A word from Jeff Elhart -
Jeff and Wayne Elhart: Journey into be nice.
Wayne was a caring comedian, hard-working business owner, proud board member, loving husband and loved others above himself. His marriage of 35 years gave him his foundation and together he and his wife Kathy blessed so many young adults in their quest to be the best that they could be. Wayne was an encourager to me and everyone he touched. He left a mark in this world that made his parents and family very proud.
I found Wayne dead on March 27, 2015. My brother had suffered from depression for a relatively short time before he took his own life. He had been my partner for 32 years in the family business. He had also been my best friend. I could hardly get past the shock of his death. Once I did, I was plagued with an unanswered question: Why?
Survivors of suicide always feel either anger or guilt, sometimes both. I wasn’t angry at my brother, or at God. But I was seriously struggling with guilt. I kept questioning myself. Why didn’t I help him? How did I not notice what was going on? What could I have done to prevent it? Incessantly, relentlessly, these questions kept nagging at me. I felt some solace in knowing I had sensed something was going on in his last months. I had gotten him to his primary care physician and helped him discover faith in God. But that wasn’t enough. Something was missing, and it kept me awake at night.
I’m the kind of guy who takes control of situations when they seem to be out of control, and I felt out of control. I knew I had missed an opportunity with Wayne, and other people like him needed help. What if there was a tool that could equip people to identify mental illness in others and then help them get the help they need? I had noticed signs of Wayne’s depression, but I honestly had not known what to do. What if there was a way for people to know?
Even though it was too late to save Wayne, I could honor a request he left in his suicide note, which we did not discover until months after his death. “God, please use me to help others,” he wrote. This became my mission.
So, I dove into research. I consumed all kinds of books and resources about depression and suicide. I learned a lot, but nothing struck me as something I could use to equip everyday people in a meaningful way. Then I met Christy Buck, executive director of The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. That organization had developed a tool called be nice., forming an acrostic with the word nice. It was easy to learn and easy to teach. It came as a specific answer to one of the biggest prayers of my life.