Lucy (Part 2)

This is the second post in a special three-part series at SeeyaBub.com. Be sure to read “Lucy: Part 1” as a prelude to this installment.

After Dad and Mom brought Lucy home, I held firm in my commitment to be loyal to Willow and I resisted any sign of adoration for our newest puppy.

At least for a solid ten minutes or so.

dscf0377.jpgFrom the moment she came home, Lucy was impossible to resist. I have a weak-constitution for puppy cuteness, and Lucy melted my defenses rather quickly. Airedale terriers are adorable puppies. What will eventually grow into a 60 or 70-pound dog starts out as an eight-pound ball of fur with a shortened snout and gangly legs. Lucy looked like most Airedale pups I had seen in photographs, but there was one defining characteristic that was different. Lucy had a tiny little white patch of fur right on the middle of her chest. I had never seen an Airedale with any color fur other than black and brown. Immediately, she was different from the rest; and the more I got to know her, the more wonderfully different I discovered she was.

On the night of her arrival, Dad brought Lucy down into our family room, wrapped up like a baby in a fuzzy pink blanket. I tried to act like I wasn’t interested in her because I was so resistant to getting another dog after Willow’s recent death…but I was interested. Very interested. I had never had an actual puppy before. Muffin was older than I was, and Willow had come into our family when she was two. I had always wanted a little puppy, and now that we had one, I was acting like a stubborn jerk entirely because of my ego and pride.

DSCF0380Dad sat the blanket bundle down on his lap, and Lucy poked her head out from the blanket mound and peered around our family room. She looked straight at me with her dark eyes, and when she made her way down onto the carpet and slowly meandered towards me, I knew that I was done. My resistance would have to fall, because this pup was just too cute. With the pain of losing Willow momentarily fading, I reached down and scooped Lucy into my arms. For the rest of the night, she and I spent our time on the couch as she adjusted to her new surroundings. A few times, I glanced at Mom and Dad and saw them giving one another that familiar “I told you he’d cave” look. I tried my best to not let them get any satisfaction from defying my gutless order to not bring home another family dog, but it was useless.

Eventually, I decided to lay down on the couch. I laid on my stomach with arms tucked underneath my chest as I always did, and Lucy looked at me a bit confused about what she should be doing. That’s when she hopped up on my calves and nestled herself in between my ankles.

DSCF0407And from that moment on, I don’t think I ever quit loving Lucy. Even if my stubborn pride wouldn’t let me admit it.


I tried to find ways not to like Lucy, and early on she gave me plenty of ammunition. Anyone who has raised a puppy knows the pain of those first few weeks. Any cuteness they possess is outweighed by their inability to follow the simplest of instructions. You literally have to follow them around like a four-legged baby trying to prevent them from doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. Their razor-sharp baby teeth nibble and nibble and nibble—always on things they shouldn’t be nibbling.

And don’t even get me started on the potty training.

Even the best dogs start out as four-legged-terror-mongers that disrupt your home and your life, and Lucy was no different. As the newest member of our family, she did not always put her best paw forward—especially on the day when her puppy misbehavior caused me to erupt like Krakatoa.

Early on in my sports broadcasting career, I would regularly wear a suit and tie to announce a game. It was a bit of a trademark for me, and even as a young man I always enjoyed wearing suits. They made me feel like I knew what I was doing in life—when most of the time I had no idea what I was doing!

One blustery winter afternoon, I was headed to announce a basketball game and thought a suit was fitting for the occasion. I pulled one particular suit out of my closet, and looked at it with a smile. It was a suit I had just recently purchased—navy blue with a very subtle pinstripe. The fabric was silkier and smoother than most of the fabric on the other suits I owned, and apparently that silky fabric costs a whole lot more money because I had paid dearly for this one. I didn’t have much money to my name as a young professional, and I had spent quite a bit more than I had wanted to on this suit. I was proud of it, and this would only be my second time wearing it. I picked out a perfect light blue shirt, and a bright orange tie that would pop (I’ve always had a thing for those bright ties). After suiting up and tying the perfect knot, I made my way down the stairs, secretly hoping my parents would notice me and compliment me on my flashy style.

