[Story published September 2017 -- A follow up from Dave as of June 2018 is posted at the bottom of this story.]
I’m not a writer. If I was writing a book, this chapter would be the most difficult to write - and to read. I’m a father, fiancé, brother, and a son. I’m a coach, a leader, a motivator, and a teacher. I’ve been identified as all of these titles at some point in my life and I have taken pride in being called by all of these names. Now I am a Dad who is a suicide survivor.
A suicide survivor is one who has lost a family member or someone close to them by suicide. I lost my son on Feb 22nd of this year. As I sit here typing, it still seems like a bad dream that I will wake up from at some point. I wish that was the case but I know that it’s not a dream. It is a reality that my family and I have been handed.
He was a good kid. He was my buddy. We played cards and talked about music. We spent a lot of time together one on one in the last couple years. He was an artist and a musician but never realized his potential. I often told him and others that he was an artist who just hadn’t found his art. He was a thinker and a problem solver. He was a giving person, even in his last moments. He had long “rock star” hair. Not because he wanted to be a rock star, he never wanted to be noticed, he wasn’t like that. He was growing his hair to cut it and donate to "Locks of Love" for cancer patients. He had a heart for helping those who were in need. He tutored special needs children and even helped me coach younger kids in basketball and baseball each year. The kids loved him.
We’ve heard story after story of how he would help others and use whatever was in his reach to help those in need, including buying lunches for kids at school who didn’t have money. He and I had many conversations about how we could help make a situation better for someone who needed it. I remember him coming to me this last winter before a basketball game we were coaching and saying, “dad, so and so needs a little extra pat on the back today”. I always took his words as critical because he was a guy of few words.
I got a text from a mom of a 5th grade girl on the basketball team we coached, saying how his positive influence was noticed by the family and how the girl had responded positively during a tough time in her life. Yes it matters and yes, he always made a difference.
His mom, myself, and our oldest son were there with him in the hospital room as his strong body held on for three days. He was very strong. There is nothing stronger than a 15-year-old boy. His whole life was ahead of him, but his hurt was too much to handle.
When I step back and think about all the things he did for others it makes me smile and a smile is hard to come by these days.
But that’s not my story.
From the moment I was given this reality, I knew I had also been given a great responsibility. I must give like he gave. He gave so much. I must think of the other person. I must engage in this conversation in the hopes of keeping another parent from going through this nightmare. No parent should have to walk through this reality. No father should have to explain to a 9 year old child how or why her brother is gone. No Dad should have to bury his son. But it happens, and it happened to me.
As a father, protector, and provider of a wonderful family, it is difficult to cope with the grieving. At first I had no strength to stand. I collapsed the first time I tried to stand in the shower because it was the first time I had been alone and the weight was too much. I had no compass, no manual to follow. I floated. I cried. Then I couldn’t cry.
So, what do I do with this? How do I keep from carrying a dark cloud with me into every room, every conversation? How do I move forward?
Almost immediately I knew I had a great responsibility. Not only did I have a responsibility to my family to be strong, which is a responsibility I take very seriously, but I also have a responsibility to be vocal and to be heard. This tragedy is happening every day in our communities and we must talk about it. Our kids are talking about suicide. Our lives are surrounded by it and we must face this issue head on. We must start this conversation with our kids because if we don’t, TV and social media will. We have to be the ones to start this conversation in every household.
In the time since my son’s passing, I have given interviews to TV stations for upcoming stories. I have been to trainings on suicide awareness and prevention. I have gone to our state capitol and spoke to Senators and Representatives on a bill for suicide awareness and training for healthcare professionals and teachers. I have initiated conversations with neighbors, old friends, and anyone who would listen.
A good friend of mine who was concerned about my level of grief asked me why would I do all these things. Why would I talk about this? Why would I go to the State Capital and speak about this tragedy? Why would I put myself through this extra pain? He would most likely ask me why I would write this article. It is a simple answer but it’s not easy. It is MY responsibility. It is my responsibility to be vocal and be heard. It is my responsibility to heal and move forward. It is my responsibility to create this conversation so the next parent might be able to avoid this. Every life matters and I must move forward in the hopes of you reading this and hearing me. We must talk about suicide. We cannot avoid it. We must look them in the eyes and listen. We must En-Gage.
This last week was his 16th birthday. It was probably the second hardest day I have had this year. I was supposed to buy him a truck. He and I had talked about trucks for a couple years. He was clear and knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted his uncle’s truck. I was either to convince my brother to sell us the truck or find one just like it. But now I can’t. I can’t do anything for him ever again. I would do anything for that kid. I walked him through good times and bad. I gave him everything I could. I loved him and I am still so proud of him.
I can’t give him anything else. I can’t love him through his pain. I can’t listen to him. I can’t hear him. But you know what? Sometimes I see him. I see him in eyes that hurt. I see him in heavy shoulders. I see him in pain or suffering in others.
I am broken but I will heal. You will see and he will see.
We will fight this wave of sadness. We will be visible. We will be heard. We will, with your help, find them and engage them and heal them.
"A Letter From Dad"
I love you son, and I miss you. Sometimes I can’t find the words. This world is a rough place and sometimes seems too much to deal with. I know.
I will forever be proud of you. You made the circumstances feel better for so many. You gave of yourself and everything in your reach. I promise to do my best everyday to make you proud of me like I am of you. I promise to do the work you started and to help those in need. You gave me joy, and I will pass that on. You have also given me a clear purpose. I will look for those who are in need. I will give those who are healthy the permission to seek out those who are hurting. We will find them.
I’m so sorry you were in so much pain. I’m sorry I wasn’t there in that moment to listen.
I will En-Gage every day.
All my love
Follow Up on Dave’s Story - June 2018
Written by Dave
Do I have time?
Time passes. Does time heal?
Time is finite. Looking back, time seems so fast. Looking forward, time seems so painfully slow.
We make time for what is important to us. Whether you want to admit it or not, we make time for what we feel is important.
Do I have time to write this? Yes, because it’s important.
Time has hit me hard the last couple of years. I have more gray. I ache more. I have to work harder to be fit and healthy. I feel like I never have enough time to do what I need to do or what I should do.
His seventeenth birthday was last week. We finally went through all the contents of his room. It had been boxed up for a year and a half. That was a hard time to find. We are moving forward.
My favorite picture of him and I is the two of us standing at an arcade playing a game. It just shows our backs. No faces. The back of his shirt says “Keep Moving”.
I think about him every day. It’s like he is telling me to keep moving. So I do.
Sure I have a lot good days. I know when I am right. I see it in the eyes of the person I say hello to.... the person I give encouraging words to....
Then I have a day every so often that doesn’t go well. I don’t make time for those close to me. I don’t respond correctly in a tough moment.
I had a bad day a few days ago.
My daughter told me that night.... “Dad, don’t worry, tomorrow is a brand new day. It will all be ok." It was late and I was done with that day. She is ten and has a heart of gold. If you knew her, you would understand. She is always wanting to help people. She looks for ways to help every day. She always takes time.
Take time today to help someone. Take time to say a positive word. Take time to listen and not talk. You never know what that person is going through and you never know how important that moment is to them. You may help them move forward and make tomorrow all okay.
Take time to En-Gage.
DO YOU NEED HELP?
If this is an emergency or if you are worried that you or someone you know may be at risk for suicide, please call your local authorities (911). The hotlines below are 24 hours and are confidential.
Crisis Text Line: TEXT TWLOHA TO 741-741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.TALK (273-8255)
For hearing and speech impaired with TTY equipment: 1.800.799.4TTY (779-4889)