand with SB LogoDad, Remember how much fun we used to have wrestling on the family room floor and laughing as you constantly beat up on me?! It doesn’t sound like as much fun as it really was, now that I write that. Dad, I appreciate that in wrestling, and in a lot of areas of my life, you never just let me win. You always made me earn it, which made me value the struggle and see the purpose of it. I’m glad that, for so long, you wrestled well. I know there were probably many days when you felt like your depression would overtake you but, somehow, you found the strength and the purpose to fight on. I’m grateful that you modeled that kind of strength, and I want you to know that when I think about your life, I think about these types of victories—not the way in which you died. I think about how proud I am of you for fighting as hard as you did for so long. Thank you for always allowing me to see the purpose in wrestling well and fighting through those difficult moments. It’s ironic that the lessons you taught me were preparing me to navigate life after losing you. I don’t always do it perfectly—I fall well short on most days, in fact. But even in your death, you have been a great Father to me. Thank you for loving me enough to teach me how to wrestle well. I miss you terribly, Dad. There have been so many moments where I just wish I could be back to those moments of being your young son again. But I know, in my heart, that we will have those days again. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill out hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 (TLB)

Grace

“I just don’t know if I can go back. How I can go back…”

My Dad died in late July, and I was set to go back to classes for the final year of my Master’s program in education—but I just didn’t know how I could do that. Full-time work and part-time school was taxing enough under normal circumstances, and my life was anything but normal after losing my Dad to suicide. On top of that, everything in life that wasn’t related to my Dad just felt sort of trivial. I wondered if it might be wise to take the year off, but I knew the dangers. Take a year off, and it’s easier to turn that into another year, and then another. Deep down, I knew that my Dad would not have wanted me to stall my progress towards my degree, but I felt extremely guilty getting back to the normal things in life because it felt like I was betraying my Dad’s death.

As I was contemplating what to do for this upcoming year, I got an e-mail from Dr. Kathy Goodman, the professor who would be teaching the Foundations of Research course that I had enrolled in. If I was nervous about continuing my studies while grieving, I was terrified of having to do it while learning about research principles and practices. Research was not my strong suit. I felt as if my classmates were all a few standard deviations ahead of me on their knowledge in this area (lame attempt at research humor, I know). On top of that, I had never taken a class with Dr. Goodman before. I didn’t know her teaching style, and I severely doubted my capacity to find success.

Then came Kathy’s e-mail. “I know that we haven’t been in class together yet during your time in the program,” Kathy said, “but I want you to know that I will do whatever I possibly can to help you be successful this semester.” Kathy expressed her condolences for my family’s loss, and she offered to help me with material, be flexible with deadlines, and allow me the space to grieve when it unexpectedly hit me. I just remember mouthing the word “Wow,” as I sat at my computer. This was a teacher who knew me only tangentially but clearly understood the pain that I was feeling.

I stayed in the course. And I completed it. And in May of 2014, I graduated with my Master’s degree. And getting there was partly possible because Kathy Goodman showed me grace.


I took a month off from work after losing my Dad. Unlike so many others who find themselves in my situation, I was fortunate to work for an employer that (a) understood I would need some time off, and (b) had given me the vacation and sick time necessary to do it. After having that month to grieve, spend time with my family, and adjust to a new normal of life after losing my Dad, I went back to work on the Monday before classes were set to resume for the Fall semester. My day was moderately productive, as I would weave in and out of being able to concentrate on my work and finding myself spiraling into my grief while trying my best to hold it all together.

I woke up on Tuesday morning after a largely sleepless night, and I just knew I didn’t have it in me. I knew that I was not going to have the mental energy to go in and slog through the day like I had done the day before. I grabbed my phone, and I texted my boss, Megan. I had known Megan since my undergraduate days at Miami University Regionals, and she had always done so much to support me—especially in the month since losing my Dad. I told Megan that I felt guilty because I had just been off for an entire month, but I didn’t know if I could come into the office today.

“Tyler,” she responded “Take the time you need. And take care of yourself.” Megan shared how much she was thinking of me and our entire family, and told me over and over again that she was willing to help in any way she could. She reinforced that she knew what I was dealing with was not easy, and she didn’t try to minimize my pain. And that level of care and compassion that she and our entire team at Miami’s Regional Campuses shared with me never ceded, even as the months after Dad died wore on. My colleagues were always, always there, and they always gave me the room to do what I needed to do to be okay.

I did take that day off of work. And over time, I found the courage to continue doing my job and taking care of myself. And it was because Megan and so many of my coworkers at Miami showed me grace.


After losing my Dad, Father’s Day has turned into a particularly painful recurrence. I have difficulty being able to celebrate the fathers that make our community special, but in the years after losing Dad, I was also on staff at our church as an outreach and connections pastor. I had responsibilities during every Sunday service to get up and offer the announcements and our opening prayer. I wanted to try and persevere on this particular Father’s Day and celebrate my own Dad by putting on a brave face and being at church that morning, but I knew it was an impossibility. My Dad’s funeral had been held in that same exact sanctuary, and every time I looked to the front of the room near the stage, I didn’t see the pulpit. Just as if it were still there, I still saw my Dad’s casket. I wondered if I’d ever stop seeing it.

I talked with my Mom about being scared to go to church on Father’s Day. I talked with my pastors, Harville and Dave. I talked with my therapist, Jeff. I talked with friends. In every conversation, I shared my concern about not wanting to be in church on Father’s Day, and the guilt I felt for having that feeling. Every person I talked to reassured me and told me that it was absolutely okay to not be there.

All of these people—every single one of them—gave me the freedom to grieve in my own way. And I did grieve, and eventually I did start going to church on Father’s Day again.

And it was all because the world and the people I loved showed me grace.

Grace, in my opinion, is the firm cornerstone of the grieving process, but more importantly than that, it’s the cornerstone of the human experience in general. When I reflect on the healing I went through during my own bouts with mental illness, my Dad’s struggles, and his eventual death from suicide, the common thread that weaves through the tapestry of those moments is grace. It was grace that always redeemed and carried me through—both the grace given to me by those in my life, and ultimately as a result of the grace given to all of us by God.

I’m confident that, in the months and years leading up to the loss of my Father, God positioned people full of grace into my life to serve as a shelter from the storm. I look back on how God moved people into my life that only He knew would need to be there when everything went dark. Those people, all in their own unique ways, let me know that it was okay to be grieving, okay to be hurting, and okay to have questions that would never receive answers. I’m thankful that they were all there to let me make mistakes and experience unpleasant emotions without ever judging me or expecting more of me than I could give. All of these individuals gave me the grace to grieve. The grace to take a moment and breathe. The grace to make mistakes, to cry unexpectedly and uncontrollably, and to do whatever was helpful for me to be well again.

I think especially of Paige. It can’t be easy living with a spouse who is grieving the traumatic and unexpected loss of a Father; but every single day, I know that it will be a bit easier to grieve because Paige will show me the grace I need to do it successfully. She will be there to hold my hand when I can’t explain how I feel. She will help find creative ways to honor my Dad and to celebrate the life he lived, even though she never met him. She is a living example of God’s grace in my life, and I’m thankful he blessed me with her.

My Mom. My grandparents. My cousins. My colleagues. My neighbors. My Dad’s coworkers. My church family. My classmates. The list goes on and on. It feels like I have a grace-inspired team that’s constantly in my corner, and I know I have God to thank for them.

And what makes this grace from God and those in my life even greater is that I had done absolutely nothing to deserve it. I can’t help but see that the same grace that was given and continues to be granted to me throughout the grieving process is the exact same grace that God calls us to embody and live out when we interact with those who are suffering from mental illness—a grace that I was unwilling to extend when it mattered most.

It’s not lost on me that, the first time I had the opportunity to show my Dad that grace when he revealed his mental illness, I failed the test. It’s not lost on me that, on the night my Father came home after being missing for three days while I was in high school, I had an opportunity to extend him grace but instead chose to be judgmental. I chose blame as my weapon. And accusation. And hurtful words and unnecessary threats. And self-righteousness. Instead of offering a hug, I offered a clenched fist. I reacted in anger when I should have responded with compassion. It’s the greatest regret of my entire life, and even though God has forgiven me for that severe misstep, I don’t know that I’ve often forgiven myself.

So, even if I don’t do it well all the time and often do it imperfectly, I’m working harder to realize the role that grace has played in my life, and I’m doing all I can to give it out more freely.

Quote Tile - GraceAs we’ve unfortunately seen over the past few months and years, we live in a world where grace is a rarity. It’s as rare to find grace as it is a full shelf of toilet paper or hand sanitizer (this joke will make absolutely no sense to people reading this fifty years from now, which makes it even more fun). We live in a world where grace is an exception to the rule rather than the expectation of it. We live in a world where grace towards others that we dislike, disagree with, or even despise is a gift we are simply unwilling to give. We decide to dole out grace in a different way than God directed us to. God gives out grace freely, but we ration it like it’s a resource that only deserving people deserve.

God just doesn’t see it that way.

We are all hurting in our own unique, unrecognizable ways—especially those struggling with mental illness. And if we know that everyone around us is hurting, we have to do more to extend grace their way—even when they don’t ask for it, and especially when they don’t deserve it. God doesn’t unequally administer grace, and I’m grateful for that. He doesn’t only administer grace to rich people, or good-looking people, or people who can tell funny jokes, or people who live in certain countries. No matter your hurts or struggles, no matter your missteps or mishaps, no matter your most sinister and evil thoughts, actions, or desires, God’s gift of grace waits for you each and every day.

When it comes to mental illness, we have to do more to be grace-filled healers to those who are hurting. We have to find ways to let people know that, if they are suffering, it is not their fault. We have to be able to let those who are hurting know that their struggles with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideations, or any other host of mental illness is not a reflection of their character. It’s easy to cognitively believe that this is true, but the way we live our lives must also reflect that we accept it. That’s why, from day one, the motto of this blog has always been “It’s okay for you to not be okay, but it’s not okay for you to stay that way.” It’s a grace-filled mantra, and one that I repeat to myself often on days where I feel inadequate or unworthy. As much as I might be saying that to others, I’m also saying it to myself regularly, even if I imperfectly execute it.

And if you are struggling with mental illness or suicidal ideations, you have to do more than just receive grace from others. You have to be willing to extend grace to yourself. You must be willing to forgive yourself for any mistakes you’ve made, while also understanding that the way you feel is not always a result of what you’ve done or haven’t done. It’s that grace given to oneself that opens up a roadmap to healing—one that might include any regimen of treatments. To go and talk to a therapist or mental health professional, you must give yourself grace to escape the expectation of perfection. To regularly take medication, you must give yourself grace to accept your body and its unique physical/psychological processes. To exercise regularly, you must give yourself grace to realize you don’t have to be chiseled to set foot in a gym for the first time (if that was the case, they wouldn’t even let me set foot in the parking lot). Our ability to pursue any path towards healing requires that we accept that we are doing things to get better because we are worthy of being better.

And perhaps most importantly, if we are in the midst of a grief-filled period of life, grace will be the tool in the toolbox that we must rely on (and give to others) most frequently. Grace got me through my grief. Grace got me through the most difficult days. Grace got me through the days when all I wanted to do was sit in the bed and cry. Grace got me through those seasons of life within which all I could think about was how much I was falling short. Grace got me through all of that. And the only thing that will sustain me in the years to come will be receiving that grace from God over and over and giving it to everyone else in my life in return.

We don’t have to be perfect to receive that grace—I’m thankful for that!—and we also can’t hold back in extending grace to only people who get it right all the time. In fact, if people got life right all the time, there’d be no need for grace at all, and ultimately there would have been no need for a Savior. But because the world is imperfect and the people who inhabit the world are just as broken, we all need to find a way to both give grace and accept it. We have to be able to live with our mistakes and missteps while not keeping a permanent score of the same missteps of others.

I’m thankful that the God I serve is one who doesn’t expect perfection, but instead is in the business of redeeming lost children, like me. If God expected perfection, I would have had to throw in the towel a long, long time ago. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way. I’m thankful that God has forgiven me for all the things I’ve gotten wrong, because it’s allowed me (over time) to not expect that same perfection of others. My faith has taught me that grace, not perfection, but grace is the key to being loved by God and being able to love one another.

Just like my Dad was, grace has been one of my greatest teachers.

Dad Leaning Back in a ChairDad, I’m sorry that I did not extend you more grace when you needed it. I’m really sorry that, on that first bad day when you were hurting and suffering and feeling inadequate, I didn’t do more to make you feel loved. If I’m being truthful, it still haunts me when I think about the way I reacted to you with anger and judgement. It was ugly. It was unbecoming of a son who loved his father. I’m glad that I had other opportunities to be more kind and compassionate to you when you were hurting. Perhaps more than anything, I’m thankful that you were a Dad who didn’t expect perfection out of your son. You were a Father who helped me learn through my failures. You were a Father who taught me because you believed I could learn. Dad, I don’t judge you for your death and the way you left us. I’m not angry at you or bitter because you left too soon. I’m sad, and there are days when I’m devastated, and I miss you like crazy, but I don’t blame you for those things. I blame depression and mental illness and processes that, in our limited human understanding, we can’t make sense of. And that’s why, in your memory, I do my best to extend grace to everyone around me because I know, in their own ways, they are hurting too. Thank you for reminding me why this is important through the way you lived your life. Thank you for always living out grace in your own life. I so desperately wish you had been able to extend that grace to yourself in those last moments, but I know you’ve received it now in the full glory of Eternity. I’m looking forward to the day when we can experience that together. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)

Working Through Grief: Guest Blog by Christina Grote

Tyler: “The people that you work with are just, when you get down to it, your very best friends. They say on your deathbed, you never wish you spent more time at the office; but I will. Gotta be a lot better than a deathbed. I actually don’t understand deathbeds. I mean, who would buy that?” Michael Scott (The Office, Season 7, Episode 22: Goodbye, Michael)

The Office OlympicsOh, how I appreciate the wisdom of a good quote from the philosophical guru of our times, Michael Scott. I’ve watched The Office on a loop for years and years, doing my best to avoid Season 8 (talk about a long, national nightmare), and knowing that the show speaks truth in its simple humor. Let’s be honest—we’ve all had that moment where we’ve noticed a striking and deeply unsettling parallel between our work lives and the lives of those inhabiting the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve likely thought of yourself as a Jim-figure when, in reality, you’re more of a Michael. And maybe a Dwight at times. And possibly a bit of a Kevin. But never, ever a Toby. I mean, come on….that guy?

For a long time, The Office was a show that my coworkers and I could all relate to and share a laugh over. It brought us all together because, when something frustrating would happen at work or someone would act like a complete Dwight or a Toby, we could find humor in it. I’ve shared that camaraderie with many wonderful colleagues throughout the years, and I’m amazed when I think of the time I’ve spend with all of those people who have become some of my best friends.

