“He’s gone.” These words confirmed what I had most feared: my dad had committed suicide.
To be honest, I have never before written about this time in my life. I have talked about it with close friends and family, pastors and a counselor, but I have never publicly talked about what happened to my dad just over six years ago.
I struggle writing and talking publicly about it because of public perception on suicide — because it brings up so many negative and depressive emotions that feel too heavy to bear, and because I am reliving the absolute worst nightmare in my life.
The hardest part about all of this is the “why” question. Why did my dad do this? What was so bad in his life that tormented him to the point of not wanting to live? What more could I have done to let him know how much he was loved and cherished?
The only person who knows the answers to those questions is my dad and, of course, God. I absolutely beat my head against the wall trying to understand this. Where did this all go wrong? Quite frankly, these are impossible questions to answer. So, how could I write about this? How could I talk about this? How could I tell a story that ends like this?
And that’s just it. The worst part about the perception of suicide is that those who commit suicide are more than likely going to be remembered only for that one act. I refuse to allow my dad to be remembered for this. This was a dark time for him, yes, but it certainly did not define him and will not define who he was while on this earth.
This is Steve’s story:
My dad grew up in difficult times. He was the third oldest son in a family of seven. At a young age, he quit school to help his father with the family business. He sacrificed for his family throughout his teenage years and continued to work for his father up until the time he took over the business.
My dad had a very tough life. He had dreams and aspirations of his own, but he set those aside in order to do what was best for his family at that time. He would continue to do this his entire life, and it would become something he was just used to doing — sacrificing.
Fast forward a few decades, my dad was a partner with his father in the family business, married my mom, adopted my sister and had me. Our family felt complete, felt like a normal family doing normal family things, struggling with normal family struggles, and dealing with normal family dysfunction (right?). Unfortunately, after thirteen years of marriage, my parents got divorced.
This was a period of time that was a big struggle for my dad for what he had to endure. My dad was the eventual sole owner of the family business and also had a part-time job at night to help provide for us. In 2003, the business succumbed to a massive fire that burned everything to the ground. This was the first time I ever saw my dad cry. But he got back up, rebuilt, worked very hard and became a pretty successful businessman. He kept a piece of the old building standing as a reminder of what happened, where he came from and where he was currently. That reminder was a testament to overcoming something tragic that many do not recover from.
My dad was not perfect — he endured many different trials, but willingly sacrificed so much to help those around him. There was absolutely no indication of depression, suicidal behavior or any other form of mental illness. My dad was not a heavy drinker and did not use any kind of illegal substances. My dad seemed happy and content working hard to keep the business going and enjoyed time away doing things with others, such as golfing or fishing. This is who my dad was. If the story ended here, this would describe a stable, hard-working man that endured some heavy trials but overcame them and was successful. But the story does not end here.
Things started to change with my dad in the beginning of 2013. My dad and I did not always see eye to eye on things, so I decided it would be best to find a different career path for myself. However, a few months into 2013, my dad had asked me to come and help him with the business because the work was becoming too hard for him alone. I started out as part-time but eventually was full-time helping him run his business. My dad was not always one to ask for help, so him reaching out was the first indicator that something was up — albeit a very faint indicator. I wanted to lighten his load so he could enjoy his life more, not having to worry about the more laborious aspects of the business. This was actually working pretty well. The next four to five months working together was really great. We spend three straight days putting together a ridiculously hard wooden swing set so my oldest son could play on it on his birthday. That experience was stressful, but I really enjoyed spending that time with my dad.
Later in the summer, my dad would randomly come and go from the business, which was not unusual, but he was becoming very forgetful of what he was doing. He seemed to be struggling with the free time he had, which is an adjustment for those who work hard their entire lives.
Since my parents were divorced, my dad had never remarried. He had a couple of partners, but nothing that lasted long-term. He spent a lot of time alone. He was successful in his business but had no one to share it with. Things became noticeably worse in his behavior and demeanor. My dad was losing motivation to show up to the business each day and did not even have the motivation to care for himself. My dad always cared for himself last, that was just his nature, but this was different. He looked tired, worn down and depressed.
On Halloween night of 2013, my wife and I tried to get my dad to come trick-or-treating with his grandkids and enjoy the night, but he refused. We could tell something was wrong but were not prepared for what happened next. The next day when I showed up for work, my dad was not there. I received a text message from him saying, “I messed up really bad. I need you to come get me.” I had absolutely no idea what happened; I was frantic and drove to his house immediately. As I entered his home, there was not a single light on, he was sitting in his recliner with hand towels covering his arms. Reality set in and I realized that my dad tried to end his life the night before. He was completely ashamed of himself. I did not judge him; I was very concerned and took him to the hospital. He was treated for his wounds and admitted for self-harm.
During that time, I had the responsibility of running the business at the age of twenty-four and also going to meetings at the hospital to figure out what happened with my dad. It was an extremely tough circumstance, and I tried to be strong because it seemed like that is what my dad needed at the time. This was much more serious. I had zero control; I was completely scared for my dad, and I didn’t know what was happening to him. My dad did really well through in-patient counseling and was discharged about a week later. My wife and I invited my dad to church and also to talk personally with a pastor, and he accepted. We thought this was a breakthrough for him. We thought he was going to overcome this like he did with everything else he had to endure.
Church was great for him. He was surrounded by others who did not judge him, but encouraged him, prayed for him and had fellowship with him. My dad even helped roof a house for a man who had progressive stage four cancer and needed help. He took part in making Thanksgiving packages for families who could not afford it. He enjoyed helping others. He was sacrificing his time to put a smile on others’ faces, and that is what he enjoyed the most. My dad had a servant’s heart. Through all of this, we thought my dad was making great strides in recovering from his self-harm and was starting to be happy again. My dad did have a personal relationship with Jesus and accepted Jesus into his heart.
