(L-R) David Blair and his sister Janay admire his gold medal after returning home from the Paralympic Games Rio 2016.
David Blair is a gold medalist in Paralympic track and field. Blair won a gold medal in discus at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, and a bronze medal in discus at the Parapan American Games Toronto 2015. Blair is also a three-time silver and one-time bronze world championships medalist. Blair discovered the discus throw in high school. Blair went on to win a high school state championship against able-bodied athletes and received an athletic scholarship to Weber State University in Ogden, Utah where he set several school records and earned two conference titles in hammer and weight throw. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Blair wrote a letter to his sister, Janay, who died by suicide in 2018.
If you or someone you know is experiencing an urgent mental health issue, we encourage you to text HOME to 741741, or call (800) 273-8255 to speak to a trained mental health responder. In the process of helping yourself, you may be inspiring courage in others to seek help as well.
So I’ve been thinking and there is something I’ve decided I must confess.
Forgive me, because it may only be a partial confession, because... well... sometimes it’s hard for someone to admit they are wrong, particularly when they are an older sibling.
However, here it goes.
When I spoke at your funeral, I may or may not have told all those in attendance that you volunteered to sing our national anthem from inside the cage at an MMA fight.
There! That feels good to get off my chest. It wasn't as difficult as I thought! What? Did I tell them more?
Well, I may have also told them you got all dressed up in a new, sparkly dress, told your friends and family to come watch you perform... and...umm I might have mentioned...that you forgot the words! Like, worse than Rosanne Barr singing the national anthem, forgot the words.
Now, please don’t be too mad at me! When someone dies, often their secrets float up to the top and I let this one slip. Well, it wasn’t a slip. I flat out told them without much hesitancy.
I know some may consider it “bad form” to speak unkindly of a family member at their own funeral, but I think I felt the obligation as your big brother to rightfully inform the hundreds in attendance of your infractions with our country’s Anthem.
Listen, brothers have standards that must be maintained (particularly with their sisters).
Or, perhaps it was that I had no problem belting out this same Anthem with exactness and pride from atop the podium in front of 48,000 people in Rio in 2016? Either way, I do apologize.
If it makes you feel any better, I asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they had ever performed our anthem in front of a crowd and forgot the words. None had. So there, you see? I pointed out a way in which you are unique to all of those in attendance. No harm done, right?
Speaking of asking questions to the audience, I also had a few more questions that I asked those in attendance to raise their hands in confirmation.
“How many had smiled because of you?” Everyone in the audience raised their hand.
“How many had laughed with you?“ Again, seemingly everyone in attendance.
“How many had personally received a hug from you?” This one really made me feel inferior. Yet again, nearly every hand went up in the audience. I very quickly realized, you had hugged substantially more people in your life than I have in mine. You had also made more people laugh, more people smile, and lifted the spirits of more individuals than I have.
I keep the talk I gave at your funeral folded up in the inside pocket of my suit jacket. As you know, I don’t like wearing a suit coat, but every time I put it on I get a reminder of how I spoke at your funeral and how many people you affected for good in your life.
David Blair and his family members carry his sister Janay's casket at her funeral.
Since your death, I have learned that for every individual that takes their own life there are on average 115 individuals that are exposed to that suicide. Of those individuals, 25 will have major life disruptions (divorce, losing a job, moving etc.).
Judging from the amount of people in attendance at your funeral and your viewing, there were substantially more than 115 people impacted by yours.
At your viewing alone, we stood for more than 3 hours greeting the hundreds of people in attendance. All waiting in line for longer than an hour just to verbally tell us, your family, they are personally sorry you are gone.
There were a few people who waited all that time standing in line and when they got almost to the front to greet us, and saw you in your casket, they broke down in tears and ran out of the viewing, overcome by their emotions and left. I met so many people, who were strangers to me, who would plead for me and our family to know how deeply sorry they were that you were gone.
I usually don’t pay too much attention to my dreams and the meanings of them, but two weeks ago I had a dream I want to tell you about.
In my dream, I died tragically in a car wreck. I got hit at an intersection and killed instantly. I was standing there outside the wreckage looking at my demolished truck, when Uncle Carl came up to me and said, “Hi David!”
He surprised me so much, I was so happy to see him. I excitedly asked him, “What are you doing here? You died 7 years ago!”