In normal, non-COVID-19, American society, the average person likely spends just as much time with their coworkers as they do with their family and friends—sometimes, they spend even more time with coworkers than anyone else in their immediate circle.

I’m thankful that, for many years, I got to spend those hours with Christina Grote.

Christina Grote and Tyler Bradshaw 2During my time as an Admission Counselor at Miami University’s Regional Campuses, Christina blessed my life with her thoughtfulness, dedication, and fun-loving attitude. Christina joined our team about a year into my tenure there, and we worked closely with one another on about every project imaginable from campus visits, to coordinating tour guide efforts, and yes, those many, many visits to high schools all across the region. To this day, she is one of the most dependable, loyal coworkers that I’ve ever worked with.

And more than that, she was there for me as a dear and compassionate friend when I lost my Father to suicide. I know that I couldn’t have navigated his death without her kindness every Monday through Friday from 8:04-4:57 (I may not always be on time, but at least I’m precise).

Years removed from my Father’s death, I often find myself looking in the rearview mirror for those folks that I’ve deemed “position people.” These are people that came into my life for, at the time, unbeknownst reasons to me; but looking in the rearview mirror, I can see that God was perfectly positioning a village of caring, loving people around me to provide a hedge of protection and walk alongside me, arm in arm, as I grieved. Neither Christina nor I could see the tragedies on the horizon in either of our lives, but I believe that our Creator did and knew having one another to navigate those moments and learn from one another would be so vital to our healing.

From the moment that I met her in her interview, I could tell that Christina Grote had a heart for helping people, which I knew would be a great asset in her role as an admission counselor. I just didn’t know that the person she would help most would be me. I’m thankful that during my greatest tragedy, Christina was there for me—and I hope I’ve been able to show my appreciation for her by being there through hers.

I am elated that Christina decided to help even more people by sharing her story here at Seeya Bub because it’s one that teaches all of us how we can all do a better job of supporting our coworkers who are grieving. Unfortunately, Christina has experienced this process from both roles—that of supporter, and that of the person grieving. Because of that trial by fire, Christina has learned important lessons about literally working through your grief, which she shares with us here.


Christina: My name is Christina and I’m thankful to Tyler for inviting me to contribute to his impactful and important blog. This post has been years in the making – the timing just hasn’t been right to share my story, until now.

Christina Grote and Tyler Bradshaw 1A brief history and context — I met Tyler in the spring of 2012 when interviewing for my first full-time job at Miami University’s regional campus in Middletown. I was excited to be interviewing for a position that combined many of my interests and talents, and was over-the-moon to be offered a role as an Admission Counselor prior to finishing my Master’s degree. Right away, I knew I had made a great decision – the campus was friendly, our work with prospective college students made a difference, and I got to be closer to home after grad school. And, frankly, it was just a lot of fun to visit high schools and talk about going to college. Tyler and I went to many of the high schools in southwestern Ohio together to give presentations about the college application process, financial aid, finding a major and career readiness. We would be at schools all day, giving the same presentation six or seven times – it got to the point where we had timed down our jokes and one-liners to the second. We made connections with students through games and made a great team in the classroom.  We also became good friends in the process, enjoying many lunches at Frisch’s (seriously, so much Frisch’s…) and shared many inside jokes from the road.

Fast forward to July 24, 2013. I received a text from Tyler that was short – Family emergency, I won’t be in today. I assumed something bad had happened, but truthfully had no idea that this day would change everything. I had been in the office, and when I returned from lunch everyone was congregated in our lobby area.

Tyler’s dad passed away.

When you work in an office as small as ours (around 10-15 people in total), and spend as much time together as Tyler and I had, it’s impossible not to be impacted by this news. It wasn’t until later that I had learned that Scott had lost his life from suicide. This information only compounded my feelings – I felt sadness for Tyler’s loss, and also felt helpless in the situation for my friend and coworker and unsure of what I could do to make this unbearable situation better.

Had I written this blog two years ago (you know, around the first or second time Tyler asked me to…), I would have jumped right into my reflection of how to successfully support your coworker when they return to work after a significant loss. But instead, on February 25, 2018, my own personal hell became reality — my dad had died, just one month after I lost my aunt to a short battle with cancer.

My mom came to my apartment and told me the news early that morning. She and I had been out the night before to see a live performance of The Price is Right downtown, and we both stayed out later than usual. I drove home to my apartment in Fairfield, and my mom went home. We believe my dad died from a health event, like a heart attack, but to this day we’re not sure. The next few weeks were a blur. The visitation was a long blur. The funeral was an emotional, somber blur. In the same church where I had married my husband, Brian, just 14 months earlier, we were now saying our final goodbyes to my dad. I went back to work after the first week, just to go through the motions of what I thought I needed to be doing, but I was a shell of a person for a long time.

Everything I was doing felt wrong — being at home felt wrong, shopping for dresses to wear to the funeral felt wrong, crying felt wrong, sleeping felt wrong, eating felt wrong. Going to work felt wrong, but also felt kind of right – my dad was a hard-worker and would have probably gone back the following Monday too. So I went through the motions and drove to work, 8 days after my world shattered. I think it was an unexpected gift to be at work — sure, there were still a lot of crying episodes and emotional moments, but there was also this fake sense of normalcy that I was clinging to. It also helped, too, that I worked with incredibly supportive folks who let me just be that day (and many other days since then). Was I productive that day? Absolutely not. Was it what I needed? Yes.

Which brings me to the whole point of this blog post — what can you do when your coworker is experiencing grief? These are just a few thoughts and suggestions that I hope have helped others and that certainly helped me during my grief journey.

Say something – even if it’s not perfect. There are definitely some things that are not ideal to say to someone who is dealing with loss or grief — that’s not really what this blog post is about (if you’re really unsure, a quick Google search will enlighten some cringe-worthy things to avoid). The worst thing that you can do is to pretend that nothing has happened and say nothing to your coworker. Even just a simple, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” goes a long way to show empathy and caring.

I’ll never forget when Tyler came back to work after taking time following Scott’s passing. I’ll admit I was nervous and certainly walking on eggshells for the first few days, uncertain of how Tyler would do and being extra cautious to check in but give him space. A few days had passed, and we were talking about some upcoming meeting or event that we weren’t necessarily looking forward to. Without thinking, I said a phrase that was part of my everyday vernacular and normally wouldn’t have thought twice about — “ugh, kill me now.” How many times have we said this in the past about something without thinking twice? As soon as the words were travelling out of my mouth, I wanted to hurriedly smoosh them right back in but couldn’t. Tyler didn’t even realize I had said this, but I felt all the blood rush out of my face and found some fake excuse to end the conversation and close my office door. I lost it right there – how could I be so insensitive? How could I have said something so stupid in front of my coworker and friend who just lost his dad to suicide?

It took some time for me to share this with Tyler (again, he didn’t even realize that I had even said this! It was weighing on my heart and he had no idea.). In that moment, an ordinary conversation turned into a moment of panic and anxiety. But that’s what it was, an ordinary conversation with a coworker. You can’t ignore that life has changed for the person grieving, but sometimes when you’re grieving, mindless ordinary conversations can help break up the overwhelming emotions that you are experiencing. When you ask “Hey, how are you?” to your coworker, they might just say, “Fine,” or they might let you know exactly how they’re feeling. Both are okay, and checking in is so important for the person grieving and for you as the supportive co-worker.

Show up when your coworker cannot. Some days, the person grieving just cannot — cannot get out of bed, cannot show up to work, cannot even try to do the normal things with their former level of enthusiasm or dedication or productivity. That’s the reality. If you’re lucky, you work somewhere that allows and encourages mental health days for this very reason to allow the person to be away from work to experience their emotions and process them in their own time and way. When I say to “show up when your coworker cannot,” I don’t mean to give permission to just “take over” work responsibilities for your grieving colleague without input or notice — respect that the person grieving is trying as hard as they can to return to or create some sense of this “new normal.” However, there are some days when it is just too much to deal with and your colleague might just need some help, whether they ask for it or not.

Check in with your coworker and let them know that you are there for them. Give specific ways that you can help (i.e. returning a phone call to someone, leading a group meeting that week, or other ways that are relevant to your workplace). This is also good advice for connecting with friends who are grieving – specific ways to help are often met with warmer welcomes than just the generic “Let me know what I can do’s” — it shows thoughtfulness and doesn’t place the burden on the grieving person to tell you what they need.

Don’t ignore the grief your coworker is experiencing. Grief is uncomfortable — it’s not a desired human emotion, especially in our American “Do anything to be happy” culture. There’s no rulebook for grief, the “5 stages” are not often linear, and even as time passes there are triggers that set off a grieving person. A person grieving can rarely plan for these unexpected moments of emotions — they happen sometimes when you expect them like holidays, birthdays and the anniversary of their passing; but sometimes it happens when they hear a song on the radio, smell a familiar scent that reminds them of a memory, or just hearing a phrase spoken their loved one used to say. Prior to losing my dad, I didn’t realize just how unpredictable grief can be — I assumed there was this time frame that everyone gave themselves, then moved on. This misconception was challenging for me to work through in the first year after my dad passed because I was striving to be happy and not be in pain, when the reality was that things were permanently different now and I needed to be uncomfortable to adjust.

Your coworker (or friend, or workout buddy — really, this is relevant to anyone) is trying to make sense of this new reality, while trying to appear that they are making their way “back to normal.” There is no time limit or timeline for grief and there will be days of inexplicable emotions. Just a few months ago, my coworker (who also lost her dad several years ago) came to my office visibly upset. She had just met with a student who lost her dad and was trying to figure out what her academic options were. In that moment, she allowed herself to be vulnerable and provide caring support to the student, to share emotions together, and also give genuine support through the avenues and resources available through the university. When she came to tell me about this meeting afterward, we both took some time to grieve together and recognize that regardless of how much time had passed, we both missed our dads and both could empathize with this student’s circumstances.

You don’t have to have first-hand experience to be supportive. When Tyler’s dad passed away, I had been very fortunate to not know grief very well — I think at that point I had only lost distant relatives and their losses, although tragic, brought brief and temporary sadness but not life-altering grief. I didn’t have the perspective to fully understand what Tyler was going through in those days and months after Scott passed, but that didn’t keep me from trying my best to be a supportive coworker and friend by listening, being there and stepping up where I could. It shouldn’t take experience to be a better supporter of grieving friends and coworkers, but I know I owe apologies to friends and coworkers who I wasn’t as great of a supporter to before I experienced such profound grief and loss myself. Since my dad passed, I’ve been able to show up for coworkers and friends who are also dealing with loss, this time with the unfortunate but inevitable lesson of having gone through it myself. Ultimately, there’s no right way to do any of this, so give yourself some grace and just try to do the best you can in each moment of supporting your coworker through their grief journey.

I’ve worked with some pretty incredible people in my career so far and for that I’m very blessed. This has been evident in how we’ve been able to support each other during happy times in life, but also in those times of loss and sadness. We often know how to be supportive in our families and close friendships, but our work lives are grounded in relationships with colleagues that are incredibly valuable and important. I hope this reflection is a helpful perspective for anyone who is struggling with loss and grief, whether your own or for a friend or someone in your work life. Anything you can do to show up and be there will make a positive impact for someone in their darkest hour.


Tyler: A few months after losing my Dad, Christina and I found ourselves immersed, yet again, in our seemingly never-ending world tour of high school presentations, going into classrooms and talking about college readiness topics. On this particular day, the day after an Election Day in November, I found myself driving the hour-or-so trek to Oakwood High School near Dayton. As I did most mornings, I was listening to the talk radio news reports about the election results and the endless, partisan, back-and-forth bickering and fear-mongering between two political sides of the coin—neither concerned with actually solving challenging problems but more concerned with protecting their own power and getting re-elected the next time.

And like grief unexpectedly does, it hit me. Just as Christina wrote about, out of nowhere, a wave of emotion washed over me because I had once been so consumed by national politics but now, in light of loss, it all felt so meaningless. In that moment, I could think only one thought:

Dad couldn’t have cared less about any of this. And in the end, it wasn’t all that important. And I’m a horrible person for thinking it was ever important.

And there, the spiral began.

It probably wasn’t logical to extrapolate the results of a national election into the pain I was feeling after losing my Dad, but as Christina reminded us, grief isn’t all that logical. I cried for the last few minutes of that drive, and when I pulled into the parking lot, I dashed off a quick message on social media about how I was feeling. I tried to compose myself—to pull it together—before Christina arrived because we had a full day of presentations ahead of us and I knew I’d need to be on my game—“stage ready.”

Christina pulled up into the parking lot and as we got out of our cars to start unloading our materials, she could tell I was upset. Without saying a word, she just tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a hug and said she was sorry that I was hurting.

I’ll never, ever forget that moment as long as I live.

I tried to explain why I was feeling what I was feeling to Christina; but the beauty was I didn’t have to. She wasn’t expecting me to reason through my feelings. She just told me that she was there, and if I couldn’t present my part of the presentation that day, she was ready to jump right in and help (I’m sure she was hoping we weren’t giving the presentation where I used to sing a small stanza from a Sesame Street song…).

She was there. More than anything, Christina was there.

I’d like to think it’s qualities like these that Christina exhibited—trusting your intuition and showing an unyielding sense of care for your fellow human—that are those intangible qualities required for the “other duties as assigned” bullets I see in so many job descriptions.

It’s easy to take good colleagues who become friends for granted. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us all that. Yes, there’s the grace that God has provided for us to socially distance ourselves from the “Dwights” we don’t like (yes, we all have them); but on the flip side of the coin, I’m sure that many of us have grown to miss those coworkers whom we laugh with, share coffee or (Frisch’s) lunch with, and genuinely enjoy being around.

Grotes at WeddingChristina’s post reminded me how fortunate I was to have to her in my life at a time when God desperately knew I was going to need her friendship. It also reminds me that, when it comes to supporting my coworkers and colleagues in their own emotional struggles, I still have a lot to learn. It reminds me that even an imperfect attempt to help someone who is hurting and healing is better than no attempt at all. And it reminds me of the bravery it takes (which Christina showed on so many occasions) to take that step to help, even when you don’t quite know what to do. We have to help others who are grieving, but we can’t help them if we don’t first try.