Instead, I heard Lucy bouncing up the stairs to meet me in the living room. As my Mom toiled away in the kitchen, Lucy noticed me and gleefully bounced towards me. I reached down to pet her, and she looked at me with a puppy-dog smile and a panting tongue.

And then, she did the unthinkable.

She looked right at me, cocked her head, ran up to me, and bit straight into the pant leg of my new suit, tearing a shred out of the expensive, silky fabric.

I exploded with fury. I yelled “YOU STUPID DOG!” as loud as I possibly could, and went in with a swipe to swat her away from doing any further damage. She moved away from me with a look of fright and confusion, and my Mom ran out from the kitchen.

“What happened?!” she said.

Your dumb dog just ripped a hole in my brand new suit!” I yelled back, being sure to emphasize the fact that Lucy was not my dog.

Mom looked on, not quite knowing what to do. My sun-deprived thigh was gleaming through the hole in my suit pants, and I could feel the heat of anger flooding my face. Meanwhile, Lucy stood in the corner, just far enough from me so I couldn’t make any sudden movements. My Mom just stood there, without saying much to her comically-angry son.

“WELL, AREN’T YOU GOING TO SAY ANYTHING?!” I shrieked. This was not a time for silence; this was a time for justice! Wrong had been done, and right would need to be swiftly restored! I wanted restitution! I wanted this four-pawed-perpetrator to pay for her crimes!

I don’t even remember what Mom said to me in that moment, because anger has a tendency to cloud your mind and your memory. I do remember storming up the stairs, changing into a suit that was older and stiffer, yet hole-free. I grabbed my bag and stormed out of the house as our tiny puppy cowered in the corner.

I seethed the entire day, and when I came home and saw Lucy playing with my Dad in the family room like nothing had ever happened, my fury grew even more intense.

And years later, when I look back on this moment, I’m ashamed at how foolish I acted. I’m embarrassed at my immaturity, my materialistic greed, and my pathetic self-righteousness.

Eventually, and taking much longer than it ever should have, my frustration gave way because…well, it’s simply impossible to resist a puppy, no matter what stupid thing they might do. And if a puppy has a special personality, it’s even more difficult.

IMG_0010Lucy had that in abundance. Lucy’s calm demeanor during the first 24 hours of her life in my family was a well-executed mirage delivered by a sneaky infiltrator. When I came home on Lucy’s second day in the Bradshaw house, the docile, pleasant pup that I had left that morning was replaced with a rambunctious, mischievous, four-legged fur-covered peddler of destruction. When I came home that day, my poor Mother looked like she had barely survived a hurricane. She looked at me with a frazzled exasperation as Lucy, with toys strewn all across our normally-clean family room, bounced and barked and bolted to every corner of the house. She was worse than a baby because she was faster. I couldn’t believe she had fooled us! Lucy had spunk—and a whole lot of it.

Over time, Lucy learned how to control that spunk, and we learned how to control her. But even with her spunk in-check, Lucy was just different—and we loved her because she was different.

From the moment she set foot (and foot and foot and foot) into our house, Lucy was treated differently than any other dog we had ever had—especially when it came to her presence in the home. Those of you who know my Mother know that she has many wonderful traits and talents. One of those talents which I’ve grown to appreciate since becoming a homeowner is my Mother’s ability to keep a clean home. From the time I was little, we always had the cleanest home imaginable—even if I didn’t always realize it as a child. My Mom is an immaculately-clean individual, and I think that one of the ways she showed love to Dad and I was by always giving us a clean house to come home to. I probably didn’t tell her how much I appreciated it then. In fact, I likely told her how much having to clean up my toys annoyed me. Now, I’m extremely thankful and gracious.

That’s why Lucy’s complete reign over our house surprised me so much!

Our first dog, Muffin, was only allowed inside the house during the winter months or particularly hot days. Even then, she was confined to stay only in the lower quarters of the house. When Willow came into our family, she had always been raised as an indoor-dog. Mom knew that she would have to let Willow into the house most of the time, but even then there were parameters. Under no circumstance whatsoever would Willow be allowed to be on the furniture; couches, beds, and chairs were for two-legged creatures only. (Mom, I can admit to you now that on summer days when I was home by myself, I would often let Willow onto the couch to sit next to me. And she absolutely loved it. And your couches are fine. And I love you!).

