The northern Wisconsin air was crisp, it was a mere 30 degrees out and I found myself 20 feet up in a Douglas-fir tree. I was surrounded by fields, swampy chunks of land and the morning felt perfect. As the sun rose higher into the sky all appeared beautiful, almost surreal. For some stupid reason I pulled out my cell phone and observed that several people from a business forum group that I have met with on and off for 20 years had called me within minutes of each other. As I looked at the phone, I noticed another guy from our group calling and something inside me began to shake. I felt the sudden cold come over me and I knew that something was wrong, really wrong.
I answered the phone and whispered, “hey Geoff is everything okay?” As I asked, I knew that it wasn’t and the only words I remember were, “no, everything is not okay, Dave committed suicide.” After those words hit, I can’t remember anything for at least 30 minutes. In a deep state of silence, I stared into the frost-covered trees void of thought.
When I snapped out of that missing period of time, I began to think of all of the gifts Dave had passed on, all of the love, the energy, it truly was limitless. I thought of his love for nature and that ironically his wife’s family had a summer cottage not even 10 miles from where I was sitting. I then remember many times where next to a lake, out in a boat, in the field or the woods where my dad told me how much he loved me and that nothing is ever worth missing the next sunrise or the next day in the woods for. He explained his unconditional love for me and told me that he would always be there no matter what. For some reason I always remember what nature looked like in these moments, and somehow this always made the world okay for me, even with the darkest skies around me.
Monday, October 15th of 2012 will likely be remembered as one of the saddest and most premature funerals I have ever attended. Dave was a passionate outdoorsman and a total music animal. Dave’ s skills were banging on the drums, being the life of the party and the guy everyone instantly loved. He truly appreciated nature in the moment. If you have ever finished a long climb up a mountain, or sat out an all-day hunt in the cold, then you know it takes a rally factor to push through. Some of us may use a rally factor like our spouse, a parent, perhaps a popular figure, or a previous time when we ourselves managed to push through to help us get past a difficult moment. Dave was a rally factor personified. He could light a room up in minutes. However, I suppose like every gift of lightness that appears in superhero-like form, there is a darker side.
As I finished delivering a few difficult words at the funeral, I was unable look at the large audience for fear that I would totally lose it as my heart hurt and tears were streaming from my eyes. I felt totally confused as to why David would quit on life. I could not help but think that had he just made it above that low, had he pushed through and taken himself to the woods or had he played the right song it could have pushed him to see the next sunrise.
I learned two very difficult lessons this week. First, at times, everyone is wearing a mask–even those “rally factor” type people. I can relate to this–when pressure is mounting and there are real problems, I am the first to say that everything is fine and everything is alright, even though the reality may be starkly different. I then retreat to nature, or I think about one of those chats my dad and I had along Lake Michigan or walking in an apple orchard, and the right thoughts come to me and I feel recharged. Second, much like feeling the air as the barometric pressure rapidly drops and reacting before the storm comes in, we need to focus on not just the sunny lighter sides of people, but we must also pay mind to the darker side. There will be days when the sun shines brightly and days when grey fills the sky, it is all a part of the cycle of nature and the cycle of life.
Back at the office after the funeral, I am jammed in meetings that appear endless. As I am about to head to a dinner meeting to recruit a couple new employees, I decide that instead I am going to go home and see my family. As I walk in the door I briefly grab my two oldest boys, five-year-old Hunter and three-year-old River, and we head to the windows on the west side of the house to look out at the lake. I pull them in close, kiss their heads and say, “I love you so much boys. You cannot imagine the love that I feel. There will be good days and there will be bad days. On those bad days know that your mom and I love you more than anything. When you are in a bad mood or you feel sad, go and find a lake, a little bit of woods, or simply a big tree and you remember these words: I will always love you and the sun will shine again boys.”
Hunter looks at me and says, “dad, we know how much you love us. I think everyone knows and we know we can look at the lake.” I look at him with a serious but content face and say, “good, don’t forget it and know that I will keep reminding you of it regularly for the rest of my life.”
As I am getting ready for bed, I wonder to myself whether Dave’s dad had ever told his son how much he loved him in the dusk of a setting sun. I am very optimistic that Dave did that for his children often–hopefully it will have that same type of push through effect that my father’s words had on me. We cannot turn back time, but we CAN ask ourselves which type of parent we want to be.
My love goes out to Dave and his family.