Because, in the words of Wayne Gretzky in the words of Michael Scott, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Dad Smiling Against StairsDad, Although it’s been so difficult to live life here without you, I know that you’ve been watching over me—over all of us. I also find peace knowing that God positioned people in my life, like Christina Grote, to help me grieve in a way that was healthy. There have been days when I’ve been so unexpectedly sad since your death, but it always seems that there have been loving people who know exactly what to say in just the right moment. I know that’s no coincidence. I know that it’s all part of a perfect plan to heal an imperfect world. Dad, I’m thankful that you were always such a blessing to your coworkers. I think of the countless people who loved spending time with you at work. I know that you enjoyed your job because you liked working with machines and getting your hands dirty, but I also know that you really loved your job because of the people who brought a smile to your face. Dad, I hope you know that you brought that smile to the faces of so many people during your all-too-short life here on Earth. You were a constant source of encouragement and joy for those who called you a friend or colleague, and we miss that brightness in our lives because you aren’t here. You were gone too soon, but I’m thankful that you made the most of the time you got to spend with people. It’s an important reminder to me when things get busy, and I’m grateful that your life lessons are still teaching me. You were the best Father a boy could ask for, and I can’t wait to remind you of that face to face. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed, Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.” Galatians 6:2 (MSG)

Christina WerneryAuthor Bio: Christina Grote

Christina is a higher education professional who has worked at Miami University’s Regional Campuses for almost 8 years. She’s a Cincinnati native & alumna of The Ohio State University (Go Buckeyes!) and Wright State University. She is currently working on her doctorate in Student Affairs in Higher Education at Miami. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors & golfing with her husband Brian, cooking new recipes, and seeing the world through the eyes of her cat, Sophia.

Shine a Light

On most evenings (and much to my own personal dread on the cold ones), I take our golden retriever puppy, Penelope, for a walk around our neighborhood. Slowly but surely, Penny is figuring out how to walk like a respectable dog.

Let me rephrase that—very slowly, but surely nonetheless.

Penny
Penny Bradshaw (Don’t be fooled by the cuteness.)

More and more, Penny is growing to like her walks. At first, she was always a bit too anxious and couldn’t enjoy the walks because of her nervousness. Paige and I didn’t give up, and after many failed attempts and one fantastic puppy training camp later (thanks Rhino Kennels!), Penny is getting more and more accustomed to her nighttime strolls around our corner of suburbia. She usually gives me a few excited jumps as we begin our walks together (even though I’m pretty sure our dog trainer told us not to let her do this but it really is pretty adorable—sorry Rhino Kennels!). She’s growing more interested in sniffing cars and flowers and fire hydrants along the way. And she has really enjoyed stopping at either of the ponds in our neighborhood if there happens to be a pack of geese or ducks that she can watch intently.

But even with all her progress, Penny still gets a bit nervous. Paige and I laugh about Penny’s nervous “head dip” that she does when she sees something she doesn’t recognize approaching in the distance. I can always tell when she’s spotted something coming her way. If she sees an approaching person, dog, or UWO (unidentified walking object), Penny’s pace slows ever so slightly. Her walking becomes much more deliberate and controlled. Locked in on the figure in the distance, Penny lowers her head slightly and hunches her little puppy shoulders (do puppies have shoulders?!). As we get closer and closer, Penny’s hunch gets lower and lower. Her walking slows even more until, finally, we reach the object. She either lowers her hunch all the way to the ground and stays in a submissive position, or if she’s feeling friendly, she investigates, jumps, and wags her tail.

Most of the time, I laugh at Penny—that is, until I spot something that I can’t identify on the horizon and get a little nervous myself.

My work schedule typically requires that I walk Penny in the evening, and the fantastic winter weather and daily 37-minutes of sunshine that we seem to get in southwestern Ohio at this time of year often require that I walk Penny in the dark. For the most part, our neighborhood is very well lit, but there are some stretches that tend to be a bit darker than others.

A few evenings ago, Penny and I were walking together in the cold when I noticed the familiar hunching behavior of my four-legged companion. Realizing that she had spotted something up ahead, I looked up and spotted something in the distance. I spotted it too, and after a few seconds of quick mental processing, I had identified three possible things that the darkened object on the sidewalk up ahead could have been:

  1. A small, toothy-little creature that was prepared to chew all of our ankles off,
  2. A carnivorous, vicious, prehistoric-style bird that would peck through my ribcage and ravage all of my internal organs, or
  3. A piece of trash.

Naturally, I chose the most realistic option of the three.

It was definitely the bird.

If you know me, you know that I have a particularly strong fear of any creature from the avian realm. I’ve got this whole ornithophobia thing down to a fear-inducing science of pure terror. When I was a child, my Dad used to torment me at the county fair by gleefully dragging me through the chicken barn as I shrieked, bawled, and prayed to my God and any others who might be listening that none of these foul fowls would decide to jump on me and peck my eyes out. When I visit Home Depot, I am that guy who ducks (no pun intended) anytime a bird flies down from the warehouse-style ceiling (WE ARE INSIDE! WHY IS A BIRD INSIDE?!). And one time while on vacation with our closest friends a few years ago, a seagull attacked me and stole the last bite of my delicious Cuban sandwich as I screamed for intervention from the Almighty. I still can’t eat a Cuban sandwich without feeling my heart rate increase. Thanks, bird.

On the night in question, as Penny and I both crept towards the vulture-like bird on the sidewalk in front of us, we each grew a bit more anxious. I could see Penny’s head go lower and lower and lower towards the ground as she slowed her walk, and I felt myself preparing for a bit of a run in the event that this bird did what I knew it was going to do (namely, kill me and my dog in a violent flurry of feathers and squawking).

A light in the distance flickered, and as we got closer and closer I decided to take out my phone and turn on the flashlight so I could look into the devilish eyes of the murderous beast. And once I cast the light up ahead of us, I had a clear vision of our dreaded enemy.

A mangled pizza box.

(But wait….there could still be a bird inside the pizza box ready to fly out and peck our eyeballs out, right?!)

That’s right. The fear-inducing figure in the distance turned out to be nothing more than someone’s old, empty pizza box that had likely blown from a garbage can down the street.

I was relieved, and so was Penny—although she really wishes there would have been a slice of pepperoni with extra cheese left for her. But it wasn’t until we were able to shine a light on the shadow in the distance and realize what it was before we could be free from our anxiety and fear.

And in many ways, I think that mental illness works the same way.

I firmly believe that mental illness is an enemy that, when left in the dark, grows stronger, more powerful, and more all-encompassing day by day. I also believe that, when talked about and brought out into the light, we diminish the stronghold that mental illness can have on our minds and on our lives. With each confession that we are struggling or hurting, we slowly strip mental illness of its power and fight against the culture of silence where it finds its control.

When I reflect and think back on my Dad’s struggle, I can see this playing out in the rearview mirror as I desperately wish I had paid more attention to it. For the longest time, my Dad refused to shine a light on his own depression, but instead chose to bury it deep below the surface—but his motivations weren’t egocentric in the slightest. My Dad was not a man who cared about image or his own ego, and I am confident that the reasons that my Dad felt he couldn’t talk about his depression were motivated by a fear of disappointment—more than most, he was afraid he would let people down.

My Dad was a fixer. A builder. A carpenter, electrician, and maintenance technician by both trade and pure interest, and there was rarely a thing my Dad couldn’t do. My Dad was the guy that everyone called. If you needed a ceiling fan fixed or a shower tiled or a deck built, my Dad was the first call for many. His talents, as I’ve written about before, were abundant, and now that he’s gone, I think I’m even more in awe of what he could do. He was an artist, a craftsman of the highest order, obsessed with detail, quality, and perfection. But above all, he loved being able to make others happy with his talent. And by golly, it was genuine.

Above all, I know the motive for why my Dad helped people. It wasn’t about showing off those talents. It was never about boasting. It was because he had a fixer’s heart, and he liked being able to help others. More than anything, I think my Dad had a deep fear of disappointing people.

This fear of disappointing people was one of his most admirable qualities—but it was also the same fear that, left unchecked, led to him into periods of suffering in isolation and loneliness. Among his many great qualities, my Dad was also dependable beyond belief. If he told you he would be somewhere, he was there. If he told you he was going to fix something, it would be fixed. He held himself to a higher standard than anyone else, and that higher standard could create pressure that was difficult to reckon with. I believe that my Dad had an irrational fear that admitting he had depression and that he was suffering would cause people to think they couldn’t depend on him any longer—and I’m confident that it was that fear, more than anything, that kept him from talking about his illness.

It’s a fear that wasn’t unique to my Dad. It’s a mindset of silence that, unfortunately, is all too pervasive for those who are hurting, suffering, and struggling with mental illness.

When I reflect on my Dad’s story and think deeply about the moments when his depression controlled him most severely, it’s hard not to think of the scary and frightening moments. Those moments when, fueled by his depression, he would inexplicably leave without a trace and runaway, abandoning the home where all the comfort he ever needed lived.

But time gives the benefit of great perspective and holism, and I can simultaneously reflect on the moments immediately thereafter when he would come home, admit his defeat, and seek help. Those moments when Dad would return and when we would talk about his depression, dragging the monster that scared him out into the light to recognize it for what it was and to emphasize, strongly, that there was a path forward—to encourage and show Dad that he could manage and control this—were moments of unbelievable growth. We would recognize Dad’s depression and not deny the fact that it existed. He would visit the doctor, and be vulnerable about what was going on, and chart a path forward through medication and other treatments.

And then, with his depression called out into the open, Dad would get better. It wasn’t easy. It was never a “snap your fingers” type of treatment. It took weeks, sometimes months, for Dad to get better—but in nearly every situation, Dad did get better. And for a while (sometimes a long, long while), things would be at their best. And Dad would be at his best—a conquering fighter who would refuse to let his life be controlled by a powerful, dangerous illness.

It would be those moments when Dad’s depression was out in the open amongst our family in which he would feel most at ease—most comfortable with who he was at his core. During the times when Dad felt he could admit that he was struggling and he could avoid the shame of feeling like he needed to hide his illness, I think my Dad was truly at his happiest, his most content, and his most peaceful state.

Doesn’t it work that way for so many out there who are hurting and suffering from mental illness?

We all harbor different fears. Some of us are afraid of heights. Others are afraid of social situations. The smart people are afraid of birds. But then there are those deeper, emotionally-laden fears that are hard, even embarrassing, to talk about. Our fears of rejection. Our fears of solitude. Of financial inadequacy. Of pain and abuse. Of insecurity. And yes, of disappointment.

When we grow fearful, we often feel we have to wear a mask. And when we wear a mask, we are unnecessarily burdened by the shame of feeling that we have to hide how we feel. We shy away from honestly sharing our fears and insecurities, and as we do, those same fears and insecurities grow and grow and grow, eventually growing to a point that they take over our ability to function regularly.

But it’s the immediate relief that any of us who have suffered from mental illness can all relate to—the “shine a light” moment. That moment when we admit we are struggling while simultaneously taking a deep sigh of relief, knowing that we’ve identified the culprit—mental illness—and realizing that the enemy is exposed. There’s a physical response when we admit we are hurting—our shoulders relax, the tightness in our chest disappears, and it literally feels as if a weight has been lifted from our bodies. Think of it like a pressure valve or a cork in a bottle of champagne. All the pressure continues to build and build and build, and the moment that cork goes pop!, we feel an immediate relief of the pressure. Everything bubbles out and—if you’ve got a good bottle—life tastes really, really good in those first, fresh moments after you’ve opened the bottle.

I think we feel the most relief in those moments immediately after we shed the mask of shame and honestly talk about our fears, insecurities, and feelings. But for many who suffer and especially my Dad, as time wears on, we tend to slowly but surely put that mask back on. Over time, when we aren’t making our mental health a priority, we fall back into the old, comfortable patterns that led us down the wrong road in the first place. The less we talk about how we feel, the less light we shine on the enemy—and the less light we shine on the enemy, the more powerful it grows. And then, before we know it, the goodness that we felt in those immediate moments of relief completely retreats into the shadows. There we are again, stuck in the same place of guilt and inexplicable darkness that we were in before. The mask becomes comfortable again and seems to be a better alternative to being vulnerable.

Dear readers, I lost my Dad to suicide because of this, and I can promise you, there is nothing comfortable about not talking about our fears and feelings. It is a dead-end road, and one we must not pursue.

That’s why we have to talk, and we have to talk regularly. Yes, we must talk in the midst of our illness and in the immediate aftermath, but we also need to keep that conversation going as we begin to feel better, and yes, as we may begin to feel worse. We need to make vulnerability an everyday practice that’s as regular and accepted as brushing our teeth, washing our hands, or combing our hair. I confidently believe that so many of our real problems associated with mental illness are amplified and worsened when we don’t discuss them with others. I wish my Dad had felt comfortable enough to do more of that—and I wish that you would do more of it, too.

If you’re reading this post and you find yourself suffering from mental illness or suicidal ideations, I know that it can feel daunting and inescapable—but I promise you that the power mental illness holds over your life will dissipate when you shine a light on it and when you talk. You don’t have to talk to everyone. You don’t have to broadcast it on social media or in front of a crowd of thousands. But talk to someone, anyone. Shine a light by finding the people you trust most in your life and sharing your fear and worries with them. You’ll be shocked at how good it feels to shine the light on your mental illness—how good it feels to relieve the pressure, pop the cork, and let the feelings bubble out. And you’ll be amazed at how quickly the grip of mental illness is loosened.

It is no secret that, as I write this post, we are living in scary, confusing, fear-laden, and intensely unpredictable times. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak has taken a society that was already smoldering with fear and poured gasoline on that fire. If we were fearful a month ago, it’s likely that those feelings have grown much, much worse in the past days as we scramble to understand what is happening across the globe. As I pray for those who are hurting, there has been a heavy weight on my heart recently. It’s a heavy weight for those who are hurting and suffering from mental illness. It’s a worry that the mental illness they suffer from will grow even more powerful because of the unintentional effects of our needed physical isolation. Everyone is hurting, but those who suffer from mental illness may feel even less in control of their lives than they normally do.

In my heart of hearts, I’m convinced that there will be good that comes from this crisis. No, I don’t want it to happen, but yes, I believe that the Gospel is meant to invade dark places. Yes, there has been so much good happening in the midst of this difficult chapter. Individuals are more cognizant of the impact of their actions upon their communities and the world. Moments of generosity, I believe, are more abundant than they were previously. Without the convenience of a meal at a restaurant, a workout at the gym, or a movie with friends, I believe we’ve all grown to appreciate the little things that, for so long, we’ve taken for granted. Maybe we all needed a bit of a reminder that, above all and even with its many difficulties, life is grand and beautiful, complex yet lovingly simple.

At the same time, however, our worst fears and our primal instincts for self-preservation have amplified in ways we never imagined. Although outnumbered by the good, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake the image of two grown adults in a fisticuffs over a pack of Charmin at a Walmart as long as I live. When I go to the grocery store, I see the panic in people’s eyes that, when the world is right, just shouldn’t be there—and, unfortunately, I’ve felt it in my own heart. And I can’t help but think that, as much fear as we are seeing exhibited outwardly by so many people, the fear that people aren’t exhibiting is even worse, even greater, and even more destructive if it ever bubbles to the surface.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline TileSo if you are hurting or struggling from mental illness that you can’t explain, I beg you to not let these times of isolation prevent you from talking with someone. Find that trusted loved one or friend, call them, and just ask them if you can share your heart. Talk with them about your fears. Not everyone will be receptive, but I promise you that someone will. More than ever before, reach out to a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist who can help bring those feelings to the surface in a way that is redemptive. And if the thought of suicide has crossed your mind, I beg you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK. Never, never let those thoughts linger. Never underestimate their power. Do something, in this moment, that will protect you, your families, and the generations to come. The world is better because you’re in it—promise me you’ll be here.

