“I still look for your footprints
I tell everyone this is where you’re from”
It’s been a couple weeks now that I didn’t have to listen to YouTube videos to remember what your voice sounds like. I don’t think I’ll ever have enough pictures of you. You’d be so mad if you knew there were videos on the internet of you. That’s okay, though. They’re on an account I made in middle school with strict privacy settings so only I can see them. They’ve been getting me by for the past couple years, especially during chemotherapy last year.
I don’t think I can keep forgoing this letter. It’s been 6 years since I got pulled out of English class to be told that they found your body floating in a rural Wisconsin lake. I don’t think any amount of acknowledgement of suicide statistics at 14 years old would have prepared me for losing a parent on the second day of your first year of high school.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s latest data, white men ages 45-54 account for the highest suicide rates among the entire population. You were 46 years too young.
I couldn’t begin to imagine the pain you must have been going through. This was actually the first time I have ever seen you put your own needs before mine or someone else’s. That’s the problem.
The pride you held in being autonomous, independent, and unneeded of anyone’s help was catastrophic damage to your mental health. Knowing you grew up without a father made you work endlessly to be the greatest dad you ever could for me no matter what. For that, I thank you. Because you definitely were. But I would have never intended for you to sideline taking care of yourself first.
Losing you has taught me many hard lessons over the years. I don’t think grieving will ever be a linear process when a parent commits suicide. There’s no closure.
I spend a lot of time thinking about what I could have possibly done differently so that you would still be here, for your candid advice on the rough parts of life, and about your wonderful sense of humor. I think that’s where I got mine from.
In every event in my life, I look for signs of you. From the positives: military graduations, to prom, to pageants, to high school graduation, sending me off to college, or even getting married on Friday… to the negatives: losing family friends to senseless car accidents, getting diagnosed with cancer, and figuring out where I’ll end up someday without the step-by-step navigation on how to get there. Knowing that you’re always with me in my heart feels like a consolation prize. So that’s why I have your memory tattooed on top of one of my port scars instead.
I know none of it is my fault.
If there’s anything you should know, you never failed. You still continue to guide me through my life posthumously. At a very young age, you taught me humility, integrity, candor, and compassion. I continue to carry these values with me in every element of my decisions even made in the future. Even if you felt like you screwed up on just about everything, I think I turned out pretty okay, given the cards that were stacked pretty high against me.
I can’t wait to tell your grandchildren someday about you and your long red 80’s hair, that you raised me on Disturbed, that story you would tell me about the catfish that you and Scott and Robin fished out of the golf course in Scottsdale a thousand times when you took me fishing, that the angry puppy you found on a gun range lived through hell and 17 years on this earth (seriously, he was Betty White in dog years), and that you never failed to be so proud of me when I brought you a drawing that not even I could understand.
Thanks for all the memories. As I will be watching one of your friends be buried this week after losing his long and hard battle with MS, it will be relieving to know you’re not alone up there.
I’m happy you’re not in pain anymore.
Sheyla Pee Wee
Steven Michael Lee
Gone too soon
Loving Father, Brother, Uncle, and Friend
If you’re having thoughts about suicide, just know that you’re not alone. The Suicide Lifeline is open 24/7 to help. Call 1 (800) 273-8255 or use the online chat option at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.