Presence

It may have been our most steady holiday tradition—my Dad was always the last person downstairs every Christmas morning.

In a family of three (four if you count the dog), maybe this isn’t such a big deal; nonetheless, the consistency was impressive. It’s one thing to be a little tardy for a year here and there, but to make it your trademark behavior is something else entirely.

Ty In Front of Christmas TreeLike most kids, I was usually the first one down the stairs to wait anxiously in the family room for everyone else to wake up. I always felt that sparkle deep in my bones that only a childhood Christmas morning can replicate. I’d look down the stairs and see the twinkling tree that Mom and Dad had meticulously decorated in the living room (except for that one year when the whole thing came crashing down), and like most kids, I’d be blown away by all of the presents that had been left under the tree. Looking back and realizing how much effort, time, and money had gone into those presents, I appreciate them and that feeling all the more…

And, like most kids, I’d also do my best to do some sneaky investigative work. I’d cautiously search for the presents under the three that were labeled “Ty” either with my Mom’s familiar loopy cursive script, or my by Dad’s precise, all-capital penmanship that I inherited (although his was much more precise). Dad’s tags always had some ridiculous moniker in the “To” and “From” lines. “To: Tyler-O, From: Daddy-O.” “To: The Boy, From: The Parents.” “To: Ty, From: Yo Daddy.” Even with Christmas tags, he couldn’t let a moment go by without trying to be funny.

Dad with Gift TagBut he could let moments go by on Christmas morning before lumbering down the stairs. I would wait downstairs with all the patience of a hungry infant. After shaking a few boxes here and there, I’d try and walk around and creak all the right floorboards in the hopes that it might wake up Mom and Dad and cause them to come downstairs. I’d turn on the television and put the volume just a little too high. Maybe sing a spontaneous Christmas carol here and there. A fake cough might do the trick. I also got pretty good at finding ways to cause our dog to bark incessantly in an effort to commence the Christmas morning festivities (thanks, Willow!).

Usually what felt like an eternity in kid-dom was only a half hour or so, and Mom would make her way down the stairs. “Merry Christmas, Ty!” she’d say to me with a hug and a kiss, and then she’d ask me if I saw all the presents under the tree (“OF COURSE I DID! AND I DIDN’T SHAKE OR ATTEMPT TO UNWRAP THE CORNER OF A SINGLE BOX!”). Then, Mom would get to work in the kitchen preparing her famous Christmas breakfast feast: a delicious ham and pepper-jack potato quiche always accompanied by cinnamon rolls and sparkling cider to make us feel fancy.

And while she worked, Dad would sleep.

And sleep.

And sleep a bit more.

And I, a young and impatient child, would stew and pace in the living room.

It’s okay to have a few “Silent Nights” around Christmas, but when you start to turn those into silent mornings and you have a seven-year-old downstairs with a rabid penchant for tearing through boxes like the Tasmanian Devil through a forest of giant sequoias, your parental slumber becomes treasonous.  

At a certain point, it would even start to irritate Mom—probably because she was irritated by my irritation. Mom would start to yell up the stairs in the hopes that Dad would eventually come down; and eventually, albeit entirely too late, he always did. Dad would pop down the stairs with a smile on his face like no one had been yelling at him for the past hour-and-a-half to get up and make his way downstairs. When it came to verbal abuse, Dad was Teflon. He never let anything stick to him. If he knew that one of us was mad at him, he’d turn the sickening sweetness up a few notches, and then a few notches more until we finally gave in because we knew we’d never win.

Donning his typical dark-colored matching sweat suit with the elastic around the ankles, Dad would make his way over to me and give me a hug and a pat on the head as he wished me a Merry Christmas. I’d grumble something under my breath about getting him back for his tardiness by making him painstakingly assemble and install batteries in the 14 toys I was about to receive, but Dad didn’t care about any of those threats.

He only cared about the joy. The togetherness. The presence. That was what mattered to him.

Inevitably, Dad would have come down at the perfectly imperfect time when Mom was in the middle of her quiche construction, so we would have to wait a few moments longer before we got into the gift opening. I’d tap my kid-sized slippers impatiently as we waited, and it never failed that the second Mom came into the room, Dad would exclaim “Oh! Wait. I forgot my camera. Hang on.”

For what seemed like an excruciatingly-long time to fetch a camera, Dad would go upstairs and rummage through his things until he located the camera. And checked the batteries. And put the spare battery on the charger. And deleted some photos of a random cornstalk field that he had taken to free up space. And grab the spare memory card. And clean the lens. And then spend a few moments looking at the 244 pictures he had taken at the Blue Angels show from the previous year. And repairing the broken zipper on the camera case.

The man had many, many gifts; but speed on Christmas morning wasn’t one of them.

After making sure every possible camera catastrophe had been properly prevented, Dad would come back downstairs to be greeted by my face whose redness matched the glowing bulbs on the tree in the family room.

“Alright,” Dad would say. “What do you say we give Willow a gift to get things started?”

“THE DOG?!” I’d shriek with unbridled adolescent fury. “YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS RIGHT NOW!”

Dad would laugh and laugh. And then, he’d hand a package over the dog.

Lucy Opening a PresentWe always had dogs that enjoyed unwrapping presents, which was quite the feat looking back on things. And as much as Dad enjoyed watching them unwrap the gifts and laughing about it, he also enjoyed taking thousands of photos of them while doing it. Beep, flash. Beep, flash. Beep, flash. Over and over again, the shutter of Dad’s digital camera would snap and snap while capturing what my Dad thought was the most amazing feat man’s best friend had ever accomplished.

Eventually, Dad would give into my tantrums and wailing, and within minutes my tempest will have receded and I’d be fully immersed in the glee of opening gifts on Christmas morning. My parents were always wonderful gift-givers. They would buy me toys that were just perfect for me, and I have many fond memories of those gifts. The art desk with the revolving marker stand and light-up tracing table. The Fischer Price castle and pirate ship with working boulder cannons where I’d let my imagination run free for hours. Bicycles. Hockey sticks. Books. They were always so, so very generous.

But looking back, it’s funny to think about how many of my memories are not related to the toys I received. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the toys. In fact, I’m a thirty-three-year-old man who still loves toys. Although the toys I received were wonderful, as I grow older and life becomes more and more precious, I realize that it’s the Christmastime memories made with my Mom and Dad that are often so much more special. Partially because that’s what happens when you age; but they’re also more special because I realize how irreplaceable those moments truly are now that my Dad is gone.

Yes, we still have wonderful Christmases; but we don’t have Dad. We all miss him tremendously, and some holidays, it’s just unbearable. We miss watching him laugh when our dogs opened gifts (and we miss the loss of vision from the incessant camera flashes). We miss rolling our eyes at his ridiculous Christmas gift tags while secretly laughing at them behind our criticisms. We miss watching him enjoy Mom’s famous Christmas quiche with a can of Coca-Cola. We miss watching him watch A Christmas Story twelve times in a row and laughing at the tongue-meets-flagpole scene hysterically every time like it was the first time he had ever seen it.

We miss my Dad because he helped us make so many wonderful memories. And as much as I hate to admit it, I think that my Dad’s slow pace on Christmas day is what makes many of those memories so indelible.

Family at Christmas with SB LogoI think the reason I can soak up those memories so well is, ironically, because of the way my Dad forced us all to slow down. On Christmas Day, and in nearly all the days of his life, my Dad was one of those guys who was truly present in every single moment. Nearly everyone who knew my Dad can attest to the fact that he was a man who was always fully present and immersed in whatever he was doing at any given moment. My Dad wasn’t distracted by much when he was around people. When he was having a conversation, he was fully in that conversation. When he was eating a meal, he was fully enjoying the flavors, the setting, and the company. When Dad was working, he was fully engaged in the detail of the work he was doing, ensuring that every little component of the job had been done correctly. And on Christmas Day, Dad wasn’t waiting for what’s next; he was experiencing what’s now.

For my Dad, it wasn’t about the presents; it was about the presence.

My Dad was never the guy who was just trying to speed through life so he could get on to the next thing; and boy, is that a lesson he is still teaching me today. Unfortunately, for some reasons good and for other reasons not so good, life has gotten more hectic for all of us, me included. And for as long as I can remember, I have tended to be the guy who is always looking ahead to what’s on the horizon—the next present, the next experience, the next day. When Paige and I go to Disney World, I’m the guy in line trying to line up a Fastpass for the next ride rather than appreciating all the detail that the Imagineers have put into the queue for us to enjoy as we wait. It’s very, very hard for me to just live in the moment, and I’ve always known that’s my shortcoming.

But my Dad was a presence pro. In everything he did, he was there and completely free of distraction. Because my Dad took things slow in life, I think it allowed him to fully appreciate and remember what he was doing at any given moment. When Dad was there with you, he was all in. He wasn’t mindlessly scrolling through his phone. He wasn’t stressing over the schedule and how many things he had to get to the next day. He wasn’t checking his email. He wasn’t complaining about everything he needed to do. He was just there, enjoying life, enjoying his family, and slowing things down so he could make memories.

