It happened when I was twelve. When my father took his life, I was watching TV.

DOTHAN—There’s a festival on North Saint Andrews Street. Hordes of people. Families. Face painting. Popcorn. Fried catfish. Beer. Bluegrass. Laughter. Kids everywhere.

The Blayne Hardy Barfield Foundation is throwing a Family Fun Day.

The foundation is named after Blayne Barfield, a young woman who committed suicide four years ago. I ask Blayne’s husband why he started this foundation.

“For my little girl,” he answers. “To break the silence, man. I want people to know that they can talk about it. ”

I meet a few who do.

One lady is watching the band, eating coleslaw and hushpuppies. She has cropped silver hair and a bright sundress.

“My son took his own life,” she says. “He was twenty-eight, wanted to be an actor, or anything involved with movies.”

She shows pictures on a cellphone.

A few moments later, I am standing in line for the restrooms. I meet a girl. She is wearing a T-shirt with the word “cowgirl” on the front. She is early twenties, cheerful.

She says, “Yeah, I was the one who found my mother after she… Well… It was bad. I was sixteen, and I’m just now starting to talk about it, my therapist says I should.”

She speaks to me like I am a friend. Because I am a friend.

In fact, I am just like her.

I was twelve. When my father took his life, I was watching TV in another county.

At the exact moment the shotgun blast blew a hole through my uncle’s roof, I was watching the commissioner of Major League Baseball announce that the World Series would be cancelled that year.

The universe has a strange irony to it.

That night, the minister helped my mother break the news to me. He sat beside the fireplace and seemed nervous. I didn’t know what he was about to say.

When he finally did say it, my reaction was delayed. At first I felt nothing. All I could think of was baseball. Then my thoughts gave way to pure shock. My face went white. I began hyperventilating. And I tried to run.

I tried to open our front door, so I could sprint away. But my mother wouldn’t let me. They pinned me down. I cried on the wood floor.

That was a lifetime ago, and it doesn’t hurt that bad anymore.

But I still think of my father. Every day, in fact. I still remember the tiny things about him.

For example: I remember a wedding reception he took me to. I was six. One of his hillbilly coworkers was getting married. There was a party band on a stage.

My father always believed I could sing, I don’t know why. And that night, he was convinced that if the band could just hear me, they would let me sing a few.

When the musicians took a smoke break by the dumpster, my father annoyed them. He made wild claims about how well his boy sang.

Finally, just to shut my father up, they agreed to let me audition.

In the alleyway I sang “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” with as much twang as I could muster.

The next thing I knew, I was onstage, singing for the newlywed couple’s first dance. People cheered. The bride twirled.

But I hardly remember it. All I recall is looking into an audience and seeing him. He was young. Lean. And beautiful. Smiling at me.

“Why did he do it?” That’s the most common question people ask about his death. They have been asking since the day it happened.

“I don’t know” is the answer. My father never left a note, he never entrusted his secrets to anyone. The man went his whole life without ever talking.

A lot of people do the same thing.

So, even though today’s family festival is full of balloon animals, hush puppies, and laughter, there is something more beneath the surface. All you have to do is look around. Which is what I’m doing.

I see a crowd gathering before the stage. People start applauding.

A man with a guitar approaches the microphone and says, “Thanks for coming to Family Fun Day!”

Then, the man welcomes a little girl to the stage. A band gathers behind her and begins to play.

The girl sings with just enough twang in her voice to break your heart. Her father is smiling. Everyone is smiling.

The woman beside me points a cellphone camera at the girl. She turns to me and says, “It’s just too bad her mother isn’t alive to see this.”

It is too bad.

In fact, it’s a crying shame.

Please talk to someone. Anyone. You know who you are.

29 comments

  1. Keloth Anne - May 19, 2019 10:09 am

    Sending thoughts and hugs♥️♥️
    Thank you for sharing your heart and caring so much!!!

