Thank you to the Kennedy Forum for all the great work they are doing for mental health awareness.
If you love someone hug them right now.
This was the first time I talked, in public, about my dad. He died by suicide in 2010. I cried while I wrote this speech. I cried when I rehearsed it. I knew I would probably cry while giving the speech. Thank you, Kate for all your love, and help on stage, and off. Thank you, Kennedy Forum, for giving me a safe space. Thank you, to my family, and friends, for all the love, support, and kind words. Thank you to everyone who is trying to be better, be more kind, and love each other.
I will include the speech written out after the embed of the video.
I do talk about music. And lyrics. I’m, after all, a music guy. Thank you to all the music makers. You have no idea how much you help me. I only had so much time and I left so many lyrics on the cutting room floor. My entire speech could have been relevant lyrics. Thank you Pearl Jam, Alexi Murdoch, and Frank Turner. I even went off script to wish a happy birthday to Kate, via Cracker.
If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for more additional resources.
If you love someone hug them right now. That is the end of the story. Ok not the end. Because if it were the end I wouldn’t be standing here on stage right? It’s definitely not the beginning. I mean where do I even begin to tell this story? So many places would make sense. I could tell you my dad was born in Kankakee Illinois. I could start when I was born and he and my mom adopted me. I could start when Kate and I got married. I could start with a phone call. But for now…I’m starting my speech this way. If you love someone… hug them right now. That’s how I end every radio show I host… and there’s a good reason.
So it’s December 19, 2010. Six days before Christmas. Let me set the scene. Christmas songs are playing over our speaker system in our house. The first floor is cleared of furniture. The caterers are in our kitchen cooking. A bartender is getting the bar ready. Our Christmas party starts in an hour. I’m not dressed for the party yet so I’m racing around and just about to run upstairs to change. This party had become an annual tradition and we invited a lot of friends and neighbors.
Ring. Ring. It’s the phone.
I say hello and there’s a pause on the other end. My brother in law hears the Christmas music… and says “I can’t do this to you right now.” I know something’s very wrong. I say what? Tell me! And then I throw the phone as hard as I can across the room. I run out the door and I don’t stop running.
I’m on the stairs when I hear Chris scream. I see him throw the phone. He’s yelling the F word at the top of his lungs as he runs out of the house. The phone landed on the couch and I’m shaking as I pick it up. “Who is this?? What’s happening?”
It’s my brother in law. He speaks one sentence. I won’t repeat exactly what he said. But he tells me John Breault- Chris’ dad- has died by suicide. And now I’m yelling “No no no”
The caterers are standing there looking really concerned. My kids have now come downstairs and see me sobbing. God bless the caterer who took them away. And the one who got on a computer and helped me book flights to Chicago.
I remember the last time I saw Papa. He drove us to the airport that Thanksgiving- just a few weeks before. Papa always picked us up and dropped us off. I still to this day…my heart stops when he’s not there at O’hare. Last night- he wasn’t there.
After that Thanksgiving visit the car stopped at O’Hare. We got out. We started getting our gear out of the car onto the sidewalk. I gave him a hug and said thank you and this was a great visit. We’ll see you soon.
John was the guy who would do anything for anyone. You need your garage painted he’s there. Mow the lawn? Check. Fix a leak. Yep.
Outwardly, he was a jovial, carefree happy-go-lucky guy. He did Donald Duck voices to make his grandkids laugh. He loved to take us out for beers and order the appetizer sampler platter.
My dad would call…usually after a bears game…hey chris how about that play in the second quarter…or wow what a comeback. And then he’d hand the phone off. Here’s your mother…
We all knew my dad was struggling with depression in 2010. But we didn’t understand the depth of it. He was in treatment. But he was being treated by his general practitioner not a specialist. We had no idea, no clue what was coming.
Depression lies. It tells people that their family and friends will be better off when they’re gone. Depression tells them that we’ll be relieved. Depression tells them they won’t be a burden anymore.
But that’s all wrong.
Throwing this out there. Imagine if you could see your own funeral. Hear me out… you can hear and see the people that love you. Care about you.
Papa’s wake was an awful day. And a beautiful day.
The outpouring of love and kindness for my dad was overwhelming. The line literally went out the door. People stood in line for hours to pay their last respects. It wasn’t just family, friends and former co-workers. It was the guys from Ace Hardware. It was the baggers from the Jewel grocery store.
I went out to go to the bathroom at one point. Someone from a different wake looked at the line and asked me- “did the mayor die?”
There were so many people there the funeral home had to stay open an extra 90 minutes just to make sure everyone got their chance.
After my dad’s funeral, we gathered for a meal with our extended family. We decided this would be a good place to have our family remember John. When It was my turn I talked about the many ways someone could be judged in life. Work. Money. Fame. But I suggested we should focus on John’s real legacy- his kids. How he raised us and the adults we turned into.
