My son has an uncle he has never met. I have a picture of that uncle hanging in his room. A picture of a vibrant young man climbing the rocks of Red River Gorge with a gargantuan smile plastered on his sweaty face. The picture hangs on the wall just above Baby C’s changing table, along with other pictures of family and friends. Baby C points to the pictures and identifies each person he knows and loves. “That’s bubby! That’s Granny! That’s grandma! That’s grandpa! That’s Uncle Revis! That’s Pappaw.”

I’ve recently made an effort to ensure Baby C knows just who it is in that picture. “That’s big Baby C,” I tell him. “That’s mommy’s bubby.” Now, if I point to the picture on the wall he can tell me exactly who it is. He doesn’t really understand who that is yet, but in time he will.

My sweet, precious Baby C is named after that uncle. He even answers to the same nickname his uncle did when his uncle was a wee lad. He has some of the very same characteristics as this uncle he has never met. Tales of his uncle’s antics have been passed along by his mother. What stands out the most among his uncle’s traits is how finicky he was with food. Much like his uncle before him, Baby C’s diet consists mainly of peanut butter sandwiches, strawberries, apples, and chocolate milk.

But he’s never met the man climbing rocks in that picture, and he never will.

I have never met Baby C’s uncle either. In November of 2006, just a few short weeks before Baby C’s mother and I began dating, Baby C’s uncle shot himself in the face with a 12 gauge. I’ll spare you any other details because they are just too gruesome to fathom.

If there’s anything worse than losing a loved one, it’s losing a loved one to suicide. For years I stood helplessly by while Baby C’s mother cycled between depression and anger over her brother’s death. She would become depressed because he was gone. Then she would become angry that he never considered how she and the rest of the people who loved him might feel if he were gone.

In the years since, she can look back and see the telltale signs of mental illness. He was depressed and untreated. He used recreational drugs and drank often. She and her mother would look back and openly wonder if he would still be here if they had acted on those signs. Encouraged him to seek help. If only they had done that one thing differently…

I began walking in memory of the brother-in-law I never met the following year. I, with the exception of the year my ex-wife was pregnant with Baby C, have walked every year since 2007 in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Out of the Darkness walks. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a nonprofit organization which raises funds mainly for two things. They have support programs for suicide survivors (both those who have lost a loved one to suicide and those who have survived a suicide attempt), and they also help fund research into mental illness. 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental health diagnosis.

After seeing the havoc this suicide had on my ex-wife, her family, and her brother’s friends, I couldn’t NOT become involved. An entire community of people felt this loss and to this day I have yet to meet someone who knew him that doesn’t have warm feelings and fond memories of him. He was well-loved and many people were shocked and surprised by his untimely death.

As I’ve grown older and finally accepted my own mental health diagnosis, my reasons for supporting AFSP have evolved. I still walk in memory of my son’s uncle, but I also walk in support of myself and others I love who have mental health diagnoses. Mainly, I walk for my sons. The twins have mental illness on both sides of their family tree. I have depression. My mother is bipolar. My mother also has cousins who have succumbed to suicide. The twins’ mother attempted suicide at least once right in front of me, and threatened suicide many times over while I knew her. The twins’ aunt attempted suicide once. Their maternal grandfather is a drug addict and alcoholic. Baby C also has mental health diagnoses on both sides of his family, as well.

I worry about my children and the faults they’ve inherited in their genes. I remember one morning when the twins were 8 years old we were watching SportsCenter before school and they ran a story about a retired athlete who had lost all three of his children to suicide. All three. They all became addicted to some sort of drug or another (likely to self-medicate undiagnosed mental illnesses) and eventually took their own lives. I can not recall the name of the athlete, but as I watched the story I couldn’t help but think of my innocent, blue-eyed little boys watching along with me, no doubt without an inking of understanding as to what they were watching. I broke down. I had an ugly cry, and they, bewildered, asked me why I was crying. That led to our first talk about mental health. I confessed to them that my wife’s brother, whom they never got to meet either, committed suicide under the very same circumstances as this athlete’s children. I held them close and told them I couldn’t bear the thought of ever losing them.

Since then the twins and I have had many more talks. Just recently I discussed with them their mother’s suicide attempt. I have had my mom (bipolar) talk to them about her experiences with mental illness. I want them to know what to look for and when to ask for help. They are why I walk now. I hope the money I raise can lead to a greater understanding of the mind and its illnesses. I hope that my children, all children, can benefit from my effort and the efforts of everyone else associated with AFSP. My hope is that neither I nor any other parent will ever be left questioning why their child decided to take their own life.

So I ask you, dear reader, to contribute to my cause. I know many of you suffer from depression. Some of you know people who have committed or attempted suicide. Some of you have attempted suicide yourselves. The money raised will benefit us all. I implore you to get involved with AFSP if there is a chapter in your area. Join the walks. Raise your own money. Raise awareness. Find your own reason to walk.

Please click here to donate.

I realize I’m a day late with this, but Big Baby C would have turned 40 years old yesterday. Happy birthday Big Baby C, wherever you are. I hope that you are watching your nephew grow and laughing along with me as he cracks his jokes and just acts plain silly. I hope you have found the peace that eluded you while you were here.