Editor’s note • This story discusses suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.

Lehi • In June, Dani Bates uploaded a 22-second video to Facebook of her 3-year-old daughter, Winnie, lying in bed, crying.

“Daddy, daddy, daddy, come back!” Winnie wailed. Between sobs, the girl asked, “Daddy not coming back? I miss daddy. I want daddy to hold me.”

“I know baby, I’m sorry,” Bates said softly off camera. The video has more than 11 million views, 23,000 comments and 158,000 shares.

Sitting in her Lehi apartment in July, Bates said she had hesitated before posting the clip. But then she realized she believed that “if there was one thing that would have stopped Denny, it was that video.

Denny Bates, 35, died by suicide on March 23. Days later, Bates started a blog about life for her and her two daughters, Winnie and 1-year-old Piper.

The reality of suicide: Today has been full of ups and downs. We miss daddy extra today. Edit: This video has been getting a lot of attention. I’m so glad. Please continue to share. Yes, it’s painful to watch but this is reality for us. Everyone should be required to watch her agony so that we can do something to help stop the insane number of suicides happening. My sharing and your sharing has helped and will continue to. Also, before you judge, read my whole story. Winnie is in therapy twice a week with a specialized child therapist (and I am in weekly). We are working on getting out her feelings, so this is good for her to express. I give her constant loves and snuggles. I hold her through a lot of it and occasionally support her nearby while she gets out all of her feelings, sadness, and anger. A lot of things are crazy right now, but I do know one thing... I am a great mom. And I’m doing everything I possibly can to prevent as much damage as possible for my sweet girls. Read more about our story here: https://danibates.com/2019/03/27/dennys-obituary/ https://danibates.com/2019/03/24/the-first-post/ https://danibates.com/2019/05/15/7-weeks-in/ Edit: If you would like to see how this video has saved lives, go to my page and look at my posts. There are so many messages of people who have been changed by this and we are truly saving lives! Thank you for helping me do so. ❤️❤️❤️

Posted by Dani Bates on Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The blog was initially intended for friends and family, but after the video of Winnie went viral, Bates saw she could reach others who are struggling. People have sent messages thanking her for sharing her story and saying that her honesty is “saving people.”

“I have been where your husband was...,” one person wrote to Bates. “After watching that video of your little girl ... I know the thoughts will come back but that video will honestly be a reason I don’t try again ... thank you for creating a lifeboat for me and using your story to advocate against suicide.”

Some professionals once discouraged talking about suicide for fear it would lead to more people killing themselves — which is untrue, said Donna Schuurman, senior director of advocacy and training at The Dougy Center in Oregon, which works with grieving children and families.

That perception has shifted, Schuurman said. And to truly understand how to prevent suicide, people need to listen to the experiences of those like Bates, she said. “It’s critical, and I love what she’s doing. I really do," Schuurman said about Bates’ blog.

Losing a loved one to suicide should be talked about as openly as losing someone to cancer or another health issue, agrees Taryn Hiatt, area director for Utah and Nevada for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

HOW TO HELP


If people say they are considering suicide:


• Take them seriously.
• Stay with them.
• Help them remove lethal means.
• Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
• Text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
• Escort them to mental health services or an emergency room.


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Utah’s suicide rate has long been higher than the national rate. While the rate for Utah men is more than double the rate for Utah women, both have been increasing for years.

Bates finds the stigma around suicide frustrating. “I wish people would talk about it like it wasn’t a swear word,” she said. “... It’s so embarrassing for people. It shouldn’t be, but it is.”

As hard as it is sometimes, Bates wants people to see how she and her daughters are coping in real time. If she can help make people feel more comfortable talking about mental health and suicide, she hopes, she can help someone else.

The grief of a 3-year-old

On Aug. 23, the five-month anniversary of Denny’s death, Bates turned 30 years old.

There’s a lot she didn’t expect to have experienced by that milestone. She wrote an obituary for her husband and was open about why he died. She picked out his gravestone. Winnie decorated her father’s casket with stickers. And Bates started taking Winnie to therapy.