I miss that about him because it is so rare in my life that I can just slow down, disconnect, and be truly in the moment. I miss it because it’s so rare in the world around me. Everything we do says “go go go” but everything my Dad did was slow, slow, slow. And now, with years of perspective and the pain of his loss still aching in my soul, I can see that my Dad was right. I can see why he treated every single moment, every interaction, and every experience like it was a precious treasure.

It’s because it was. And sometimes, unfortunately, you only realize how precious it was until it’s no longer there.

I miss those Christmas mornings with my Dad because the slowness of the day always forced me to sit back and recognized how wonderfully special he truly was. Because the world mostly shuts down on Christmas Day, it forces us all inward and brings us home to the things we should appreciate most. Like faith and family, health and happiness.

On this Christmas morning (and hopefully on the many more left to come in my life), I’ll honor my Dad and do what he did by trying my best to be present with those that I love. In spite of all the craziness that’s constantly fluttering in the world around us, I’ll close the doors and just focus on the goodness that exists inside our home and those of my family and friends.

And during a Christmas that will no doubt be unusual for all of us, I hope we can realize the value and importance of the treasured time we spend with others. Yes, we should appreciate life on this day, but more importantly, we should place a premium on living life and living it to the fullest. We should do our best to be present in every moment of this holiday.

Sometimes it takes writing to disentangle our thoughts and help us see clearly, and as I think through this particular message and reflect on my earthly Father, I realize that the entire reason for the Christmas holiday stems from my Heavenly Father’s desire to be present with us. At Christmas, we celebrate God sending His one and only Son to this world to be born in a humble manger. The gift of Jesus Christ was a symbol of God’s desire to do more than just watch our lives from a distance. The greatest Christmas gift was about coming close to us and walking side-by-side with us as we traverse through this life. Jesus left His throne and came down to all of us to be with us. He

For God, Christmas wasn’t about presents. Christmas was about presence. I’m thankful that I had a Dad here on earth who realized this truth. Looking back, I know that my Dad’s constant presence was an extension of his faith. He read between the lines of the Christmas story told in the Bible, and in order to live out that message, he did everything he could to just be present with people any chance he had.

Looking back, I know that his presence was the greatest gift my Dad ever gave me. I’m thankful for that gift, and even though he won’t be here with me in person on this Christmas Day, I know that he will be watching down over all of us, celebrating from a seat in heaven in the presence of The One for whom we rejoice.

And I know that God won’t get impatient with him if he decides to sleep in just a little bit longer that morning.

Dad Lucy and Me at Christmas with SB LogoDad, Although the first year without you was hard, it seems as if every single Christmas gets harder and harder in its own way because your presence feels so distant. Although the years have worn on, however, my memories of you seem to become more vivid and full of life because they are so unbelievably important to me. Dad, thank you for helping us create memories on Christmas Day and on every other day. Thank you for always treating time with those you loved as a precious treasure. I often marvel at how you could make each person you interacted with feel so loved and so valued. I honestly think it was because you disconnected from everything in life but that very moment within which you were in that allowed you to connect so intimately with each person. Dad, thank you for always connecting with me, and with your family, and with the people who miss you so dearly. How I wish we had many more Christmas mornings together, even if you were slow to rise, slow to get moving, and slow to satisfy the primal urge for gift-opening within the heart of your adolescent son. I love you, Dad, and I miss you dearly. I wish you were here with us to see and live through all of the exciting moments of our lives. You would have been immersed in every little moment just like you were when you were with us. Dad, thank you for the presence. I miss it, but I know that someday, on the other side of eternity, I’ll get the chance to experience it again. Until that day, Merry Christmas, Bub.

“The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the rights paths
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.” Psalm 23 (NIV)

Crashing

My Dad loved riding a bike. I loved it too—but I did not love the crashing part.

When we moved to our house on Headgates Road, I started noticing my Dad’s interest in biking. Always the one to buy the most tricked-out, high-tech equipment associated with anything he did, my Dad went out and bought a 21-speed mountain bike shortly after we moved into the neighborhood. Before long, he would affix a headlight and a speedometer to the bike, upgrade the seat, and buy tires that would allow him to bike through the deepest of snow, the muddiest mud, or the gravelliest gravel.

The Headgates Road neighborhood really is a biker’s paradise—even more so now than it was when we first moved in. There was minimal traffic throughout the neighborhood, and it offered a ton of side streets and cul-de-sacs that were free of everything but the local traffic. The neighborhood was always pretty well-lit, and as more and more people desired to move to that part of town, the development of new homes brought with it more streets and sidewalks for my Dad to ride on. Our neighborhood was also perfectly located adjacent to Rentschler Park, a forest-like preserve with plenty of hiking and biking trails. Eventually, an expansion of the neighborhood connected our home to the park via a service road, and now, it’s even more grand. Many folks take advantage of the new bike path that connects Rentschler Park in Hamilton/Fairfield Township to Waterworks Park in Fairfield—a path that winds for about 12 miles along the Great Miami River.

Even before all of the paths were added in, though, Dad was a biker at heart. Oftentimes, that was how he relaxed after dinner. He would scarf down a delicious meal cooked by Mom, guzzle down a can of Coca-Cola (or two), and then hop on his bike for an evening ride as the sun would set.

Dad was always willing to have me—his “little buddy”—along for the ride. From the time I was little, I always had a bike, and Dad always encouraged me to ride it. I remember how happy he was when I ditched the training wheels, and how he always threw caution to the wind and encouraged me to be adventurous. He was that Dad who always encouraged me to pedal faster, pop a wheelie, or jump on a ramp, even though that call to “go wild” never really sunk in. I was always a pretty cautious little biker. I enjoyed it, but I also appreciated the bones in both my arms and legs and didn’t want to do anything to put their operational ability in peril.

On those nights when I did join Dad for a bike ride, he was always patient. He always waited for me to catch up to him. He never treated me like I was a nuisance or annoyance, even though in hindsight I can see that I probably was. If I went on a ride with Dad, it actually worked out for him because he ended up getting two rides in that night. After dropping me off at the house to grab a post-pedal-popsicle, he would hop back on the saddle and cruise out again for a few more miles in the setting sun.

Dad loved everything about a bike ride. He loved the exercise. He loved the rhythm. He loved the wind in his hair; and then, when his hair was gone, he loved the wind on his scalp. He loved spending time in nature, and a bike allowed him to cover more ground and appreciate even more of it. Of all the times that I saw my Dad on a bike, I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile.

Except for that time when I went over the handlebars.

Have you ever flipped over the handlebars of a bike? It sounds more fun than it is. I mean, I guess the element of flight is fun; it’s the crashing part that’s brutal. Usually there’s some kind of painful cracking or bruising or loss of fluids that doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time. But it’s the risk you take when you ride a bike, and if you’re as uncoordinated as me, it’s a risk that comes with pretty bad odds.

My Dad was always the parent leader when it came to bike rides with all of my neighborhood friends, and there were many times that Dad would effortlessly lead a group of seven or eight grade schoolers—all with different biking skill and capability—on a trail ride through the hills at Rentschler Park. There were a number of different neighborhood playmates that I biked with: Devin, Brittany, her brother Jeremy, brothers Matt and Ryan (or “Peanut” as we always called him), and Anthony and Greg (otherwise known as “The Twins). It was funny that my Dad was often the adventurous “leader of the bike pack” considering that I was the absolute least adventurous kid on that list. All of my friends were much more risk-attuned than I was, and I think that’s why my Dad liked hanging out with them and liked that I was around them as well. Deep down, he had to secretly hope that some of their no-fear-nature would rub off on me.

As a kid, Dad always made these bike rides so fun and so enjoyable. Like he did at any family gathering, vacation bible school playtime, or church softball game, my Dad was a consummate entertainer. He was always on board for whatever silliness it took to propel my little legs on that bike. If it meant he had to pretend that he was a villain and I was the good guy chasing him, he’d do it. Or if he had to pretend that he was a rabid wolf that had somehow learned how to ride a bike and give me a 20-second headstart to get away as he foamed at the mouth and snarled, he’d do it. Dad loved having fun, he loved being outdoors, and he loved making people laugh—and taking me and all the neighborhood kids on a bike ride was pure joy for him.

Dad would often take us on a bicycle caravan through the infamous “Pinecone Trail” at Rentschler Park, a beautiful mile-and-a-half-or-so trail that includes hills, bridges, stairs, and narrow pathways that wind through tall trees along a stunning creek bed filled with rocks and calmly cascading water.

There’s not a caution sign to be had on that trail, and Dad absolutely loved it.