And lastly, for those fellow believers, I beg you to talk with God. Yes, He knows all, but there is great power in shining a light on our biggest fears and concerns and letting God know that we need help. Reveal the depths of your heart to the One who can reach down, provide solace, and restore peace. And find comfort in talking with him regularly because, the more we talk, the more comfortable and easy it becomes to be vulnerable—which, after all, is how God created us to be.

Together, we can create a culture of light-shiners who refuse to let our hurts grow and gain power in the dark. Now, more than ever, it’s time for all of us to start shining a light.

And please, dear neighbors, pick up your pizza boxes. Poor Penny and I can’t take it any longer.

Dad with Dinosaur and SB LogoDad, My heart hurts deeply when I think about how fearful you likely felt throughout your life. It breaks my heart to know that you experienced such shame which prevented you from reaching out and talking to those of us who loved you. Dad, I just want you to know that we were never, ever disappointed in you. No matter how sick you might have been, and even during the times when your mental illness led you to leave us, we were never disappointed in the man you were. And now, I hope you are resting in the peace of Heaven and allowing God to remind you, daily, that He was never disappointed either. Your life continues to guide me and remind me of the importance of sharing my feelings with others, and although I don’t always do it perfectly, I’m grateful that you’re still parenting me and teaching me daily. I carry you with me every single day, Dad. Thank you, Dad, for showing courage in all those moments that matter most. I can’t wait to tell you, face to face, how proud I am of you for fighting the way you did. Until that glorious reunion, seeya Bub.

 “Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings.” Galatians 6:2 (GW)

“Not Yet”

I knew I wanted to talk—I just didn’t know when I’d be ready.

In addition to my job at Miami University, I’ve been a sports announcer for many years, calling games for local high schools and college teams in my ever-dwindling spare time. It’s a passion I picked up during my freshman year at Miami’s Hamilton Campus when I saw a flyer in the stairwell of Mosler Hall looking for a new “Voice of the Harriers.” Inevitably, the more I announced in my hometown and the surrounding communities, the more requests I received to emcee or host other events that weren’t athletic contests. Sports hall of fames, fundraisers, and talent shows started to pack my Friday and Saturday nights, and no matter where I looked, there always seemed to be a stage and a podium with a microphone awaiting me—and I loved it. God had given me a tremendous platform, and to this day, I’ve always tried to thank Him each and every time I get asked to play a part in these events.

Although the inductees have a tendency to get a little long-winded, sports hall of fames have always been fun events for me to host. I try and land a few jokes out of the gate, get a laugh or two when an inductee forgets to thank his wife during the speech, and most importantly keep everything on time so the event doesn’t run too long (a goal that constantly eludes me). The first hall of fame I ever emceed was a cruel reminder of this truth. Prior to the event, the organizers told all of the inductees that they each had about three minutes to deliver their acceptance speech. The very first inductee applied the liberal interpretation of the word “about” and spoke for 21 minutes. There were nine additional inductees after him. The event started on a Saturday night, and I think I made it home by Wednesday or Thursday of the next week.

Selfishly, my favorite part of emceeing a sports banquet has always been the closing. In the weeks leading up to the event, I’ll scour the headlines, Internet, and plenty a Chicken Soup for the Soul book in an attempt to find an anecdotal tale, story, or illustration that will leave the audience thinking more intentionally about how they treat their fellow man or woman. Usually, these stories have some kind of theme or character trait that I hope we can all learn to exemplify more. Perhaps it’s “purpose” or “sacrifice” (…or “brevity” for that 21-minute inductee who is likely still giving his acceptance speech in a hotel ballroom somewhere).

In the days, weeks, and months after I lost my Dad to suicide, I constantly felt God’s call on my life to share Dad’s story. Frustratingly, I felt the call, but didn’t have a compass. Did God want me to share the story with those in my close inner circle? On a national stage? In the written form? And what parts of the story did He want me to share? I prayed and asked, but unfortunately did not feel His direction. It was maddening at times, but simultaneously reassuring. At least God had given me the call; maybe it was up to me to determine the direction?

A few months after losing Dad, I needed to start preparing for another athletic hall of fame that I had agreed to host. This one, fittingly, was to be held at Miami Hamilton. The event, albeit small, had always held a special place in my heart. This was the place where I had been given my start as a sports announcer with absolutely no experience (it was probably a good thing that there were only 50 people at a game that first year as I learned, experimented, made my share of mistakes, and found my way). Even though it never felt like a “big gig,” Mom and Dad had always attended every single game they could, sitting across from me in the bleachers. I can still picture them to this day. I can still picture Dad walking across the court after every single game to tell me I had done a good job. I often joked that I was the only sports announcer at any level whose parents followed him to nearly every game. Looking back on it, I realize how thankful I was for their presence; and after that chapter of life was gone, I missed it tremendously. Looking across the court into the bleachers after losing Dad, I could still picture him sitting there in a Miami hoodie, smiling, laughing, and of course, talking to everyone. They were good memories—they still are.

As I prepared to host my first hall of fame dinner after losing my Dad, and I thought about how much that campus had meant to me and the family memories I had there, I realized that I had a fitting story to tell at the close of the event without having to do any research whatsoever. I wanted to tell the story of my Dad and me playing catch together in our side yard. I wanted to talk about the indelible memories that the two of us had made together as sweat poured from our brows in the blazing sunset of most humid Cincinnati July evenings. I wanted to talk about how losing my Dad had made me realize that those toss sessions were more than just an opportunity to throw or hear the pop of a leather Rawlings glove. Those were moments when Dad and I grew closer to one another. Where we shared our frustrations, our fears, and a few laughs whenever I jumped to catch a ball that didn’t require jumping (I’ve mentioned my lack of athletic ability a time or thirty here, so this should come as no surprise to anyone).

With Dad’s death still very, very heavy on my heart, I knew it was the story to tell. I knew that I could go up on stage, acknowledge that I was still grieving and in tremendous pain, and maybe, just maybe, give those in attendance an important reminder—a reminder that life is sweet, precious, and terribly fragile.

In the days leading up to the event, I would sit down at my desk and try to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to hash out the story I wanted to tell. This was well-before I had launched this blog, and writing in my life to that point had been much more academic and stuffy than the story I hoped to tell the night of the ceremony. Each time I sat down, I found my mind and will to write waning. It was unbelievably difficult for me to take the story and memories I had in my head and craft them into an accurate narrative—and it was very disheartening. Night after night I found myself grappling with words, writing whole paragraphs only to delete them, and growing generally more discouraged by the minute.

My Dad’s story—I knew—was worth telling; and I wanted to tell it. I just didn’t know how. And night after night after frustrating night, I just couldn’t write it. This wasn’t writer’s block—this was a writer’s blockade! I simply could not articulate the words I wanted to say. At the time, writing the story felt unnatural, even though I knew I wanted to share it. I tried not to get discouraged, but as the event drew nearer and nearer, I knew that it just wasn’t going to come together as I had wished.

That feeling of uneasiness led me down an interesting path. In my mind, I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, this was a story I didn’t want to craft or script. Maybe God was telling me to go up, and to speak from the heart, and let the story tell itself? After all, the story was in my head. Maybe in the moment it would feel more natural to speak without notes. I’ve always tried to be an authentic and honest speaker, and I began to believe that the best way to share Dad’s story was to do it off the cuff. I’m also very comfortable speaking extemporaneously, and knowing that this story was my own, I wasn’t as concerned with making sure I had every detail scripted in front of me. I knew the details because I had lived them.

Anyone who has seen me in the “backstage” moments before I announce an event knows I’m a meticulous planner, and I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to the script. I request it days in advance so I can edit, add in my own directions, adjust, and rehearse. I format it meticulously and identically every single time: size 18 font for maximum readability, Arial font only, bold titles and headers for different program portions, italicized stage cues, clean paragraph breaks with no sentences spanning multiple pages, no text in the bottom third of the page, and page numbers always formatted as “Page __ of __” in the top right-hand corner to keep me on track for timing. I print two copies in case one is the victim of a spill or abduction, paper clip them, and place them both into my lucky padfolio.

(Insert your joke about “meticulously” being a code word for “OCD” here.)

For the first time in my announcing career, I made an exception in my script. After printing out the 20 pages of scripted material, I added a page to the back—no number, no font and sizing conventions. In fact, the page said absolutely nothing. As I prepared, I took out a red pen and wrote across the top of the page “I LOVE MY DAD.” That would be my cue, my directive, the only motivation I needed to tell the story and tell it properly.

The event went as well as any other I had hosted, but during each acceptance speech from the inductees I found myself growing more and more anxious. I was the only person in the room who knew what I was about to do. I was going to share a story so central to my identity that there was going to be no going back once I told it. Over the past few years, public speaking had become something that I was beyond comfortable doing—so much so that I actually enjoyed it. I rarely got nervous anymore, but on this night, I found myself constantly trying to wipe the sweat from my palms as the closing approached.

When that moment came, I confidently walked up to the podium and congratulated the hall of fame class again on their accomplishment. As I do nearly every time, I set the stage for what I was about to do. On that night, I told the audience that I always tried to leave them with a story that would give us all something to think about as we went our separate ways, but that this year, my story would be a bit more personal because it was my own.

I began to tell the story, and I began to tell the audience about my Dad…and within just a few seconds, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. I started breaking down in front of a group of loving but justifiably uncomfortable individuals. I couldn’t even string a sentence together. I was sobbing at the podium, unable to speak. I was crying and sweating and felt the need to throw up. Standing in front of a crowd is not a great time to realize that you’ve made a mistake—but there I was.

I don’t even remember what happened or how I transitioned, but I ended the story abruptly. I think I may have mentioned that I just wanted people to know that my Dad was important to me and the memories I had of him at Miami Hamilton would always be special, and I uncomfortably closed the event and left the stage with my standard directive to drive home safely. A few of the attendees who I knew came up and hugged me and encouraged me and told me how important it was that I had shared this story, but I was undeniably disappointed in myself. Not for the impression that anyone had of me; I was disappointed because I hadn’t done my Dad justice. I don’t know that I’ve ever hustled out of an event as quickly as I had done that night.

The car ride home was isolated and brutal. I beat my fist into the steering wheel at multiple red lights, wondering why my first attempt to share my Dad’s story publicly had gone so badly. Dad deserved better.

I admit that Satan crept into my mind on that night and took up a semi-permanent residence there for a while. I could hear his temptations to give up. You’re never going to bounce back from this one.” “You’re never going to get over the humiliation you feel in this moment.” “You’re never going to have a platform to share your Dad’s story.” “You’re never going to get to a point where you can talk about your Dad without being so overcome by grief that it completely defeats you.” “You’re never going to be able to help other people learn from what happened to your Dad.”

Never. Never. Never. I kept hearing it again and again, and the tears got worse every time I heard it.

But in the days after that event, I prayed. Even though I was upset. Even though I was hurting. Even though, yes, I was frustrated with God for giving me a platform and not helping me deliver the message I wanted and that Dad deserved. And with each prayer, I heard two words in response, over and over again, every time I shared my humiliation and fear with God:

“Not yet.”

Not yet. God’s response to all the “nevers” that Satan had put in my head was more powerful—“not yet.” God was taking something that felt irredeemable and He was promising me a way forward. I heard God telling me that He still had work to do. In those simple words, I heard God telling me that His timing was better than my own. And as much as I hated to come to terms with this, I heard God telling me that He was going to teach me something in the failure I had experienced on that evening. He was going to use that moment of failure, pain, and dissapointment to grow and develop something within me.

And little by little, day by day, I felt it.

In the months that followed, even though I kept the phrase “not yet” in my head quite often, I still succumbed to doubt. But the pain of not being able to share my Dad’s story was an important reminder for me to be patient—a skill that God did not innately bless me with. I thought I was ready; but God knew I wasn’t. He knew that I was still grieving and that the pain of my Dad’s death from suicide was more real and raw than I was giving it credit for. God needed me to take care of myself before I could possibly start sharing Dad’s story in an effort to take care of others, and He was using that experience to remind me of the need to not neglect my own needs.

What was most valuable in those moments, and what I still thank God for to this day, was the “yet.” Yes, I had failed during that first attempt, but I heard God telling me that He wanted me to walk, not sprint. I heard God telling me that I needed to heal before I could help; to build a strong foundation first before building the Kingdom.

My experience and growth in those months of struggle taught me important lessons about sharing my Dad’s story—both in public forums but also in my daily conversations with individuals. These have turned into important lessons for me about grief—lessons that I hope can benefit anyone who might be struggling to talk about the pain they are feeling.

Talk when you’re ready. There is no timeline on grief. There is no guideline for when you should be ready to talk to others or share your story, and we shouldn’t try to force our grief into a timetable that doesn’t work for us.

Looking back on my own situation, I can easily realize that I was trying to force myself to talk publicly about my Dad because I thought that I should have been far enough along through my grief to accomplish this—but I wasn’t. It had been a few months since Dad’s death when I gave it that first attempt, and others in similar situations had moved on in a similar timeline—but I hadn’t, and I just wasn’t ready. Even though there had been time to do some healing, Dad’s death still felt as fresh and real in many moments as it did on that first day when I found out that he was gone.

I used an arbitrary calendar to gauge my grief and healing, which was a horrible thing to do. Grief and healing aren’t measured in years; they’re measured in steps and goalposts and milestones, and it doesn’t matter how long it takes us to reach each of those moments in our development. For some, healing might happen quickly. For others it might move at a snail’s pace, and for most, grief will actually occur in a non-linear pattern with ups, downs, more ups, more downs, sideways jaunts, and all kinds of inexplicable moments in between. There were hints of God’s “not yet” directive all throughout my life leading up to that night, but I didn’t take them because I didn’t want to appear weak. What a foolish, foolish trap to fall for.

Give yourself grace when you talk about your loss. For a long while after that failed attempt to speak about my Dad, I beat myself up over it. I looked at that attempt as a failure that would always haunt and plague me when I tried to make a difference in the world of suicide prevention. It was a moment at the podium that I didn’t think I could ever bounce back from.

But that was Satan’s distortion, not God’s reality.