DSCF0396But with Lucy, it was different from the start. She was immediately allowed onto the couch—and I was shocked! And then, the unthinkable happened; Mom actually let Lucy sleep in the bed with her! What world was I living in?! Who had abducted my Mom and who was this woman that now gladly beckoned the dog onto the furniture?

If Lucy could turn my Mom, the master of cleanliness and housekeeping perfection, into a woman who allowed a dog onto the furniture…that meant she had powers I didn’t quite understand. And she used those special puppy powers to work her way into our hearts in some pretty unimaginable ways.

Lucy and Ty on PatioWhen Lucy was little, I used to carry her around the house quite often. And unlike most dogs, she really enjoyed being carried! After a little while, it got more and more difficult to carry her around as she continued to grow. And by the time she reached 40 pounds, our little puppy, who I affectionately called “Monkey”, was a bit to heavy to carry with one arm. So I did what any normal person would do.

I started carrying her around like a child.

DSCF0631I would actually pick Lucy up by her front legs and toss them over my shoulder. Then, Lucy would wrap her hind legs around my waist, and I would comfortably carry her around as she nuzzled her snout on my shoulder. Looking back, it’s the most ridiculous thing I could ever imagine doing as a dog owner.

And I loved it.

We all loved Lucy. I loved her, and my Mom loved her, and my Dad loved her. And she loved all of us equally, unlike the other family dogs we had owned that adored my Dad at Mom and I’s expense.

But Dad, just as he had done with all of our other dogs, absolutely loved Lucy and devoted as much energy to her as he possibly could. .

Dad with Baby LucyThankfully, my Dad, our dog-whisperer-in-residence, was there to take care of most of the discipline and direction when we first got Lucy. My Dad loved working with animals, even when the animals weren’t easy to work with. I think he saw teaching pets as a challenge that he wanted to conquer, and he had a way of showing love through firmness. Quickly and efficiently, Lucy was housebroken and learning how to sit, lay down, and yes…play hide and seek with Dad. My Dad had a special talent, and we all benefited from it.

That’s what I loved about watching Dad with a new dog. As frustrating as puppy-parenting might have been, he never let that frustration outweigh his joy and frivolity. Lucy and Dad truly were a match made in heaven because they both had such silly personalities. Early on, Dad discovered that Lucy really enjoyed chomping on plastic bottles. So, Dad did what any thoughtful, wise puppy Dad would do. He took a plastic bottle, tied it to a fishing pole, taped the bajeezus out of it, and cast it out into the yard for Lucy to retrieve.

I could watch Dad’s puppy-fishing expeditions for hours. Over and over again for hours into the evening, Dad would cast the bottle deep out into our yard. Lucy would sprint to retrieve the bottle, and just as she would get near it, Dad would start pulling the line in, jolting the bottle all over the yard just out of reach of her sharp little puppy teeth. The best part of the act was when Lucy would finally catch the bottle. Dad would start grunting and pulling on the fishing line, shouting “Oh boy! I got a big one this time! I bet it’s a 20-pounder!” Dad would then feign reeling the line in with difficulty until Lucy was eventually within his grasp. He would then throw down the line and start petting her and getting her all excited for the next round. Again, the bottle would go out, Lucy would retrieve, and Dad would laugh uncontrollably over and over until one of them was worn out. As Lucy grew, Dad had to abandon the fishing line. In its absence, he created a toy for Lucy that I still think he should have patented. Even dogs that visited our house were instantly attracted to this simple toy! He took a Pure Leaf tea bottle, filled it with rocks, drilled a hole through the cap, and threaded a heavy-duty rope through it that was tied with black electrical tape at both ends. Lucy would grab the bottle, and Dad would tug on the rope. This was a bit more strenuous, but Dad and Lucy could play with this toy for hours. Lucy would grunt, and Dad would shout out ridiculous taunts towards her. I can still picture them playing together and the fun they had with one another. When Dad wasn’t around, Lucy would grab the bottle and whip it around, spinning in circles and growling as she spun herself into dizziness.