I don’t know how he did it, but Dad would ride that entire trail without getting off his bike seat once. He would pump his pedals up steeply-graded hills. He would whip through hairpin turns nearly skidding into tree stumps. And staircases? He didn’t even get off his bike at staircases!!! He’d either skirt the staircase and ride down the hill to the left of the stairs, or in a dangerous “kids, don’t try this at home” fashion, he’d just find a way to ride down the staircase on the bike.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have a daredevil spirit as a kid, because my Dad would have been a really bad influence on bike rides.

It didn’t stop him from trying though. Deep down, although he never would have admitted it, I think my Dad always wished I had a bit more of a rebellious streak in me. I think that my Dad wanted me to not be so cautious, to get a few more bumps, knicks, scrapes, and bruises. I know that my Dad loved me, but I also think that he often wondered how his only offspring could have ended up being so timid. Dad would goad me on during most of those bike rides, as I was inevitably the kid at the back of the line slowing down the entire chain of young peddlers and praying to my God and any others who would listen for a juice break. “Come on Bub,” he’d yell. “We gotta get home before it gets dark….heck, at the rate you’re going, we gotta get home before the sun comes up again!”

Every now and then, I’d get frustrated with Dad for pushing me to be a bit more adventurous when we rode bikes. I’d yell back at him and tell him that there was no way I could possibly pedal any further, and then tell him to just leave me for dead (did I mention that I had a flare for the dramatics as a kid?). Dad would bid me adieu and tell me to say hello to the coyotes that came out at night, and I’d pick up and pedal frantically to catch up to him.

But every now and then, the adventurous streak would flare up. It wasn’t much of a streak, but a streak nonetheless.

I don’t remember how old I was on this particular trip, but Dad had taken my friends and I out for a bike ride through the woods, and we were making our way home. The paths had been cleared and redirected as a result of some new housing developments in the area, and to Dad’s glee, the woods had been cleared to provide a new exit from Rentschler Park that involved speeding down a long, sloping hill, coming up another hill, and then flying down a much steeper hill on the other side to link up the newly-paved bike path.

It was a daredevil’s perfect ending to a long bike ride.

And I almost peed my pants just looking at it.

Per usual, Dad went first, hooting and hollering the entire way. My more adventurous friends followed, and before I knew it, I was the only kid at the top of the hill. I could feel the cold sweat forming across my body, and for a momentary second, I flirted with the idea of pretending to faint and collapse. However, I was afraid there might be snakes in the grass, so I ditched that plan quickly.

“Come on, Bub! It’s fun—you’re gonna love it!” Dad and all my friends continued to yell. After a few moments of back-and-forth in my mind, I decided I’d give the hill a chance. I’d keep a steady hand on the right brake, but it was worth a shot. No one else in front of me had injured anything, so I figured it had to be okay.

Slowly, I let go of the brake handle and gravity started to work its magic. I added a little pedal power to the proceedings, and before you knew it, I was gone faster than the Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs. There was no point in peddling because my silvery-blue Mongoose would have busted apart at the bolts had any more speed entered in the equation.

I sailed down the first hill, hit the trough at the bottom, and went up the hill in front of me. To my surprise, I had picked up so much speed that my bike barely slowed as I went up that hill. Upon reaching the crest, I didn’t even have time to pause and soak up the view from the apex, and before I knew it, I was cruising down the other side at an impressive rate of speed as a smile started to emerge on my face.

Maybe Dad was on to something about this whole “safety be damned” approach to living!

But then, it happened. The grass near the bottom of the hill hadn’t been mowed in quite a few weeks, and burrowed within that tall, green grass was an elevated manhole cover for a nearby water processing building. Unlike the manhole covers you see in the city that are flush with the ground, this one stuck up out of the ground by about a foot.

That’s enough to send you flying if you don’t see it. And I didn’t see a thing.

With an unsuspecting smile on my face from the happiness of finally overcoming a fear and finally feeling triumphant, I nailed that manhole cover without even realizing what had happened. The momentum flung me over the handlebars of my bike, and I landed flat on my back atop that manhole cover. Then, as if the crash itself wasn’t enough embarrassment, the bike continued to flip into the air and then landed on top of me with a thud.

For what I lack in grace, I can make up for in my ability to let out a guttural shriek of pain—which I promptly did after regaining my breath.

The disastrous display left me unable to breathe. My wind was completely knocked out, and I wretched and convulsed on the ground grasping at my chest like I needed an octuple bypass. That was, of course, after my friends and my Dad had run to my side and flung the bike off of me.

All joking aside, I was in about as much pain as you could imagine one would be in after smashing into a manhole cover on a bike and landing atop an unmovable metal and concreate structure. My back had bent in a way that it shouldn’t have bent. I was sore immediately, and knew that this pain was going to last for a couple days.

Aside from the physical pain that I was in, my little ego had also been bruised. It’s never fun to do something stupid; it’s definitely not fun to do something stupid in front of friends that you want to admire you at such an impressionable young age. I had put my lack of athletic ability on display, yet again, in front of my friends who already teased me for being as uncoordinated as a baby giraffe in high heels. I couldn’t help but cry in this moment, and I was waiting for my Dad to ride up and laugh as well.

But good Dads don’t tease when they know that their child is bruised—physically and emotionally.

Without a word, Dad threw his bike to the ground and ran to me. He picked me up into his strong arms, and just held onto me until I could catch my breath again.

“It’s okay, Bub,” he just said until I could breathe again. He started to ask me what was hurting, and I told him that my back really was in a ton of pain. Because my Dad knew me well, he knew when I was faking and when I wasn’t—and in this moment, he knew that I wasn’t.

Without missing a beat, Dad sprung into action mode. I was amazed at how quickly and expeditiously he organized the troops and got us on the move.

“Alright guys, I’m going to need one of you to grab Ty’s bike and walk it home, along with yours. Who’s got it?”

One of my friends piped up and made their way over to my bike, and before I knew it, Dad had picked me up and rested me atop his bike handlebars. We still had about a mile to go to get home, but Dad pushed me cautiously and carefully while cradling me the entire way. I whimpered a bit (because that’s what wimpy little kids like me did), and Dad just kept talking to me to try to get my mind off of things as the hot summer sun started to set.

“Well, Bub,” Dad said, “if it counts for anything, you got some real good height on that front flip!”

Even in the middle of tears, you can’t help but laugh at a line like that.

Eventually, we made it home. Over the next few days, both the bruises to my back and to my ego started to fade—and, in time, my friends and my Dad never let me live down the “bike flip” incident. Every time we saw a manhole cover within 300 feet of us on a ride, they made sure to warn me.

But a good Dad swoops in, picks you up, and carries you when you’re not able to walk. That’s what I felt with my Dad on that day, and more importantly, that’s what I felt from him every time I crashed—both physically and metaphorically.

My Dad was always there to pick me up when I crashed. He did it that day of the bike debacle, and he did it on so many other days. He did it when in moments when I didn’t feel confident in my abilities. He did it after I would fail at an athletic event (he sure had a heck of a lot of opportunities to come to my aid in that category). He did it when I was in college and started having an identity crisis after giving up on my career trajectory of becoming an educator that I had professed since I was young. He did it when I suffered from my own, paralyzing, nine-month bout with clinical anxiety.

Dad never judged. He never criticized me or accused me of wrongdoing or fault when I was hurting. He just swooped in, picked me up, and carried me until I could walk again.

That’s what great Dads do. That’s what my Dad always did—both for me, and for others. That’s what I wish I had done for him more often.

When my Dad crashed as a result of his depression, it was a hard crash. Over time, we were able to see a pretty predictable pattern. My Dad would succumb to his clinical depression, he would shut down, and would even escape by leaving without telling anyone where he had gone. He was afraid to let people know that he was hurting. He was afraid he’d somehow disappoint them. I hate that Dad felt such shame—he didn’t deserve to.

Quote Tile - CrashingOver time, I learned—we all learned—how to support Dad when he crashed, and I think we learned by watching how he supported all of us. We didn’t get it right every time, but we tried to be there for him because that’s what he always did. My Dad was the guy who was just there for people. He listened, he didn’t judge, he empathized, and he gave us all reassurance and confidence that the crash didn’t define us. That’s what we all tried to do to support Dad. It was imperfectly executed, especially by me, but we tried. We gave it our best effort.

And even though my Dad isn’t here any longer to support me or the people he loved when we inevitably crash, I think one of the best things we can do to honor his memory is to just continue being there. To swoop in when we see someone who is crashing. To serve them. To bolster their spirits, their mind, and their attitude. And, even though it takes a lot of work, we should be there to pick them up and carry them until they feel good enough to walk again.

That was the Scott Bradshaw way. It wasn’t my Dad’s crash that defined him; it was the way he helped others who were crashing that captures his true story.

