Things we lost (and found) in the fire, prt. 1

March 20, 2012

My daughter Anna

[This is the true story of the darkest few months of my life. I hope and believe others can learn from it. It revolves around my daughter Anna, and Anna has reviewed and given her consent for me to post each of the parts in this series. It is her desire for others to learn from her experience. She has blogged on this experience from her perspective this week as well.]

The morning of June 24, 2011 was like any other morning. For about the first ten minutes. I had gotten up and done my usual morning routine. My wife Christy had risen early and gone over to the church to begin decorating for my oldest daughter Brittany’s open house. Brittany and Kyra (my middle daughter) were over there with her. My youngest, Anna, had awakened and headed over there a bit later but wasn’t feeling well so her mother had sent her back to the house so I could deal with her.

Anna was groggy. Her eyes looked a little strange. I guessed perhaps she was having problems with her blood sugar. Kyra had come home to get something, so I had Kyra bring Anna a PB & J sandwich with milk. Anna was struggling to eat, even to stay conscious, but I insisted on both. I began to get worried and asked her if she had taken any medications the previous evening.

“No,” she said lazily.

I called our family doctor to make an appointment. The earliest I could get was 2 pm. I was sure that by that time she would likely rebound and I would cancel the appointment, but I felt reassured to have some direction. I kept her there on the love seat and watched her, kept her nibbling on her sandwich. Soon I asked her again, “Are you sure you didn’t take anything last night?”


“Anna — did you take any medication last night?”

“Yes,” she said.

“What did you take?” I assumed perhaps she had taken some allergy medicine, or perhaps was still groggy from the melatonin the doctor had suggested to help her sleep at night.

“Half a bottle of NyQuil –” and on and on (and on) she went, although I can’t remember details now. Adrenaline surged through my veins and a wrecking ball plunged into my stomach as I realized in that moment that my bright, beautiful, intelligent, friendly, compassionate, and dearly loved 14 year old daughter had attempted suicide.

I panicked. My memory of the situation is running over to her, squeezing her face in my hands, and shouting, “Are you kidding me? Do you realize what you’ve f***ing done?!!” Later on Anna told me that her memory of what I said was, “Do you realize what that would have f***ing done to me.”

I could feel my heart pounding and I could hardly breathe. I don’t remember the list of medications now that she had taken, but I remember it sounding serious. I was scared that she was going to slip into a coma on the way to the ER and I might never see her again. I knew I needed to get her cleared medically at the clinic near our home before taking her on to the ER. I rushed her to the car and we sped off down the street and around the corner to the urgent care clinic. I got her inside and up to the counter. I explained that my daughter had overdosed the previous evening and I needed her to see the doctor immediately. The room was filled with people staring at us. I didn’t know (or care) whether they were a) judging my daughter a crazy person and me a negligent parent, b) angry that we line jumped ahead of them, or c) both.

They got us into a room right away and the doctor nearly followed us in. He got to work obtaining from Anna a list of the medications she had swallowed and I slipped outside for a moment to call Christy. With Brittany’s open house scheduled for tomorrow, we both realized what we had to do. I would take care of Anna, and Christy would stay with Kyra and Brittany at the church. One way or another, we were going to honor and celebrate our oldest daughter’s graduation, even as our youngest daughter lay in the hospital. Neither Brittany nor Kyra nor any of our dear friends who came that day to help Christy set up for the party would hear a word about this until after the open house.

As I got back into her room the doctor said to Anna, “You know, you’re one very lucky kid.” I don’t remember now what Anna said, but it was something to the effect that whether she was lucky was a matter of perspective. Or opinion. Or something else equally horrifying. He cleared us to go to the ER and I quickly had her back in the car heading towards the hospital. I could feel my face and ears burning with anger. “How could she do this to us?” Then I felt guilty. “Your daughter is obviously deeply broken right now. This is not about you.” But it was. The horror of suicide is that, while mourning the loss of your loved one, you also feel guilty, personally responsible, and furious with the deceased, all at the same time. Anna was still with us, but these emotions swirled around constantly inside of me and, I would later find, everyone else who loved and cared for her.

The next few hours were a blur. Doctors making me call Christy to have her count pills, give them milligram counts, check her bedroom for things. etc. As horrified as I was to be in the hospital with Anna, I knew it was far harder in Christy’s position. I kept stepping out making phone calls trying to make sure everything would be set for Sunday, trying to make sure the service could happen without me, trying to update her mom. Anna’s overdose on Tylenol alone was very dangerous, and it was too late to pump her stomach since she had ingested the pills the previous evening. In my anger I was disappointed to hear that she would miss the pumping. It seemed like it would be a good reminder not to try something stupid like this again. On the other hand, it might also encourage her to make sure not to fail next time.

