Yesterday as I was walking into work, my boss’s boss was laughing as she held the door open for me. I asked her what was so funny and she says, “Bill saw you walking up and told me to give you a hand.” Bill is my boss’s boss’s boss.

I acknowledged the hilarity of the situation because, you know, I super like being employed.

Honestly, though, I love when people joke with me about my arm because it tells me they know me. Bill and Michelle felt comfortable making that SUPER CREATIVE JOKE THAT I’VE NEVER HEARD BEFORE IN MY LIFE because I’ve joked with them before.

And I love that.

Having a sense of humor about my situation, I believe, enables me to live my life confidently.

For one, it puts me in control. I’m the one breaking the proverbial ice; instead of me feeling awkward or uncomfortable, a well-timed joke can tip the scales in my favor when meeting new people. It also puts those around me at ease knowing that my difference isn’t a big deal.

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My dad passed on November 17th, which meant that the holidays would be hard. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years would all be different this year. I’m still undecided if it’s just mean that they’re all so close together.

Or if it’s a blessing in disguise, to get them all out of the way.

This post is not prescriptive in nature, but rather my continuing experience through grief and into healing. I share it because we’re a community and it’s good to take care of each other. Thank you for continuing to care for me and I hope this is helpful for you, too.

Right off the top, I’m going to say this: I think next year is going to be more difficult. Maybe that’s naive, given it’ll have been a year, but I honestly still feel too close to everything to experience the whole weight of the change. Maybe I’m still in shock. Likely.

The holiday activities themselves went well, I thought. My son was sick on Christmas Eve, which stunk, but he got better quickly. And I’ve been sick for a week, which made New Years lame, but those things could (and often do) happen any year. As far as the actual functions themselves, I didn’t know quite what to expect, but they went as planned. My guess is that we were all just trying to get through them with some semblance of normalcy. We didn’t do any tributes. There was no crying (during the activities). There were lots of hugs and knowing smiles, though. It was good to be together.

My wife would say this has been too analytical so far, but that’s one way I deal with things. So, to her point, here are somethings that were hard. I missed him at the table at Thanksgiving when we held hands and said grace. I missed him laughing at the funny things my kids kept saying. I felt bad for my brother who cut-up the ham because my dad should have been doing that. I missed him at the Christmas Eve service where his wife, my step-mom, sang in the choir. He should have been there holding a candle and singing Silent Night and remembering Grandpa and Grandma like we’ve done in the past. I missed him when I saw his name in the program next to “Poinsettias in memory of…” I was upset when I noticed his name missing from all the presents. My heart broke for Donna who had to do it all herself. I can’t imagine writing “Love, Donna” all those many times, each one reminding her of his absence. It’s not fair. I missed him helping my kids put their toys together.

On the 27th, the extended Haack family had our family Christmas together. We’ve always had it at Lakeview Park, one of my dad’s shelters he tended for work. This year we changed the day and location and my dad was really nervous about it. He thought people would be upset. I told him as long as we were all together, who cares where or when it is? Every year my family has me pray for dinner and as I thought about it on the 26th this year, I lost it. I was thinking, “Should I say anything about him during the prayer? Are we all going to be crying? Should I just do it as usual?” And then I just screamed. “YOU SHOULD BE HERE! I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO THINK ABOUT THIS!” But that’s reality now. I got it out and moved forward. And the prayer was fine. The food was better.

Ultimately, the holidays this year for me continued to be an extension of the roller coaster of emotions that is my life right now. Julie and I got the kids things they loved and were excited about. We enjoyed our time with family and laughed a lot. And in the quiet, by myself, I missed dad. Not all the time, but a good amount. And I imagine this is what it will be like every year from here on out. Trying to focus more and more on those who are here: my wife and kids and family and friends. Meanwhile, remembering and missing dad.

This thought hit me today, too: While Death is relentless and its sting powerful and debilitating, the holiday season brings us Hope and in the long run, Hope wins.

Hope always wins.

Please feel free to share your experience below. Your experience of grief and healing is so valuable!

The Strangeness of Comfort

December 23, 2014 — 2 Comments

When our friend is hurting, we want to comfort him.

Even when we’re not sure how.

I want to try and describe what it’s been like to receive comfort and encouragement since my dad’s suicide. Not to embarrass anyone or to complain or anything, but because I’m learning that even comforting others can be messy business.

It’s been my experience that nearly everyone wants to help somehow, but very few really know how. Which is completely understandable. Heck, I don’t really even know how! One thing I’ve noticed is that people give advice that I know intellectually is good, but I still have a hard time putting it into practice. For instance, I’ve been told by many to focus on good memories of my dad. I’ve done this and will continue to, but at this point even good memories make me sad. They’re still shocking. Like, yesterday I was driving to meet some friends at a restaurant and passed my kids’ old pre-school on the way. I remembered my dad coming to their Christmas concerts and how he’d sit with them and help decorate cookies and let them show him around their classroom…and those are really good memories. But, they surprised me and they made me sad. And I know being sad is ok – even good – it’s just hard. Some day I know I’ll be able to remember things fondly, but it feels like that might be a while yet.