I love my Dad and miss him desperately, especially in those moments where I’ve felt the same pain of crashing like I did on that day many years ago when I sailed over the handlebars. In a different way, I have felt my Dad there carrying me in all the years that he’s been gone. I have felt him, in those awful moments, continuing to carry me when I can’t walk. When you live a life as big as the one my Dad did, the love doesn’t stop when the heart does. I’m thankful for a Dad that was there to let me crash—because I learned from it. I’m thankful for a Dad that encouraged me to take risks, even if there was a high likelihood that a crash would occur. But more importantly, I’m thankful for a Dad that never turned his back on me when I did crash.

And…I’m pretty thankful for helmets, too.

Dad and I on Dirtbike with SB LogoDad, The comfort I felt in your arms walking home after my failed-and-unintentional-bike-stunt was a feeling that I can instantly snap back to at any moment—and it’s a feeling that I desperately miss. You were my rock. You were my safe haven. You provided protection from the dangers of the world, but you encouraged me to not play it safe. Dad, thank you for giving me the feeling of safety that allowed me to ride freely. Thank you for being there on all those days when I needed you most. I never questioned whether or not you were at my side, and even since your death, I’ve known that you were there. I think about you each day and wonder what life would look like if you were still here. Even though there’s sadness at that longing, I know that you’re in a place where the pain you experienced here exists no more. I’m thankful that you’re basking in the glow and warmth of Eternity where the pain of crashing is no more. Dad, I love you, and I miss you like crazy. Thanks for always being there for me—both in this world, and in the next. Until I can thank you face-to-face, seeya Bub.

“…and if you give what you have to the hungry, and fill the needs of those who suffer, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your darkness will be like the brightest time of day.” Isaiah 58:10 (NLV)

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)

Who Was Jim: Guest Blog by Nancy Eigel-Miller

Ty: Sharing your story, in my estimation, is essential to the grieving process.

For those who lose a  loved one to suicide, sharing your story with someone who has felt and lived the same pain is life-giving.

I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to share my story with and listen to the story of Nancy Eigel-Miller.

1N5 LogoSometime last year, I was searching for local resources to give to students and families that I speak with who are hoping to learn more about mental health, when I stumbled across 1N5. To my surprise, I discovered that the organization was founded and headquartered right here in Cincinnati, and the founder also happened to be a fellow Miami alum. On a whim, I sent a message to Nancy Miller to let her know how impressed I was with the work her organization was doing, and asked if she’d be interested in grabbing a coffee.

Over a dark roast at the Mariemont Starbucks, Nancy and I got to know one another. As you can imagine, she talked about 1N5, and I talked about Seeya Bub; but more than that, Nancy talked about her husband, Jim, and I talked about my Father, Scott. Our work in suicide prevention may have been what brought us together for coffee, but it was our mutual loss of a loved one to suicide that brought us to the arena to battle against a mutual enemy—and I’m thankful for Nancy’s graciousness, kindness, and mostly, her bravery.

I invited Nancy to share her story of her husband, Jim, here at Seeya Bub, and I’m honored that she agreed. Jim’s story, like my Dad’s, is one that is heartfelt, raw, and important for anyone who is suffering or grieving.


 Nancy: Jim had a big personality. He was loud and goofy, and he could fill a room with his energy. If you think of personalities like Robin Williams or John Belushi, that was Jim. He entertained people. But as we now know from those folks, that personality was likely a defense mechanism.

Nancy and Jim MilerHe was a great father, mentor, and friend. He was a soccer coach, a member of the pool board, and the Director of the Gallagher Center at Xavier University, where he worked for 23 years here in Cincinnati. Kids were drawn to him. He understood them and could always help them through whatever they were dealing with. He was a mentor to more students than I could count. At Xavier, he was in charge of the Student Government, ran the Student Activities Council, and was on the Disciplinary Board. He was always good at working with kids and just knowing when there was something wrong. Whenever a student got in trouble, he would reach out to try to get them back on track. I think it helped him to be able to help these kids. Jim was an amazing dad, too. By the time the girls were in about first grade, Jim started coaching soccer. He was great at it. He would get on their level and get really involved. He was a really hands-on parent, too. He was constantly dreaming up activities that the girls loved, like camping in the backyard, catching frogs, watching their favorite shows and laughing along with them. And he was always that parent who came into class all the time. He was just really close with the girls.

He also had a lot of hobbies. He was a big collector. He had this enormous Pez collection, and he had these acrylic display cases to show them all. The walls in our room were lined with these display cases, and he even had a Pez hospital down in the basement where he would fix broken Pez dispensers. He would take the girls to Pezomania conventions, and Elizabeth now has the acrylic display cases in storage so that she can display in her house someday. Once, when she was little, she was downstairs and got ahold of a rare Pez that somehow got broken. She came running upstairs and said, “Dad, the space man fell apart.” And Jim just fixed it up. He was also fascinated by Mail Pouch Tobacco Barns. We would drive around to find these barns, and he would get out and take pictures for hours, just leaving me in the car to wait. And he was so organized with his collections. All the photos had the dates and locations of when and where they were taken. He took pride in them.

When Jim was 10 years old, his father died of a heart attack. He had two older brothers, ages 14 and 18. Jim’s brothers and his mom took his dad’s death really hard. They struggled with depression, but everyone always said Jim was just different. But he was just a kid, so of course he was going to process it differently. He didn’t get a lot of support from home, so people in the community started to take him under their wing and help him out. Later on, in high school, he became an avid runner. He ran the mile and won the state title. He’s in the Mariemont Hall of Fame. He ran all through his adult life, too. He ran 5k’s, organized a group of Mariemont runners to compete in the Little Miami Triathlon, and even ran a marathon once. He would run 8-10 miles a day until, a few years before he passed, both of his knees started giving him problems. He couldn’t run the way he used to, and that really discouraged him. He would say, “My spirit can’t soar anymore.” I’m not a runner, and I never really knew what he meant by that, but looking back now, I’m sure that was one thing that really impacted his mental health. Running was always his saving grace, and when he lost it, I think he lost part of himself.

On July 28, 2008, Jim didn’t come home from work. Every day, he would always get home around 5:30 PM. Both of the girls were out that night. Elizabeth, who was 17 at the time, got back home around 7 p.m., and I told her Dad wasn’t home and wasn’t answering his phone. We got in the car, drove to Xavier, and kept trying to call. Around 9 PM, I called my parents and they came over for the night. Kate, who was 15, got home a little later. We called the police, but they wouldn’t do anything until he had been missing for 48 hours. We were all so worried, so it was a sleepless night. The next morning, we called the Xavier Chief of Police, who happened to be a friend of Jim’s. He told us to come over to Xavier. The Xavier police asked us so many questions all morning until about 11:30 a.m. Then they left for about an hour and a half. At about 1 p.m., they came back and asked me to come with them. They had found out what happened to Jim, and they told me first. He had driven to Chillicothe the night before—that’s where his parents are from—and stayed at a hotel. When they told me what happened, I couldn’t even process it. How could this happen? Jim never spoke of being depressed. He never even talked about being sad. I made the decision to tell the girls right away. Telling them was the hardest thing I have ever done. We clung to each other and asked to go home.

The Xavier folks drove us home. The car ride was silent, broken only by the sound of sobs. Right away, you start questioning how something like this could happen. You start questioning every conversation from the past few months. You try to make sense of it. Jim didn’t leave any kind of note to explain his decision. It was hard not to blame myself. How could I not have seen something was wrong? Did I do something? Did something happen before this? Something at work? Was he sick? Was there something else we didn’t know? But then, it became clear from somewhere outside myself that we were going to be very transparent. We were going to talk about what happened. That decision changed everything for us. We hoped that we could help someone else. The same year that Jim passed, seven other parents of students in Elizabeth’s senior class passed away. The school would always send out notes and ask for prayers for the families, but they didn’t do anything for us because Jim died by suicide. It made me so angry that I went to the school, and they wound up changing that policy. I didn’t want another family to have to go through that experience.

The next few days were a total blur. People filled the house, and there were so many decisions that needed to be made. But I just felt sort of numb. Kate was supposed to babysit that night, and she called that family to tell them she couldn’t come. This random family that I didn’t know very well…they were the first to know what happened. They were the first to come by. And then my mom started making phone calls. People started showing up, bringing food and flowers. The girls and I were sort of in a daze, just sitting in the living room as people filtered in and out. We were adamant, though, to tell funny stories about Jim so that it didn’t feel so heavy all the time. We asked people to write stories about him, and I still have binders full of stories from families, friends, coworkers, students who all knew and loved Jim.

Even with the love and support of family and friends, grief is hard. But I was very clear on what we had to do as a family. We had to have open conversation. Nothing was off limits. We went to counseling, we counted on each other, we had to go down to the depths of our pain in order to move forward. We had to process everything—all the feelings of guilt, anger, fear, frustration, grief—so they wouldn’t resurface later in life. I decided that we were going to walk through the fire. It was the only way we could come out healthy on the other side. I pushed the girls to confront their emotions at the time. We decided we would let our feelings show, so we spent a lot of time crying. But we were always there for each other.