Lucy was a puppy that played, and her playfulness made our home better.

Our entire family loved Lucy’s playfulness, and more than anything, I loved the fact that she would play fetch. My entire life, I had wished and prayed for a dog that would fetch. For the longest time, my prayers were unanswered. In the thirteen years I shared with our first dog, Muffin, I never saw her fetch anything. Willow would fetch…once or twice until she grew tired of it. But Lucy was the exact opposite. Thanks to my Dad’s conditioning, Lucy would fetch just about anything: bottles, Frisbees, tennis balls, household items that were not meant to be turned into playthings.

My Dad and I would both spend hours in the backyard playing fetch with Lucy. We especially enjoyed watching her fetch a Frisbee because of the suspense it created as it hung in the air. My Dad was an excellent Frisbee thrower, and Lucy was the perfect playmate. He loved throwing lofting, high tosses that would spiral in the air and hang over Lucy’s head, watching her spin and contort until she was within receiving distance.

And boy could Lucy catch. In all the years that she was in our home, I rarely saw her drop a Frisbee—even if it looked like it was going to be well out of her range to catch. Lucy could play fetch for hours and hours in the backyard, taking only short breaks every few minutes. But taking a break look it pained and personally annoyed her. Even if she was panting heavily, she would try to crawl towards you to hand you the Frisbee so she could run and play again. It was a joy to watch a dog who played the way she did.

DSCF0400Dad, being a playful guy, did everything with Lucy. If he was home, he wanted to be near her. If he had a bonfire in the backyard, Lucy was with him. If he was eating dinner, she was patiently waiting for a scrap nearby. If he was taking a nap, she was on the couch cuddled next to him. There were hour-long walks to the park, trips to the dog beach at Hueston Woods, and countless other memories that the two of them created together. They are memories filled with laughter and companionship, but joy more than anything else.

In fact, it was just a joy being around her. Lucy exuded joy. She spread it into our entire home. We had no idea how much we would need her joy, however, until a day that cold-cocked our entire family.


When July 24, 2013 came, I was standing on the front lawn of my family home with police cruisers to the left of me with lighted-sirens flashing across the concrete driveway. My Mom’s boss, Tom, was standing in the doorway of our home, holding open the screen door as an EMT rushed behind him. Minutes earlier, Tom had told me that there had been an accident in the house. An accident, involving my Dad. That accident had put his life in perilous danger. I didn’t know how close to or far away he was from death, but I knew from the urgency of the emergency responders that it couldn’t be good. Looking back, I’m sure my reaction looked peculiar to Tom because, on the surface, I reacted without much acknowledgement. My outward emotions did little to reflect my inner thoughts. On the outside, my shock looked like paralysis; on the inside, it looked like frenetic craziness.

After Tom went back into the home to help as best he could, I was in a world all by myself in the front yard. I began pacing back and forth, back and forth, as the summer-scorched grass crunched beneath my feet. I was beginning to sweat as my lungs grew tight and felt as if they were closing in. I tried to control my breathing, but there were no breathing exercises to help prepare me for this moment. Nor was there anything I could do to stop my racing mind. Horrible thoughts about the past and what could be my new reality in the future began to hijack my brain. I couldn’t see myself surviving if my Dad’s attempt at suicide was successful.

Tom had shared a little information about the nature of what had happened in the house when he gave me the news. I knew things were bad, but in the crisis moment, I believe my mind tried to hold onto any semblance of positivity that was within grasp. I knew that my Dad had been injured as a result of the suicide attempt, and even though there was a chance he wouldn’t survive, my mind still behaved as if he was going to pull through this—just as he had overcome every other challenge that he had ever faced. I began to think about what his recuperation process might look like, and how I would need to help. I told God, in that moment, that I would do anything to make sure Dad was well again.