Stepping back into her room after one last phone call, Anna was asleep. I kissed her cheek, then her forehead, and brushed her hair back over and over, feeling completely helpless, exhausted and confused. It was only then that the questions began biting around the edges of my mind. “How could you have not seen this coming?” “You make a living helping other kids with these problems. Why couldn’t you help your own child?” “Are you totally stupid?” And of course the one that wasn’t  a question but was the most hurtful of all. “You are the worst parent who has ever lived. Look at your daughter now. Good job, dad.” I collapsed into a chair in the corner and surrendered to giant heaving sobs.


  • Alicia

    As I have read about Anna’s expierence through this horrible time, it never fails that my heart is pounding and tears in my eyes every sentence that goes by. You and Christy are amazing parents and have amazing daughters, and I am so thankful that Anna is still here with you guys. As a parent now, so many things are different for me and reading this I am just praying for you and Christy to have the strength that you need and for Anna to know what support that she does have and use it. I miss you guys and think of you daily!!! Praying for you…

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks Alicia. You will always be dear to us.

  • Linda

    I have read your blogs and Anna’s. Another friend and I were talking about how important Anna’s point of view is and how I think that she really could reach out to others in a similar situation. I think that it’s true when people say that if you’ve never been there, you have no idea. I think about what you’ve shared this week…a lot…it could be a message that needs to go to a larger audience. Love and healing to ALL of you!

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks Linda. That has occurred to us and we are talking it over, about what that would look like exactly. We appreciate your encouragement.

  • debbie simmons

    My suicide attempt was at the age of 18 while I was  a freshman in college, 1,000 miles away from my parents. A friend found me after I had taken 6 bottles of tylenol and an array of other meds that my roommate had. I was taken to the hospital, had my stomach pumped and was made to call my parents. I never understood what my parents must have felt like until I became a parent myself, however I proceeded to tell my mother on the phone what I had done. Being stunned and not sure what to say her response was Are you ok? Do you need us to come get you? My response was I am fine and no. I struggled with life and had many dark days for 2 years after that day. My mother and I had a recent  conversation about that period in my life 30 some years ago, and the lessons we learned about our own lives and our relationship.  As I shared with Anna in her blog, the scars in life can be turned into stars.  What I did not see in those days of pain was hope.  If my suicide attempt would have been a success I would have missed out on so much of life, that I never knew existed. A loving husband, 3 children, and a ministry I love.  I thank God daily that I have my life. I pray that through our scars God will turn those scars into stars that will give hope and a light to guide us. God Be with you and your family.

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks for the time you took to share your story and some encouraging words. Blessings and peace to you.

  • Tara Whitmire

    Omg Dave. You have brought me to tears and I have only read part 1. You are a good Dad. I hope you found that in this. You are an amazing Dad, youth pastor, etc. I adore you. Ugh, how much pain you must have felt. My heart breaks for you!

  • Nancy Bearup

    I hope you realize now that you are not at fault at all for what happened to your daughter.  I’ve tried suicide twice and there is nothing anyone could have done for me at the time.  It’s not a rational state of mind at all, it’s from the depression.  I am an adult and have 2 children and it still didn’t stop me from trying, it was the illness doing the talking.  I read Anna’s post also on Facebook.  Your daughter has a lot of courage and strength in her, you should be so proud.  I wish her luck in her recovery.

    • thefallencleric

      I do realize it, Nancy, but as a parent there is always that sliver in your mind that thinks, “if only.” It doesn’t torture me anymore, but it never quite goes away. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Holly

    Reading this was so tough for me….because of my love for your family and because of my own personal encounters….I had a really close friend who committed suicide in the 9th grade. No one saw it coming, every one was so surprised.  I also have a family member who has attempted and struggled with suicidal thoughts for years, has been in and out of treatment and who I worry about constantly. How brave of Anna to share this truth in her life and how brave of you to share your accounts as a father/pastor/counselor. That in itself, helps hit home the fact that this can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. I am in awe that Christy held it together as she did and kept everything under wraps and in order for Brittany’s open house, I know how Brittany deserved that, but I can’t imagine even being in public dealing with the pain, the uncertainty, what a strong amazing wife you have, I know, you don’t need me to tell you! I am in awe of the discretion your family was able to maintain, I am in awe of how you held yourself together while still leading your church full of people who love your entire family so deeply. I am also so very surprised that Anna even woke up the  following morning, that alone, had to have been God’s faithful hand. It wasn’t her time….she has a lot of liiving to do and a lot of lives to touch. What a powerful impact this account will have on so many people, especially being able to see the perspective of Anna and of her Daddy who loves her so very much. We are all blessed to know your family and to be given these windows of insight that go so deeply. forever grateful and planning on  sharing this every way that I can….. 