About two weeks after Jim passed, my dad sat me down and said to me, “This is the deal, you’ve had a great life. You had a great marriage. You have great kids and a great support system. You are going to hold your head high and fight through this. We are here to support you, but let’s go.” My dad golfed with a man whose wife was a psychologist. He connected the two of us, and she spent hours with me, educating me on mental health and what I had missed with Jim. She helped me realize that mental health starts at a young age and that Jim, in all likelihood, knew early on that he suffered from depression. He created that big personality as a sort of mask. He entertained everyone else and had to engage at a very high level to boost his own serotonin. He was also very compassionate, which is another common trait in those living with depression. With this knowledge, I decided that I had the ability to help others, and I wasn’t afraid to talk about my experience.

That October, we held the first Jim Miller Memorial Mile, which was more of a celebration rather than a fundraiser. A group of 12 guys that Jim knew put it together, led by a close friend of his. The first year, about 800 people came. The second year, only about 400 came. After the second year, the girls said, “This is going to go away, and we will have done nothing.” We decided we needed to do more, so we started the Warrior Run, a 5K fundraiser. I knew I wanted to help kids because that was Jim’s passion. I also knew mental health issues start early on, yet no one was really doing anything to educate youth on mental health or mental illness. I did a lot of research and discovered the Surviving the Teens program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. When I met Dr. Sorter, the Medical Director of Psychiatry at CCHMC, I knew I’d met a kindred soul. We donated the funds from the Warrior Run to that program, and we as 1N5 continue to support it at an increasing level. Now, Surviving the Teens has transformed into Adapting for Life, and the program is being implemented in 70 greater Cincinnati schools.

We continued with the Warrior Run for a few years until Memorial Day, 2014 when Brogan Dulle and Santa Ono changed my life. Brogan, a University of Cincinnati student, was missing for eight days leading up to Memorial Day. Thousands of people joined the search, and he was found the night before Memorial Day. He had died by suicide. The next morning, I woke up, went to work, and wrote a note to Santa Ono, then President of UC. We needed to do something. Our children were suffering in silence. Santa invited me to his office and shared his own story with me. He had attempted suicide twice in his life, once at age 14 and once at age 29, and was diagnosed with depression. He had never shared his story publicly, but he believed in our mission to promote youth mental health education and stigma reduction. So that’s how 1N5 began. I decided to quit my job and work on the organization full time. Two years later, Santa told his story at the first 1N5 fundraising event in April of 2016.

1N5 has come a long way since then. We started out working with just a few schools, but the more you talk to people, the more you learn that the need is high. We also realized that the youth voice is extremely important in the conversation about mental health. So we started creating #iAM1N5 videos. Through the videos, we were able to create a connection by being real and being open. Suddenly, people realized they were not alone. We wanted to break down barriers to allow people to talk about their mental health. It’s been a building process since then. I realized that with an organization like this, you have to meet people where they are. Different organizations, different schools, different demographics all have different needs. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. And I never like to say no. I’ve made it a priority to meet with anyone who wants to meet with me, and we’ve made a lot of incredible connections that way. As an organization, we’ve already made huge strides in the Cincinnati area, but the goal is to take it even further. We are currently working with 65 local schools and all 5 major universities in Greater Cincinnati, but we’re constantly pushing forward, constantly asking, “How can we do this better?” My hope for 1N5 is to be in every school in Greater Cincinnati and, ideally, figure out how to take our model and spread it to other cities. Our vision is a community of youth with optimal mental health so that they can grow into their best selves.

My journey has taught me that life is a roller coaster. We are here to learn lessons. Before July of 2008, my life was sailing along until it took a dramatic turn. In that moment, I had to decide how I would handle what life had thrown at me. The choices I made defined both where and who I am today. I put my trust in the universe and the connections that show up. Going through that journey has taught me to live and cherish every moment. Love fully, laugh often, speak your truth, be honest to a fault, guide yourself with a strong moral compass, and believe in the power of the universe. Be open—you never know where someone will take you. Find the good in every situation. I know that I am very fortunate to have a clear head. I do not personally live with mental illness, but continuing to grow as an individual and educating others on mental health is very important to me. Since Jim passed, I have experienced many amazing things. I would never wish this tragedy on anyone, but because of the path that it’s led me down, I am in a much better place and am so thankful.


Ty: Bravery. When I read Nancy’s story, that’s the word that keeps coming to mind for me. From the moment she lost Jim, Nancy dug deep inside and found the bravery to always talk openly with her daughters, family, and friends about Jim’s death. In her grief, Nancy found the bravery to start an organization that is saving lives day by day.

Nancy’s story is a case study in bravery for anyone who is grieving, and a reminder that we can take our pain and turn it into a purpose. 1N5 is transforming the way we talk about mental illness in our schools and with our adolescents who are at such a vulnerable and formative age. Years from now, Nancy and those who serve and support 1N5 will see the fruits of their labors as individuals who were susceptible to suicide no longer follow that path.

But perhaps most importantly, Nancy’s bravery in sharing her story is helping those who are suffering from mental illness to talk openly and avoid falling prey to the stigma that stole her husband and my father. Watch a video published by 1N5 or follow them on Instagram and you’ll find people—openly and willingly—talking about their pain, their struggles, their fears, and their hope for the future. It’s the type of conversation that is freeing and soul-quenching because it helps us remove the masks that we all wear. It’s normalizing the way we talk about mental illness—and ultimately, it will save lives.

Although I never met Jim, I see so many similarities between him and my Dad. They loved life, they loved fun, and they loved their families. When you lose someone who loves that much, it can be hard to bounce back. My heart breaks for Nancy and her entire family because Jim was such a force for good in the world around him—but his memory is living on thanks to the courage he instilled in Nancy and his daughters. And that, in the end, is the hope that all of us who have lost a loved one to suicide share. We hope that, as time wears on, those we loved will never be forgotten. And thanks to Nancy, Jim never will be.

Dad and Lucy in Pool with SB LogoDad, I wish you had been able to feel free of shame. I wish you had been able to talk openly about your mental illness, especially during the times when you likely felt so alone. I wish that individuals like you and Jim could have known, deep down, just how much you were loved and how much you would be missed. But, from a distance, I hope you’re able to see how much you were loved by the work being done in your memory. Dad, you were so loved by so many, and I know that you knew that in the depths of your soul—I only wish that the stigma associated with mental illness had not been there to help you remember that in each and every moment. But, for as long as I live, I’ll continue to honor your memory and work to make sure that everyone who listens learns from your life. I’m thankful and grateful that there is a community of individuals, like Nancy, who are in this same fight. Dad, I can’t wait to tell you how important you are to me and so many other people. I look forward to the day when I can embrace you again and let you know how much you mean to me. Until that day, seeya Bub.

1N5 Logo

To learn more about the amazing and important work being done by 1N5 to stop the stigma surrounding mental illness, and to donate to help their efforts reach even more students, please visit www.1N5.org.

Nancy Eigel-MillerAuthor Bio: Nancy Eigel-Miller, Founder & Director, 1N5

Nancy Eigel-Miller, Founder and Executive Director of 1N5, created the James W. Miller Memorial Fund in 2010 after losing her husband to suicide. Prior to founding 1N5, Nancy worked in the marketing/market research field for over 20 years where she spent much of her career at Gardner Business Media. Nancy’s fierce passion and dedication to STOP the STIGMA that surrounds mental health and raise awareness by bringing mental health education to greater Cincinnati schools has resulted in reaching over 87,000 students and raising over $1M for mental health programming. Nancy recently received the regional Jefferson Award for Public Service for her efforts in destigmatizing mental health. Nancy then attended the Jefferson Awards Foundation’s National Ceremony, along with 75 other regional award recipients, where she won one of five Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Awards for Outstanding Public Serve Benefitting Local Communities. Nancy holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Miami University. Nancy is on the board of MindPeace and the Cincinnati Children’s Convalescent Home.

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)

“Come Home”: A Guest Blog by Kathy Dolch

Ty: It’s hard to understand the suicidal mind—both for those who are experiencing the suicidal ideations, and for those of us who have loved ones who die from suicide or suffer from mental illness.

Thanks to the bravery, courage, and unbelievable faith of my next guest blogger, we now have that opportunity.

For the longest time after his death, I really wanted to get inside of my Dad’s head at the time leading up to his death from suicide—no matter how dark and depressed it might have been. When you lose a loved one to suicide, there’s an innate desire to feel what they felt, see what they saw, and try your best to answer questions that are largely unanswerable. I knew that one of the only ways to grasp the severity and pain of the depression that catalyzed my Father’s death would be to search out first hand experiences of individuals who attempted and survived a suicidal catastrophe. I read books (Kevin Hines Cracked, Not Broken is one of my favorites), listened to podcasts and videos, and devoured the writings of psychologists and psychiatrists who did their best to capture and share the true nature of mental illness that can lead to such a drastic end.

