Lessons from Tragic Loss

This past week has been very emotional. March 3rd marks two years since my nephew’s death. I think back to that time of the turmoil our family was in, all that time in the hospital, first getting good news, then having that news turn bad. And knowing it was out of our hands. There was nothing we could do except hope. Hope against hope that he would make it. But that was not ours to own. It was Tyler’s. And he’d made the decision to leave this world.

I’ve raged against this loss. Not understanding it, not wanting it. But this is our reality. The black dark truth that this beautiful soul will no longer live among us. The pain is nothing like I’ve ever experienced. It’s unbearable; yet must be bared.

Those weeks that followed I would wake up from sleep thinking I’d get a mulligan and we’d be able to save Tyler. Then that horrible awareness would come over me with the stark dark reality that he’s really gone. And that cavernous, unbearable sorrow would fill me again.

I’ve had more time to feel and think about this than I care to have known. But there are two important lessons that I have learned in walking this life since his death. I’m sharing them with you because someday, it might be useful to you.

The hardest part to deal with is that no one really knew how dark a place Tyler was in. Who would expect an varsity basketball player who was admired by his peers, loved by his family, and not interested in drugs or alcohol, to want to leave earth permanently. At the age of 17. With his whole life before him. This haunts me. For some, resiliency is not an innate quality.

We knew he got anxious about things, but didn’t understand the depth or how severely he was affected by them. The signs were there. We didn’t understand them. Not like now. Hind sight is 20/20. I’d do things differently. The whole family would. Rarely do you get second chances in life. And this is what I wanted to share.

Lesson One

Pay attention. Listen. Watch. Look between and beyond the signs and the words. Especially if behavior is erratic, abnormal, or different. Your radar needs to be on high alert. People who suffer with anxiety or depression can do it with a smile on their face. Look people in the eyes, deeply. If I’d have known–if anyone had known–Tyler would choose suicide, because whatever it was that was haunting him, as his only act of reason to escape–we may have been able to intervene. I believe with all my heart he would have been able to move through this. There were forces working against him that were beyond his control. Even the love of his brothers couldn’t keep him anchored to earth. This breaks my heart. Because we didn’t know how bad it was. We didn’t understand his internal struggle.

Be vigilant. Do not take for granted what you don’t know or understand. Ask questions. Offer help. But most of all be compassionate and listen. If there’s no words to be spoken then be there, silently offering support. You could be saving a life.

Lesson Two

When his school mates received the news they were shocked, surprised, bewildered. His basketball teammates were devastated. They put ribbons, flowers, and trinkets at a fence on school property. His initials and basketball number was written with ribbon next to his senior picture. There were so many notes from kids speaking of love, words of kindness, and shared stories. Stories telling about knowing Tyler in a math class, or always seeing him in the hall with that smile, or stories of how Tyler helped, inspired, encouraged someone to be better. The sad reality of this is he didn’t know. He didn’t know these kids saw him in this way or felt that way about him. Many cards, notes, and posters were left at my sister’s house telling the same type of stories. How Tyler had some positive impact on their life. They’ll never forget what he did, the person he was, the kindness he always showed.

This brings me to my second lesson. It’s so sad that Tyler had no idea how people felt about him. He knew his close family loved him. But he had no idea the depth of affection from acquaintances, friends, or even the admiration from strangers. None. These cards and notes came too late. They were what Tyler needed to hear. Instead, we read them and wept. The bitterest tears shed are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.

Speak up about your affections and admiration’s for people or kindness received from people. Even if it’s someone you don’t know well. It’s okay to tell them, “Wow, that smile just made my day; I always see you with a smile” or “I appreciate you noticing I needed help”. If a person affects you in a positive way, no matter how small, express it. Don’t hold it in. You may be saving a life.

From donations received from the community, a bench is dedicated in Tyler’s honor at the basketball courts at Stagecoach Park, near his high school. A tree was planted that will eventually grow to shade the area. It is a communal place where he and his teammates frequented, shooting hoops and playing ball.

I was always rooting for him. In my grief I came up with an idea to create a soap in honor and memory of him. It’s stamped with his initials and basketball number, TD12. It’s named after something he used to say, “It’s good for my happy”. Why do you want to do that Tyler? “It’s good for my happy.” What a lovely sentiment. #TD12Forever.

Forever your champion,


P.s. I made a video talking about these two life lessons and the experiences that surround them. You can click the link to watch.

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