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks, Holly. Suicidal relatives put to the test whether or not we can really make peace with our powerlessness. We can kick and kick and kick against it, but sooner or later we have to let go and allow each person to be the individual that they are — fully responsible for their own lives and their own fate.

      Thanks for your kind words about Christy and my family. You are dear to us.

  • Katie Rush

    Having a much younger sister try to commit suicide and have depression issues, it seems like I would have seen the warning signs earlier. Thankfully there was no suicide attempt for our 11 year old, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t thought about it. I found out as I read a letter for help from her. We had been seeing a therapist to deal with the depression, but it never stopped the sad worthless feelings. She’s on an antidepressant now, and it’s so nice to have her back. Depression can happen to good people and good families. I wish more people understood that depression is not a choice or something can can always be controlled. I applaud you for speaking about it and keeping it real. There were plenty of times in which I was not happy with having to deal with this and wanting to stomp my feet in a little tantrum. I am glad you were diligent that day. You were able to get her the help she needed.

    • Irma

      Katie, I appreciate your insight, on many levels.  Something that I choke on, is when I hear people who share my “Judeo/Christian/Evangelical background, making those inane statements like “Happiness is a choice!” or, even more incredibly spiritual “The joy of the LORD should be your strength, and should be enough!” 

      If a person’s body chemistry isn’t balanced, and this is truly a physical thing, no amount of obedience, or trying harder will remedy it.  To hear those remarks is beyond painful… 

      • thefallencleric

        The level of ignorance surrounding depression (and anxiety) is staggering. I will do all I can for the rest of my life to educate people. It’s a steep curve because people nearly always hear explanation as mere excuse.

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks for sharing the struggle, Katie. This has to be something that good people in good families talk about. Otherwise it will always been seen as a sign that parents were abusive, or that the child was crazy. It’s so much more, and no one knows that better than those of us who have stood next to a bright, beautiful child with a bright future who has nearly thrown it all away, and even THEY don’t understand fully why they did it. Depression is a very scary thing.

  • Christy Podolski

    Dave, Christy & Anna,
    In my journaling this morning before seeing any of this after praising God for the many blessings & the life I am now living due to serious healing in me that has happend through Jesus’ love for me, I wrote: “You used Christy Flowers on MANY occasions in my life powerfully. The two most profound that stand out to me that I have used as a model to become who I am today is, “Your home is a reflection of you,” and when I excitedly & lovingly said to her that I was her husbands biggest fan, she quickly corrected me and said, “No you are not. I am!” (I learned from her that I was to become Rich’s biggest fan…which I finally have.)

    Thank you Christy for the many prayers you prayed for me and for the hours you spent with me so I could see a real life example of what an extrodinary wife & mother looks like! I love you!  Next year Rich & I will celebrate our 20th anniversary. Without your example of being an exceptional wife & mother & you Dave, as my Pastor, Brother & friend, I can seriously say I would not be the woman I am today. I will forever be thankful to God for placing your family in my life for the time He did & for each of you deeply into my heart.

    About 10 minutes after writing those words I saw & read this.  I was obviously shocked. I could barely breathe at times as I tried to press through my tears and read on. My heart broke for Anna and for all of you.

    Tonight, I read Anna’s account…I don’t know if I will ever be able to read either without tears. I guess the reality is, we never should be able to read these words & not be moved with compassion & tears through love.

    Rich is in Michigan now visiting family, (a downfall to running a family business together, some separate vacations). The boys & I will be there this summer for family Open Houses June 34,34 & 30. More tears flowed as I realizied that Jacob, Gabe & I will be at Wildwind June 24, 2012. We will not only be there to worship God with our extended family but in addition with His perfect timing we can celebrate the first of many additional years that God gifted Anna (& every one of us who loves her) with, together with you.

    Please share my words with her: Anna, you have have grown into an exceptional young lady, beautiful, talented & truly loved by so many! I can’t even begin to express how moved I was and will forever be because you choose to share your story. God has an amazing plan for your life & I am excited to hear how He unfolds it for you when we all get to Heaven! You are still so incredibly loved here in our family. The boys & I look forward to seeing you June 24, 2012 at Wildwind when we are in town. God is so amazing, so good, so full of blessings which I am praying He will pour out double portions on you! I am so proud of you! I love you! ~ Christy Podolski

    Thanks to all of you for sharing. This is just one more beautiful example of how God takes everything the enemymeans for evil & turns it to good for those who love Him & are called according to His purposes! Jeremiah 29:11-13 <3

  • Redtrucklarry

    that is  really scarey..

    • thefallencleric

      Yes it was, and is. We have a close and loving family. Anna, even in her darkest time, had a great relationship with us. But I couldn’t get close enough to her to save her from herself. None of us can save another person from him/herself if they don’t wish to be saved. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Joyce

    My heart grieves for you and the entire family as I know, first hand , the pain and helpless feeling this experience causes.   Our love and prayers are with you.