But a few evenings ago, I found someone better and more powerful than anything I’ve ever read before. I found Kathy Dolch.

While speaking at the inaugural Butler County Walk To Remember event, a woman sat next to me at a table near where I stood. As I talked, I could see the pain on her face, but I also sensed tremendous hope. A hope that can only come from someone who has seen the valley, scaled the mountain, and is ready to face life’s darkest moments head on.

After I finished speaking, Kathy made her way over to me, shook my hand, and then told me her story—a story that I was so privileged to hear from one of God’s most faithful servants. I knew, in that moment, that Kathy was put here in that moment, to help me understand the severe and unyielding pain my Dad must have been experiencing in the moments leading up to his death; but I also knew that God put her in front of me so she could have an opportunity to share her story with the world.

On that night, I invited Kathy to share her story of hurt, resilience, forgiveness, and love at Seeya Bub, and she accepted without hesitation. It is the honor of a lifetime for me to share her words with you now.


Kathy: In 2002 (seventeen years ago), my husband and I were planning to go out for dinner; but for some reason, my husband did not arrive home.  I called his office, friends, emergency rooms and finally the police trying to find out where he was. No one had any answers, and the police would not do anything until midnight, telling me he would eventually call and finally come home.  To my surprise, the police also suggested he was with another woman. It was a shock to think that could ever be true.

I was unable to eat dinner and also unable to sleep on that night. Finally, the police called at midnight and filed a missing person report for both Ohio and Indiana.  After a painful and sleepless night, my husband called and left a message for me to return phone call. I was glad to know that he was okay, but worried about what he might say to me from the other end of the line.

I had no idea how earth-shattering his message to me on that day might be.

My husband told me he was not coming home and said that he had been with another woman for eight or nine months. He also encouraged me to see a psychiatrist.  I ended the conversation quickly, unable to comprehend how the man I had been married to for decades could turn his back on our life together.  He tried to call back, but I refused to answer the phone.

There was nothing he would be able to say to me on the other end of the line to prevent me from the only desperate path I could envision.

I put my dogs in their crates.  I removed the gun from the dresser drawer and walked to the basement. The news my husband had given me left me no alternative—at least none that I could see through my heartache and pain. I did not want to suffer through the pain that my husband had inflicted upon me.

Holding the gun in my hand, I looked up and said “Father please let me be with you. Please take me home.” With what I thought would be my final words ever spoken, I shot myself in the right temple.

After he was unable to reach me and he began to grow suspicious about what I might have done, my husband called the police and told them I had received a little bad news on the phone. He asked if they would perform a welfare check to ensure I was safe, letting them know where the hide-a-key was hidden at our home. At the same time, my husband was in Indiana with the other woman and decided to drive back to our house with her.

After entering the home, the police found me clinging to life in our basement with a nearly-fatal gunshot wound. They immediately called the paramedics, who rushed me to the hospital.

I eventually arrived at the hospital, where I had surgery and remained in recovery for ten days.  I do not remember any of that time. My entire memory is completely wiped clean because of the physical and emotional trauma of that moment.

My husband did not visit at all during those ten days.  He did arrive to take me home once my recovery was complete, and he placed me in psychiatric therapy.  The second week in psychiatric care, I was moved to lock down.  My neighbor visited me, and I asked him to find a way for me to leave, as I desperately wanted to go home. My neighbor was told that I would have to sign myself out in order to be released, which I did the next day. On the day I was released, my neighbor drove me to the home that my husband and I had once lived in together—the same home where my life had almost ended as a result of my suicide attempt.

In the time that I was gone in recovery and recuperation, my husband had given my seven dogs to another home, and in that moment I knew that I was all alone. The house felt so empty, and I was alone with my thoughts and a mountain ahead of me that I knew I had to climb.

That mountain of recovery was not easy, but I committed myself to overcome the physical challenges that I was now facing. After the suicide attempt, I was diagnosed as legally blind. I have a hole in the back of each eye and all the direct vision cells and most of the optic nerve in my right eye were completely destroyed. I had surgery on the left eye a few weeks after the attempt to improve my vision. I went to the Cincinnati Academy for the Blind & Visually Impaired (CABVI) and was introduced to a large number of things to help me be more independent, and each and every day since then I’ve been working at this ever since.

The emotional hurdles were just as daunting. A few months after the incident, I was served divorce papers. I was completely shocked. The divorce proceedings were complicated and painful because of my husband’s self-centeredness. We spent an entire year in divorce court and after seemingly coming to an initial agreement, my husband tried to make many changes to the agreement in the final moments before the divorce was declared final—changes which would have left me in an even worse position than the one I was currently in.

Finally it was over. We have been back to court many times because my husband did not want to pay alimony.  Unfortunately, my husband stopped paying alimony for a while just three years after my suicide attempt, and the bank foreclosed on my home and I lost the home. We had been married for thirty-one years, and it was hard to come to terms with how a man who said he had loved me and would take care of me could inflict so much pain upon me. In fact, in the aftermath of my suicide attempt, I learned that my husband had committed adultery throughout our entire marriage. None of this made sense with what I thought my marriage was and could be.

In that moment, trying to rebound from a suicide attempt, economic ruin, and a crumbled marriage, I knew that my only way to recover would be God. In the immediate aftermath of my suicide attempt, God talked to me one day and I heard that quiet, still voice say to me “Start attending Mass again, come home.”

I’m glad I listened.

I was given a ride to St. Francis de Sales by another member of the congregation.  I walked up the stairs, opened the door, and having suffered unbelievable vision loss, I was so overjoyed that I was able to see the stained glass window in front of me. Standing in front of that window with tears, I heard chorus from all in heaven saying “Welcome home.”

I’ve been a member of St. Francis de Sales ever since coming home on that day, and now I am a member of  the church prayer chain, a Lector, and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. My story is a painful one, but it is also a story of hope—God led me through one of the deepest, darkest valleys that has ever existed. He literally reached down His mighty hand and rescued me from the grips of death and my own despair, and I’ll never, ever stop loving him because He loved me at my weakest.

Throughout this experience, unfortunately, I felt I couldn’t trust anybody. My husband had lied to me for thirty-one years, and it left me in a place in which I felt like I could never trust anyone again. But God has shown me that there are still trustworthy, loving people in this broken world. I was amazed at how many people at CABVI wanted to help me cope with my blindness after the suicide attempt. My church has become my family, and they have given me such unbelievable support and encouragement. And everyone in heaven is my family. I know that those looking down on me will always love me, and feeling that love makes a huge difference.

But most importantly, knowing that God loves me has been my steady support since that awful day in 2002. Once I discovered I was alive after the attempt, my first words to my neighbor were “Even God doesn’t want me.” My life felt so hopeless, but after saying that to my neighbor, she simply responded, “Kathy, God does want you—just not yet.” I know that God has a purpose for my life, which is why he refused to let me die on that day. I pray for help all the time and I realize I should not have attempted to commit suicide. Even though I feel the pain of my suicide attempt and the vision and health issues it created, more than anything I feel the hope and love of God Almighty, whose love is everlasting in a world where too much pain exists.


Ty: On the night I first heard her story, I cried; and now, having read it many times in preparation for publication here, I find myself crying still.

I’m crying because, in her story, Kathy helps us understand just how desperate the world can seem to someone with a suicidal mind. To someone suffering from depression or any other mental illness, life’s obstacles (and life in general) can feel so overwhelming and painful that there seems to be no other escape but death. My heart breaks when I think about the hurt that Kathy must have felt when hearing about her husband’s infidelity. How alone Kathy must have felt in that moment. I am full of sorrow when I think about how isolated and hopeless Kathy must have felt if death seemed to be the only acceptable alternative.

But Kathy Dolch’s story, more than anything else, is a story of hope. Kathy’s story is not defined by her near-death experience, but by courage, determination, and sheer will she showed to survive and thrive in the years after. Kathy has not had an easy road at all. Imagine yourself in her shoes. As if surviving a life-threatening, self-inflicted gunshot wound isn’t enough, Kathy then had to learn how to live and function as a individual afflicted with blindness. She had to deal with the mental and spiritual anguish of unanswered questions, doubts, and guilt. And on top of all this, she had to make her journey towards recovery without her husband—a man who had pledged to stand by her side through sickness and in health, but had instead chose adultery.

Make no mistake though—Kathy was never, never alone. All throughout her recovery walk, Kathy was walking arm in arm with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Kathy had the power of the God who has known her since before she took her first breath, and in her most critical moment for reasons we may never know on this side of Eternity, God refused to let death win. I’m thankful for His grace in watching over Kathy, even when she felt like there was no one there to support her.