I began to think about what life would look like in the next few hours, and the next few days, and then the next few years. Compounding thoughts of doubt and hope and confusion were already swirling in my brain. Using the little information that Tom had given me, I began to wonder about what had happened in the house over the last hour or so—between the time I had last seen Dad in the family room and now. I had gone home after talking with Dad, Mom had gone to work, and…

And then, it hit me. Lucy. My Dad and Lucy were in the house alone. And I worried that she had been caught up in the destruction.

Judge if you must, but let me first explain my grief-induced thoughts as best I can—even though I don’t understand them today and don’t know that I ever will. I know that some will read my words and wonder why or how I could even think of a dog when a human life was at stake.

At no point does thinking about the well-being of one life—human or animal—mean that I am automatically ignoring the status of the other. I was thinking about my Dad and praying for him feverishly and intensely—and I was simultaneously praying for Lucy. Not knowing about my Dad’s status created a panic within me; and not knowing about Lucy’s status also created a panic. It was okay for me to be concerned about my Dad and Lucy; and yes, my Dad was always my primary concern, but that didn’t diminish my love for Lucy. I was trying to hold onto the normal life as I had known it; and Lucy was part of that normalcy.

You might also judge my worries because, on the surface, they might have been accusatory towards my Father. My Dad had always been an animal over, and he especially loved Lucy. “How could you even think that Dad would do something to hurt one of our pets?” I’ve often thought to myself.

Let me present an imperfect defense. I never thought that my Dad would become a victim of suicide; but I stood there in that moment faced with the reality that his life was hanging in the balance because of a suicide attempt. I never, never would have thought that my Dad was so enmeshed within his depression that he could feel as if he wanted his life to end. If that thought could so feverishly consume my Dad, and if it could push him to do something this unthinkable, was it really so outlandish to think that something else could have happened in that moment of despair that Dad, in his right mind, would never have done? Mental illness had forced my Dad to do something unthinkable and completely out of his character, and there was always a chance that the mental illness could have forced my Dad to do other things that were unlike him. I didn’t know Lucy’s whereabouts when the attempt happened. It was completely feasible that she could have been hurt unintentionally.

Even writing these words is difficult because I don’t like what it implies about my Dad and his love for Lucy, but for better or for worse, it’s an accurate retelling of my inner thought processes.

Back and forth I continued to pace in the front yard, wondering about Dad. Wondering about Lucy. Wondering about what life was going to look like in this new, horrible normal. Even if Dad pulled through, life was going to be painfully different. There was no turning back.

And then, in the midst of my anxiety and prayers, I heard a familiar bark in the backyard. I walked towards the sunroom and glanced through the windows into the backyard, and I saw her. I saw Lucy, looking somewhat panicked herself, running from side to side in the backyard—completely healthy and looking for someone to love.

I breathed a short sigh of relief as one small wave subsided, and I prepared my mind and heart to face the tsunami that I feared would crash in moments later.

Lucy’s presence in that moment was a gift in the midst of a terrible, terrible storm. A few moments later, I would learn that my Father, my hero in this life, had died. Far too young, far too soon, far too unexpectedly. In that moment, I began life without Dad.

DSCF0516And Lucy was there to help me—and all of us—find a small ray of light in the midst of the dark clouds that enveloped our family. Lucy—sweet Lucy—would help to save us as best she could.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of “Lucy” in the coming weeks at SeeyaBub.com.

 

Five Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

It’s happened again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I can’t. At least not immediately.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It showed me that God has been working.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masks

“We had no idea.”

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

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

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

“We had no idea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But most of the time, he was happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Talk

When I spoke in public, I rarely stood behind a podium. I’m a roamer. I’m pretty animated and I like to have free range of the stage.

But on this particular day, I had never gripped a podium more tightly in my entire life. My knees were buckling and my legs felt weak, and I had a white knuckle grip on the lectern to prevent myself from collapsing. I felt like I could fall over at any moment because every time I looked down from that particular podium, I didn’t see the 500 faces in the audience.

Instead, I saw a casket. A casket which carried my Dad’s body.

It was Monday, July 29, 2013—the day of my Dad’s funeral.