But the loneliness was too much to bear.
When my dad was surrounded by others, he was doing great, making great strides, showing moments of true joy and happiness. However, he would spend most of his time alone still on nights and weekends, declining invitations from friends and family to be social.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
I had a great relationship with my pastor, and he was heavily involved in meeting with my dad and tracking how he was doing on his progress. This particular Sunday, I did not go to church because I wasn’t feeling well, but my wife, kids, and my dad attended. My wife noticed my dad “spacing out” through much of service like he was struggling internally with something. At the end of service during prayer, my pastor felt called to pray for someone who was contemplating committing suicide. When service was over, my wife had to call out to my dad many times to let him know they were leaving, and they eventually all left together.
Later that day, I was still not feeling the greatest, but my dad insisted that I come up and see him because he just kept repeating over and over that he needed his son. I came up to his home to find it once again completely dark with his sitting alone in his recliner in complete silence. Now, I do not know if you believe in spiritual warfare, but I can personally attest that it is 100% real. At that moment, I have never felt so heavy, burdened and scared in my entire life. I told my dad that he was letting the enemy win by isolating himself like this. I did not want him to continue doing this any longer and insisted that he come and stay with us. He refused.
The next couple of days were much of the same. He showed up to his business for only a few hours and would leave for the rest of the day. I was okay with him taking personal time but was very concerned about his well-being. This was not who my dad was, it was almost as if he was possessed by someone or something else. I say this because on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, my dad attacked me with words that I have never heard before. He was making threats, saying things like, “If I am going down, I am taking you with me.” Now, my focused shifted from protecting my dad to protecting my family. My dad was very unstable, and I did not know what he was going to do next. I went from being scared for my dad, to being scared of my dad. We got into a serious argument and I felt like I was no longer arguing with my dad, it was with someone else. What I am going to tell you next, I completely regret to this very day. The verbal threats continued, and out of anger, I told my dad that I hated him.
This was the last thing I ever said to my dad. To this day, it completely wrecks me. Out of anger, I spoke against what was happening to my dad. I was worn out from trying to help him and seeing that those efforts were being destroyed just took the wind out of my sails. I don’t hold guilt over my head, but I now recognize that in that moment, I NEEDED to speak life.
My dad did not show up for work that day and was considered a missing person. In the state of Nebraska, for a person to be considered missing as an adult, they have to be missing for 24 consecutive hours. On November 21, 2013, the local police and state patrol did a wellness check at my dad’s home at 12:30 p.m. My sister went up there with them to see if my dad was home. His truck was parked in the driveway, the doors were locked, and all of the lights were off.
I received a phone call from my sister at 12:30 p.m. on November 21, 2013 as I was standing at my backdoor of my house. My worst fear had happened.
“He’s gone, Shayne.”
My dad died by suicide on November 21, 2013 at the age of 54.
A Message of Life
“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 NLT
I call my dad’s struggles a silent cancer. It is the best description I could come up with for how fast this took over and ultimately claimed his life. He was his normal self for one moment, and then in what seemed like the blink of an eye, was a completely different person — almost unrecognizable. I cannot explain what was going through my dad’s mind, and I am not a mental health professional to even make such claims. However, I know that isolation for a person is bad. We were never meant to do life alone. Loneliness is a playground for the enemy to run freely in our minds and cause complete chaos. Ever wonder why there is solitary confinement in prison? It isn’t a reward; it is a consequence. It is because the isolation makes people go crazy. Isolation and loneliness can make a person do things that they normally would not do and think things about themselves that they normally wouldn’t think. It is the easiest way Satan can steal, kill, and destroy your life.
Mental illness is similar to the symptoms of cancer.
I am in no way saying they are the same, but the timeline of how they progress is similar. Usually, cancer is found through a symptom, and tests are run to determine what is wrong. Mental illnesses work in a similar way. When someone is experiencing depressive times, bouts of anger, or moments of panic and do not understand why, they go and try to get it taken care of. When cancer is identified early, chemotherapy and surgery are the most likely routes of action. It is important to identify cancer in the earlier stages before it becomes too strong to overcome. It is much of the same with mental illness. It is best to get help in the beginning stages than wait until the likelihood of recovery gets slimmer and slimmer.
I have heard it said many times that committing suicide is the most selfish thing a person can do and is considered the unforgivable sin. Well, I have read the Bible and there is absolutely nowhere in Scripture that says that suicide is an unforgivable sin.
Jesus did not come to this earth to die for some sins. He died for ALL sins. There is no sin that is greater than another; they are all equally wrong.
In terms of a selfish decision? I say that anyone who says that is ignorant and has never dealt with mental illness personally. When someone has cancer, do you just tell them that the best way to get rid of the cancer is to not have it? No, you encourage them to go through treatment to get it taken care of. So, why do we tell people who struggle with mental health issues to just think more positively and they will be fine? Do we not understand that not being able to think positively is the exact reason why mental illnesses can occur? This is a great perspective to try and understand because the best way to help and encourage someone with mental illness or suicidal thoughts is to empathize with them.
There is always hope.
Jesus came to this earth to save it. He did not come here to judge or condemn. He came here to love. God, who created humans in His image, loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. If God sacrificed his own Son to save you, then you are important. You are not a mistake. You are not defined by your past. Do not let the enemy rule your thinking anymore. The name of Jesus is so powerful that the enemy must flee when his name is proclaimed.
You are significant and important.