“This is real life for us," Bates said. " … I have to do whatever I can to help her heal so that this doesn’t affect her so deeply for the rest of her life."

Winnie is usually sweet, happy, talkative, “sunshine, puppies and rainbows.” Since Denny died, she’s been afraid to be separated from her mom. She cries and throws tantrums. In May, Bates recorded another video of Winnie screaming from her car seat that she wanted to “go to heaven.”

“I want my daddy!” Winnie wailed.

I thought this video was worth sharing again when a friend asked me to. It’s painful to listen to actually. Like more painful than it was that day. But I remember this day clearly. She was going to go to a friends house and play but was having the hardest time missing her daddy. She cried like this all day. It was the beginning of May so it had probably been about six weeks or so since Denny passed away. There’s nothing I’ve experienced that is quite as painful as hearing your child beg to go to heaven. Even more so than the pain I feel from losing him. Or maybe it just makes me forget that pain when I hear hers like this. She’s doing so much better now. She’s incredibly strong and smart and just oozes of sunshine. She cries at least once a day for her daddy. At least. And talks about his much she misses him and wishes he were here. She only has these melt downs every other day or so now though. This day it was almost the entire day she was like this. And there’s only so much I can do for her when she’s in that much pain. It’s horrible. And so painful. To see your child in so much pain. I’ve found so much joy in watching her heal over the past few months and seeing her happy spirit shine again. A dear friend took these pictures (in comments, won’t let me share pics and video in one post) of her the other day (in a dress I sewed for her pattern “Lorne” by @littlelizardking ...sewing is a form of therapy for me but I haven’t had much time to recently). You can see how much more light is in her. She still aches for her dad. All of the time. But she’s healing. And she’s incredible. Pics by @liliribs If you have considered taking your life, please watch this over and over. You are needed. You are wanted. You are loved. You are NOT a burden. No matter what stuff you have going on, I promise you that it is still better to have you here. Choose to stay.

Posted by Dani Bates on Wednesday, August 14, 2019

With these videos and her blog, Bates knows she’s not just putting herself out there. She’s also exposing her children and Denny. She has to decide what she’s comfortable with posting while still protecting her children. What’s easy to share now, when her daughters are younger, may not be later on, she said.

Bates tells Winnie the effect she’s having on people, and she’ll explain more as she gets older. A child may know her father is gone, but it’s hard to grasp the permanence of that at a young age, Schuurman said.

“She knows she won’t see him again until she’s a really, really old grandma," Bates said, “but she still thinks she can save her leftover candy for him, and she does.”

Ran into some issues this week so we’re running a day behind. New episode about this dude will be posted tonight! Stay tuned. And enjoy the cutest video you’ve ever seen in your life in the meantime. 😍😍

Posted by Make It Awkward Podcast on Thursday, August 29, 2019

It’s important for children to grow up learning about a lost parent, to know the parent loved them and that a death by suicide is not their fault, Schuurman said.

Bates writes about how Denny was the “best daddy ever" and Winnie’s “superhero.” There’s a camera in the girls’ bedroom that Denny could call to talk to Winnie when he was at work.

“Now she just talks to him, shows him what she’s doing and carries the camera around the house,” Bates said. “I love when she does this.”

(Photo courtesy of Dani Bates) Winnie Bates kisses a camera she used to talk to her dad, Denny Bates, while he was at work.

Winnie’s meltdowns happen less as the weeks go on. Bates has started to see her daughter’s “happy spirit shine again.” In early July, Bates made a video asking Winnie what her therapist told her.

“You can be mad and sad and happy,” Winnie said.

“Are you happy, mad or sad?” Bates asked.

“I’m sad because I miss my dad,” Winnie responded.

Bates said, “Guess what? Your daddy loves you so much, huh?”

“So, so, so, so, so, so much!” Winnie said.