I wanted to speak at the funeral, even though every physical sign told me that I probably shouldn’t. I hadn’t been able to eat regularly since finding out my Dad was dead. My nights were tormented with sleeplessness and nightmares, reliving the sights and sounds of that tragic day. A short time standing caused me to feel lightheaded. My body reflected the way my mind and my heart felt—everything was completely broken. But I knew I had to speak.

Since college, I had overcome a fear of public speaking that had once paralyzed me. In high school, I dreaded public speaking. My hands would shake and my voice would quiver. Thank goodness for Miami University and an amazing public speaking professor named Carol Shulman. She gave me the confidence I needed during each and every class, even entering me in a public speaking competition where I had to present to a jam-packed auditorium on campus. In my first year of college, I grew to love any opportunity to speak in public. It became my modus operandi. I loved it. I craved it.

But on this day, I despised it. I would have done anything to avoid it.

Even the best college courses in public speaking don’t always prepare for the magnitude of speaking at a eulogy—especially for a parent. I knew that, if our lives had played out naturally, I would someday have to pay tribute to my Father after he passed. But I never imagined I would be delivering his eulogy before I hit the age of 30. I imagined I would be old and gray (hopefully not bald like my Dad), delivering a tribute to a man who would live into his eighties or nineties. But life didn’t play out naturally. Everything about this moment was unnatural. Real life, but completely unnatural.

I knew why I was speaking. I wasn’t going to the pulpit in an effort to console people, because I was hurting too much myself to do that. I wasn’t going to the pulpit to answer anyone’s questions about why this had happened, because I was struggling with those same questions and still am today. I wasn’t going to the pulpit that morning for any reason but this—I wanted to honor my Dad. I wanted to tell him I loved him, even though he wasn’t there to hear it. I wanted to say thank you for all the times he had sacrificed for me and loved me when I didn’t deserve it. I wanted to say thank you to a man who had given me everything and who had exemplified every aspect of strong fatherhood.

My motivation was clear, but my notes weren’t. Actually, they didn’t exist. For better or for worse, I decided to go to the pulpit that day and speak from the heart. I attempted to sit down and map out my thoughts many times, but I just couldn’t do it. I would sob uncontrollably every time I thought about having to deliver his eulogy. It seemed impossible—mainly because I didn’t want to admit that I would have to say goodbye.

But how do you prepare to eulogize your Father? I might have been prepared if he had died at a ripe old age of natural causes, but in the blink of an eye at a beautiful season in his life, my Father was tragically and suddenly gone. I couldn’t prepare for his death, and as such, I couldn’t prepare for his eulogy. I’m not saying it’s easier to give a eulogy in particular circumstances—saying goodbye at any age is no fun at all. But I envisioned something like this happening many years down the road. I knew I would eventually have to say goodbye to my Dad—but not when he was 50 and I was 26. That just didn’t seem right. Again, it felt unnatural.

But deaths rarely seem right or natural. In fact, they usually always seem wrong. And they should. We should desire for Eternity. God has put that longing in our hearts. But in an imperfect world, we try and take horrible messes, with God’s hand over us, and turn them into something useful.

I hoped I would be able to do that at my Dad’s funeral.

Flanked by my cousins, I made my way to the front of the church. I walked up the carpeted stairs in the dimly lit sanctuary, with a chorus of sniffles behind me from the family members, friends, coworkers, and loved ones who had come to say goodbye and support my family. Everything in my line of vision seemed somewhat blurred. I didn’t feel like myself. I was living a life that was now mine, but my mind refused to accept it.

I was able to give a somewhat coherent eulogy, telling a few stories about my Dad’s humor and thanking the people who had loved him over his life and who had loved Mom and I when they heard the news of his death. I don’t remember much of what I said that day, but I do remember feeling like God was calling me to say something to the folks who had gathered to say goodbye to my Dad. I didn’t know who or what, but I knew there had to be people gathered in that church—just like my Dad—who were suffering from mental illness or depression but were just too ashamed or too embarrassed to ask for help. I didn’t want my Dad to have to be the sacrificial lamb, but I also didn’t want him to die in vain. Although I would have done anything to have him back, I wanted his death to be a reminder that mental illness is a really, really debilitating disease. And I wanted people to know that their fate could be different.