He responded, “You just died. I’ve come to help take you where you need to go.”
My mood plummeted quickly from excited to angry. Not just angry. I was now furious. So mad I actually yelled at Carl, (Can you imagine, yelling at Uncle Carl? This is how, looking back, you know it was a dream) “What do you mean I died?”
He replied, pointing at a smashed automobile in the intersection. “That car over there, they hit your truck, and it killed you. You're dead.”
“No. NO. NO. NO! I can’t be dead! I’m not done with my family. I can't leave Cindy and the girls. I need to help them, they need me. I want to protect them and be with them. There is a lot I still need to do. There is so much that I still need to help take care of with my family. My daughters have a lot of years to grow still. We have a lot ahead of us. I have a lot of living I still need to do!”
He replied, “Yeah, about that, you’re not going to get any sympathy from me. I know how you feel. I got taken from my family too, and you know how much I loved my life. But you died and I know it sucks!”
We started walking away from the scene and I woke up.
It would be impossible for me to describe how relieved I was upon waking up to find I really hadn’t died. I love living my life so much and I have for so long. Remarkably, I feel like I have an even larger abundance of love for the life I have been blessed to share with my family. Not too long after the dream, maybe the next day, I thought of you and wondered if maybe you’d had a similar encounter when you passed.
As long as I am making confessions, I have a couple more I would like to share with you.
I am sorry for not knowing how best to help you, and how to fully, truly understand the struggles you were going through.
I felt like I did all I could to help save you, but now as I look back there is more I could have done to help. I am sorry for that.
I still don’t know if I could have done the right thing, but I do know this. Losing you has been much harder on our family than any of us could have imagined.
I know fully and completely that was never your intention, and I am not mad about it. I am just sorry.
David Blair lays a single rose on his sister Janay's casket at her funeral.
I will never forget the first time I played with your kids after you died. I made them laugh, and I was surprised how difficult it was to hear them laugh knowing how much you loved them and loved making them laugh. I must confess, I almost felt like I was doing something wrong to bring a little bit of happiness to their lives without you there to enjoy it as well. It was almost like I was stealing something from you that I know you loved and I took it from you to enjoy.
Please know this though, you continue to teach us even in death.
We siblings are closer than we’ve been in the past. We have this group text that started right after you died and we continue to send messages with each other daily, often dozens of times a day.
We all have a completely new perspective on mental health and how powerful of an effect it can have on a person’s life. It is important to properly address our mental state and reach out and seek help when it’s needed.
We are much more forgiving of ourselves and others when we do things we wish we hadn’t.
You have taught us how important it is to not take things outside of family too seriously. Also, to be much quicker to forgive than we have been in the past.
The truth is, all of us struggle with wanting to be better than we currently are. We all wish we could improve things about ourselves, but they seemingly never do.
Maybe that’s the point. Learning to be confident and content with who we are and how we are.
So come as you are because as you are is definitely good enough.
We are all battling something. We’d be surprised how many people would love to help each of us individually as we battle.
Now, I have another confession to make. Remember how I said earlier I didn’t forget the words to the Star-Spangled Banner when I sang it in Rio in front of 48,000 people?
Well as I think back on it, I might have messed up the words, too.
There are many times I think I know what I am doing, and it turns out I still don’t know what I don’t know.
I’m not sure if you remember, but you sent me a text just a couple of hours before you died. If I could have fully understood everything you said in your text, I would have dropped everything and drove to your house and tried to help.
I have since learned that we lose around 48,000 people a year in the U.S. to suicide. Think of that! The stadium in Rio was full the night I competed, and its capacity is about the same – 48,000.
If I were to look back at the crowd and realize every one of them would not be there in one year’s time as a result of suicide. I truly wouldn’t be able to comprehend it. Then for me to look into that crowd and know that one of those seats represented my sister, it would have truly shaken me.
If I were given the chance to trade my medal and walk into the stadium to take you out of your reserved seat, I would have done it without hesitation. It’s just a sport. Quite a good trade I’d say!
We miss you. Your children miss you, and we know you miss us.
Thank you for all the good you shared with us in our lives together. While your life ended too soon, you have left a legacy of love that will be remembered by all of us here.
Although for all you have taught us in your death, we’d still trade it in a heartbeat just to have you back here with us again.
Love and miss you,