I was taking a walk in the park, recovering from recent knee replacement surgery when I came upon a heartwarming scene.
A man and a small boy were fishing. The boy had his small rod and reel, the father had a larger one. The little boy, perhaps 5, cast his line and appeared to be delighted as it landed some 20 feet out into the water.
He then set his rod down and waited for results. The father cast his line into the water and almost immediately had a strike. He began reeling in his catch, slowly walking towards his son.
He then handed his reel to his son and instructed him on how to reel the catch in. The young boy slowly but admirably reeled in the catch, proudly holding up a fair sized bream for his father to see. Both were beaming with very proud smiles. The father stepped back and, with his phone, took a picture of the lad and his catch.
And I started sobbing un-controllably.
For the scene before me brought back the memory of me teaching my own three sons how to fish, bait a hook, cast the line and reeling it in slowly. And I had a flashback of my youngest son who fished with me one day and showed me up.
We both were fishing with a double-hook plastic worm, purple as I recall. I made a cast and was rewarded immediately with a strike. I reeled in a large bass, perhaps two pounds.
I held it up for my son to see and yelled, “Hey Cade. Look what I got.”
Suddenly Cade had a hit as well. He quickly reeled in his catch and, to my amazement, held up his catch – two bass. The kid caught two fish?!
One was quite large, the other somewhat small. He was so competitive, so capable, blessed in so many ways, always striving to be the best he could be.
So why did I sob?
What caused me to break down and have to walk away from that beautiful scene of a man and his son fishing? Many of you already know.
On March 14, 2020, just over a year ago, I received the news that every parent hopes they never hear. Cade had passed away. As difficult as that was to fathom, the tragedy was that he took his own life.
And all I could think of was “Why?”
Cade was born in 1983, our third and final son. It wasn’t long before he began to show signs of athleticism beyond that of most children. At an early age, he could jump high, run fast and was determined to be the strongest kid around.
He was inquisitive, spending a lot of time outside in nature, exploring, building things, piddling. He was a happy kid, referred to by his mother as ‘a delight.’
He walked sooner than most kids, climbed out of his crib so many times that we had to go ahead and put him in a regular bed. He honed his athletic skills by trying to keep up with his older brothers, both of whom were athletes as well.
It didn’t hurt that I was a coach and spent many hours working with him, helping him to develop his physical skills as well as his mental toughness.
And what an athlete he grew up to be! He turned a triple play in T-ball when he was only 5. He hit his first of many home runs over the fence when he was 10. He even hit one over a 25-foot wall in Johnson City, Tenn., when he was 14.
He was gifted at gymnastics, winning many medals in state competition and being recruited by coaches from Huntsville, who called us numerous times wanting him to train with them.
Cade played basketball for Union Grove, scored 31 points one night and led his team to the county championship. Cade was a very good football player, scoring nine touchdowns his senior year against the toughest competition Arab ever faced (Birmingham schools).
He was the Marshall County most valuable player for three years in track and competed in the state track meet in Tuscaloosa in numerous events. His senior year he finished third in the high jump in the highest classification (6A). He went on to the state decathlon meet later and finished fifth, placing him on the All State Decathlon team.
Cade was well liked by his classmates and teachers.
He was chosen by his teachers as Mr. Arab High School. He was a charmer. He tried to be friendly with everyone and he was polite and well-mannered to fellow students and adults. And he was very handsome.
Girls wanted to be with him, boys wanted to be him. When my mother died, one of her sisters (my aunt) came to the funeral and saw a 16-year old Cade for the first time. She whispered in my ear, “My God, Don. That boy has movie star looks.”
With all that Cade had going for him, he remained humble and soft spoken. He had confidence in himself and he felt like he didn’t have to go around beeping his own horn. That was true of all three of my boys.
So what happened?
What caused this kid, who had so much going for him, to choose to end his own life?
After high school, Cade gave college a try. But he just wasn’t interested in studying so he dropped out after one semester. He worked for Marshall County for a few years, serving as a tractor driver in District 1 before being hired by the sheriff’s office.
While there he worked his way up from a corrections officer to dispatcher and finally deputy.
It wasn’t long after that that he joined the Air Force Reserves, serving at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. He quickly worked his way up to a tech sergeant, specializing in weapons instruction.
And he was loved, admired and respected by all his fellow soldiers.
His mother and I were proud but very concerned when he was called to serve in Iraq. He had previously spent a month in Jordan, offering vacation leave to some of the soldiers there. But when his unit was called to go to Kirkut, Iraq for six months, we were worried.
And rightfully so.
He called us a few times from there. He convinced us that all he did was sit in a guard tower and watch for any problems. He said everything was all right and he was bored most of the time.
But that wasn’t true.
What we found out later was that he was involved in some serious action. He served as a guard with convoys that went from city to city. He told me, some three or four years after he got back, that he had to shoot people.
He had to fire his weapon into oncoming automobiles speeding at the convoy. He said it was ugly, horrible and devastating to see all that. And he obviously had internalized much of what he did and saw because it would later come out in horrible dreams and nightmares.
He was diagnosed with PTSD and given medication for it.
Cade had left for Iraq as a young man, a happy go-lucky kid, a prankster. He returned a serious, no-nonsense, hardened man. He grew a long, straggly beard.
He had an antagonism about him that I had never seen before. He was different. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. He reached out to many of his friends and fellow soldiers.
They offered as much help as they could, encouraging him to hang in there. His fellow soldiers were his best friends and he talked to many of them on a regular basis.
Yet, they, too, had some of the same issues.
Apparently it was all too overwhelming for him. He decided to end it all, to escape the demons that went with the PTSD and the medication as well as his numerous personal problems.
No one knows what went through his mind as he carried out that horrible deed. He was sick. He was distraught. He felt hopelessness. Death seemed to offer the peace that he was lacking in life.
His funeral was attended by a full house, family, friends, fellow students and ball players, fellow police officers and fellow soldiers who drove up from Montgomery.
I tried to speak but was unable to say much. I was too distraught. Cade’s oldest brother, Josh, got up and gave a wonderful talk about Cade and many of the things he got in to as a child.
The music that struck me the most and still brings tears to my eyes were two of Cade’s favorite tunes: Israel Kamakawiwo’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Frank Sinatra’s classic “I Did it My Way.”
Before and after the funeral I had numerous individuals share with me stories about Cade. Many said they knew he was struggling with issues and they felt a tinge of guilt because they felt like they could somehow have done something to have prevented his death.
Others were stunned, unable to make sense of any of it. All had kind words to say.
I was especially impressed with Cade’s soldier friends who came up from Montgomery. This “band of brothers” had lost one of their own.
They were hurting as much as we were yet their grim faces displayed the love, compassion and empathy they felt for us.
I wrote this column for two reasons. One was so that Cade’s legacy could be seen and shared with all those that knew him. He had so many friends.
Hopefully this will help them come to grips with what happened.
The second reason is much more serious.
Suicide is never the answer. It leaves behind friends and loved ones who will be devastated for the rest of their lives. You think of it every day.
You especially struggle through birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. You may be riding along in your car just enjoying the music when a song comes on that reminds you of your loved one.
And you immediately break down with sobbing tears.
A word, a thought, a dream. You’re reminded of them daily.
If Cade had stuck it out, I can’t help but believe that things would have gotten better. He would have been okay eventually.
We can learn from others what we should do. But we can also learn what we shouldn’t do. And suicide is at the top of that list.
Rest in Peace, son.
If you have suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800-273-8255.