Winnie graduated today from therapy 2x a week to once a week. This video? A three year old talking about her feelings? Identifying them? Knowing how much her dad loves her despite him not being here!? This is a healthy minded girl my friends. She has endured unimaginable trauma. She still has melt downs. She still has a lot of feelings. She deals with anger and sadness and and has a lot of happiness too. But she is starting to understand why she has these feelings. She’s starting to process them and she’s starting to understand how to deal with them in a safe and healthy manner. She talks about things. She expresses things. She works through things. She still struggles for sure. I mean who wouldn’t? But she’s dealing with it in the most healthy way possible. And I’m so proud of her. Just because she’s little doesn’t mean she can’t have big feelings. And just because she’s young doesn’t mean she can’t understand them in her 3 year old way. I’m just so proud of her. And I’m honestly proud of myself for getting her in so fast and so furiously despite so many saying “she’s too little,” or “she’s too young to understand.” Yeah, she’s also too little to lose her dad to suicide and to comprehend how he would do that. So I want her to understand age-appropriate things now. I want her to learn to talk about her feelings now. Because she is going to deal with this trauma for life. And the better I prepare her now, the more equipped she’ll be to deal with problems down the road. Today was a victory. Today I see the big picture and the light at the end of the tunnel. That doesn’t happen every... or even most days yet. But the picture is getting clearer and the light is becoming brighter. We will beat the odds and get through this thriving.

Posted by Dani Bates on Monday, July 1, 2019

‘I miss him’

How Bates is doing is dependent a lot on how her girls are coping, but she knows she has to focus on herself, too.

“I miss him. I miss everything about him. I miss all of the good things and all of the things that made me crazy. I miss his smell and his hugs and his gross beard kisses,” Bates wrote in August.

She and Denny met on an online dating website and married in 2014. He could be the life of the party, but he called her whenever he was in an Uber ride because he hated making small talk. She teased Denny for being only an inch taller than her.

(Photo courtesy of Dani Bates) Denny and Dani Bates in an undated photo.

After Denny died, everything became a reminder of him. He had helped pick out her “majestic minivan.” She had to cancel the expensive sports channels that only he watched. Bates wondered how many of Denny’s belongings she should keep for the girls.

There are good days and bad. But Bates said, "If there’s anything that Denny taught me … it’s that you have to laugh to get through life sometimes.

“And sometimes it seems way too soon or way too awkward or way too weird. But you still have to make jokes about it, you know? It’s how we can survive the hard things in life."

Bates hopes that philosophy comes across in her blog. In a post thanking people for watching her girls and stocking her fridge with meals and her signature Diet Coke, she wrote, “Please just don’t poison us; we have enough drama in our lives.”

Denny’s death was preventable, Bates emphasizes, a point advocates also stress. He had struggled with mental and physical health issues in his past, but in the days leading up to his death, she did not notice warning signs of depression or suicide risk, she said.

Denny “thought that he was taking away a problem or a burden," Bates said. With her blog, though, she wants people to know, “You are not a burden. You are not a hassle. You are needed.”

Those who are in crisis often think it’s “the only option they felt they had,” said Hiatt, of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It’s important to encourage people to reach out to someone about their pain, she added.

MORE WAYS TO SEEK HELP


• American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, www.afsp.org
• National Alliance on Mental Illness Utah Chapter, www.namiut.org
• The Dougy Center, www.dougy.org
• Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition, www.utahsuicideprevention.org

“I can’t help but think that if there wasn’t such a stigma and so much embarrassment around depression and suicide, maybe he would have told me. Maybe he would have been able to say, ‘Dani, all of these things are coming up all of a sudden and I’m scared I’m going to hurt myself,' or ‘I’m so overwhelmed by all of this and need help,'" Bates said.

“...I will never actually know whether there would have been a difference. But I know that sharing my story so far has helped others, and I will continue to do so as long as people keep asking me to."

In August, Bates spoke before an event in Sandy about suicide prevention and awareness. She also started a podcast, called “Make It Awkward,” with Denny’s best friend. And this weekend, she planned to participate in the Out of the Darkness Salt Lake City Walk to raise awareness and support survivors of suicide loss.

Bates wants people to ask questions, to say Denny’s name and to talk about suicide and mental health. You don’t realize how many people around you might be struggling, she said. “We have to just hit it head-on and deal with it."

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Three-year-old Winnie Bates plays near her home in Lehi on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019.

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.