Satan tells us that if we don’t get it right the first time, we never will. God, on the other hand, tells us that our failures are building blocks for something greater. On nearly every page of the Bible, you’ll find stories of individuals who failed and went on to do great things to build God’s Kingdom here on Earth, and it’s not the failures that God remembers. Instead, He remembers the moment that we bounce back. He remembers Paul’s ministry, not his crusade to kill early Christians. He remembers Peter as the rock upon which the Christian church was built, not the way he sunk like a rock while trying to walk on the water. He remembers Cornelius the Roman Centurion’s conversion to Christianity, not the atrocities he committed on behalf of the Roman Empire that led him to that moment. The men and women in the Bible show us stories of redemption, but there can only be redemption if there is first failure.

When we talk about our grief, our mistakes do not hold us captive. Oftentimes, it’s the actual process of talking through our grief and the way we feel that reveals where we are hurting. Deeply buried hurts and pains bubble to the surface when we talk, and if we don’t talk, those things stay buried but still hurt us without our knowing it. At times, I’ve talked about losing my Dad (namely to my therapist and those in my life who are closest to me) and came to new realizations about my grief, even if I didn’t articulate everything perfectly. There were things bothering me that I didn’t even realize until I mentioned them; and once I shine the light on them and speak about them, they don’t hurt as bad.

Just as there’s no timetable or manual that you have to follow when you talk about your grief, there also isn’t a set dictionary or writer’s guide that tells you how you have to talk about your feelings. As you begin to talk, be kind to yourself and understand that how you feel might not always come out perfectly. Let’s face it—if we all knew how to talk about our feelings perfectly, my Dad wouldn’t have suffered in silence from his depression. Learning to talk about our loss or our complicated and often messy feelings requires the failures just as much as it does the successes.

You don’t have to share your story with everyone, and you don’t have to share everything. After losing my Dad, I felt the need to talk about him and share his story with everyone I met in nearly every forum that I had; but I realized that it was not productive. I thought, foolishly, that if I wasn’t talking about my Dad, I was forgetting about him or failing to honor his memory. Wrongly, I felt as if I was disrespecting him in every moment that I didn’t talk about him.

As painful as it is for me to admit it, there are some people with whom I don’t talk to very often about losing my Dad. It sounds ironic to write this on a blog that is broadcast to the world at large, but I want to make the story available to anyone who can learn and grow from it. That doesn’t mean that I expect everyone to read it, or that I even expect everyone who reads it to learn from and grow from it. I know God will direct my Dad’s story into the right hands. I’m just the messenger; I’ll let God take care of the delivery.

Even though I don’t control the delivery, it also means that I am in control of the story itself, which is unbelievably reassuring in a phase of life that has felt very unpredictable because of my unexpected loss.

There are some elements of my Dad’s story that I don’t share at all. Those are precious, private details between a lost Father and a grieving son that will always be sacred to me. Setting boundaries on what I will discuss and what I won’t has been one of the most important techniques in sharing my story that protects my own mental health and grief. There are some moments and details, honestly, that are still too painful to relive, even six years removed from losing my Dad. So, I approach those areas with tenderness, and I try to realize that there is something really valuable about self-care when it comes to sharing our stories, especially when death and loss are involved.

And most importantly, I learned that God helps us get back off the mat after we are knocked down. I’m so grateful that, over time, God gave me the strength and encouragement to get back up from the blows that had been delivered after that first unsuccessful attempt.

I don’t remember how much time had passed in between—which in itself is an important reminder to not focus on arbitrary calendar markers when it comes to our grief—but I eventually felt the call to share my Dad’s story at an event I was hosting.

And this time, I heard God clearly saying “Now.”

The story I wanted to tell came to me with an unbelievable clarity, and it honored my Dad in the exact way that I had hoped to honor him in the previous attempt. I was fortunate that there were no cameras around to capture that first failed attempt, but I was beyond grateful that the cameras happened to be there the second time around (special thanks to my good friend Steve Colwell of TVHamilton for capturing this important moment in my life).

Looking back and watching that moment years removed, I still find imperfections—but those imperfections were perfectly honest at that particular moment in time, and I’m happy they are there. I’m happy that my story, in many ways, is still so similar, and I’m happy that in other ways, it has changed dramatically. It’s evidence that I’ve healed in many ways, and that I’m still healing in others. It’s a reminder that no matter how much we grow and change, there is still a firm foundation that God gives us which roots our souls firmly in His presence. I’m glad that God is happy with us where we are, but I’m just as thankful that He never wants us to remain in that same place forever.

And each day, I grow to appreciate more and more those reminders when God tells me “Not yet.”

Family at Joes Game with SB Logo LeftDad, Talking about your death has, at times, been unbelievably difficult because the pain of losing you is still so real. Every day, I want to honor you and the life that you lived here, and I’m grateful that, over time, God has given me the grace and power to do that in my own way. Dad, I want you to know that you are still so loved by so many. Your story is helping so many people. Your death is giving life to other people who are hurting and struggling, and no matter what I do, I’ll never forget you and the lessons you taught me. Each time I talk about you, I can feel your presence, and I know you are watching over me and guiding me. Dad, continue watching over me. Continue to give me that peace and comfort that only a Father can provide. In your life, you taught me everything I would need to survive in the aftermath of your death; and in your death, your memory is still teaching me daily. Your memory teaches me what it means to be a good husband, son, and friend. Thank you, Dad, for being a Father worthy of praise. I miss you more and more each day, and I am anxiously waiting for the day when we are reunited. Until then, seeya Bub.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)

Carving

“Watch it, now…you get a finger mixed in with that ham and you’ll ruin Christmas.”

It was always, always Dad’s job to carve at the holiday. Growing up, my Mom always hosted a lot of our family get togethers around special holidays, and any good family get together usually involved some type of carved meat. I remember delicious turkeys at Thanksgiving, a fantastic ham on Easter, and both ham and roast beef on Christmas Eve. For every holiday she hosted, Mom would spend hours and days preparing all kinds of treats and delicious goodies, and Dad and I were always ready to eat. Dad and I weren’t much help to Mom when it came to these extravagant yet quaint family gatherings, mainly because Dad wasn’t much of a talent in the kitchen.

Wait, let me try that again. Most anything Dad did in the kitchen was disastrous. We are talking next-level, epic kitchen ineptitude. For a man who was competent in so many things, it was amazing to see him fail so spectacularly in the kitchen. I once saw the man burn soup—how do you burn soup?!

But Dad did have one special skill he could deliver around the holidays. The man was always a solid meat carver. I think it was because carving a ham resembled more of a construction project (his wheelhouse) than a culinary test. Every year a few minutes before our family would arrive for a holiday celebration, I would hear the familiar, sawing ziiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrr of my parents’ electric carving knife. On and off and on again the knife would go as Dad would conquer a ham or turkey, creating as many slices as possible for our family to enjoy. The carving knife, a gift from their wedding and a marvel in craftsmanship by Black & Decker, had vanquished many a Christmas ham and Thanksgiving turkey in its years of service to our family. That knife is older than I am—solid work, Black & Decker!

My family always thankful that Christmas typically brought with it a ham that was given to my Dad. Dad was fortunate to work for caring and thoughtful companies for most of his career, and his employers always provided a Christmas ham that Dad would proudly bring home to store in our freezer. As a kid, I probably didn’t appreciate what a considerate gesture this was for the families that had spent so much time, sweat, and energy working in physically demanding and strenuous jobs. Now, I have a deep appreciation for it—mainly because in my entire career after college no one has ever just given me a ham! I’m lucky if I can even get the kind of pens I like to write with!

But every year, my family was thankful that Dad’s employers provided this special blessing to our family, and Mom had the great honor of cooking it—and her culinary talent would always shine through. Mom was, is, and always will be a magician and artist in the kitchen. Another thing that you fail to appreciate until you’re grown is the cooking acumen of a parent, and I definitely didn’t give my Mom the credit she earned in the kitchen until I started cooking myself. Now that I know how much work goes into preparing a simple dinner, I appreciate the ease my Mom displayed whipping up a full meal almost every night of the week. Dad was better at appreciating Mom’s cooking. One time, Dad and I were talking about Mom’s talent, and I remember Dad saying “You know, growing up I never thought I would be able to find someone who could cook as good as my Mom; and then I met your Mom, and she could cook even better!” Dad always appreciated Mom’s cooking, and I know he loved it around Christmastime.

Usually starting days before the family gathering, Mom would meticulously pour over the preparations and her menu, timing out when she would need to start prepping dishes, when dishes would need to go in the oven, and fretting over where she was going to store all of this food until everyone arrived. Even though Mom would always get a little overwhelmed and worried by the volume of things she had to prepare, it always worked out in the end and everything came together even better than she had imagined. She worried about holiday gatherings because she cared about everyone so much—and those tremendous holiday gatherings we had are a reminder of how Mom showed her love to us.

Dad’s contributions to our holiday festivities were largely mechanical, and I thank God each day that he wasn’t responsible for the cooking (remember that whole burnt soup thing?). Usually, Mom would task Dad with wrapping the presents (he had the wrapping skill of a fourth-generation origami artist), where he would camp in front of the television with rolls of colored paper and enough tape to fully encase a forty-three car locomotive. Dad also had to set up the card table in the family room so we had enough spots for everyone, and it was usually Dad’s job to brush out our family dog so she looked even fluffier than usual when everyone arrived.

And then, just before the festivities began, Dad would pull the electric knife out of the tattered-and-worn box and get to carving. Standing over the oven range in our compact family kitchen, Dad would whir away with the jigsawing blades, removing slice after slice with the precision of a brain surgeon, placing it delicately on a large, silver platter in an overly-intricate pattern.

As a kid, I was always a bit intimated as I watched Dad carve away at the ham. There seemed to be a true art to it because Dad would concentrate deeply on the work in front of him. As he did with most every task he approached, Dad was a fanatic for detail. Through this oval-rimmed glasses, he would move his head from side to side, locating unbeknownst spots in the oven-baked ham in which one cut would produce the most amount of meat. By the end of the process, Dad would lift out the ham bone from the roasting pan, and I would be amazed at how little meat was left behind. Mom would always tell Dad that he did a great job, and then she would wonder whether or not there would be enough for everyone….even though we seemingly ate ham for the next four days at home. There was always enough, but Mom wanted to make sure that the holiday was perfect for everyone.

I appreciate that now. I appreciate her thoughtfulness. And I appreciated my Dad’s ability to carve a ham. Especially when my Mom came down the stairs in 2012 and said I was going to have to do it.

As always, Mom was preparing for another Christmas Eve at our home with the Turner side of our family, but there was an unfortunate complication—Dad was sick. For days, my Dad had been trying his best to fight off an illness that seemed to get worse and worse and worse with every cough. I had gone upstairs earlier in the day, and Dad was laying in the bed wearing his usual elastic-ankled, matching sweatsuit, looking weaker and more tired than I had seen him in a long time.

“A lot ‘a good that vitamin C did you, hey old man?” I said to him with a smart-alecky smirk on my face.

My Dad was the king of vitamins—and a pusher at that! Every morning, I’d hear the familiar rattle-rattle-rattle of his pill bottles in the kitchen as he horked down enough supplements to grow an orange grove in the soil of the Sahara. Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Fish Oil capsules, multivitamins, magic beans, jumping beans, jelly beans….you name it, Dad took it. As he lay withered and hacking in the bed the day before Christmas, I couldn’t help but deliver a bit of a low-blow to my old man by teasing him about his vitamin obsession.

“You just remember….I’ll recover ten times faster because of the vitamin C,” he said with sincerity, and I laughed and told him how great I was feeling because I had once taken a vitamin shaped like Fred Flintstone when I was seven.

I spent some time at his bedside asking him how he was feeling and watching a bit of TV with him, and I knew that Dad had to be pretty darn sick to be bedridden the day of a Christmas gathering. Dad loved the holidays, he loved having people over the house, and he loved talking with people and just being near them more than anything else. After we talked for a few minutes, I wanted to let him rest and I went back downstairs to watch a little television. Moments later, Mom came down the stairs with a bit of a worried look on her face and delivered the news.

“I think you’re going to have to carve the ham.”

I hadn’t even thought about it until that very moment. Dad wasn’t about to get within fifty feet of the food that would be served at Christmas dinner that night, but it had just hit Mom that he usually carved the ham each year but wouldn’t be able to now.

I got a pit in my stomach. “I mean, Mom, I don’t have a license or anything…”

We both knew there was no way of getting around it, and for the next few hours I tried to replay all the times I had watched Dad cut a ham in the kitchen before our Christmas Eve celebration. It was then that I realized that my motivation for watching Dad cut a ham all those years was to try and sneak a few premature scraps that he had cut, and at no point had I ever actually paid attention to what he was doing with the electric knife.

As the clock ticked closer to our family’s 6’o clock arrival, I got a bit more nervous; but Dad came up with a good idea. Instead of carving the ham, Dad would be the teacher and I would be the apprentice. Dad would stand a good ten feet behind me, and while looking over my shoulder, he would tell me where to cut, how to cut, and where to place each piece. I was still a bit nervous and overwhelmed by the task ahead, but it sure felt better knowing that I had a Dad who had all the answers and would be looking over my shoulder the entire time.

The moment came, and Dad made his way downstairs. I knew he didn’t feel well at all, but I was so thankful that he was willing to help me. Over the next half hour or so, Dad told me how to properly carve the ham. He had me locate particular spots to make main cuts and dividing cuts, and then he told me how to lift the ham and cut near the bone so that everything seemed to fall right off. Magically, it worked. Dad pointed and instructed me, showing me how he typically stacked the pieces of meat neatly on the platter. He told me which pieces of the ham would likely be the “pretty pieces” and which ones would be the scrap pieces that he would save for sandwiches the on Christmas day (which was likely code for pieces of ham he had planned to sneak to our dog, Lucy). He showed me how to carve in such a way that there was very little meat left on the bone at the end, and although I wasn’t as efficient or sharp as Dad was, the stress of having to take on such an important task wasn’t nearly as bad because Dad was right there with me the entire time.

For the remainder of the night, Dad mostly remained up in the bedroom trying to recover from his sickness—which was an occurrence as rare as a Santa Claus sighting. Dad lived for family gatherings and spending time talking to other people, and the fact that he couldn’t even come downstairs was extremely unusual. Dad made a few “quick appearances” throughout the night, mainly to grab punch or some jello that he could tolerate eating. Each time, he would say hello to everyone who was there and make a few quick jokes, but he was really afraid of getting anyone else sick. He would grab a small plate and drink, and right back up the stairs he would go. Everyone’s face would light up as soon as they saw Dad, even if it was only for a few brief moments—he had the ability to light up a room just by being there. It was not the way my Dad likely wanted to spend Christmas, and it hurts to think about how sad he must have been to not be able to spend time with his family—especially knowing what we know now.

