September is National Suicide Prevention Month — a month where mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention. One Utah father is personally feeling the power that suicide prevention can have after losing his teenage son, Brock, to suicide a month ago.
Josh Danowski joined the Project Recovery podcast to talk about the loss of his sixteen-year-old son, Brock.
A light in the darkness
“He was a rockstar in my eyes,” Josh Danowski said while describing his son who recently lost his life to suicide. “We didn’t see it at all.”
Brock had a perfect work ethic and was a really well put together son according to Josh. But looking back, Josh began to have concern for Brock dating back to the 9th grade.
During the 9th grade, while defending a kid who was being bullied, Brock got into a fight with the bully. But Brock immediately called his father and said he was just trying to protect the other kid. But Josh recalled how Brock’s actions came at a cost.
All of a sudden, Brock was beginning to be perceived as a bully and the dynamic completely shifted around him.
“I really think that was a turning point. All of a sudden he became isolated. Some of his really close friends didn’t really associate with him anymore,” Josh explained.
Struggling to cope
That separation took its toll on Brock. He struggled to adapt to new friend groups but he began to focus on being active to fill the void. So he started to pursue wrestling.
He quickly took a liking to it and even began to excel. Brock took first in his district weight class in his junior year and Josh immediately thought that Brock had found his calling.
“I kind of felt like that was a win for him. I thought … he’s going to find that passion and that fire. He’s going to chase this and it could lead to college … because he had so much drive and motivation,” Josh recalled.
But right after his quick success, Josh believes Brock had a sense of “conquering” the sport. Immediately, he struggled to find his identity without the challenge that wrestling brought.
“I felt like he kind of struggled [with] trying to find who he was, who to hang out with, his identity,” he described.
Finding new friends
Brock eventually found a new passion — he wanted to be a cowboy. He started going out of his way to make friends with other cowboys. Unfortunately, that group of friends were much further away and in different counties that his school.
Josh remembers how during the school day, Brock wouldn’t have very many friends.
“They were meeting after school or they were meeting on the weekends,” he described. “That’s kind of when his mom and I saw some of the problems is that, he didn’t really associate with a lot of kids during that 8-3 o’clock. He was by himself.”
On the weekends, Brock liked to go out though. He loved being out with his friends and spending time in the outdoors.
But when the state-wide closure of all establishments was announced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Josh’s ex-wife told Brock that he wasn’t allowed to be outdoors. Brock didn’t agree and tensions boiled over to the point where he yelled that he was going to end his life.
Brock and his parent’s relationship
Josh and his ex-wife confronted Brock about his outburst but Brock said that he was fine. Knowing that on the inside, he really wasn’t.
In the next couple of months, Brock’s relationship with his parents began to deteriorate. Brock was working full-time, including twelve-hour shifts. His mental health began to slip and his relationship with his parents became very rocky.
His parents were divorced so he would spend time staying at the two houses. With everything going on in his life, his communication with his parents started to become more and more minimal. Until Brock asked for permission to go to a friend’s wedding in Montana. Josh and his ex-wife didn’t have a problem with it but they wanted to have a sit-down to talk about a couple of things and get back onto the same page.
So Josh and Brock drove up to the east bench of Bountiful and sat in the back of Brock’s truck to have a conversation.
“I said, ‘I want to know, do you think your dad loves you’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, I think sometimes,'” Josh described. “When he said sometimes, it was like a stab in my heart and I got extremely emotional.”
Josh went on to tell Brock how proud of him he was, how much he meant to him, how much he loved him, and how much Brock impressed Josh.
“I just sat there and put my arm around him … and I literally just poured my guts out to him,” Josh explained. “Little did I know, that was my goodbye conversation to him.”
Josh finds out about Brock’s death to suicide
Brock went up to Montana to attend his friend’s wedding as he asked after talking with his father. But shortly after, Brock took his own life. All of the mental pain and anguish Brock was feeling caught up with him.
In a blink of an eye, Josh’s whole life changed.
“The first thought when I found out the day it happened was why,” Josh said. “That’ll be a question that I live with for the rest of my life.”
After the death of Brock, many people reached out to Josh to explain how they all shared concerns for Brock’s health before his death. Some even remember Brock struggling with his mental health years ago. But none of them brought up Brock’s issues to Josh personally.
That’s something that Josh might not ever be able to overcome.
“Some of them were kids that he went to school with in junior high,” he said. “I understand the loyalty part of it. They want to be there. They’re thinking they are protecting him … at that point, any of those kids could have made the call [to help Brock].”
Josh’s frustration has sometimes gotten the better of him because of no one stepping forward but he understands that the frustration won’t bring Brock back.
“You go through this flood of emotions. The more you find out, it’s definitely frustrating but at this point … no matter what happens, I can’t bring him back,” Josh explained. “That’s why I’m willing to sit here today. If I can save somebody else’s life because they hear this story or they think that they’re alone … reach out. You’re not doing anyone a favor holding that in.”
Why Josh is telling his story
It’s only been a month since Brock lost his life to suicide. Looking back, Josh believes he would have done more if he could. But he also acknowledges that Brock never showed the emotion he felt on the inside, making it impossible for Josh to truly know the pain his son was feeling.
“He did an extremely good job at masking his depression. I think that’s where, as a parent, I would have never guessed in a million years that I would be sitting here talking about my son like this,” Josh said.
Now that he is trying to navigate life without his son, Josh is focused on trying to help others so they don’t have to feel the pain of losing a loved one. His advice — talk to someone about any struggles you may be having.
“Reach out to somebody else and let them know. Don’t hold that stuff in because I think if somebody would have done that for Brock, I don’t think we would be having this discussion,” he concluded.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Listen to the podcast to learn more about Josh and losing his son, Brock, to suicide
For more information on suicide prevention or if you or someone you know is struggling, you can find more information on Facebook, KSL TV, or from Use Only as Directed. To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get major podcasts.