“Just talk,” I said. “If you’re suffering or if you’re hurting, just talk to someone. To anyone. You don’t have to suffer like this.”

It wasn’t profound, but it was heartfelt. A heartfelt plea to anyone sitting in those pews who, like my Dad had done for so long, put on a mask to try and hide their own depression, anxiety, and fear. I wanted those people to see a heartbroken family torn apart by a disease that can be treated but often isn’t. I wanted those individuals to feel compelled to fight back against the dark thoughts they might have. I wanted those individuals to live a different ending than the one that stole my Father.

Oftentimes, the best solutions are not the profound ones, but instead are the solutions that are so simple we often don’t do them. And when it comes to fighting mental illness, we all just need to talk.

We need to talk about how we are feeling. We need to ask for help when we need it—both from friends and professionals. We need to talk about what we are feeling, no matter how irrational, without fear of embarrassment or shame.

One of the best weapons in the fight against suicide is talking to someone when we are feeling suicidal. And although we know this and acknowledge its truth, it’s often much more difficult for us to live this out.

I don’t pretend to have a crystal ball, and I’m not naïve enough to believe that had my Dad simply talked that everything would have been different. I simply don’t know the answer to that question, and I never will. But I know this:

It couldn’t have hurt.

It couldn’t have been any worse than how it ended.

It might have been different.

I pray that I never experience another tragedy as heartbreaking as the death of my Father because it has completely torn me apart. There have been sleepless nights where I can’t quit thinking of him, and sleep-filled days where I’m so paralyzed by hurt that I can’t function normally. There have been moments of regret filled with a desperate longing to talk with him just one more time. I miss him more and more every single day.

So today, and in everything that I do, I’ll honor the talkers. The people who aren’t afraid to come forward and say “I need help,” “I’m hurting,” or “I just don’t understand.”

People like Prince Harry. Yes, that Prince Harry—the royal one. It’s fitting that I’m writing this post as a Dateline episode plays about the death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana. I remember watching the news coverage with my Mom when I was a young boy. I remember my Mom’s sadness, and I remember watching those two little boys at their Mom’s funeral—not knowing someday I would experience a similar pain of tragic and inexplicable loss.

Diana’s death was the impetus of a very dark period in Harry’s life—a period that has gone on for 20 years. Diana died 20 years ago when Harry was only 12. Now, at age 32, he’s just beginning to talk. But he’s talking nonetheless. And he’s inspiring millions.

A recent article in USA Today recapped an amazingly candid and recent interview when Harry began to talk about his own struggles with mental illness spurred by his mother’s death. Here’s an important excerpt from the article that I’d like to share with you:

“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” Prince Harry said. “And it was only three years ago — funny enough — from the support around, and my brother and other people saying that, ‘You really need to deal with this. It’s not normal to think that nothing’s affected you.'”

Harry said instead of processing his grief for The People’s Princess, he stifled his emotions.

“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?” he shared. “It’s only going to make you sad; it’s not going to bring her back. So, from an emotional side, I was like ‘Right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything.’ So, I was a typical sort of 20, 25, 28-year-old running around going ‘Life is great’, or ‘Life is fine’ and that was exactly it.”

Harry said that when he began having the conversations he previously avoided he began to understand, “‘There’s actually a lot of stuff here I need to deal with…’”

“It was 20 years of not thinking about it and then two years of total chaos,” Harry recalled. “I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I just didn’t know what was wrong with me.”

Harry also revealed he’s “probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions” which he attributed to “all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions” that come with his royal title and public platform. He said during his trying years he began boxing, which he shared “really saved me because I was on the verge of punching someone, so being able to punch someone who had pads was certainly easier.”

During the interview, Harry said he is now “in a good place” and seemed grateful that he was finally able to process his mother’s death in a healthy way.

“… Because of the process that I’ve been through over the last two-and-a-half to 3 years,” he said, “I’ve now been able to take my work seriously, be able to take my private life seriously as well, and be able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference…”[1]

I commend Prince Harry for what he’s doing, especially his founding of a mental health advocacy group called Heads Together. But more than the public work he is doing, I am thankful that he is vulnerable enough to share his own story. It’s making life easier on a lot of people, and it’s making me feel even more normal as I continue to grieve for my Father.

