Former Husker Dishman Discusses Wife's Tragic Death
By Brandon McDermott, NET News
May 26, 2020, 5:45 a.m. ·
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Chris Dishman earned many accolades during the glory days of Husker football in the 1990s. After an eight year career in the NFL as an offensive lineman, including seven with the Arizona Cardinals, he hung up his cleats in 2004 and moved back home to Nebraska. His high school sweetheart and wife Audra, was there every step of the way. She tragically took her life in 2019. This story is part of our "Best of 2020 signature stories."
Dishman heard a knock. It was well after midnight. He knew the news wasn’t good even before getting to the door. His wife Audra had gone missing earlier that night. She wasn’t at the local cabin where they camped or at her workplace. She wouldn’t answer his calls. He had searched for hours, filing a missing person’s report and going home. At the door was a deputy from the Seward County Sheriff’s office. After tracking down her parked car, authorities found Audra had taken her own life.
“It was like slow motion and I just instantly walked back and dropped down on the couch and kind of just sat there and I was like there's no way,” Dishman said. “This cannot be real.”
Dishman was an All-American offensive lineman for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He was also an Outland Trophy Award Semifinalist his senior year at Nebraska in 1996. In the NFL, he played in 98 games over eight seasons, starting 59. Audra was there for all of it. He says they were married for 23 years and 10 days. She was the heart of the family. She left no note or impression anything was wrong. Audra’s suicide caught him completely by surprise. Dishman has so many questions and there have been many ripple effects.
“It can rip a family apart and rip a small community (apart),” Dishman said. “My family and my relatives – it’s ripped us apart.”
After Audra died, Dishman surrounded himself with people he loved, his son and daughter and other family and friends. It helped, but he was still hurting in a big way. He decided to use his grief the only way he knew how: by posting on his Facebook page. The posts laid bare his grief.
“Most of them brought back a lot of memories,” Dishman said. “It was painful, but the thought of helping one person was better than not writing it. You know?”
Dishman moved out of their home in rural Nebraska and into a house in Lincoln. Walking into his new home, he’s every bit of the 6’3”, 340 pound lineman who jumps out of 90's Husker football highlights. But he’s a down-to-earth gentle giant. Even in this new house, he’s not feeling settled yet.
“To this day I still live out of my suitcase in my bedroom,” Dishman said. “I just can't get myself to really put things into drawers yet.”
As youngsters, he was the football player, Audra was the cheerleader. They were high school sweethearts. He keeps turning over what happened in his mind.
“‘What if I could have done this different or this different or whatever?” Dishman asked. “I just wish my late wife would have talked to me about it a little more or talked to somebody about it.”
Gerry Merck is a psychotherapist at Monarch Counseling in Lincoln. She works with people dealing with suicidal thoughts and survivors, like Dishman, of the suicide of a loved one.
“There's a lot of guilt involved when people look back and try and figure out if there was some way they should have or could have seen it coming and something that they could have done,” Merck said.
She says people have misconceptions about how to reach someone contemplating suicide.
“The first thing they do is approach it as if suicide is not an option and they negate the person's feelings,” Merck said.
That’s the wrong approach, Merck says, because suicide is an option. Pretending like it's not only creates a barrier between you and the person thinking about taking their own life.
“People want to talk about it, facing it head on (and) talking about it, frankly does not lead people to go through with it,” Merck said.
Merck says this is where psychotherapy can come in.
“If you want your life to get better and you'll give us a shot at this, I think I can help,” Merck said.
“An offensive lineman is known as a protector and you protect,” Dishman said. “I couldn't protect the most valuable thing I have in my life.”
As a football player, Dishman spent his days on the field bulldozing the competition. He knows his wife’s suicide has changed him and he wants to talk about it.
“I was just like everyone else, ‘cowboy up and deal with it.’ After all this happened, it was a very eye opening to me to look on the other side of it,” Dishman said.
Dishman is going through counseling to better understand what happened and he has some advice.
“Don't be afraid to share your story,” Dishman said. “I didn’t try to keep it in like I was a tough guy. My whole life I’ve been a football player (it) was trying to play off the fact that ‘I'm a tough guy, don't show your emotion’ type thing.”
He wants to use his platform as a Nebraska Football Hall of Fame inductee and former NFL lineman to make a difference in the lives of others. That’s what he’s always done – continue to drive his life forward.
Extended interview with Chris Dishman:
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK or online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Editor's note: This story is part of our "Best of 2020" Signature Story report. The story originally aired and was published in May.
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