Parker's Story

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Parker Bounds Johnson was proud of the fact that he was "Made in Oregon". He loved the Great Northwest and when, for example, he beheld the green hills and lush valleys from his airplane window on flights home and away as a young man, he poetically called it "The Shire" -- evoking images of an Old World countryside from a scene of The Hobbit.

Parker came into the world on September 26, 1990. We had just returned to our beloved NW with our precious 2 1/2 year old Breanna and now our family was complete. We were all just beginning the journey to know what incredible joy, perplexing challenges and utter heartbreak we would experience through loving Parker for his brief time with us on earth.

Parker was an exuberant happy toddler, curious and full of laughter, always testing the limits of his physical body in this world. He seemed almost like a pure ball of energetic light bouncing off surfaces and beaming pure unfiltered joy. Early on we noticed that he was keenly observant and deeply thoughtful. One time when he was about 6 years old he thoughtfully remarked after a discussion about deep space and black holes, "Everything and Nothing is in a Black Hole." His imagination could take him to miniature worlds as well as vast worlds beyond earth.

He was born with an astonishing artistic gift. He instinctively understood complex principles of art that very few elementary school children could. He drew insects in up-close detail, cross sections of ships, complex machines that could eat your homework, dragons climbing up high cliffs seemingly right off the paper, fighting Samurais with courageous expressions, stop-action sequence scenes of skateboarders or motorcycle riders, and even the internal systems of the human body. His creativity seemed to come to him almost effortlessly and although others were in awe of his abilities, he was humble and mostly used this skill as a personal outlet for his ever-busy creative mind. He won several awards for his art, yet the award or recognition never seemed to be what was important to him.

Parker became incredibly proficient in any athletic sport to which he was introduced, whether it was biking, skiing, swimming, tennis, baseball, soccer, climbing, diving, skateboarding, snowboarding, scuba diving, football or rugby. Even though he was smaller in stature, he was muscular and athletics came with ease from a very early age. When he was just 3 years old he asked that we take the training wheels off his bicycle and off he went down the street unassisted. If it was full of action he loved it. While still too young for football he played youth soccer. His first soccer coach--and one of his childhood best-pal's dad-- saw early on his truer calling. With laser focus on the ball and regardless of who might be in the path of the ball, Parker would go blazing through. He didn't understand that you needed to go around other players. His perceptive coach told us that he would excel in a sport where contact was actually legal. He never looked back on soccer and baseball and joined youth football. This is where he made some of his very best life long friends.

Parker's joy, energy, love for family and friends, and moving fast and fearlessly was his signature. Parker's 3rd grade teacher soon gave him the nickname "The Parker Magnet". He attracted everyone to his side--whether because of his silly antics, for his astonishing artwork or because of his friendly welcoming presence. He was happiest surrounded by his many diverse friends. When one mother asked her young daughter, "who is the most popular boy in school, she later told us, "Parker Johnson!" Parker loved school. Not because he loved school work. He loved being surrounded by his friends.

In Parker's early days the friendships he formed introduced many families to us and each other. These friendships and family connections grew strong and remain deeply connected to this day. The circle around "The Parker Magnet" seemed to expand ever greater for all of his nearly 24 years on this planet. We have yet to still meet in person some of those friends who have reached out to us and who have shared how they have been deeply impacted by knowing Parker.

Loyalty to Parker was one of his greatest virtues. When you became Parker's friend, it was forever. He would stand beside you or in front of you no matter what! He would give you the shirt off his back or his favorite toy just because you admired it. One of Parker's neighborhood pals approached us after Parker's passing and told us of a childhood moment when Parker had not known that his friend had had a recent birthday. His pal told us that Parker felt bad and then immediately offered any toy in his room as a belated birthday gift. Parker had just gotten a new red model sports car for his collection and upon his friend's selection of it, Parker didn't hesitate to give it to him. We are touched and grateful that his pal has kept it after all these years and now cherishes it as a symbol of the generous spirit that was Parker.

His love for his family grew deeply as well during his early years. He found a soul mate in his sister, Breanna, that crystallized at a very young age. His favorite pal was Breanna. They were inseparable--playing for hours, creating there own games, and becoming immersed in worlds of fantasy. He would gladly oblige endless play with Barbie Dolls just to be with her. Or agree to be dressed up in all kinds of silly costumes just to make her happy. Their bond was strong and deep. It never wavered. Parker so loved and admired his big "Sis." And although they took different paths and had different circles of friends over the years, they were best friends and confidants for Parker's entire life. It seems that in a subtle and unspoken way, Parker became the wind beneath her wings. Now he is her forever "Star Brother."

As Parker grew, so did the demands of school work. Middle school marked the beginning of his struggles with self-esteem and disappointment with his academics. No amount of acknowledgement of his intelligence could override the evidence of his test scores. He had been selected and tested for the TAG (Talented and Gifted) program because of his artistic gifts but because he was just average in the other academic skills such as math and reading he was turned away. Nowadays, fortunately--but too late for Parker--children who are artistically gifted are treated as such in our public school system. Again, regrettably, the methods of teaching in our public schools did not fit his learning style. This took a dire toll on his self -worth. He needed methods that capitalized on his strengths of hands-on, visual, and action-orientation.