On the night I met Kathy, I told her that God had kept her on this planet for a reason, and I really believe that that reason is to share her story with those who are hurting. In my conversations with Kathy, I could tell how remorseful she was for what happened on that fateful day when her life almost ended; but more than anything, I was inspired by Kathy’s hope and resiliency. I commend Kathy for so many things, and I am so proud of her for sharing her story here.

After reading Kathy’s story, it’s only logical for you to feel more empathetic for those who are hurting and struggling with mental illness. Our world is broken, and the difficulties of this life can take quite a toll on our mental health and well-being. Kathy’s story is a heartbreaking example of a how a life well-lived can be attacked by sin. Her story shows how powerful and real suicidal temptations and ideations can truly be. Kathy had lived her life well and, by all accounts, had lived a life that bears many resemblances to me and you; which should be a warning that suicide isn’t just an epidemic that affects individuals on the fringes of society. Unfortunately, suicide isn’t an irregular incident; it’s an all-too-regular occurrence happening to all-too-regular friends, families, neighbors, and others that we love.

Kathy’s story has helped to give me perspective about how my Dad—a man who loved life—was driven to death by such tragic and avoidable means. In sharing her painful story, Kathy has helped me see how life circumstances coupled with mental distortions and drive someone, like my Father, to feel full of desperation.

But in her remorse, Kathy speaks directly to those individuals who may be reading and contemplating suicide themselves. When the dust settled, and to this day, Kathy felt extreme regret and wished to live. I imagine that every individual who dies from suicide, in their final moments, regrets the decision.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I believe Kathy’s story is a reminder of the value of life and our actions towards our fellow man and woman. Don’t get me wrong—suicide is never, never anyone’s fault. It is always the fault of mental illness. However, it’s easy to see in Kathy’s story how the selfish, hateful actions of her husband led her down a path towards suicide. Each and every day, we all have an opportunity to either build people up or tear them down with our words and actions; on this particular day, and on all the days that he committed adultery, this individual chose to destroy rather than encourage. If we want to build a world where suicide and mental illness are eradicated, kindness and decency towards our fellow man and woman is the ultimate foundation.

Kathy has shown all of us kindness by sharing her story so powerfully. I’m proud of her for sharing, and Kathy, all of us are proud of you for overcoming this tragedy and living a life defined by courage.

Dad Leaning Back in a ChairDad, For so long, I’ve tried to understand the level of despair you were feeling in the moment that your life ended. For the longest time, I wasn’t able to empathize with your pain. But individuals like Kathy have come into my life since losing you and have helped me gain that level of empathy. Dad, I am so sorry that you were hurting for so long. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t more forgiving in the times when you were hurting. I wish we had been able to help you find the healing that you needed and that you deserved. Dad, you had so much more to accomplish in this life. You had so many talents to contribute, and so many people left to love. I don’t know that I’ll ever understand how someone with such an unbelievable level of kindness, skill, and grace could feel as helpless as you did. But Dad, I promise to you that you will never be defined by your death. I will do everything I can to make sure that people remember you for the vivid life you lived, and I’ll make sure that your death (like Kathy’s story) gives people a hopeful reminder that life is worth living. Dad, thank you for equipping me with the courage to face life head-on in the aftermath of your death. It’s amazing to think that you were always teaching me the skills I would eventually need to deal with life after you. I’ll never stop learning from you, and I can’t wait to thank you for always giving me that inspiration. Until the day when I see your face again, seeya Bub.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

 

Kathy DolchKathy Dolch

Kathy Dolch is a survivor of suicide, having overcome a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2002 which rendered her legally blind. Kathy is a member of St. Francis de Sales Church where she serves as a member of  the church prayer chain, a Lector, and an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. Kathy was a middle school math teacher for five years, having earned her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education from State of University of New York Oneonta. Kathy showed cairn terriers in the United States and Canada for obedience and confirmation prior to her suicide attempt. Kathy is now a resident of Lebanon, Ohio.

Eyes Wide Open

Tonight, I’ll hold a candle in my hand. A candle that represents my Father. A candle that reminds me that, although he’s gone, his memory will never, ever die out.

All the while, I’ll be surrounded by other hurting individuals, holding candles, asking the same questions as I am, experiencing the same sadness and despair that I’ve felt for the past six years.

Together, we will encourage one another. Together, we will remind one another that we are never, ever alone, no matter how isolating the world and our grief might feel.

But together, we will also serve as a powerful and uncomfortable reminder—a reminder that suicide is all-too-real, all-too-frequent, and all-to-preventable.

And together, I hope we can help open everyone’s eyes to the pain around us, just our own have been opened as well.


I never, never thought that suicide would impact my family. It wasn’t a possibility. Maybe in other people’s families; but definitely not mine.

And when it did, it opened my eyes; and they’ve been opening wider and wider ever since.

I remember the first time that it ever felt as if suicide hit close to home. A family that was very close with mine through some announcing work I had done had lost an adult brother to suicide in the middle of the baseball season. It shocked me because suicide seemed so irregular and so distant from the seemingly-perfect little world I lived in. Talking with the family at their first game back was heartbreaking. I remember leaning against the rail of the grandstand while the team was taking BP, and I didn’t quite know what to say to them; maybe because I didn’t quite know what to say about suicide in general. I likely asked questions that were nosey, pointless, and insensitive. Trying to understand their pain and anguish made me feel so unbelievably helpless. I was struggling to understand how suicide could have impacted a family that had so many wonderful people in it, but from a grander perspective, I was really struggling to understand the concept of suicide in general.

And after talking with them, heartbroken for the reality that had become their lives, I still believed that suicide was their story; not mine, and definitely not my family’s. I still believed that suicide was something so small, so random, and so seemingly disconnected from the reality that was my life that it could never, ever occur in my world—even though, by happening to them, it already had.

It wasn’t until the reality of suicide unexpectedly invaded the Bradshaw home that my eyes were truly opened wide to the reality, the prevalence, the pain, and the all-too-frequent occurrence of suicide in our country and in our own individual neighborhoods. It took a death from suicide invading my own front door for the pain to truly set in.

After the destruction of my Dad’s death and funeral had settled a bit, I found myself obsessively researching suicide and mental illness in the corner office of my small home in an effort to try to make sense of what had happened to my Dad. I knew that I’d never be able to answer most of the questions I had, because suicide at its core is an inexplicable phenomenon that doesn’t usually have a single indicator, trigger, or catalyst. In all likelihood, it’s a terrible confluence of environmental, biological, contextual, and spiritual factors that leads one to think that suicide is the only option.

Nonetheless, I looked for answers; and I found number after number, statistic after statistic, that shocked and amazed me. I had likely heard all of the numbers before, but none of them had ever carried the horribly painful weight that they now did. Now, my Dad represented one of those numbers. Now, a seemingly minor statistic had become the largest, most painful reality for my Dad and those who loved him. Those numbers surprised me, but they shouldn’t have. Those numbers shocked me, but I shouldn’t have been so numb to reality.

The reality was that these numbers had always existed and had always impacted the people in the world around me; I was just too busy, too self-focused, and too ignorant to pay any attention to them.

But everything I saw confirmed the reality. Everything I read showed me that mental illness and suicide by the numbers alone were all-too-likely to happen to those I loved. And I was ashamed to think that, for so long, I just pretended it wasn’t happening or was simply oblivious to the hurt existing in the world around me.

I was ashamed to see that, according to most every medical and research report I read, nearly one in five individuals in the United States suffers from some form of mental illness[1]. Continuing to read, I learned that there were so many people who were hurting and suffering but simply couldn’t or wouldn’t get the help they needed and deserved. Nearly 60% of adults with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the past year.[2] I hated thinking that people who were hurting, like my Dad, felt ashamed of going to seek professional help.

I remember when I first learned that my Dad suffered from depression, and I recall thinking how unusual it had seemed—not just for my Dad, but for people in general. On the day I learned that my Dad couldn’t explain his despair, it felt like he was the only person in the world who was suffering and struggling. It felt as if his unexplainable sadness was something that only he dealt with. It felt as if the solution—counseling, medication, and other treatments—were so obvious.

But the life behind these numbers is much more complicated and messy. The numbers show—and now we all know—that many more people are hurting than we ever thought were. And we all know that treatment isn’t easy, often because admitting you are hurting isn’t easy.

Over those many sleepless nights after losing Dad, I kept reading and I kept researching, hoping I would be able to find a report that gave a more optimistic prognosis of the situation; but reality was much more important to me in that moment than optimism. After losing my Dad to suicide, it was more important that I had an accurate depiction of the state of affairs related to mental illness and suicide, not a pretty one. The numbers that shocked me more than the seemingly regular occurrence of mental illness, however, were those statistics related to how many individuals eventually died as a result of suicide.