Dad’s last Christmas was that 2012 Christmas. Just seven months later, his clinical depression would overtake him, and suicide would claim his life. It tears my heart to pieces to think that Dad was so ill on his last Christmas on Earth that he couldn’t even enjoy the holiday with the same gusto and enthusiasm that he usually did. The holidays were always so special and important to Dad, and there is a haunting sadness when I reflect on his last Christmas, knowing he was quarantined to an upstairs bedroom when the family he loved and cherished was right downstairs. None of us could have ever imagined that December 2012 would be Dad’s last Christmas. Had we known, we would have all taken the risk of coming down with whatever sickness he had. I might have even taken some vitamin C to put his mind at ease. I hate that Dad’s last Christmas wasn’t as good as it could have been, and there’s absolutely no sugar coating that. It just doesn’t feel fair. If anyone deserved a spectacular Christmas, it was my Father.

2013 was our first Christmas without Dad, and there were many, many things that I was dreading about that first holiday. Thinking about Christmas morning without my Dad there with Mom and I was nauseating. Wondering how I would focus on family functions when all I could think about was the tragedy of losing my Father seemed impossible.

And yes, selfishly, I was dreading having to carve the ham.

To some, it may sound silly to have such a dramatic reaction to carving a ham, but knowing that I would have to carve the ham was just another reminder that Dad was gone. A role he had played for many decades was now vacant, and it was a painful reminder that he was never coming back. Carving the ham was a rite of passage, and the passing of the electric knife in this moment seemed so unnecessary, so premature, and absolutely wrong in every way. Dad should’ve been there. He should’ve been carving the ham—not me. He was too young. He should have been there.

Mom asked me to carve the ham reluctantly, knowing it would be difficult for me to do it, and of course I offered to help. Mom was suffering just like I was, and I knew we were both going to have to do things to keep going that we might not have necessarily wanted to do. I knew that Mom didn’t want to ask me, but I also knew that she had to. Throughout the day, I worried about being able to carve the ham properly without my Dad. I worried that a year had gone by and so much had happened and I knew, I just knew, that I was going to forget everything Dad had taught me. It was an awful and helpless feeling. Unfortunately, it was a feeling that invaded every area of my life. As each day passed after his death, I worried that I was forgetting him and losing him each time I started to move on. Not being able to carve a ham would be a revelation of how I had taken my Father for granted, and it was a painful reminder of my own guilt.

Nonetheless, our family Christmas Eve was approaching, and I walked into the kitchen trying my best to hold it all together. I got out the electric knife, and remembered Dad telling me to install the blade before plugging it in to avoid any tragic digit-dissections. Point taken, Pop—point taken. Even though he wasn’t there, I could hear him making his typical Dad-joke as he offered this reminder, maybe even pretending that he had lost a finger in the tragic ham-carving accident of 1968.

It felt good to laugh with my Dad again, even if I could only hear his spirit.

I started carving, and before I knew it, I had about a half platter full of ham laid out. Slowly and purposefully I carved away, and all the while I tried to remember all of the things that Dad had told me—where to cut, how to cut, which pieces to keep and which pieces to put in the scrap bag. The entire time, I pictured my Dad over my shoulder—still instructing, still directing. The entire time, I was reminded that although Dad wasn’t there in many ways, he was there in many other ways.

Before I knew it, the job was done. The entire ham had been carved, and although I definitely wasn’t as precise or stealthy as Dad always was, I was proud of myself.

And then, I went out into our sunroom just off the kitchen and started tearing up; and before I knew it, I was crying really, really hard. The weight of what had just happened hit me. Dad wasn’t there to carve the ham, and he would never be there again. Dad would never be there for another Christmas Eve, another Christmas morning. He’d never be there to help decorate the tree or put up Christmas lights. He would never be there to give Mom weird Christmas gifts or watch all 24 hours of The Christmas Story on television. The weight and gravity of what had happened overwhelmed me. I was being forced to fulfill roles that my Dad had always held because he would no longer be there to hold them.

Mom knew I was upset, and she came out and gave me a hug as we cried together. “I know how much you miss him,” she whispered. “I miss him so much, too.” We cried together for a long, long while before our family showed up, and although we tried to hide our red and weary eyes from them, it was useless. They, too, were hurting. My Dad had been so important to so many of us. We were all grieving, and this first Christmas would be a very difficult one without him.

As we stood there hugging, we felt the emptiness of our home even though there was only one person missing. Dad’s physical presence might have been gone, but it was so easy to picture him there and see and hear him. I thought back on that last year, and I could picture my Dad standing over my shoulder. I could hear his instructions, and I started to think about how none of us on that Christmas Eve in 2012 could have ever predicted that it would be Dad’s last. How we might have acted differently had we known that it would have been.

But all along as I was standing there carving, I could feel Dad still looking over my shoulder, but he was encouraging me in many more areas than simple ham carving. He was telling me that he was still there. I could feel him telling me that it was going to be okay and that everything was going to work out, even though life seemed so sad at the time. Dad’s presence was with us that entire first Christmas in so many ways. It was different, and sad, and at times horribly painful; but then, at other times, Mom and I would find glimpses and reminders of the joy we had experienced when Dad was around. But I know, in both the good moments and the bad, Dad’s memory and spirit was always there with us, telling us that he loved us and that everything would be okay. Dad had received the gift of Eternity with Jesus Christ this year, and we were all thankful that the pain he had riddled his soul for so many years was gone. Forever.

It might also sound dramatic to say this, but I believe it: I know that Dad teaching me how to carve that ham was a gift from God as He saw the stormclouds forming on the horizon. I know from everything I read about God in the Bible that he did not, I repeat, did not give my Dad his depression or cause his death—that was Satan. All good things come from God, including the good things that grow out of horribly dark, bad places. I know that God wished for my Dad to be healthy and happy and alive here with us; although God did not wish for my Father to die so soon, He did control the response to the tragedy and make sure that His glory would help us all survive our shaken family foundation. He did redeem my Father’s death by giving us blessings and safe havens all throughout the tragedy. And ultimately, I know that He redeemed my Father’s death by welcoming him into His loving arms in Eternity. Yes, our family had been damaged and hurt—but not irreparably. God was still building all of us up, and he was using my Dad’s story to save other lives. The pain did not disappear, and in all honesty it still hasn’t. But the pain is accompanied by a deep and abiding belief that God can see my family through anything. No difficulty and none of Satan’s battle tactics can defeat us because I love my Dad and I love my Heavenly Father.

As valuable as the ham-carving skills have become, Dad taught me so much more about Christmas in the 26 years that we celebrated the holiday together here on Earth. Dad always entered the holiday season with a strong sense of joy and excitement, and since losing him, I’ve tried to understand that my own holidays are finite and limited. I only have so many holiday seasons to enjoy with my family and the people I love, and I need to appreciate them for the treasure that they truly are. Unfortunately, it took me losing someone as precious and dear as my Father to understand this difficult truth; and although I don’t do it perfectly in every single moment, I know that I’ve grown to appreciate those simple life moments and the beauty they bring with them, and I think that’s what my Dad would want all of us to learn from his life.

Christmas will never be the same without my Dad; but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. That doesn’t mean that I have to be so overwhelmed by my grief that I can’t see or experience the happiness that still exists within the world after Dad left us. And as time wears on, I gain even more perspective and focus on the value of life and love, and just how fragile all of it can be. I am reminded of how I know my Dad would have wanted to experience more and more Christmases, and all of the excitement he still had to live for that was stolen from him by a horrible, devastating mental illness. In that way, just like he did standing over my shoulder on that last Christmas, my Dad is still teaching me how to live my life in his death. I don’t always do it perfectly, but I’m doing it better because of him. He’s always standing over my shoulder—gently guiding and instructing me on how to be a better man.

I’m thankful for his instruction. And I’m thankful, each and every Christmas, for the wonderful gift of my Father. And my family is thankful that year after year, I get a little bit better at carving that ham.

Dad Lucy and Me at Christmas with SB LogoDad, At times, Christmas has felt so empty without you. My heart has been enraptured with pain when I think about what was stolen from you and us by mental illness. You deserved many more Christmases. You deserved to celebrate with our growing family, and to eventually be a Grandfather who were spoiled with your generosity and sense of childlike wonder. The holidays had a special sparkle when you were here to celebrate them, and since you’ve been gone, we’ve all felt an overwhelming sense of loss, guilt, and sadness. But the gift that was given to us was the reassuring truth of knowing that you are safe in God’s arms—free of pain, distress, and all the unfair difficulties that haunted you in this life. Dad, there is no question in my mind where your Eternal mailing address is. I know you are in Heaven, watching down over all of us and telling us that life is going to work out even on the days when the pain of losing you makes it hard to believe. I think of you all the time, but even more so on Christmas. Christmas was a happy time because you provided so much joy to those you loved. Watching the way you enjoyed spending time with your family has been an inspiration to me, and I wish you and I could sit around, share a glass of punch, and laugh again the way we always did. Dad, thank you for teaching me what it means to be a man who loves his family not just at Christmas, but every day of the year. I have many more Christmases to go without you, but I’m looking forward to that first one we can spend together in Eternity. Until that day, I love you. Merry Christmas, Bub.

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NLT)

Home

“Where we love is home—home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

The emptiness of a vacant home has always been simultaneously eerie and simplisticly beautiful to me. When a home is full, it’s easy to look around and see things: tables, chairs, sofas, pictures, books, vases, towels, silverware, rugs, televisions, appliances, and toys. Our eyes easily bounce from item to item when a home is full of things.

But when those things are removed and all we are left with is unadorned walls and open floors, the noise of those things is gone. Without that noise, we begin to hear the stories that those walls tell, and the laughter, emotion, and tales of years gone by begin to echo throughout the halls. Deep conversations of yesteryear reverberate across the floorboards. The laughter of special family moments slowly drift to consciousness again, and history weaves a new story built through memory. Tearstains once again glisten and reflect the pain of hardship; and love, through the silence, speaks at full volume once more. A silent, empty house speaks loudly, and it tells the story of a vibrant, loving home that once was and, someday again, may be.

Just a few short weeks ago, I found myself in a silent and empty home. One that had meant—and still means—so much to me.

My engagement to Paige has started a wondrous and adventure-filled new chapter of my life, which also involved moving into a new home together in a new neighborhood. Our new home is wonderful, and I love being able to grow closer to one another through the joy and challenge of creating that home together. It’s been a simply perfect move.

The best moves—the most important, healthy moves in our lives—however, can also be simultaneously grounded in the sadness of leaving behind a life we once knew. It’s like getting rid of a t-shirt that is comfortable and has memories but is too small or beyond tattered. That old life of mine took place at a simple, little home on Gateway Drive in Fairfield Township, and as I stood in the frame of the front door looking around at empty walls and barren floors, I began to think about how that house was a haven for me through the most difficult chapter of my entire life.

And in those final moments, I began to hear my Father’s voice again.


Home on Gateway DriveIn my very first post at Seeya Bub, I mentioned that the first house I ever owned was the one right around the corner from my parents. My Dad was actually instrumental in getting the whole process started. In one of his beyond-frequent conversations with the previous neighbors who owned the home, Dad mentioned that I was looking to purchase a place to live—and they mentioned that they just happened to be thinking about putting theirs back on the market. Dad came home with a sparkle in his already-sparkly smile, and mentioned that he thought I should give it some consideration. The next night, I got a tour from the owners in a house that I had been in many times, and just a few days later they graciously accepted the offer I had sent their way (I recount the full story in another post). Both Mom and Dad were over the moon about the thought of me living within a thirty-six second walk of our family home; and although I had the occasional fear of turning into a real-life Ray Barone, I was also excited to be close to them. I knew that being a first-time homeowner was going to present a host of new challenges—especially to someone like me who lacks the basic skill to do many of the things required of a good homeowner. I knew that, whenever things got tough, Mom and Dad would be right there.

And boy were they ever. In every single scenario in which I ever need my Mother and Father during that first year, they always responded. They truly were perfect neighbors. Just having them next door gave me the confidence, power, and courage to believe that I could be a homeowner—and a good one. It also helped that Mom was next door to help (who am I kidding, “do all of”) my laundry, and Dad was always there if I needed to borrow one of the 638,279 tools he owned.

I’ve often heard that what makes a good neighborhood are good neighbors. I was lucky to live in the best neighborhood because the two best adults I’ve ever known lived right next door.


I owned that wonderful little house for six-and-a-half years after purchasing it in 2012, and standing in the doorway of it on my last day as the owner created a wave of emotion within me that I didn’t expect. I made the decision to go to the house alone on that last day because I had started my journey as a homeowner on my own—it felt only right to leave the house for the last time the same way I had come into it. For a moment, I moved briskly and purposefully as I did the important things I needed to do for the new family who was moving in: I checked to make sure the light bulbs were working, the windows were locked, the floors were clean, and everything was in order.

Once that checklist was exhausted, however, it hit me that there was nothing left to do in this home for me—ever again. I had completed my last obligations to my home on Gateway Drive, and there was nothing left to tend to except the memories that were left behind. And in that moment, I began to walk through each and every room, slowly pondering the stories that were sealed inside those walls.

That silent house spoke loudly in those last few moments, telling the story of the six years I had spent there.

I could easily flash back to the memories I had of Dad helping me move into the house, and all the work that went into making everything as perfect as we could. I remember Mom and Dad both being so excited and bringing me little housewarming gifts as I slowly got settled in. My favorite was the surprise gift that I didn’t discover until it scared bajeezus out me. After a long day at work and announcing, I came home to grab a Coke Zero out of the fridge. Staring up at me from the floorboard were four bearded men printed on a kitchen mat—the cast of Duck Dynasty. Dad had snuck in and left the mat there while I was gone, and in that moment I wondered why I had given him a key!

Mom and Dad were both so excited to see me finally reach this new and invigorating chapter into my journey towards adulthood, and they took particular pride in knowing that I had worked hard to call that house my own; but their help in doing all of the things that needed to be done around the new house was instrumental. From the moment that the house became mine, both Mom and Dad helped me labor to make it feel more like my home. Mom cleaned feverishly and made sure to clean every square inch of the house—from the inside of each kitchen cabinet to the baseboards and windowsills.

My Dad’s biggest task, however, was helping me with a project that I started on before I even took full ownership of the house: reclamation of the backyard pond.

The owners that I had purchased the home from had inherited a beautiful, 12,000 gallon pond that was the centerpiece of this back yard paradise in the middle of suburbia. Gorgeous stones surrounded the entire area of the pond, which had two smaller pools with waterfalls streaming into the main pond. With a greenhouse sitting on the bank of the pond and a lovely brick patio that led right to the front edge of the water, it was a gardener’s dream.

For the previous owners, however, it had been a nightmare.

In the nine years that they had owned the home, they decided to let the pond go dry and dormant. Although that neglect didn’t create any major structural issues, it did leave nine years’ worth of accumulated plant growth, weed takeover, and wildlife infiltration for the new homeowner to deal with.

Which was me—and by association, Dad.

I worked out a deal with the sellers to allow me to come over and work on the outside of the house before they had officially moved out, and Dad and I got to work very, very quickly, along with my good friend, Steve Adams. We thought we had a lot of work ahead of us.

