Archives For suicide

A year ago today I saw my dad alive for the last time.

I knew this day was coming and I’ve done my best to prepare, but I’m honestly still not sure how the day’s going to to go.

As with any loss, but especially suicide, there are things I wish I could have done differently a year ago. Like, I wish I would have visited again before he took his life a couple weeks later. Things I wish I would have noticed. Like how he chose to stay behind and make the pizzas instead of going door-to-door with the kids. But, I fully realize that wishing I could have done things differently doesn’t change how they actually went and it doesn’t help. I also know it’s natural to feel these things, though.

The truth is, everything that happened that Halloween day in 2014 was totally normal. We went over to Papa and Donna’s, the kids went door-to-door with Julie and Donna, Dad and I stayed back to make pizzas and handout candy, we took pictures and then we went home. Pretty much exactly the same as we’d done the past ten years.

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

Last Halloween Picture With Papa

For a while I was actually kind of mad about the fact that the last time my dad saw my kids, Claire was dressed like a hotdog and Sam was wearing a friggin’ green morph suit. Over time, though, I’ve come to think it’s pretty funny. That’s who they are. And I remember my dad thinking it was so funny. I also remember handing out candy while he was in the dining room and knowing the mom of the very first kid that came to the door. “You knew her??” he asked me. “Yeah, we used to work together,” I answered. “Of course you did,” he said with a chuckle.

It was a running joke with my dad and I, ever since I was little. Wherever we went, I knew somebody or they knew me. He’d give me grief about it and shake his head, but the irony is that he was the same way! My dad knew everybody and everybody knew him. So, really, it was an inherited trait. One I’m grateful for.

So, today we’re going to celebrate Halloween like we always have. The kids will dress up and we’ll go over to Donna’s and trick-or-treat in their neighborhood and eat pumpkin-shaped pizza and handout candy to other kids. It might be hard. We might cry. But we can also talk about the happy memories we have about all the Halloweens we got to spend with Papa, too.

And there will be plenty of candy, I’m sure.

We love you, dad, and we miss you so much.

And I’ll think of you smiling every time I run into somebody I know today.

Happy Halloween.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Papa and a tiny little Claire dressed like a fairy.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

Sam and Anna with Papa and the pumpkin pizza in 2008.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

I love this shot, walking the neighborhood, talking with dad.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.

Sam and Papa with the pumpkin pizza in 2009.

Yesterday Twitter blew-up over the death of former football star Tyler Sash.

I wasn’t familiar with him, but saw that he was a Big 10 kid (Iowa), so I read more. He won a Super Bowl with the Giants his rookie year in the NFL, played a few more years and has been out of the league since then. He seemed to be friends with everyone. And nobody could believe he was dead. Then I started seeing things like, “Depression is no joke.”

And that’s when I thought to myself, “Is this what they call a trigger?”

It sounds like it might have been suicide that took Tyler, though it hasn’t yet been confirmed. If it was, though, it’s horrible.

Obviously, it made me think about my dad.

This week has been interesting for me. It’s National Suicide Prevention week. I’ve advocated in years past during this week because of my uncle’s suicide thirty years ago, but this year is different. I’m struggling to know just how to hold this all in my heart and mind this week.

On Monday, for instance, I took my son to the doctor. I was looking at him while we were checking in and was caught off-guard when I heard, “Grandpa Calvin still ok for the emergency contact?” I snapped my head toward the young man, hoping Sam wasn’t paying attention, and politely said, “Actually, if you could please remove him from the account, we’ll be ok with just me and Julie for now.” Those moments are fleeting, but nonetheless difficult to work through.

AFSP_SPW_socialgraphics_150ppi6I also saw a beautiful photo a good friend of mine post of her youngest son’s hand being held by that of her father-in-law, his grandfather. Within the heart-felt caption she quoted Proverbs saying, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” and my heart sank. Was my dad not a good man? Of course he was, but in that moment, my heart was broken. My kids won’t ever hold his hand again. My brothers’ kids will never hold his hand or be held by him. I absolutely hate that. Hate it.

And here’s the thing…I was never upset with my friend for posting that. It’s beautiful! And I’m so happy for them, for real. But, it triggered something in me that I had to work through. Which is hard, but ultimately good. Thankfully I have an amazing wife who let me discuss it with her and make her late for whatever she was getting ready for.

Honestly, this post seems a little self-centered to me, but I’m still sharing it because I’m sure there are tons of people who are going to read it and be like, “Dude, this is exactly how I feel!” And we shouldn’t feel bad about it. The fact is, we lost someone to suicide and it sucks and it’s absolutely normal to struggle with how to feel.

I think it’s pretty clear that I’m all for suicide prevention. Now more than ever before. That said, this year I don’t really want to be a champion for the cause. I need to be okay with the fact that I’m still grieving.

So, if you’ve lost someone to suicide…I feel you. I’m with you. And I’m so sorry. We’ll get through this.

AFSP_SPW_socialgraphics_150ppi8If you’re thinking about suicide, please please ask for help. I know it’s hard and I know you don’t or maybe can’t think about it in the moment, but please, just tell someone. It might seem like the only way out of whatever situation you’re in. It might seem like the only way to make the pain stop. But, please hear me: IT’S NOT. It’s not the only way. You’re valuable and we need you and I’ll shout that from the rooftops until the end of time. Stay with us. We’ll help.

For everyone else, count your blessings. I’m not saying that to make you feel bad, either! Seriously, be grateful if you don’t struggle with these thoughts or haven’t been affected directly by the devastation that is suicide. Keep spreading your light and life and love to those around you.

You never know who needs it.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

Recently I attended a support group for survivors of suicide loss.

I joked a lot with my wife beforehand that what I was most looking forward to was the donuts. Seems like every time you see a group like this on TV or in the movies, there are donuts.

There were no donuts at the group I went to, though.

Lies.

Lies.

Even so, I’m glad I went. In November, I lost my dad to suicide very unexpectedly. It’s been a difficult grieving process for all of us, so going to this group was another step forward.

One of the first things I noticed when I got there was a little note on the table that basically said, “What happens in Vegas…stays in Vegas.” This type of support group is one of immense hurt and vulnerability, so the appropriate thing to do is to respect the privacy of those in attendance. That’s why I won’t be saying any names in this post and I’ll do my best to honor those who shared with the stories I incorporate here.

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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.

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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