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October 7, 2016 was the worst day in our lives. That was the day we learned that our beautiful, talented, and brilliant son, Douglas James Sweeney, decided to leave this world. Together with his two sisters, my husband and I were devastated, shaken to our very core. How could this happen to us? How did he not know how loved he was? We had a close knit family and things like this were not supposed to happen to us. Our hearts were forever broken.

Doug was identified as a gifted student as early as second grade. He had a love of learning but his real love and passion was music. His bachelor’s degree was in English literature as he did not want to “study his passion” so he picked his second favorite thing. He played many instruments and had an encyclopedic knowledge of many genres of music. When Doug died, he had recorded two albums, written many, many songs as well as some poetry. Doug suffered from depression and PTSD. His girlfriend died in 2014 and he never recovered from that loss. He saw a therapist from that time until his death. We thought we were doing everything we could. We thought he was “getting better”. We learned later that he had made a previous attempt to which those who knew about it did not seek help for him. We had no idea. A perfect storm of events led to Doug’s awful decision.

I have likened losing Doug to suicide is like having a tsunami wipe out a village. I was devastated, empty, vulnerable, and lost. I questioned everything I thought I knew about myself. Slowly, with help from Didi Hirsch, various grief groups, therapy, and incredible love and support from family and friends, I am slowly rebuilding my “village”. I still have a long way to go.

For weeks, even months, after his death we received a steady stream of notes, letters, cards, and calls relating stories of his acts of kindness and love. Some big, but mostly small things that made a difference to so many. We heard from people who we had never met or hadn’t seen in a long time. We heard from our extended family, former teachers, friends of his and ours who shared tales of love. Lives he had saved, some figuratively and some literally by acts of bravery and love. It soon became apparent that that was his legacy: loving unconditionally, without judgement and completely with his whole heart. We started the hashtag #lovelikeDoug to spread his message of love and kindness.

It is not always easy to love like Doug, especially when I think about those around him who knew how badly he felt and did nothing or when I am mad at myself for missing signs or reflect on the effect his loss has had on those I love. But then I remember to honor him by loving like him. I’d like to tell you that I am never angry or sad but that wouldn’t be be truth. I am a work in progress.

Team “Love Like Doug” will be participating for the second time this year in the Alive and Running 5K. We walk in his memory. We walk to save lives. We walk so others do not have to walk this path. We walk to love like Doug.

Check out Doug’s album on Spotify or Apple Music. Search for him under his band name, Arjuna Genome.