NOTE: What follows is a general overview of one of the worst, if not the worst, weeks of my life. I want to share this experience with F3 nation to address how F3 has impacted me, but I also want to focus on mental health and suicide. Please excuse the length of this post and if it doesn’t make sense at times. It’s truly from the heart.
At dinner time on Sunday, April 12, 2015, I received a phone call that I never expected to get. My dad, who is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and now works for a defense contractor with several of his military buddies, was at an exercise in Washington state. He was calling from the hotel asking me to pick him up at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport at 5:45 the next morning. He said that he didn’t know any other way to say it, but my stepmom, Penny, had shot herself earlier that day in the head and wasn’t expected to make it through the night. I was devastated. My wife was devastated. We had no idea that she was depressed enough to take her own life. I agreed to pick up my dad at the airport and started making calls to find out more information. My wife got the kids settled for dinner. We quickly packed my bags so I could leave after dinner.
At this point I was more in shock than anything. The entire drive to Chapel Hill that night was spent on the phone with family, friends, my priest, and a few of my F3 brothers. The next morning I picked up my dad and we drove straight to Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville, NC. The doctors had taken Penny off life support the night before, but her vitals were strong and she was breathing on her own. I broke down the moment I walked in the trauma center and saw her. She looked like she was sleeping. The only difference was that she had a bandage around her head. Her brother and mother were already there. The doctors had told us that there was nothing they could do. The right side of her brain was damaged beyond repair. We moved her to Hospice that afternoon. It was made clear to us that she was going to hospice to die.
I was concerned that she would live several days without any fluids. I knew that sitting in hospice for days would be very challenging. Thankfully she passed the next morning, Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 7:19 am. She was at peace.
The next several days were long and exhausting. I helped my dad make the funeral arrangements. We visited with several friends and family. My wife came to town on Wednesday. One of my sisters came in to town on Thursday. If you grew up in a small town or still live in a small town, it won’t surprise you to hear that my dad’s sister and her family as well as most of Penny’s family live in Edenton. We definitely had our support network. My wife was my biggest support. Having her there made things easier to handle. I felt that perhaps I could start to grieve more. I had made every effort to remain strong for my dad and the family, but it was starting to wear me down.
Although this has been a very traumatic experience for me, I could not have made it through the week as well as I did without the support of my F3 brothers. My dad and I have talked at length about F3 and my experiences. He said that what I described sounded very similar to his experiences in the military. Clearly there are differences between F3 and the military, but one of the main similarities is the brotherhood. We talked all week about the bond we have each formed with our brothers (my F3 brothers and his military brothers). We talked about how we would do anything for each other. How our brothers would step up for us and we would step up for them. One of his brothers called every two hours to make sure my dad was ok. He told me at the memorial service that knowing I was with my dad made it easier for him to finish up their exercise.
Several of my F3 brothers contacted me all week to make sure I was ok. Dingo shared information with the Tradition guys throughout the week. The level of support was overwhelming. Many of the texts and emails brought me to tears. Having to be the strong one for the family was harder than I had anticipated, but knowing that my F3 brothers had my back made it possible for me to continue to be a rock for my dad. At the beatdown this morning (Tuesday, April 21, 2015) I asked for a moment to share what happened last week. My F3 brothers knew Penny died, but they didn’t know how. I feel it’s important to be honest. It’s helping me grieve and heal. I also hope it helps others if they find themselves in a dark place. Call anyone. Call an F3 brother. Call your pastor or other church leaders. Talk to a spouse or friend. Just know that you aren’t alone.
The point is that it’s important for us as a society to stop treating mental health and suicide as a problem that shouldn’t be discussed. We need to become more educated. One place to start is the National Institute of Mental Health. Prior to this I had no idea that more people die by suicide each year than by homicide. One way to bring this number down is to speak up. Be honest with people. I was told many times last week that if someone truly wants to kill themselves, there’s not much you can do to stop it. If that’s the case, I want to at least know that I did as much as I could to help.
To close, I want to focus on what I said to my F3 brothers during COT this morning. We all know that for the majority of us, we started F3 to get in shape. But as Dredd and OBT said in Freed to Lead, it’s the second and third Fs that makes people come back. I learned last week that F3 is even more important to me than I could have ever imagined. Each day one of my F3 brothers told me they prayed for me and my family at the workout. Some asked if they could do more. I said they were doing enough. Their support was what I needed most. Knowing there is a group of men willing to help when I’m in such a difficult time of my life helps me grieve.
I’ve now learned what F3 is all about. It’s about brotherhood. It’s about having each other’s backs. I know that when future hardships come up, I’ve got my F3 brothers for support. F3 has definitely made me stronger and helped me get in better shape, but it’s the emotional strength that matters most to me. These next few weeks are going to be challenging for me and my family, but it helps to know I’ve got several brothers willing to step up. To the men of F3 nation, my family, and especially my father and I, will be forever grateful.