Then there’s this: My friend Cabell tragically and unexpectedly lost her dad when she was young and I remember her telling me years ago about this phenomenon wherein the one who needs comfort essentially has to become the comforter. This happens because people want to help, but they’re not sure what to say or do, so then it becomes my job to let them know that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, it just…is. I find myself doing it quite often now. “I’m so, so sorry…I don’t know what to say…” someone tells me. “It’s ok. I know. Thank you,” I reply.

Even heartfelt condolences and encouragement are tough. I sent out an update for the Kickstarter project the other day and, honestly, I was scared to. I was scared because I knew people were going to send me messages saying how sorry they were and how much they cared about me and that they’d be praying for me and my family at Christmas…which is exactly what happened. I knew it would, too, because I know the incredible character of the people in the Living One-Handed Family. And I knew that every message would make me cry (they did), which is great, don’t get me wrong! I’m a huge fan of crying, I’ve just been doing a lot of it and it’s exhausting. And honestly, part of me feels like I don’t deserve it. Even so, every message reminds me that there are people who love and care about me and that makes me feel really good.

“So, what’s the answer, Ryan? How do I comfort those who have experienced tragic loss?”

I can tell you that for me the answer is simple: Hugs. Freakin’ hugs, man. I can’t get enough of ‘em. Hugs don’t need words. To me, hugs mean love. When you hug me, you’re comforting me in ways words can only dream about. “Man, I wish I could be a hug,” words say.

Some people don’t like hugs, though. And that’s ok. I pray for them.

In general, I think simply telling someone you care about them and that you’re there for them is enough. If you actually want to be a part of the healing process, ask how we’re doing, but I’ll be honest – it’s hard to know how honest to be when asked that question.

The truth is, comforting someone during and after a traumatic event is really stinkin’ hard. That’s just the truth. We all do our best to muddle through; the comforters and the comforted. Laugh together, cry together, get mad together, stare off into the sunset together…this is all messy, but as long as we know that, let’s just love each other through it the best we can.

And more hugs.

If you’re into that.

“He’s just…gone.”

I sat on my brother’s bed shortly after they took my dad away and I said that phrase over and over. That’s it. Period. The story he told with his life was finished. He wouldn’t add anything else.

That’s one of the many strange things about an unexpected death. One minute they’re here…the next they’re gone. That’s it. It’s different when someone is going through a lengthy illness or has reached the end of a long life. It’s still sad and painful when we lose them, but there’s a preparation that takes place. There’s time for saying goodbye. You can ask questions you’ve been wondering about and reminisce with them. When my grandpa passed away, it made sense. It wasn’t a shock. It was incredibly painful to lose him, especially for my dad, but it certainly wasn’t unexpected. Once he died, we mourned his loss, but thanked God for the long life he lived and the example he was for all of us.

I wish we could have done that for my dad…30 years from now.

But, as sudden and as painful as my dad’s death was and continues to be, today I was reminded that life happens just as suddenly.

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It’s Been Three Weeks

December 9, 2014 — 2 Comments

Yesterday makes three weeks since I lost my dad.

There are times it feels like forever ago and other times – like today – when it feels like it was yesterday.

11:25am “LITERAL 911! CALL ME NOW!”

I’ll never forget seeing that text from my wife and the subsequent phone call. “I don’t know how to tell you this. Joey told me to stay calm,” she said.

Today I had an early lunch – 11:30am – and I drove the same route I took at the same time three weeks ago, only this time slower and for different reasons.

People keep asking me how I’m doing.

That’s a difficult question to answer, honestly.

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My wife is incredible. She has been my rock throughout the last few weeks. She’s also an amazing writer. So, when she said she, too, wanted to share her experience of telling our kids about my dad’s passing, my heart leapt. The following piece is her perspective of the events so far. Be moved. Be encouraged.

I am the oldest of four kids, and throughout my childhood, my parents would call us together for “Family Meetings” on a fairly regular basis. I have very distinct memories of 3 of those meetings, when instead of bouncing around and chatting about piano recitals or family trips, we were told solemnly to “sit down so we can talk”. We could feel the atmosphere change during these family meetings, and we would just stay quiet as we watched my father tear up and my mother console him as he filled us in on the deaths of three of my grandparents. It was difficult, but manageable. The weeks after these meetings were full of relatives and funerals and then we would fall back into our loud, busy lifestyle. After those few years, we never had any serious family meetings like that again. They are just a memory for me now.

When Ryan and I had children and I became a part of the HUMONGOUS Haack family, I knew that difficult family meetings come with the territory. I have been preparing myself for the conversations that are required for parenthood since Sam was born. I am ready to discuss braces, prom dates, first jobs, college choices, “the talk”, and even death. I just had this image of us sitting in our living room, calm, yet tearing up as we described the passing of any of our loved ones. I thought I was prepared for all of this.

Turns out, there is NO WAY to prepare for having to tell three precious children that their beloved “Papa” had taken his own life.

