Jason Holzer woke up early on his birthday this year and went for a morning run.
“That’s the best time of day,” he said. “My phone and all my devices were at home.”
Blanketed by silence and the stars overhead, he filled up suddenly with peace and an overwhelming desire to let go of his anger, confusion, resentment and remorse.
“I want to forgive what’s happened and be able to rejoice with you because you’re in a great place!”
Mr. Holzer was speaking in his mind to his father, who had died by suicide 16 years before.
“What came next felt like just a normal conversation with my dad,” he said. “It flowed like something spiritual, like nothing I could explain or recreate.”
He recognized it as part of a very long answer to prayer.
God had sent Mr. Holzer the right people at the right time to help him through the various phases of grieving and growing up in the shadow of his father’s death.
The 2004 Helias Catholic High School graduate wrote about these things in his recently released, 160-page book, Shattered by Suicide, Renewed by Resilience: How to Move Forward After Being Left Behind.
“This is how I picked up the pieces of my shattered heart — feelings of abandonment, anger, apathy, negative self-image, feelings of worthlessness — and turned all of that into a positive,” he stated.
Mr. Holzer is now a teacher, coach and athletic director at St. Therese North, a Catholic parochial school in Kansas City.
He and his wife, Mary, have two children, ages 3 years and 6 months.
He began writing his book with the hope of helping other people come to terms with the death of a loved one by suicide.
He also hopes to help people recognize the warning signs that someone might be contemplating suicide.
“I’m using my story and my book to bring some awareness and start tackling what seems to be turning into an epidemic,” he said.
Mr. Holzer grew up in the tight-knit community of Taos, just east of Jefferson City.
“Mom and dad had a great marriage,” he recalled. “From my 17-year-old perspective, I saw a couple that loved each other immensely. They had been together since high school.
“I always felt they were going be 100 years old and still married,” he said.
His dad was well liked and volunteered at church and around the community.
He was an electrician and loved his work. Creative and talented, “he could do just about anything with his hands,” said Mr. Holzer.
“Everybody liked him,” he said. “He was very helpful. As a boy, I saw him helping people and that was something I wanted to grow up and be like.”
His death sent shockwaves through his family and all the lives he had touched.
“It was very unexpected,” said Mr. Holzer. “No one could believe it had happened to him. Everything can look perfect on the exterior, but everything can be crashing on the interior.”
People rallied around Jason, his mother and two younger sisters, enveloping them in prayer and support in the months following the death in their family.
All the while, each of them grieved in his or her own way.
“I went from anger that he’s gone, to confusion, to kind of resentment,” said Mr. Holzer. “At the same time, I was numb and trying to escape from the pain by choosing not to feel it.”
He also felt guilt and shame: “What did I do that helped cause this? Or what should I have done to help keep it from happening.”
He couldn’t stop asking the most difficult question of all: Why?
His family was very supportive, as were his friends in high school and college.
“God put the right people in my life to guide me and help me make the right choices and get me to a place as an adult where I can make a difference going forward,” he said.
He stayed close to God, partaking of retreats, the sacraments, fellowship and prayer.
“I asked God for wisdom, I asked for help,” he said.
The Lord sent him mentors and comforters in the form of family members, teachers, coaches, friends, coworkers and his wife.
But sometimes, he didn’t feel comfortable talking about what was going on in his mind and his heart.
That’s when he started writing to God in a journal.
“I asked Him questions and told Him what I was thinking and feeling,” said Mr. Holzer. “Sometimes it took the form of creative writing and poetry.”
Faith helped him find healing and share that with the people he loves.
“What God has helped me understand through my prayers and the healing process is that there was some ‘invasive darkness’ that was clouding my dad’s logic,” he said.
“It had less to do with the people around him than the fact that he not taken care of himself mentally and had instead allowed external circumstances overwhelm him,” said Mr. Holzer. “It got where he believed this was his only escape.”
Focus on gratitude
The first part of the book tells Mr. Holzer’s story.
The second part outlines a 15-point cycle for creating positive habits and rejecting negativity.
“So it’s kind of like putting a puzzle together, and you never stop,” he said.
He emphasized how important it is for people to take care of their mind, body and spirit, focusing on all the things to be grateful and hopeful for.
He said suicide is “a great big elephant in the room and no one is talking about it.”
“How can we help keep each other from getting to a point where our own lives don’t matter anymore?” he said. “We need to be asking God: ‘How can we care better? How can we love better? How can we interact better? Show us the way to be really present to each other.’”
It’s also important to recognize that God pours beautiful and important gifts into every person He creates.
“Gratitude is what keeps us connected to God,” said Mr. Holzer. “He is willing to give you everything you need in life, if you are willing to use what He gives you to make His world a better place.”
“Still with us”
He said it’s important for people who know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide to “be empathetic rather than sympathetic.”
“Empathy is showing people you care, not only by asking how they’re doing, but also helping them get out of their routine,” he said.
“It’s okay to ask questions,” he continued. “Listen without judgement, and make it clear that you know you’ll never really understand what they’re going through.”
“And help them think ahead: ‘What are you looking forward to?’”
He said to never underestimate the power of one simple act of kindness “to completely flip a person’s day, or week, or month, or life.”
Mr. Holzer still carries some of the pain.
“When I got married, when our children were born — anytime there’s a big celebration, there’s a reminder,” he said.
“But we keep going back to: we have a life and a lot of good things to celebrate,” he continued. “We see him in our children. We see him in our lives and in things that happen. We know he is still with us.”
"Be the light"
Shattered by Suicide, Renewed by Resilience is available at the Downtown Book & Toy stores in Jefferson City and on Amazon.com.
Mr. Holzer will hold a book-signing from 9 to 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 29, at Downtown Book & Toy at the Capital Mall.
He also plans to take part in Missouri River Regional Library’s Local Authors Showcase from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8.
He uses the hashtags #be thelight and #act2impact.