When you’re a Prince, I would imagine people of many expectations of you. Expectations of perfection. As a Prince, everyone’s eyes are constantly on you and they are expecting you to make the right step, every step.

But Prince Harry is giving the rest of us the freedom to make mistakes when we grieve. I’ve said it numerous times, but there’s no manual on how to grieve because everyone grieves differently. Because there’s no manual, there’s also a strong likelihood that those who grieve won’t get it right every single time. Prince Harry’s story proves that.

And he’s also proving that when we talk, we begin to heal.

Prince Harry’s story reinforces an important point that has helped me come to terms with my own Father’s death: Depression is an illness that can invade our lives at any point, even when things are seemingly perfect.

Imagine the life that Prince Harry most likely leads. As a member of Britain’s royal class, there’s never a concern about money. Want a vacation? You can take one. Anywhere at any time. Want to buy a car? Why stick with just one when you could buy 47? You have influence over anyone. Unmistakable power and fame. Every material thing that most people dream of is right at his fingertips. And you can walk around in a crown and no one will think you’re dressing up. They know you’re a prince. And I’m sure they treat you like one.

But in the midst of a seemingly happy existence, there is a level of grief and depression that invaded Prince Harry’s life because he bottled up his emotions. No matter what cultural definitions of happiness were met, “sticking his head in the sand” led to a place of darkness and inescapable grief. Depression, then, has a unique and extremely frightening way of clouding and contorting our lives into something that seems completely overwhelming.

That is, until, he began to talk.

Once he began to talk, he began to be freed from the tight grasp depression held on his life. The stranglehold was loosened. And it probably saved his life.

I don’t fault my Dad for his death—I never have. My Dad suffered from a terrible disease that took over his mind, clouded his thoughts, and made the worries of this life seem inescapable. I would never blame him for his death, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things I wish we could have changed about this experience. I would give or do anything to change the outcome of that fateful July morning. Chief among those? Just talking with my Dad in the hopes that he might talk when he needed help.

Whether it was fear of embarrassment or trying to attain an unattainable societal expectation of perfection, my Dad couldn’t bring himself to talk about his struggles with depression. He did exactly what Prince Harry has admitted to doing. He bottled up his feelings. He stuck his head in the sand. He felt that showing weakness wouldn’t have helped. And I hate that, in his final moments on this Earth, he probably felt more alone than anyone.

I wish there was more I could’ve done. And ultimately, I wish I had done more to encourage him to talk.

But now, I’m in an unfortunate but redeemable place. It’s too late for me to talk to my Dad and encourage him to talk. He’s no longer here. So, instead, I am trying my best to encourage others to talk. In a sense, it’s my way of trying to change the lives of others, since I can’t change my Dad’s. I may not have the influence of Prince Harry, but I’m not concerned with numbers here. If I can impact one person—just one person—and encourage them to talk with someone, it will all be worth it in the end. If I can change one life, I will have made the difference God is calling me to make. We will suffer, yes—but we are never expected to suffer alone.

My Dad’s funeral was over three years ago, yet I find myself saying the same thing now that I said that day:

Just talk.

To someone.

To anyone.

About anything. And any feeling.

Because you matter. Your life matters. And you are loved.

But please, for your life and the lives of those who love you…just talk.

Dad at Beach with SB LogoDad, I wish each and every day that you were here with me still. I wish that I could hug your neck. I wish that I could ride in the truck with you. I wish, each day, that I could hear your laugh again. But more than anything, I wish I had done more to help you feel like it was okay to talk. I wish I had encouraged you, even forced you, to get the help that you deserved. In lieu of being able to tell you that now, however, I’m trying my best to use your story to save other people. I’m trying to do what you always did—help those who are down on their luck and need it most. Dad, you may not be here with me, but I hope you know that your story is making a tremendous impact. I can’t wait to just talk with you again. Until that day, seeya Bub.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2017/04/17/prince-harry-talked-about-his-grief-following-princess-dianas-death/100556842/