Gramma Donna, Papa and the kids

Gramma Donna, Papa and the kids

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“Mom, today I’m gonna wear the boots Papa gave me. They’re awesome. I’m gonna wear ‘em when he takes me hunting, too!”

That’s what my son said to my wife the morning after my father’s death, before we had told him what happened.

I’m still not sure how she didn’t break.

 

The boots Papa gave to Sam.

The boots Papa gave to Sam.

Far and away the most difficult task in the immediate aftermath of my dad’s death was having to tell my kids.

What will we say? And when? How much will we tell them? Will they understand it? Are they going to scream and cry? Is Anna going to be her stoic little self? Is this going to break Sam? Can we do this?

It was daunting, to say the least. On Monday night my wife called a counselor friend of ours who gave us great advice and we did our best to follow it. She said to tell the kids (Sam, 10, Anna, 9, Claire, 7) as far away from bedtime as possible, which ruled out Tuesday, so Julie and I prayed together Tuesday night and prepared to tell the kids Wednesday morning so we’d have all day to be together.

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On November 12th, 2014, I wrote a post titled “How To Talk To Someone Struggling With Depression.” It was about the stigma that still exists around issues of mental health and how we can help each other communicate appropriately. In it I mentioned my Uncle Ed’s suicide from nearly 30 years ago. I didn’t publish the post because I thought I sounded like a jerk and wanted to figure out how to rewrite it with a more encouraging tone.

On November 17th, 2014, my father took his own life.

This post is part of my process, part of my healing. It’s not all-inclusive and I don’t have all the answers.

But, I do have my experience. And maybe my experience can help you. I pray that it would.

I know for me, it was hard to believe that what happened was true. I have never used the word “unbelievable” more literally in my entire life. It’s strange what your brain does when you lose someone unexpectedly. For the first few days there were times I fully expected him to walk in the room and everything would be ok. Even at the visitation when I saw him laying there, I had this feeling he was going to open his eyes and say, “Hey! Why the hell am I in this box??”

But he didn’t. It was true. And it’s still true today.

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Last year Sarah introduced me to the KNORK.

AND IT CHANGED MY LIFE FOREVER.

Ok, maybe that’s overstating it a bit, but we still love and use our KNORKs every day in our house.

For the uninitiated, KNORK flatware is finely-crafted, heavy and durable. The fork is kind of a combination of a fork and a knife, which is amazing for those of us with only one hand. Like I alluded to earlier, though, our whole family loves them and all the rest of those weirdos have two hands. Long story short: No matter how many hands you have, if you value quality kitchen utensils, KNORK is for you.

Watch this video I made to see me un-box my set and use them. It’s super dorky, but my reaction is genuine.

Here’s where it gets fun.

Anybody here into early Christmas or Haunakuh presents?

First of all, BRAND NEW to the KNORK line-up, I present to you the BLACK MATTE TITANIUM flatware! It’s unbelievable.

Does that look awesome or what?  (Click the picture to purchase)

Does that look awesome or what?
(Click the picture to purchase)

What I’m even MORE excited to offer you is the chance to win a FREE 20-Piece Glossy Set OR 20-Piece Top Chef Set!

Glossy (Click picture to see more)

Glossy
(Click picture to see more)

Top Chef Set (Click picture for more)

Top Chef Set
(Click picture for more)

There are several ways to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway and you can do many of them EVERY DAY, racking-up more entries every time!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter, share and cross your fingers! Good luck!

P.S. Obviously, I got mine for free, but I’d tell you if I hated them. Seriously.  And I don’t get anything if you buy them, so I’m not just hocking you some junk to make some paper.  I really do like them and think you will, too.

Yesterday we had our flu shot clinic at work and I decided to have some fun with it.

Shocking, right?

When it was time to get my shot, I took off my sweatshirt so the nurse could get at my arm and then, well, watch this (click the CC button to see the transcription):

I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous! Only because I didn’t want to offend Barbara or make her uncomfortable. She loved it, though. In fact, several of my nurse friends have told me that it gets pretty annoying hearing “I hate needles!” all day long, so getting a little something out of the norm is greatly appreciated.

Know what else I learned by pulling this little prank? Humor is a funny thing. Literally and figuratively. Trust me, I know my sense of humor isn’t for everyone. I have the emails to prove it. When I posted on Facebook, though, asking if I should do this (rhetorically, of course), it was awesome to see all the responses in favor of it. My favorite was from a life-long friend of mine who said, “I can’t believe this is even in question!”

You guys know me. And I love you for it.

I’m sure there are some deep-seated issues related to my desire to make people laugh, but it’s who I am and it’s not going to change. You have my word that I’ll keep doing everything in my power to bring you humor, hope and help however I can. And I encourage you to do the same for those in your sphere of influence! Make them smile. Give them hope. Help however you can.

Can you imagine how awesome the world would be if we all did that?

Whoa, that got a little deep.

Scroll up, watch that video again and then pass it on.

And for the love of Pete, keep smiling!