Editor's note: This column discusses topics that might be sensitive for some readers. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide, text HOME to 741741 to reach a trained counselor at the Crisis Text Line or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Suicide and mental health are taboo topics. It’s not really anything I had dealt with personally until December 2020, when I lost my 81-year-old grandfather to suicide. It was a shock to us all. At that point in time, I had never felt worse than I did when my dad walked into my apartment, unannounced, trying to hold it together and find the words to share what had happened. Unfortunately, I’ll never forget that day, but fortunately, I’ll never forget that my grandfather was, in my eyes, a nearly perfect person.
I have a great family, albeit a fairly small family — literally and figuratively. I have the most wonderful and helpful parents, and I have a twin brother who has literally saved my life on more than one occasion. We were born one minute apart, we’re best friends, we talk every day and never in a million years could I imagine my life without my other half. I have awesome cousins, fantastic aunts and uncles — but my grandparents stood above the rest.
On my mom’s side, I have Grandpa Jack left, who is now at the spry, young age of 87. His wife, Patty, my grandma, passed away from bone cancer a few years ago. That was the first family death I had ever dealt with. It was difficult, but expected. I miss her every day. Losing my Grandpa David on my dad’s side was not expected, especially in that way. Then again, how can you ever expect that?
I always pictured myself being like my Grandpa David when I got older. I looked up to him. He was a man I idolized for his sense of humor, intelligence, caring and kind attitude that always made you feel better. He was the classiest individual, with the brightest smile. He was skinny like me, he was bald — soon to be like me — and one of the nicest human beings on this earth, which I’m trying to be.
My grandpa wrote a lot. He may have even written more than me, and I’m a journalist. As I mentioned, this whole thing was a shock, and him not writing a note made it even more strange. When I moved back to Michigan from Montana with no job, my grandpa would text me almost every day with placeholder job ideas until I found a journalism position. He would always encourage me to follow my dreams, no matter where that may have taken me.
We could talk over the phone regularly about sports, life, jobs, news, anything. Heck, only being an hour's drive away, my brother and I would go over to my grandparents’ house and just hang out with them, whether it was to devour my grandma’s amazing cooking or just laugh. A lot of my childhood was spent at my grandparents’ house, too, and those were some of the best memories of my life.
I won’t go into details, mainly because I don’t want to and much of it I choose not to know, but my Grandma Judy, his wife, is one strong woman. She’s a great cook, an awesome puzzle-maker and a diehard sports fan with many complaints about the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings, Michigan football and Michigan basketball. More importantly, she’s an even better person. From talking to her last year to talking to her now, she’s come a long way, and I’m extremely proud of her. She’s one tough cookie — which reminds me, I could really go for one of her homemade chocolate chip cookies.
This next passage I wrote on my personal Twitter page a few days after I was finally able to console myself, but I want to share it. Some of it will be repeated, but I think it’s important, and I still stand by these thoughts. He didn’t want an obituary, nor did he want a funeral, but this is my ode to him. He may not want me to write this and tell this story, but I'm confident he's looking down and is very proud of what me, my brother and my cousins have become. I'm tearing up as I write this, but I like sharing with the readers who I am, where I come from and what I’m about.
Asking what went wrong and why is something I’ll never get an answer to. But I do know no better man existed on this earth than my Grandpa David. He was one of the most compassionate, caring, loving, generous, empathetic, funny and sweet people I will ever know. He was my idol. He was someone I wanted to be like not only as I got older, but how I carry myself on a day-to-day basis.
My brother and I would could go over to our grandparents just to hang out. That’s how wonderful they are. When we’d go over there, we would always leave with something, whether it was a little gas money, some advice and certainly a lot of laughs. But most of what I left with in my 27-year experience with him and what I learned from him is how to be a better man.
My grandpa always had a smile on his face. I can’t think of one time where I never saw that smile. It was the best thing about him.
As it turned out, though, behind that smile was pain, pain that nobody knew about. While my grandpa was always the first one to reach out a helping hand to help you or anyone else, he was the one who needed it most.
At first, I was angry. A part of me thinks I always will be at those unknowns. While I wish I could have seen through that smile to understand what was going on, I’m not going to dwell on that. The grandpa that I knew was a hero.
Other than that one awful day, I wouldn’t change a thing about any part of my life experience with my grandpa. I don’t think any of his grandchildren feel any differently.
My life will never be the same without him, but I will always be a better person because of him.
— Devlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.