Joe LeFaive typically displayed joy. He was outgoing and he played by the rules.
He was the type of guy who "wanted to try everything," said his wife, Christina.
Joe, 30, was a fit guy from South Dakota who moved to Lexington in 2008. He was a general contractor; he loved working with his hands. He built the brick-and-concrete pathway at the dog park at Wellington Park. He also had an affinity for photography, fishing, hunting and herding buffalo, Christina LeFaive said.
On the surface, everything appeared to be great. But it wasn't.
Joe, an extrovert with an infectious smile, didn't see a tomorrow, and he took his life last year.
Joe suffered from depression, an illness that Christina, a schoolteacher, knew nothing about until after their wedding. He would often sink into a dark place.
Depression is a condition many people deal with. The recent death of famed comedian Robin Williams placed a spotlight on the illness.
Joe "would just isolate himself," Christina said as she clutched a few photo albums while sitting at the brick pathway he built at Wellington Park. "He would just go into the garage. A lot of times, I would go out and help him, but he would shut me out. I could tell he wanted to work by himself. He'd go to bed early and give no conversation."
Julie Cerel, a licensed psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, said that's common.
Cerel, who has studied suicide for more than 15 years, said that according to psychologist Thomas Joiner's interpersonal theory of suicide, a person feels like a burden and feels alienated from others.
"I think the important thing is that most people who die by suicide are suffering from psychiatric disorders diagnosed or undiagnosed," she said. "I think that people who talk about suicide need to be taken seriously."
From 2009 to 2013, suicides accounted for the third-highest number of cases at the Kentucky Medical Examiner's Office in Frankfort, trailing accidents and deaths by natural causes. The number of homicide cases was significantly less.
There were 340 confirmed suicide cases in Kentucky in 2013, according to documents from the state medical examiner's office.
Melinda Moore, an assistant professor and licensed psychologist in the department of psychology at Eastern Kentucky University, said suicide, like drugs or alcohol, is a coping mechanism to deal with unbearable psychological pain.
The reasons people commit suicide or have suicidal thoughts are different for everyone, and they cut across age groups and demographics, Moore said.
When people think about suicide or engage in suicidal behavior, "they're engaging in rehearsal behavior," she said. "Maybe they've bought a gun or they've been stockpiling pills. They're thinking about ways of killing themselves. They're usually dealing with something that's driving their psychological pain. ... It can be the breakup of a relationship, how you're perceived at school (or) financial difficulties."
Moore, chairwoman of the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group, and Cerel, conducted a study in which researchers interviewed 2,000 people who were affected by suicide in some way.
In an opinion piece addressing Williams' death that was published Aug. 17 in the Herald-Leader, Moore and Cerel said that "650 Kentuckians die by suicide every year, and each of these deaths leaves behind a wide range of family, close friends and even more distant relationships who are now reminded of their loss."
Both agree that discussions of suicide usually include some misconceptions.
Part of the problem with information about suicide and understanding the signs from those who are at risk is that "we don't talk about it," Cerel said.
"It's a sudden trauma," she said. "It's the kind of death, for example, that even if people who aren't the ones to discover their loved one or the person they care about, there's often symptoms of post-traumatic stress associated with it (and) thinking through how they died."
'He was a perfectionist'
Joe LeFaive's depression wasn't apparent, his wife said.
"He was a perfectionist," Christina LeFaive said. "He would deal with it his own way."
His issues never became apparent until after the couple married.
They met at a dog park; Joe chased down Christina's overly energetic dog. After that, they were inseparable.
They were married May 26, 2012, and enjoyed their life together. They would often spend time outdoors. They watched movies together and made sure birthdays were special.
Joe, whose birthday was Feb. 4, liked to celebrate all month. The festivities had to be fun and out of the ordinary, so Christina developed a plan for each weekend.
On Feb. 22, 2013, a Friday, Joe and Christina drove to Elizabethtown and stayed at an aunt's house. Christina had made plans for Joe to go skydiving that Saturday, but he would never get the chance.
Joe had sunk into depression and left, saying he needed some "fresh air."
Christina started to worry when she didn't hear from him. She made several calls and sent text messages to Joe's cellphone. He never responded. Then, about 1 p.m. Saturday, Christina missed a call from Joe's supervisor.
"I immediately listened to the voicemail. ... My heart sank," she said. "I called him, and he said, 'There's been an accident.' I said, 'Where's Joe?' And he said, 'He's gone.' I don't remember much else."
Joe had driven to Nortonville, a few hours from Elizabethtown, at 6 a.m. Feb. 23; he shot himself while he was driving.
Christina has a lot of questions about what happened that day. She wonders whether he was crying during that drive.
The pain has been immeasurable, but she has tried to work through it. She takes things day by day.
Survivors of Suicide, a support group at UK, has been her saving grace. And she was recently voted to the board of Shelby's Way, a nonprofit founded to bring awareness to suicide prevention.
Christina admits she has some bad days. The sound of a bag crumbling reminds her of the last time she hugged her husband. She wears his wedding ring on a silver chain. But talking about Joe's suicide is helpful, and she said she hopes it will raise awareness.
"I don't want Joe's death to define him; I don't want his death to define me," she said. "Even though it's a really bad tragedy, ... I always try to find one thing a day to make me smile, even on the worst of the worse days. ... I still wake up thinking about him. I still go to sleep thinking about ... (Joe) would want me doing what I'm doing; helping others (and) going to work."