    Reply
  2. Connie Havard Ryland - May 19, 2019 11:32 am

    Pain eats you alive from the inside out. My heart aches for the families left behind. I’m sure that void is deep and wide. Your mom must be an exceptional woman. You grew up well, full of love and talent. I’m glad you use your voice to encourage people to talk. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  3. Steve Bailey - May 19, 2019 12:09 pm

    Good Stuff.

    Reply
  4. Carol Heidbreder - May 19, 2019 12:51 pm

    One of my children’s friends as a young adult, well , you know….. He had lot of sadness in his home life, seemed to be better, then….This was over 20 years ago and I still wonder what I missed and how I could have “mothered” him better. A sadness that never goes away. Thank you for addressing this. Who knows who you touched today that may save a life. I admire your courage ! You have walked that path and know all to well this loss and pain, and wondering. Keep eight on touching us, Sean! It’s always good!

    Reply
  5. Shelton A. - May 19, 2019 12:56 pm

    I was the one who had to go upstairs and find my Dad dead (my mom was too scared to go look)-he died of natural causes, but I had to go and see and check for life signs (which a stupid city cop used to accuse me of my father’s death until his shift commander arrived who knew me, and sent the idiot back to the station to await discipline…if I’d had a gun, I would have killed that cop for his accusations. I don’t know what it’s like for a suicide but I’d be willing to listen-I came close enough to have some empathy.

    Reply
  6. Amanda - May 19, 2019 1:06 pm

    Your detailed memories of your father are amazing and wonderful! SOS (Survivors of Suicide) taught me that the simplest answer is that the person’s pain is unbearable and this seems like the only relief to end the pain. Of course, that’s not the ONLY “reason”. And, we can never know definitively. However, sympathizing with their pain helps diffuse our anger, grief, and pain. SOS has chapters in many major cities. Their support is for those of us left behind. I found them or they found me almost 30 years ago when my best friend died. I only attended 1 or 2 meetings, but it set me on a course of acceptance and pointed me in the right direction. TALKING, LISTENING, AND LEARNING ARE THE KEYS to this acceptance.

    Reply
  7. Gerri Johnson - May 19, 2019 1:25 pm

    It’s despair, Sean. The world is so dark that you can’t even tell you’re in a tunnel, let alone that there’s a light at the end of it. And it’s this way and it’s always gonna be this way and absolutely nothing you can do will change it – no matter how hard you’ve tried. So you may as well die now and get it over with and end the pain. And no, you’re not thinking straight and you’re not thinking about the one’s who’ll be left behind. Or if you do, you just figure they’ll be better off without you. I have a semi-colon tattoo on my left wrist now. After I explain what it means, I tell people it’s on my left wrist because I’m right handed. And then I tell them how my dog saved me by licking that wrist right before I started cutting. He stopped me and made me think just long enough about the ones I’d be leaving behind – including him – that I’ve never tried again. I sought treatment and I’m on meds now. They help, but sometimes…

    Thanks for sharing your story and your pain and thereby raising awareness Sean. You’ve saved lives today.

    Reply
    • Janet Mary Lee - May 19, 2019 6:31 pm

      Gerry, you are a brave and caring soul. I am glad you shared your awareness.

      Reply
    • Karen - May 19, 2019 11:17 pm

      Gerry, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Please know you are loved by those of us who have never even met you. Please reach out to someone when you feel this way. I am sending love and prayers to you today and every day from now on. Please stay on your meds and continue your treatment. You are not alone and you are loved.

      Reply
  8. Edna B. - May 19, 2019 1:27 pm

    Personal loss like this is rough to get through. But we do with help from friends and family. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  9. Joe Patterson - May 19, 2019 2:19 pm

    So sorry thanks again no words can replace your loss

    Reply
  10. Linda Moon - May 19, 2019 5:07 pm

    “Oh, What A Crying Shame” – the Mavericks. And, I know who “we” are, Sean.

