My son Max was different from the start. He was sensitive and really cared about people, but had trouble understanding kids his age. He was very funny. We bonded through humor.
He disappeared in February 2015. His car was found by Lake Ontario, but his body wasn’t recovered for eight weeks.
Obviously I have guilt. If I’d known that Max was spiraling into mental illness, maybe I could have done things differently. But we didn’t know how sick he was. We did the best we could, given what we knew.
I processed my grief through writing. For the first three months, I’d wake up before dawn and type out what I felt, what I noticed, or what I remembered. I’ve written over ninety entries of 500 to 1,500 words. It helps to preserve the memories. And that’s important, because in the last three months I’ve realized that life is moving on. Even though I try to stay connected to Max, the memories fade—and we won’t make new ones.
I’d wake up before dawn and type out what I felt, what I noticed, or what I remembered
Playing golf also helped me through the worst times. It took my focus off the pain, and it gave me a way to think about Max. I would walk down the fairway talking to him and tear up. I have great golfing buddies—they listened and asked questions and did everything you’d hope friends would do.
Our family therapist, Debra, was hugely important. A week after Max’s disappearance, I called her and said, “Debra, do you want us to make an appointment, or do you want to come over here and move in?” My wife and I encouraged our daughters to talk to someone, too. It’s important to process your grief, because it’s going to come out somehow. You can either control when it comes out, or it will come out when you’re not in control.
In the weeks after we lost Max, I learned from friends—for the first time—that they had lost loved ones to suicide as well. They didn’t seem decimated by tragedy. That brought me some comfort. It made me think, “They got through it, and you’ll get through it, too.”
Nearly two years after Max’s death, my wife Meg and I can appreciate the good things that happen. But it’s like switching from digital to analog. The colors aren’t as sharp anymore. And I’m not sure when they’ll become vivid again.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He has covered college football for 30 years. He has won the Football Writers Association of America Best Writing contest six times. He and his wife, Meg Murray, have three children: Sarah, Max, and Elizabeth.
Image Credit: Bill Frakes, ESPN