I was dumbfounded to read numbers that represented real, broken, and unnecessarily-shortened lives, and those statistics related to suicide were the most heartbreaking:

  • Around 123 individuals in the United States each day died from suicide.[3]
  • That number translates to a death by suicide occurring every 12 minutes on average.[4]
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.[5]

I still remember the horror I felt when I read these numbers after losing Dad: horror at the situation, and horror at my own ignorance to the suffering of my fellow man. It wasn’t like these deaths were occurring in a far-off world; they were occurring all around me, right in my own backyard. Mental illness shouldn’t have been a foreign concept to me.

But it was; and I was ashamed.

It wasn’t until I lost my Father that I began to see the faces and lives behind these numbers. It took the cloud of suicide rolling over my own family and my own life to realize just how bad the storm really was. It shouldn’t have had to happen that way. It shouldn’t take going through unbelievable pain and hurt to be cognizant of an epidemic that steals lives, destroys families, and creates a generational grief that is nearly impossible to escape.

My Dad saw it, too.

Every year at Christmas, my Mom does a wonderful job of giving me a special gift that will help me remember my Dad. These gifts are focused on his life—not his death—and they’ve always helped take off some of the painful edge that surrounds every holiday without the man who raised me. Most of the time, her gifts are something created anew out of his things and possessions, giving them fresh life and meaning for me in his absence. A few years ago, however, she gave me something completely untouched and unbelievably meaningful—she gave me my Dad’s Bible. The Bible was completely undisturbed—exactly as it had been left on the last day of his life. It was a treasure I can’t put into words.

Like me, my Dad kept a few small, flat mementos in the front of his Bible. I leafed through them, one by one, wondering why they were there and what they meant to him. Some I could explain; others I could not. As I leafed through the items, there were a number of small funeral cards and programs that Dad had saved from services that he attended. I always respected my Dad for making a point to go to funerals to support those he loved, even if it made him uncomfortable.

Amongst the three or four funeral cards inside of his Bible cover, I couldn’t help but notice the program from our family friend’s funeral—the man who had also died from suicide. My jaw hung open when I saw it and thought about the unfortunate connectedness between this poor man and my Father. Almost a year and a month from the date of our family friend’s funeral, my Dad would die from the same exact mechanism of death. My family would be scarred by the same ugly, unfortunate fate that had affected a family that meant so much to us.

My Dad saw all of this. He saw the way it influenced this other family. But even with that perspective, he couldn’t avoid the same pain being inflicted upon our own household. It shows how powerful and dangerous mental illness can become when left unchecked. It shows how suicidal ideations can ensnare and completely distort our logical thought processes. Where mental illness distorts, reality is paralyzed; and making the right decision often takes a backseat to making an emotional one.

And it shows that we can’t wait until something bad happens in our own lives to open our eyes to the hurt that exists within the hearts and minds of those we love.

Even with my eyes wide open, it’s extremely difficult to make sense of my Father dying from suicide having attended a funeral for another suicide victim just one year earlier. It’s hard to fathom how a man who loved his God, loved his family, and loved the life that he had been given could feel so sick and so full of despair that life felt unlivable.

But mental illness and depression incapacitated my Father’s ability to think about how unnecessary his death by suicide was and how it might permanently inflict, wound, and hurt those who loved him most. My Dad couldn’t turn the tide on the statistics related to suicide, even though his own personal experience in this life should have helped him do that.

But now, we are all left behind, refusing to let those numbers increase as a way to redeem my Dad’s death.

In order to really turn the tide on the horrible statistics surrounding suicide, it’s time that we open our eyes. It’s time that we start to see more than numbers, but faces and lives and stories cut short by unnecessary pain and heartache.

This evening (September 10, 2019), I plan to join a group of fellow suicide survivors (a term that describes family and friends of someone who has died from suicide) at a support and prevention event called “A Walk to Remember” at the Voice of America Park in West Chester, Ohio. I’ve been invited to say a few words to that group before we all walk together and remember our loved ones, the joy they brought to our lives, and the pain we’ve felt in losing them. After I say a few words about my Dad at the beginning of the event, I’ll join hands with those who are also hurting and struggling as we make our way through a remembrance walk, channeling positive memories of our loved ones, and wishing, more than anything, that we could have our loved ones back.

There is peace in knowing that, tonight, I’ll be surrounded by so many individuals who understand the pain that my family and I have experienced. They’ll know what it feels like to get that awful phone call. They’ll know what it feels like to have questions that will never be answered. They’ll know what it feels like to feel guilty and sad and helpless and angry all at the same time. They’ll know what it feels like to be robbed of someone you love without reason or explanation.

But as much peace as I’ll find being with that group of fellow suicide survivors tonight, there will also be something deep and troubling about the entire experience. There will be a sense of frustration in wondering how suicide can continue to impact so many lives unnecessarily. There will be a sense of anger knowing that the average number of suicides per day in the United States has actually increased since losing my Dad, not decreased. I will walk around the lake at VOA Park contemplating why our unfortunate group of suicide survivors continues to add new members in an age where the statistics are widely known.

I don’t ever want families to have to be impacted by suicide first-hand to simply become aware. We shouldn’t need to lose those we love to learn or take action, especially when it comes to deaths that are entirely preventable. I shouldn’t have had to go through what I did to become more empathetic to those who were suffering and those who were grieving. But I’m here and you’re here knowing that we must do something to make sure that suicide is stopped dead in its tracks. I’m not talking about pushing back that average time by a minute or two minutes. I’m talking about radical change. I’m talking about each and every one of us having a deep and unyielding desire to make sure that no one ever becomes a victim of suicide again. If it’s a pipe dream to want to live in a society where people don’t feel the need, desire, or unnecessary compulsion to die prematurely, I’ll live in that idealistic world each and every day.

I ask you, in this moment, wherever you are and no matter what baggage you might carry along with you every day, to make sure this dream becomes a reality; to make sure that our awareness is more than just knowing, but becomes doing.

If you are hurting and contemplating suicide, I beg you in this moment and every single moment that follows to remember that you are loved, and that you matter, and that you deserve health, love, grace, and most importantly, life. I beg you to reach out and ask for the help that you need, that you deserve, and that is available.

And if you are reading this post because you know and love someone who is hurting, I implore you to show that individual forgiveness and patience, kindness and love. I ask you to do everything you can to help those you love in any way you can. Maybe it’s a difficult but necessary conversation. Maybe it’s opening up to that person, being vulnerable, and finding comfort in your mutual pains and struggles. Maybe it’s finding the bravery to accompany that person to a therapist or counseling appointment. You can be the person that helps reverse the statistical trends.

And more than anything, I am speaking to those of you who are reading who don’t struggle or know of anyone who is struggling. The reality is that we shouldn’t have to be someone or know someone who is hurting in order to feel empathy for a broken world. Don’t embrace inaction because the battle has yet to hit your doorstep. We can all do more to make sure that suicide is an anomaly, not an every-12-minute-occurrence.  And it starts with making sure all of us have eyes that are wide open to the mental illness epidemic occurring in our country.

Tonight I’ll hold a candle. I’ll hold a candle and remember my Father. I’ll hold a candle and remember all of those who died the same way he did.

But I’ll hold that candle knowing that, together, we can create a world where every man and woman walks around with eyes wide open—and more importantly, hearts that are wide open as well.

Dad Smiling on Train with SB LogoDad, my heart breaks each day when I think about losing you, and the past six years have been unbelievably difficult. I don’t want to have to navigate life without you because you had so much more to live for. Life was simply better when you were in it, Dad. You brought joy and laughter and security to the world around you, and we’ve all felt your absence every day. I also feel tremendous guilt because I wish it wouldn’t have taken your death for me to realize just how bad you were hurting. Dad, I should have been more patient and understanding. I should have shown you more empathy and grace because you were suffering from a disease that you couldn’t explain, identify, or even put into words. There are so many moments that I wish I could redo—days in which I treated you unfairly or without compassion. Although I can’t replay and fix those moments, I want to spend every day here on Earth trying to redeem your death. I want to make sure that everyone who reads my words and hears my voice knows your story, learns from it, and chooses a different path forward because of it. Dad, you gave me the courage to carry on in the face of your death, and although I’d do just about anything to have you back, I’m so grateful that you taught me to do everything I can to help others who are hurting. Thank you for always loving me. Thank you for always teaching me, even in your death. Thank you for all you gave to me, even on days when you couldn’t even take care of yourself. I love you, Dad, and I miss you tremendously. I can’t wait to be reunited forever in the glory of God’s eternal kingdom. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 (ESV)

*Authors Note: For clarity and accuracy in writing, please note that all statistics have been updated to reflect recent research that is published at the time of writing/publication of this post (Fall 2019). Unfortunately, many statistics related to the prevalence of mental illness and suicide have continued to grow since my Father’s death in 2013.


References:

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml#part_154785

[2] https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/fastfact.html

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/fastfact.html

[5] https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

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)