And unfortunately, even that was an underestimation.

For what felt like a few weeks, Steve, Dad, and I would put on our boots, grab any yard tool we could find, and hop into the jungle that had taken over this backyard pond for an evening’s worth of hard labor. Unfortunately, the roots had grown unmanaged for so long that they had all tangled and woven themselves together, leaving a dense root mat about a foot and a half thick in the bottom of the pond. Out of those roots grew cattails and other weeds that were taller than we were! So, for hours and hours each night, the three of us would use a machete (of course my Dad owned a machete) to saw out 30-40 pound chunks of the root mat and weeds, heaving them out of the pond and into a trailer my Dad had borrowed from a friend.

That work was exhausting, no doubt; but it also brought the three of us closer together as we laughed, joked, sweated, complained, and despised everything about having to clean a pond while imagining how serene it would be once everything was finished. We talked about how nice it would be to sit on the back patio as the water bubbled over the rocks, the Lily pads that would eventually grow, and whether or not I would put fish in the pond.

It was the unexpected wildlife, however, that gave me one of the funniest memories I’d ever have in the house. One night while the three of us labored away in the pond, I heard Dad shout unexpectedly. It immediately caught my attention because my Dad rarely shouted, and there were very few times when he was actually surprised, scared, or caught off guard. I had never heard him make a sound like the one that had just come out of his mouth. I turned my head and saw him high-stepping it away from the center of the pond as he looked down towards his boots. Then, I saw him move towards a section of rustling cattails with the stealth, determination, and excitement that I had seen while watching Steve Irwin on episodes of The Crocodile Hunter. All of a sudden, Dad pounced—and he stood up proudly holding a gargantuan snapping turtle by the tail!

“He got me!” Dad yelled. “And now, I got him!”

The turtle, clearly not appreciating being held by his tail, swung wildly and snapped his jaws while Dad tried to stay clear of any nibbling. It was hilarious watching Dad carry this huge turtle around by the tail trying to avoid his bites, and I couldn’t stop laughing at the faces and sounds he was making. He let out an infamous Turtleman “Yeee-yeee-yee! That’s some live action!” yell, channeling one of his favorite television shows at the time, and jumped out of the pond and placing the turtle in a bucket. After watching and admiring his catch, Dad eventually took the turtle down to the nearby canal and released him, happily, along the banks—and all the while, I stayed back at the house laughing at Dad’s encounter, and praying that turtle would never return.

Nearly six years later, on my last day in that home, I stood in the living room looking out between the panes of the sliding glass door with that same pond just fifteen feet away. We had made it look good again, and even though he wasn’t there, I could still picture that moment. I could still hear his laughter. Years removed from seeing Dad, I was immediately taken back to the joy of that moment. Years of loss and hurt and grief couldn’t prevent me from hearing his voice, seeing his smile, and picturing the time we spent together there.

I turned from the door and looked across the empty tile floor of my living room, picturing all of the areas where my couch and television and tables had once been—and ultimately, picturing the spot where Dad had spent so much time with me when he would stop over at the house. One of my favorite parts about living next to my parents was that we didn’t have to make appointments or schedule time in our calendars to see one another—it just happened naturally as a result of living next door. A few nights a week, Mom and Dad would always stop over after dinner to just say hello, catch up, and fellowship with one another. Dad’s visits—as they were with nearly any interaction he ever had on this planet—always turned into rather lengthy stays. Before you even knew it, a fifteen-minute conversation had turned into an hour talk, a few episodes of The Office, and an impromptu nap with full-volume snores in the recliner opposite me on the sectional.

Looking at that spot and knowing how quickly the years had passed since losing Dad, I longed for those simple, everyday interactions again. Yes, I missed the big moments; but it was the everyday visits, the smile, the work coveralls, and the laughter that I remembered and missed most. Maybe even the ridiculously-loud nap snoring. I missed the man more than the moments. I felt guilty when I realized how often I took those simple moments for granted while Dad was alive. I cringed when I thought of all the times that I secretly wished Dad might leave after being at the house for two or three hours because I had things that were seemingly more important that I needed to finish. Looking back, it was painful for me to realize that nothing, nothing, could have ever been as important as those little moments. And I wanted them back more than anything.

With tears beginning to well up in my eyes, I moved through the kitchen and into the living room, reminding myself of all the moments that Dad had come over to fix this or repair that. I saw his handiwork, care, and attention-to-detail in every corner of my home, and those little details brought back a flood of painful loss. How many times had I taken his talents for granted? When it came to construction, home repairs, building, and repairing, there was no one—absolutely no one—more talented than my Dad. God gave him a builder’s heart and mind—and He gave it all to him because I inherited absolutely none of that same talent. Looking through the house as it sat empty, I found little areas where Dad had patched drywall, painted, or fixed things around the house. These were things that only I would have noticed because he had fixed and repaired them so perfectly. Standing in the house, I wished that I had listened to and learned from my Dad so much more than I did. His talents and servant’s heart to help me, his only son, made my first foray into homeownership manageable, and I wished he had had more time to showcase his talents to the world.

I walked down the hallway, and continued to see his carpentry skill reflected in my home office—my favorite room of the entire house. Since the time I was little, I always wanted to have my own home office/library filled with books, baseball memorabilia, paintings, and portraits adorning the walls. I don’t know where it came from, but for as long as I can remember, I’d had a very specific vision for what I wanted that office to look like: walls divided with a white chair molding running throughout, red paint on the bottom and a soft, light brown paint on top, wood furniture, lots of books, and plenty of bobbleheads. Shortly after moving in, Dad helped me do just that.

Chair Molding from Home OfficeThe books and bobbleheads had been removed months earlier, but the chair molding and paint were still on the walls, and I couldn’t help but run my hands across the work Dad had done and feel like I was right there next to him again. His work put breath to his memory even though he had taken his final breath many years ago. He treated that job, like every job he had, with an obsessive attention to detail, making sure the chair molding ran into the closet, ended at a perfect angle, and didn’t impede the closet door’s ability to close. It was exactly what I wanted.

But in this grand tour of a home that once was, I also couldn’t ignore the fact that this was a home filled with hurt, pain, and trauma. It was that very office where I was sitting when I received the call that there was an emergency at my parents’ house, and that I needed to come home quickly. It was that office where I sat and cried for nights after losing my Dad—constantly reading my Bible, searching for answers, and finding very few that could adequately soothe the grief and hurt I felt. It was that office where I rediscovered a letter my Dad had written to me as a “freshie” in high school—and I glared at the spot where I had read his words knowing that those would be the final, loving, encouraging messages I would ever receive from him. For all the times that I had enjoyed that office and the comfort it provided, it was also the epicenter of the most painful chapter of my life.

Next to the office, I found the spare bedroom and began to cry, resurrecting the many tears that had been shed there shortly after losing Dad. I remember walking in that room the night that Dad had passed away. It was the middle of the night, and the house had finally quieted from all the visitors who came to help soothe my family’s wounds. Quiet, however, doesn’t lead to sleep when you’re trying to make sense of a traumatic loss. Sleep evades those who are hurting and grasping for answers and explanation—and it would evade me on this night. I knocked on the door and slowly opened it, finding Mom resting on the spare bed with our dog, Lucy, right by her side. Like me, Mom couldn’t sleep either. I went into the room, sat on the ground, and just began sobbing. I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the night, and I couldn’t even think about making it through the days and months and years that would come without Dad. Mom and I just sat there as the moon shone through the blinds for a long time, talking and crying and trying to build each other’s confidence for the difficult road ahead. Like she did so many times after losing Dad, Mom found a way to comfort me even though she was hurting as well. Standing in that room on my last day in the house, the pain of that evening was as real as it ever was; and it was hard to believe how Mom and I had come so far from that hopeless, desperate moment.

I moved to the room opposite me in the hallway and found my own bedroom. In the back corner of the house, this had been my own personal retreat for so long. The darkened gray walls there had created a comfortable, soothing surrounding—but after losing Dad, it was impossible to feel comfortable. On certain nights, those walls felt like a prison. As I thought back to all the times I had slept in that room, I also thought back over the many nights in which I had not been able to sleep because the pain of my Dad’s loss was too real, too monstrous. There were so many monumental moments of grief contained within those four walls. It was the spot where I wrestled with my faith, wondering why a God I loved—and a God who I knew loved my Father and me—would allow something this disastrous to strike our home. The day of my Dad’s death, I sat up in my bed as my pastor, Harville, sat in a chair in the corner of the room doing his best to answer questions about my grief that even he didn’t quite understand. It was the spot where I first saw my friend, Chris, after many years of our friendship being estranged. He walked into that room and hugged me the day after he had heard about my Dad’s death, and instantly all of the petty things that had separated us for so long completely evaporated, and the redemptive power of God’s love renewed a friendship that hate could not keep apart. It was the spot, on the evening of my Father’s funeral, where I felt completely incapable of even getting out of bed. It was that spot where my Great Aunt, “Auntie” Vivian, prayed for me to have the strength to get up, to fight again, and to persevere. It was where she opened up to me and shared how she overcame the debilitating grief of being widowed four times throughout her life. It was the spot where she told me how hard those days were, and how much she knew I missed my Dad, but also where she promised me that God would redeem all of this hurt and sorrow. There were many nights, sitting on that bed into the late hours of the evening and the early hours of the morning, where I would read my Bible and other books about grief, searching for answers that I needed—some of which I received, and others of which I’m still searching for.

Yes, that bedroom witnessed some of the darkest moments of my grief in some very, very tumultuous days; but it also served as the stage for my own recovery, offering hope and guidance, strength and renewal.

Eventually, I found the strength to walk outside of the house to the area I envisioned having the hardest time saying goodbye to—the empty sideyard. That sideyard had been important to me since before I even owned the home because that was the spot that connected to my parent’s yard—the spot where Dad and I would toss. The previous owners had always been kind enough to let us use their yard to toss a baseball back and forth. On that last day, even though it was nearly five years removed from the last time I played catch with my Dad, I could still hear and feel the pop of the glove. I could still feel the roughness of the tattered old baseball we tossed. I could still hear Dad’s laugh when I missed an easy catch—which happened more often than it should have. I could still feel the sweat of my brow after a fun session of back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and I could still feel the joy that the simplicity of tossing a baseball brought to the two of us.

On many nights after losing Dad—more nights than I care to count—I found myself walking out into that sideyard in the middle of the night for relief and peace and grieving. I’d sit down in the wet grass and look across the empty, moon-bathed yard, and on the other side I’d see an emptiness where my Dad should have been that haunted me and exposed the depths of my grief. Sometimes for just a few minutes, and other times for an hour or more, I’d sit there crying, laughing, reminiscing, and wishing more than anything that my Dad would magically reappear with glove in hand, ready to toss again. That sideyard was my sanctuary of sorts because of the memories that were there, and on that last day, a part of me felt as if letting go of the house also meant I had to let go of all the memories that were there.

And on the opposite end of that empty sideyard sat my childhood home—the place where I had spent my most formative years as a son of Scott and Becky Bradshaw. I am fortunate that that household is filled with such positive, warm, and loving memories. I am thankful to God for giving me parents that built a home any child would be lucky to live in, and it had nothing to do with the walls, paint, or windows. It had everything to do with feeling like I was safe and accepted there. It had everything to do with feeling like my parents were molding me into someone better each and every day.

The proximity of Mom’s house after losing Dad, however, was also a blessing that neither one of us foresaw at the time that I signed the contract. Having my parents right next door was a life-saver when I had bought they home and they were both alive—especially that one time that my breaker box caught on fire and could have potentially burnt the entire structure into a heap of ashes. It doesn’t matter how old you are when that happens—you always need your parents.

But what I didn’t foresee initially was God’s larger plan. I didn’t see the storm waves brewing on the horizon that God saw, and I didn’t know that He was strategically giving me that house to live in at the exact moment in time that I needed to be there. There were so many nights after losing Dad that having Mom right next door was extremely soothing for both of our grieving hearts. Looking back on all those moments, I could feel God’s hand moving over the entire experience. And I’m thankful—even though the storm did come—that he brought me through the other side by giving me that home. He put me there for a reason, and I’m thankful for it.


When you live in a house for six years, it’s amazing how much “stuff” you can accumulate. It’s insane to see how many physical possessions you can accumulate in that relatively short amount of time. What’s more shocking, however, is the amount of emotional “stuff” that can be contained under that solitary roof. It’s amazing that one house can tell that many stories. On that last day, it finally hit home how much of this pivotal chapter of my life was tied to that place, and it utterly overwhelmed me.

As the packing and moving process wore on longer than I wanted it to, I started to recognize some of my hoarding tendencies, wondering why I had kept items that were clearly of no use to me thinking that, someday, I’d find a use for them. As freeing as it was to dispose of truckbed after truckbed of garbage, there was also a part of me that wondered if I was throwing something away that, later, I’d regret. I am really hoping that Chemistry self-help book I bought my junior year of high school and never used isn’t worth thousands of dollars on eBay because it currently resides atop a heap of trash at Rumpke.

However, as I packed my things and the house grew emptier and emptier, I also had to convince myself that I would be able to take my memories with me when I left. Letting go of the house, in a sense, felt like I was also turning my back on a life that once was. There were so many pivotal experiences that occurred within those walls, and there was a part of me that felt as if leaving the house also meant I was throwing those experiences away.

As I said goodbye, I had to remind myself that all the good memories I had made with Dad in this home and in this neighborhood weren’t going away the second I handed over the keys. In fact, those intangible, powerful memories would be the most important things I would take with me. Yes, there were some physical reminders of Dad’s life that I had to leave behind when I said goodbye to that little home; but that would never, never erase or dilute the power of the memories that I would take with me forever.

Nonetheless, that last day was an emotional one. It was a marker in how far I’ve come since losing Dad. It was a reminder that, in spite of the moments which felt as if my grief would completely diminish the quality of my life, despair would never win. Yes, I lost my Dad to suicide—but I continued to live. I found a wonderful partner who loves me unconditionally, and someone who I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with, tackling new adventure after new adventure together as husband and wife. Over those years, I grew closer to my Mom and other family members as we found new ways to live without Dad, even though our hearts were hurting. I took new jobs (and some old ones), traveled to new places, met new people, and experienced new experiences that I couldn’t ever envision in my most fantastical dreams.

Life has happened in that house when life didn’t always seem livable after losing my Dad—and I thank God that He continued to let life happen there.

Standing in that door frame for the last time, I looked out upon the little house that had given me comfort, shelter, and peace in the most difficult chapter of my entire life. I closed my tear-filled eyes and heard the sounds of Dad’s voice, laughter, and joking once more. I remembered the faces of people who gathered in my home the day we lost Dad, and I remembered their sincerity and concern, their gratitude and love. I thought of the hopeless nights where I bathed in my grief, but I remembered the hopeful ones, too. And all throughout, I heard the echo of my Dad’s voice telling me that it was time for the next adventure, and that he would never, ever leave me.

