It’s the end of the day and we are just taking some time to dial it down. The sun lazily slips down the skyline and the warm hues of dusk kiss the horizon. Jami and I are sitting on the back patio that looks over our back yard. I can smell fresh cut grass. We are talking about our day. Just spending time enjoying each other. Jami is talking about school, her friends, plans she is making for the near future… Then there is a loud noise that comes from inside the house. It startles me, so I turn my attention away from Jami and look inside the house. Nothing out of the ordinary inside…
“I’m sorry,” I say, turning my attention once again back to Jami.
“It’s ok,” Jami says. “I am not really here anyways.”
Since Jami’s death nine years ago, I have had all kinds of dreams. Mostly nightmares re – living the horrific experience of discovering my daughter had sunk so deeply into despair that she could no longer bear the thought of living one more minute… The dis belief… the frantic, desperate attempts to try and sustain her faint heartbeat until the ambulance arrives… The dread of knowing she will not make it and this will be the last memory I will ever make with her…
But this dream, the one where we are just spending time together… It is by far the best dream. A dream I would love to have again. Up until the unidentified noise that distracts me, we are comfortably resting in each other’s presence.
When I found out that I was going to be a father, I knew my life would change and I felt up to the challenge. I was only 18 and I knew it was up to me to dig in and take care of my responsibilities. No time for typical college life… I had a wife and daughter to think of and therefore, my priorities were a lot different than the majority of those I attended college with.
Provide for your family. Simple enough, right? It’s what you do as a man, your first instinct. Most people translate “providing for a family” as to earning a good living and ensuring that you make their lives better and easier in the future. Providing.
The problem is- time. In our mad dash to make lives better for our loved ones, it’s easy to miss sight of what you are actually taking away, and it’s the one thing you can’t put a price on and can never retrieve. Cell phones, computers, cars, all the things you never had growing up, you can provide. I’m doing well; therefore my family is doing well. But these are merely tangible things. I would trade it all a thousand times over for just one fraction of a second more with Jami. Time is a very expensive commodity, and just because you’re spending it, doesn’t mean it’s of quality. You can’t simply focus on the immediate communications, you have to learn a person, understand them. Yeah, I knew my Jami… But I don’t think I understood her. I think if I had, maybe things would have been different. If I had been there more, not just a bank account. Would things have been better? I don’t know. I’ll never know. No matter how hard I wish it.
Jami LeeAnn Mader took her own life on March 22, 2005.
I was feeling “off” all day, something was just…wrong. I found her that night. At the hospital, after the doctor’s pronouncement, I had to make the worst phone call anyone could possibly make, to Jami’s grandmother, to tell her she had outlived her sixteen year old granddaughter. My mother uttered the same, time-honored one word query: “Why?” Yes, ‘why’ indeed… Like throwing mud at a wet wall or herding cats, it is a question beyond all matters of sensibility, futile and ultimately base. All you’re really left with is memories, and the unending dread that sometime, somewhere, maybe you could have done something different, or better…something to change what’s already happened.
To truly understand someone, you need to be right next to them, and, quite frankly, I wasn’t. I knew Jami’s likes, her dislikes, I knew her. But I worked on the road quite often, and made the all too common mistake of replacing time with money and things, when, in all reality, all she and my wife Michelle wanted was a piece of me. Unintentionally absent, misplaced intentions, the list can go on, and to no avail. It is my sincerest wish to just have more time.
Anymore, I choose to remember the good things, mostly; the vacations, birthdays, holidays. But imbedded in those are the times that weren’t so good, a little tiff here and there, minor in hindsight, though disciplinary measures designed to make her a better person, or, such was the idea. Did it really matter? No, not really. Petty, even. Yet another lesson, you just wish there was a different way to learn it. But you do learn, every day. You don’t have to like it, but you learn to live with it.
Jami’s peers and friends are adults now, starting families of their own. I still see them from time to time, and it breaks my heart. After Jami’s death, Michelle and I did not know what to do with her stuff. She had a lot of friends from all sides of the social spectrum. We decided to invite her closest friends to come to our home to collect a keepsake from her room. Without questions or debate, nobody wanted the same item, all leaving with something different, hopefully the piece of her that mattered most to them.
How has this situation brought me closer to God? At first, I was swallowed whole by a deep, angry sea of despair and hopelessness, convinced I’d never see the light of day again. But I kept hearing this voice deep inside of me, saying that I was wrong. Telling me that there is still hope and life is still worth living. It relentlessly challenged me to fight against the waves of hopelessness, urging me to choose to live and to learn from Jami’s life and death. It compelled me to tell her story and make this world a better place. It placed a burning desire in me to reach out to those who, like Jami, find themselves in deep despair and let them know there is Hope; you just have to choose to believe in it, even when you cannot see it. It pursued me. It would not allow me to give up. That voice, that relentless voice… That was God. He was the rope I clung to that pulled me out of the hopelessness I felt. He never quit telling me that there was still Hope. He assured me that I will see Jami again. There is not a day that goes by where I do not miss her and long to be with her.
I will leave you with this: If your child has or shows signs of depression, you need to pay attention. Medication and therapy are not the only answers, it all begins at home. Talk to them, ask them scary questions, and expect scary answers. Just be a part of their life, be their support. Don’t be in the corner of “why”, and “we’ll never know.” I’m still asking “why”, and it is still answered with “I’ll never know”. Love God, love life, love your family, love others, and be selfless. These are just a few of the lessons Jami taught me, then, now, and forever. Gone, but still here. Still here.