Anyone who knows me— In person. Or Online. Knows I love music. I’ll often say “live music is good for your soul” or “new music keeps you young at heart.”. In certain moments – ok – most moments my mind goes to music lyrics. My speech about my dad was no different.
After I talked about each of my siblings I played
Alexi Murdoch’s “Orange Sky”.
The lyrics go:
I had a dream
I stood beneath an orange sky
With my brother standing by
I said Brother, you know
It’s a long road we’ve been walking on
And I had a dream
I stood beneath an orange sky
With my sister standing by
I said Sister, here is what I know now
Goes like this.
In your love, my salvation lies
Our family is painfully aware that love is our salvation.
We all blamed ourselves. I’ve learned that’s really common and really unproductive. What did we miss? What if? So many What Ifs.
Chris and I had been going through our own grief that Thanksgiving. We had just had a miscarriage. Now this tremendous loss.
Chris was struggling. And there was a point when I think we both realized that we were either gonna hold each other tight and get through this or our marriage would be in trouble.
We decided as a family that we wouldn’t shy away from talking about what happened. At first that was just within our family… but as months passed, I realized there were a lot of stories about mental health, substance abuse and suicide that deserved to be told. We needed to shine a light. So I started pitching those stories at work.
In 2013 I came to Chicago and rode along with police as we watched kids from the western suburbs ride in on the commuter train and pick up heroin. In 2014 I pushed for a series of reports about the heroin epidemic. We won an Emmy.
And in 2015 I interviewed Zelda Williams after her father Robin Williams died. I asked our family if it would be OK to mention on air that our family had suffered the same kind of loss. And this family- to their credit- urged me to use my public platform to help reduce the stigma around all of this.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention saw that segment and invited me to host their gala and speak about our experience. And after Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s death last year we shared even more.
Did I mention I like music?
Frank Turner wrote a song called “If I Ever Stray”.
“The path I chose isn’t straight and narrow
It wanders around like a drunken fellow.
Some days it’s hard for me to follow
But if you’ve got my back I’ll go on.
If you’ve got my back I’ll go on.”
Family has your back. Friends have your back. And sometimes total strangers can have your back.
That’s what it is to build a community of support. And we believe that’s what this country needs. We need more conversation about the toughest topics.
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece for USA Today.
I started by saying- I’m doing the best I can.
Chris and I are not embarrassed to tell you we’ve been in therapy. From December until last week we were in a parenting skills group. Parenting two teenagers is tough stuff.
We learned so much. We learned that we can stumble and still love our kids. We can be sad that Chris’ dad is gone and still remember his Donald Duck impersonation and laugh.
Just adding that word AND makes a difference.
It’s a big word.
Chris was at a conference earlier this year and a speaker was talking about AND in meetings.
They did an exercise where they had to come up with a party idea…and add to it with AND. Like— We should have cake…AND ice cream…AND guacamole AND clowns…
wait a minute now…clowns…
Remember Everyone you meet probably looks great on Instagram AND is going through something.
Small things. I’m starting to re- think these so called small things. Small things lead to big change. I’m beginning to think that Maybe there are no small things. Like a hug. Have you ever been in a bad mood then a stranger says Hi. Or holds the door in the rain. Or your friend sends a happy text. Your whole day can change. Pivot on that one simple thing. On that small thing. I say we start doing small happy things during the day. See if we can’t make a big difference.
I’m always shocked. My dad’s death is still raw.
It can bubble over. It never goes away and I’m always surprised when my dad pops into my head. Driving. A song on shuffle comes on and I’m overtaken. I start to weep.
At church certain songs remind me of him. I just start tearing up. My breathing is tight.
Strange the hows and why’s and when’s it hits. I feel that’s natural. I feel it’s part of the process. I’m not embarrassed. You should be ready for that raw-ness to hit you too at unexpected times…
I’ve learned that it’s good to ask How are you today? It’s even OK to ask a friend who’s struggling if they’ve thought about never waking up. Listening can be a first step. Validating someone’s feelings and pointing them to professional help if they need it can make all the difference.
It’s time to say goodbye. Thank you for listening. And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t leave you with one more lyric…I love music so a lot of my life is music. I think in lyrics at times
Love Boat Captain
Hold me, and make it the truth,
That when all is lost there will be you,
‘Cause to the universe I don’t mean a thing
And there’s just one word I still believe
And it’s love
I know it’s already been sung, can’t be said enough
Love is all you need, all you need is love,
Thank you Pearl Jam. And Eddie Vedder
If you love someone… hug them right now.
I mentioned I snuck in Cracker too.
Happy B day my love.