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks so much, Joyce. The healing is coming along great!

  • scott

    “WOW”  now that really made me think! After reading that I hugged and kissed my son half crying and reminded him we are on the same team!  And we can get through anything together with our faith in the lord and support from family and freinds- thanks for sharing- Your blogs make me realize how blessed i actually am.. I was so happy when the doctor told her how lucky she was- But I felt very bad for you and what you had been through!   Waiting for part 2   !!!!!!!!! 
         Dude-Thanks for sharing

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Scott. I appreciate you, man.

  • Jdkonzer

    Dave this is a very strong story but one I commend you, mostly Anna, for sharing. My next few comments I would like you to share with Anna. Anna, Although I do not know you personally I understand your depression. I too considered for many  years of my life whether I was worth anything. It all began in middle school and ended around my end of high school with intermittent spurts into college. On a regular basis I fantasized on what life would be like without me. Significantly better I presumed. I figured my living was more troubled than if people would just waste some dirt on me. Family members could go along on their daily business without me burdening them. I often cried myself to sleep and prayed for God to just make the pain stop. In more progressive moments even laughed when the concept of God arouse. Yeah right, God cares?! Not for me. I am not sure if my parents ever really knew how actually awful I felt about myself, regardless of their limitless love and support.     Now as I grow older and look back on those moments I contemplate what actually impacted me so negatively.  Yeah I wasn’t part of the “in” crowd, no I wasn’t picked on, yes my parents were fantastic….so what was it? Honestly, to this day I have no idea, I just remember the utter emptiness.  I have come to an understanding that I was not and you are definitely not alone. In many moments of bonding with my family members, coworkers, spouse, friends, etc, I have learned at some point in most people’s lives they have thought the same thing. In some of these instances certain individuals have been successful at suicide and my heart mourns their loss wondering what I could have done to prevent it. I know times are and will be difficult, I thank you so much for your story and giving me the opportunity to share back with you. For whatever it is worth to you, I pray that you will understand that you are a beautifully blessed individual and your impact on the loved ones around you cannot be filled by anyone else in your absence. The following are some readings that helped me in some of my most desperate moments: “Footprints” and Psalm 142.
    May the lord bless you and heal your spirit’s wounds.
    In Christ, Jessica 

    • thefallencleric

      You’re a blessing to me, Jessica. You always have been. I miss you. Thanks for reading and for sharing your story with Anna, with me, and with the rest of my readers. You are wonderful.

  • Guest

    Thanks for being real about what life inside a real family sometimes looks like. I am glad to know this story doesn’t have a tragic ending and admire you and Anna for exposing your painful experience and still hurting hearts in hopes of reaching even one person who needs to hear what you both have to share.

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. A “real” family. Yeah, that’s for sure. There are no perfect families, no families where people don’t have baggage and hard things they are dealing with. 

  • Jill Porter

    Thank you for sharing this. And thank Anna for allowing it to be shared. Too many kids don’t get help in time. Too many kids try it again when it doesn’t work the first time. I am so glad that you are willing to be open about your family situation.  I can relate to the story. My family, which was very dysfunctional, has had several members leave through intentional overdose, and other methods. The stigma that kept people silent about suicide attempts is not like it used to be. I am glad that she is well and I am sure that you and Christy have gotten her the help that she needs. My prayers are with your family, even if it is after the fact.

    • thefallencleric

      You’re right, Jill, the silence IS deadly. We have to talk about this so people stop thinking that only complete lunatics attempt suicide. It can happen to anybody. Depression is dangerous, and not always typical in the way it presents.

  • Bethyt53

    Dave, as I sit here reading this with tears in my eyes I am right there with you.  I have heard these words from Steph several times and wonder what I did wrong for her to have these feelings of wanting to end it all and that her father doesn’t love her.  I love you guys like my own.  I dont’ know what else to say but know that I am there with you all.

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks Beth. We love you too.

  • Irma

    I am so, very sorry…  I can’t wait to read the rest of what happened,
    but knowing that she is still here is the most important ending of the
    story.  We lived through a similar thing within my family unit, when I was a kid.   Most
    people never  knew it occurred, and we sure never spoke of it, never
    went to counseling about it, and still, to this day, remains as one of
    the best keep secrets of our family.  So completely unhealthy…

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks for reading, Irma, and again, I can totally see the silence surrounding this issue. Those of us who have experienced suicide or an attempt need to stop being quiet about it. The more we speak up, the more kids we can help!

  • Gina

    Heart-wrenching, friend. Thank you for having the courage to share.

    • thefallencleric

      Thanks for reading, Gina, and for who you are in our lives. We love you.