He was telling me that it was okay to say goodbye to that house.

I walked over and sat an envelope on the counter for the new owners, which contained a handwritten letter telling them the hope I had for their future as the newest residents of Gateway Drive. I told them how that house had been a safe-haven for me in a dark and stormy time. I expressed to them my excitement that that house would give them all the positive memories that it had given me. And I prayed that they would find the same love, warmth, and serenity that I had found there.

And as I sat that letter down on the counter and turned towards the door, I said a thank you one last time. I said goodbye to a chapter of my life that would never be relived—both the good and the bad. And the finality of that moment spoke to my heart, encouraging me to go but to take all my wonderful memories with me.

I walked out of the door for the very last time, and said goodbye and thank you. And I was grateful that, through it all, that little house on Gateway Drive had become a home and provided everything to me that I ever needed—including the things I never knew I’d need.

An empty house might sound silent, but if you listen closely, it will tell the deepest and most important stories of your heart. I’m thankful that I listened.

Me Dad and Lucy at Picnic with SB LogoDad, Leaving my house on Gateway Drive for the last time felt like I was leaving another piece of you behind. It’s so easy for me to associate you with that house because you were so instrumental in making my first home a reality. You were there, step by step, as I faced the challenges of becoming a new homeowner, and you helped me face those head-on….or shell-on in the case of that vicious snapping turtle in the pond! I have so many positive memories of the year that we lived right next door to one another. I miss you showing up at the backdoor and hanging out just because you wanted to say hello. There were moments in that home after losing you that were so difficult—but they were also so important. They were moments where I could picture you and see you and hear your voice again, and as the years wear on, part of me worries that I’ll lose some of those memories. But Dad, you’re always with me—whether I own that home or not. You’re always walking right alongside of me guiding and directing me, and I’ll never, ever forget that. I’m glad for that year we spent as neighbors, but I’m even more grateful for the 26 years we spent as Father and Son. Dad, I’ll never quit loving you. I’ll never quit wishing you were still here with us, and that the pain you felt on this Earth had never existed. But I’ll also never stop thinking about the moment that you and I will be reunited again in Heaven. We will be neighbors in an Eternal Kingdom, and I’ll look forward to more-than-a-lifetime of laughter and love again. But until that day, seeya Bub.

 “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:25 (NIV)

Wondering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all throughout, I wondered.

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

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

And from that moment on, I began wondering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jealous

A few days after my Dad’s death, I found myself roaming around a clothing store at the outlet malls. It sounds like a rather trivial thing to do after a traumatic loss, but I needed something, anything to find temporary relief from the sadness I felt. Attempting to escape from my grief, I was doing anything and everything to just keep my mind off of the horror that had filled the past week. I was trying to do little things, step by step, that I had done in my life before losing Dad, even though I experienced unrelenting guilt anytime I engaged in an activity that felt like I was “moving on.” Life was moving on to a new, emptier normal as much as I didn’t want to admit it. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t stop it.

As I walked around the clothing store attempting to distract myself with shirts and hats and things that felt absolutely pointless now, I realized that my mind was super attuned to the many fathers and sons inside the store. They had always been there, but my mind had never had a reason to pay much attention to them before. Today, however, was different. Today, there were fathers and sons seemingly everywhere inside the store, and I was fatherless for the first time in my life. No matter which way I turned, they were constantly in my face.

I watched them all—closely and intently. I noticed how they interacted with one another. I watched as they showed one another different pieces of apparel. I saw how they joked together. I listened to their conversations, from the seemingly mundane to the more serious and complicated.

Realizing that I was without my Father in a public setting for one of the first times in my life, I did my best to try and get away from the different groups of fathers and sons that I saw throughout the store; but no matter where I moved, I couldn’t escape them. Everywhere I went, I seemed to encounter another father and son.

After a few unsuccessful dodging attempts, I found myself standing at a t-shirt rack with a father and his teenage son nearby, and I began to listen to their conversation back and forth, as much as I really didn’t want to. I knew, immediately upon looking at them, that his son was extremely disinterested—in both the activity of shopping, but more painfully, disinterested in his father.

To his credit, this particular father was doing everything he could to engage his son in a conversation; and his son, as some teenagers are prone to do, looked like he wanted to be hanging out with anyone else but his dad in that moment. Although he was trying to mask it, I could tell that this father was deeply hurt by the way his son was acting. I could see a level of longing for a previous chapter in life—a chapter during which his son had once adored him. There was a longing to be a father of a young, innocent boy again—a longing that would never be resolved. I could tell that this father, as unsuccessful as his efforts might have been, refused to give up on recapturing his son’s love and adoration. His efforts, however, were largely fruitless, and his son did everything he could to escape his dad’s presence.

I kept watching, and as the dad attempted to engage his son more and more, the son grew angrier and more hurtful. He began rolling his eyes at his dad behind his back. He snapped at his dad whenever he was asked a question that he perceived to be ridiculous—which just happened to be every question that his dad asked. Eventually, the young man started disrespecting his father at a level that was unconscionable and uncomfortable for those of us standing nearby—especially me.

And I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Without even realizing what was happening, I found myself getting emotional. My face was red and hot, and tears were forming at the corners of my eyes. I wanted to get away from them, but I also couldn’t stop watching them and wishing that this young boy would just shut up. I was anxious and uncomfortable and angry all at the same time.

I hung the shirt I was holding back on the rack and briskly walked out of the store, leaving the disrespected father and his disrespectful son in the rearview mirror.

I walked quickly through the parking lot, making a beeline towards my car as I felt more tears coming on. Within a few seconds, I got in the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut, and I began sobbing hysterically and pathetically. I sat there, slamming my fist against the steering wheel multiple times and letting out more than one anger-laced yells. It was embarrassing and humiliating, but these were raw emotions that I just couldn’t hide in that moment, just a few days removed from my Father’s tragic death. I was furious. I was deeply saddened.

More than anything, I was jealous.

After losing Dad, jealously was not one of the emotions I expected to struggle with, but it had hit me hard just a few days after Dad’s death. I didn’t realize how cognizant I would be of all the fathers and sons in the world around me. I didn’t expect that every single time I saw a father and son walking around a mall doing something as simple as shopping could well up deep-rooted feelings of grief-induced jealousy—but it did. I was going to the mall that day to try to escape from my grief, and the mere sight of a father and his son together made that impossible. I wondered when this would start to fade, but I knew that although the frequency might lessen, the feelings themselves would likely never entirely disappear.

My Dad was gone. It was a new, horrible reality that hadn’t yet sunk in, but I kept saying it to myself that day in the car, as if repeating it over and over again would make the reality of my new life less emotional. “Dad is gone. Dad is gone.” Over and over again, I found myself repeating what I had lost in my life—my Father, my mentor, my friend. My heart filled with despair as I thought about all of the great times that we had together during his life—times that would never, ever be repeated.

And I admit it—I was extremely jealous of those young men I had seen throughout the mall that day. Many of the fathers and sons I saw in the mall that day were happy. I saw young children laughing as their fathers chased them between stores or made funny noises. In the food court, I saw dads sharing meals with their children just like Dad and I had done so many times before. I saw fathers with their adolescent children talking and chatting and carrying on good conversations. I saw older fathers with their adult children (and even grandchildren) just appreciating one another’s company.

And I was really, really jealous of those families and what they had together.

I was longing for moments that I felt were stolen from me. My Dad was a loving Father, and we deserved to have more time with one another. True, no amount of time with a man like my Dad would ever be enough, but I just knew that I wanted—and deserved—more. We deserved to be able to enjoy different phases of life together that were still to come. I wanted to see him on my wedding day (and the look of disbelief that would be on his face when I would tell him that I was getting married). I wanted to be able to, someday, tell him that he was going to be a grandfather. I wanted to watch his childlike antics as a grandfather, and I would have appreciated everything he would have done to be silly and goofy and funny with little ones running around him. I wanted to be able to see him get a promotion—which he so desperately deserved—at work, and I wanted to be able to honor him when he eventually celebrated his retirement. And yes, I wanted to watch him grow old.

That day at the mall was like a flash-forward into the life I could have had, the life that would never be but should have. With every father and son I observed, I was reminded of those moments of life that had either passed too quickly or were stolen from us too hastily. With every father and son, I saw a vignette into the world that, for some reason, I would not be blessed with.

I sat in the car trying to process my feelings. It was tough to admit, but in those moments, some of the nastiest emotions of jealousy bubbled to the surface, and I wondered why an undeserving brat like the young man I had witnessed was still allowed to have his father while mine was buried just a few days earlier. I found myself wanting to say something to that young man. I wanted to walk up to him and tell him to quit acting like such a little jerk, because he had no idea how lucky he was to still have his father in his life. I wanted to tell him that he should think twice about being so disrespectful to a man he had likely once idolized and would someday miss. I wanted him to feel a sense of regret for his despicable, thoughtless, self-centered behavior.

I also wanted to tell him that I spoke from experience, because I now found myself regretting all of the moments when I had treated my Dad similarly; and in that moment, I realized that I wasn’t as angry at that young man as I was angry at myself for not always giving my own Father the respect he rightfully earned.

I was a largely respectful kid, but I was also a teenager. As most teenagers do, I went through my “too cool for parents” phase. Although my Dad was fairly non-intrusive compared to most parents I had seen, he definitely enjoyed being around me and my friends, even when I didn’t always enjoy or appreciate his company. There were times when my Dad would be around, innocently and joyfully, and I just wanted to be with my friends—not him. It’s so painful to admit this; especially considering the fact that, now that he’s gone, I would give up just about anything to have a few more precious minutes and moments with him.

Time teaches us important and sometimes painful lessons, and it took losing my Dad to realize the true gifts of life, albeit too late to appreciate it with him. Losing my Dad has taught me to appreciate those who are in our lives while they are here. It’s a simple lesson, and I’m definitely not the first person who had to learn it the hard way. Unfortunately, it is a life lesson that many of us learn entirely too late because we don’t often learn it until the pain of loss sets in.

Although I’ve grown in many ways since losing Dad, those feelings of jealousy are still just as real almost six years removed from his death. I still have moments similar to that day at the outlet mall when I will spot a father and son and those feelings of jealousy will creep to the surface. I still observe interactions—mostly beautiful ones—between fathers and sons that will bring me to inexplicable tears. I want what they have, and I don’t understand why God felt that calling my Dad home to heaven so prematurely was necessary. There are many days when I long to be a little boy again. I wish desperately for those moments when I could swim in the backyard pool with my Dad, or ride bikes with him, or laugh at television shows with him, or just be with him.

But I know that whatever that ultimate plan may be, and no matter how jealous I might feel of other fathers and sons at times, I cannot lose sight of the fact that I spent 26 wonderful years with a simply amazing Father in my life.

I remember talking with one of my Pastors, Dave Hicks, shortly after losing Dad. At the time of our phone conversation, I was worried about going back to work. My job requires me to meet with lots of students and families who come to campus. Oftentimes, those meetings are pleasant, but on occasion, there will be instances where students grow visibly frustrated with their parents asking embarrassing questions—as all parents are prone to do in the college admission process. Students will roll their eyes, or sometimes even admonish their parents when they grow extremely frustrated with their actions. In my early career, I became rather accustomed to these types of meetings; but now, things were different. I had lost my Father, and I knew that I would likely react differently when I observed these interactions. I was worried that I might start to get inside my own head when I saw students treating their fathers with disrespect, and I was afraid that these scenarios would trigger unpleasant memories, making it hard for me to do my job. On the flip side, it was also difficult for me to watch parents who might come in and are disinterested in their children, because I lost a Father who was always, always interested in my life.

I was sharing these concerns with Dave, and I finally broke down and told him what was at the heart of my worry and anxiety.

“What am I going to do when I interact with a student being mean to their Dad? I know that I’m going to be jealous and it’s really going to upset me,” I said.

“You’re going to rejoice in the fact that, for 26 fantastic years, you had the best Father the world has ever seen—and no one, not even death, can take that away,” Dave responded.

That comment shifted my perspective on that day, and it’s been an important reminder in the years of recovery after his death. Although jealousy is a natural feeling when losing a loved one, we also can’t lose sight of what we were fortunate enough to have. Although natural, I also realize how selfish my primal feelings of jealousy were after losing Dad. It was true—I didn’t deserve to lose my Dad at such a young age. But Dad didn’t deserve to die the way he did. And the father I saw in the store didn’t deserve to be treated the way he was. And, in most every situation of life, none of us deserve the pain we are subjected to.

But we also don’t deserve God’s love—yet He still continues to love us anyway. Our actions often run counter to the life He designed and taught us about through his Son, Jesus Christ. No matter how undeserving we might be, God continues to pursue us—and I will always be thankful for that message. When it comes to loving God, there have been sinful times in my life when I’ve been absolutely no different than that punk in the clothing store. In spite of all my transgressions and selfish attitudes, God has kept loving me; and it’s a reminder that not time, not space, and not even death by suicide can separate me from the love my Father gave me while he was here on earth.

I’m thankful that, albeit shorter than I would have liked, I had a Dad who loved me unconditionally each and every day of his life. I’m fortunate that I had a Father who took an active interest in everything I did, even though there were times when I didn’t give him the respect that he deserved. And I’m thankful, more than anything, that my Father’s memory and legacy continue to guide and teach me each and every day of my life. My heart is hurt, and it’s still hurting years removed from the day that the pain of losing him was inflicted; but my heart is only full of jealousy because of the magnitude of my loss. I lost my Father on that day, but I’ll never, ever lose my love for him.

Dad and Me Stump Picture with SB LogoDad, Of all the difficult things that have happened since losing you, watching other fathers and sons has likely been the hardest. I still get jealous when I see other fathers and sons enjoying life together, because deep down I feel that you and I were robbed of precious time spent with one another. I don’t always know how to deal with these feelings, but you taught me to appreciate what we have in life more than longing for what we don’t have. And for all the experiences and moments that we might not have been able to share with one another, the 26 years that we did spend together as Father and Son here on earth were always filled with life, adventure, appreciation, and love. You taught me that it’s okay to be hurt and to not know all of the answers, but that in spite of that hurt, we should strive to love others at all times. And Dad, in spite of the pain I still feel to this day, I often ask God to teach me how to love others like you did. Although I still experience jealousy, it’s always coupled with an unfailing sense of longing for what is to come—a heavenly reunion in which I’ll be able to tell you, again, how much I loved you. Thank you, Dad, for always modeling hope. Thank you for giving me indelible memories that will never, ever be erased by the pain of jealousy. And thank you for loving me and everyone in your life with gusto. I love you, Dad, and until we can enjoy the gift of being near one another again, seeya Bub.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30 (NIV)