    Reply
  11. Janet Mary Lee - May 19, 2019 6:45 pm

    A truly important post.For yourself and so many. Your Father sounded like a very sensitive and deeply aware man. And sometimes for a split second that can be just overwhelming. He left the best part of himself in you, as did and does your Mom. You would not be who you are today without so many factors, be they hard or more easy going. You are a Blessing to so many, as is your column. Healing is available to your father and I know he is looking down with pride and love, (and yes. regrets) where he is. Do not doubt it for a minute. You know..love NEVER ends! ((Hugs))..

    Reply
  12. JRR - May 19, 2019 6:58 pm

    Your column hit close to me. My father was from Dothan but lived in MD. most of his life. He committed suicide many years ago in MD. and today’s column affected me. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  13. Annie Walsh - May 19, 2019 7:06 pm

    Thank You!

    Reply
  14. Ala Red Clay Girl - May 19, 2019 9:40 pm

    Sean, thank you for sharing this. Suicide is happening all too often now, and it often leaves a lifetime of devastation behind in its wake. Even though we have social media at our fingertips and people all around us, I think some individuals are more isolated than ever. And if you have the “devil on your back” being isolated is the worst position to be in. People at risk need to talk and the rest of us need to listen, closely and carefully. Life is worth living!

    Reply
  15. Michael Hawke - May 19, 2019 10:57 pm

    Amen. I hate I missed your visit.

    Reply
  16. Karen - May 19, 2019 11:18 pm

    Sean, God bless you for sharing your thoughts that help so many. Thank you.

    Reply
  17. Jack Darnell - May 20, 2019 1:47 am

    I am sure they want to talk, BUT JUST CANNOT! I wonder why?

    Sherry & jack in NC

    Reply
  18. Michael D. Bignoli - May 20, 2019 3:06 am

    It was indeed an eventful day at the Plant. The young girl actually did a sound check with the duo from Luverne when I first got there. When I got home, the wife busted a gut when I retold the Texan and the Tick story!

    Reply
  19. Debo - May 20, 2019 3:40 am

    Thanks Sean. My father also took his life 30 years ago. He was a quiet and private man who spoke little, so of course there was no note. What a strange idea of coming together for a family fun day based on suicide.

    Reply
  20. Charaleen Wright - May 20, 2019 5:03 am

    Reply
  21. Lisa - May 20, 2019 9:44 pm

    I have walked this path. My brother took his life 13 days before his 26th birthday. That was 30 years ago.

    Reply
  22. JB - May 28, 2019 4:15 pm

    I grew up in Dothan. So did my brother. He took his own life when he was only 21, his entire life ahead of him. Thank you for sharing your story and encouraging others to do the same. Thank you to the man who started this festival in the Peanut Capital of the World so others can share and encourage each other. God bless all of you who have similar stories and lost loved ones. Take care of each other.

    Reply
  23. Mary - June 16, 2019 11:04 pm

    This has been sitting waiting to be read and it just happens to be Father’s Day. Quite a tear jerker. So in memory and honor of those dads, Happy Father’s Day.

    Reply
  24. Marsha M Clark - June 19, 2019 11:12 am

    Thank you for your story. My son’s were 13 and 11 when their Dad committed suicide. It has left a lifelong wound that will take eternity to heal. Gone but not forgotten.

    Reply
  25. Joy M Petree - June 19, 2019 1:49 pm

    I am sorry for your suffering, Sean. You did not deserve the pain your poor dad could not manage. I am sorry he could not know not only that his young son could sing, but that he would grow into an incredible wordsmith. You have adoring fans, and I am in that number.

    Reply
  26. ScottBerry - June 19, 2019 6:07 pm

    thank you for your stories.I have enjoyed them all,even though they sometimes bring tears.I lost a cousin,my wife lost her brother.Don’t know why.

    Reply
  27. Pat Patterson - June 25, 2019 9:56 pm

    Thank you for writing this, it’s been 44 years since my mother took her life. Somedays I remember her and wonder why, then others I look at my kids and grandchildren and wish she could have met them..Its tough sometimes to look back and wonder why.

    Reply

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