Runion shares journey of grief after father's suicide
HURRICANE — Saturday, Jan. 19, 2008, started out as a normal day for Jack Runion and his family. The Hurricane Middle School teacher had attended his daughter’s basketball game where he saw his father, Dan Runion, but being in a hurry to get to a funeral where he was to sing, Jack rushed out of the building without stopping to say hello.
Looking back, he wonders whether, if he had stopped to talk, if it would have changed anything — because later that day the family learned this beloved husband, father and grandfather had taken his own life.
On Sunday, Dec. 2, Jack Runion stood in front of family, friends, and others who gathered at St. Timothy’s in the Valley Episcopal Church to listen as Runion talked about the book he has written titled, “A Bad Good-bye: Overcoming the Grief of Suicide,” which describes his struggle to cope with and later gain some kind of insight and acceptance of his father’s death.
Before he spoke, however, Runion, who is a Christian and a soloist, sang a song, “The Anchor Holds,” which is truly the theme that runs through his book because he believes God walked beside him and held him up throughout his journey of grief and acceptance.
One of the difficult things for Runion about the day his father passed away was wondering, did he miss seeing something from his dad that he needed to see?
“Every once in a while I think back to that last time and I try to remember his face, his eyes…was there something he was trying to tell me with his eyes, was there something he was trying to tell me as I hurried off to sing at that funeral?”
He also had a lot of questions.
“How could this be happening? Why was his happening to me…to my family? We were good people. Death doesn’t care who you are,” Runion said.
“In one single moment, my life, that appeared to be going well, was tossed into the air like a jigsaw puzzle and the pieces to that puzzle began falling back to the ground in chaos and disarray,” he said.
As he began going through the five stages of grief that is described by Elisabeth Kubler- Ross in “On Death and Dying,” he was at first angry with his father, which he soon dropped, and then he felt sorrow and guilt, and finally anger at himself for not realizing something was wrong.
“I blamed myself for not seeing this coming,” he said.
After several days of questioning himself and finding no answers, Runion decided to start writing down his thoughts in a journal. He had kept one in high school and as a student teacher during college.
“I wrote letters to my father, and wrote prayers to God,” he said. He also recorded his thoughts and feelings at the time.
“I wrote what I was feeling — both good and bad. I held nothing back,” he said. “For me, it was my outlet for the grief. My attempt at closure.”
Although his dad did not leave a note, Runion believes problems with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) played a large part along with health problems that included severe pain from arthritis.
“He did two tours of Vietnam. Looking back —when I was growing up, he had trouble sleeping. He had nightmares — flashbacks — he would be up (late at night) watching TV,” Runion said. His dad was a gunner on a Medivac helicopter where he picked up soldiers who were sometimes severely injured, dying, or already gone. He saw things he couldn’t share with others.
“I never really remember him talking about it.” Once, Jack and his friends were playing war and Jack went to his dad to ask him about his experiences. Dan couldn’t talk about the war.
“He couldn’t go into it,” Jack said.
His dad did eventually go to individual and group therapy at a VA Hospital. Jack later saw some papers his dad filled out that described picking up dead or severely injured soldiers. He believes his dad carried guilt because he returned home and many didn’t, and he also saw things that were difficult to forget. Doctors and other professionals, however, did not see his father as suicidal.
The one true thing that comforted Runion during the time after his father’s death was that God was a powerful force directing his life even when he was at his lowest.
“I went back and re-read my journal entries and I could see God working in my life. He sustained and gave me strength to keep going when I didn’t think I could do anything,” he said.
Runion said everyone has to find a way to get through their time of grieving. Along with the journaling, he credits his family as an invaluable part of the recovery process.
“We leaned on each other after dad left us,” he said. “We became our own support group. We didn’t let dad’s death divide us,” he said.
Another tool was a daily email offered through GriefShare.
“What I was so thankful for is they have an email subscription ministry that walks those left behind after a death through that entire first year,” he said.
Runion said his mother relied on her church, friends and family to get through the process while his sister chose therapy.
He offers tips to those who are trying to comfort someone who has lost a loved one. Instead of saying, “I know how you feel” which Runion says devalues all of the pain and grief that person is feeling, it might be more helpful to just be there for the survivors.
“Say, ‘I am here if you need anything or want to talk.’”
In addition, many people are afraid to talk or visit with the grieving person because they feel inadequate.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out even if you don’t say anything or give anything; sometimes just being there speaks volumes,” he said.
Finally, and most importantly, he encourages people who find themselves in a dark place in their lives to seek help or talk to someone.
“There is no weakness in getting help,” he said. Conversely, he also encourages family members to talk to their loved ones and try to find out if he or she needs help or needs to talk.
Runion hopes that by sharing a very tough time in his life others won’t feel so alone and will find the help they need.
“This is the exciting part, the humbling part. If families are helped, that is great. If someone decides not to complete suicide, that will be good,” he said.
“It was hard reading through it — the final draft. It was good, but hard. People who read it said they enjoyed the honesty — it makes it more credible,” Runion said.
The book is 164 pages divided into nine chapters. The process from start to printing took one year. Included in the book is a section with resources to go to for help such as the national organization that works for suicide prevention and support groups for survivors. In addition, for those who would like to participate in the suicide awareness walks, Runion says there are walks in Charleston, Huntington, Lewisbburg, and the Fairmont Area in West Virginia sponsored by “Message for Hope.” The book has four endorsements from pastors and survivors of suicide loss. The forward is written by Cheryl Winter, pastor at St. Timothy-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church.
When looking for a publisher, Runion said he looked for Christian publishers because the book was faith-based.
“I knew I would have a better chance at a Christian publishing house rather than a mainstream publisher,” he said.
While most of those publishers did not want books sent in by the author, Runion found one who did. Tate Publishing, in Oklahoma is handling the book that is available on Amazon, Books a Million, Barnes and Noble, and on the Tate Publishing Site. Runion learned recently that Tate has designed a 15-second commercial for his book that will be seen in a million homes. The cost is $12.99 for a paperback edition and a little less for an e-book.
After going through this experience and writing this book, what did Runion come away with about his own life?
“This created a greater awareness in me that life can change in an instant. Life is too short not to be happy,” he said. He also hopes his dad is proud of the way he has tried to reach others out of his own grief.
“I hope he would be proud that I am trying to help other people not have to go through what we did,” he said.
For those with questions about the book or to schedule a book signing and talk about the book with Runion go to : www.abadgoodbye.weebly.com.