A doctor diagnosed him with ADD and he was from then on expected to be medicated. Then what followed were daily announcements over the school intercom by the nurse to come to the office for his mid day medication, and the shame and humiliation for this middle-schooler was damaging, to say the least. He then soon after was diagnosed with depression and treated medicinally by his new psychiatrist and what followed was the all-too-common route of "self-medication." This path gradually lead his sensitive soul to dark places of bewilderment and feelings of despair. But few if any of his friends knew of his hidden pain. One Christmas we gave him a book with a message, “I hope you dance.” Later we found it’s pages torn and the cover dented and bent and we didn’t understand why... until much later when we found in his journal a passage, “how can I dance when I haven’t even learned how to walk?”

Then came football and what he would later call "His Sport"-- rugby. Here are two sports where a young man with fearless determination, a huge heart and loyalty to his teammates can excel. And excel he did! An incredible tackle that clinched Beaverton's win landed Parker in full color on the front page of the sports section of the Oregonian. Although smaller than many of his teammates he made up with toughness and finesse. When Parker took to the field or the pitch the entire tone and spirit of the game would immediately change. His brothers would rise up and rally around him. What he loved more than the game itself was the brotherly bond that transcended the game.

There is an image that is emblazened forever in his mom’s mind of a very cold January night well after 10pm when the Barbarians had finished another tough but fun practice. His mom had recalled the privilege to have witnessed what felt like a sacred moment frozen in time and space. Coach called all the boys to circle round him as they each took a knee in silent respect and listened with upturned faces at their tough-loving mentor as he said whatever coaches say to scold, teach and inspire. From the warm and waiting car a distance away she could not hear a word or even see the details of their faces as the light caught their collective perspiration evaporating and rising up in a mingling circle of mist from their still hard-breathing bodies. As the stadium lights shown brightly down upon them with the dark night circling the periphery, the darkness seemed to fall away completely as if they were on a stage under a single spot light and all time stood still in a perfect moment. This was one of those rare and private scenes of reverence and brotherhood that few may know and fewer have the honor to witness. Words cannot be found to describe the palpable beauty that was real and lingered in that moment of what must be Heaven. This feeling meant everything to Parker.

His accomplishments in athletics were many but what speaks most to the character of Parker is his ability to connect with others and stir their hearts. His all time favorite movie was “Remember the Titans.” One evening before a high school football game, his mom discovered that he was watching this movie in his room alone under his blankets just to feel inspired by that feeling of being a part of something greater than himself. He loved that ideal. He received the "Most Inspirational Athlete" award 3 times. One as a senior in Football and 2 times voted by his rugby brothers. He didn't feel comfortable with this kind of recognition. He gave his team mates the credit. That was the way he was. They were HIS inspiration. His rugby "Coach", whom he admired, feared and loved, was, in his own words, a hero to Parker. When Parker later joined The Barbarian Old Boys in the rugby alumni brotherhood, his Coach discovered that they both shared identical tattoos over their hearts: The Welsh Dragon. There is more to this remarkable story between the player and his Coach that speaks of a bond of respect and love that is timeless.

The high school classroom was difficult and discouraging for Parker. At one point in 9th and 10th grade he had written in a journal that he felt invisible and that no one could even see him as he walked down the halls. He was even belittled and manipulated by some he thought were his friends. He was not thriving and there were few staff that believed in him and after a while, in fact, struggling to even get up out of bed to go to school was a daily challenge. There were however two encouraging staff members with the ability to see a “diamond in the rough”, and so because of their wisdom and kindness he felt understood and was able to persevere.

But he "excelled" on Friday and Saturday nights. And many nights a week as we had come to find out. That's where he became known as "All-Out." Everything you could think of doing in high school in "all-out" mode, Parker did. In part because he was enjoyed by his friends, in part because he could escape his feelings of low self-worth as being "the life of the party" and in part because in the moment he could feel "happy." Many of these times of experimenting and pushing beyond safe limits, he would black out and not remember the night before. It caught up to him in many ways. Parker's family and close childhood friends and their families rallied around him in a loving intervention and set in motion life-changing events. By his sheer determination, a mother’s love, and an exceptional vice principle and caring math teacher who believed in him, he prevailed and walked at graduation with his peers-- earning a Diploma from Beaverton High School in 2009.

Through paradoxically challenging and serendipitous events, Parker was given a chance at a new direction in life that unfortunately too few get. He agreed to get on a plane and fly across the country where he would participate in a nearly 2 month Wilderness Treatment Program crafted to help young people like Parker who are struggling to find their way. His bright light that we knew was still deep inside him had become covered up by layer upon layer of disappointment, difficulty and despair and from the outside Parker seemed to have become a different person than the boy he had started out in life as being. In time as his Wilderness experience unfolded, he said, "the fog finally cleared" and the light of his huge heart reappeared. He gave it to others with struggles. In return he gained strength and meaning. This Wilderness experience had an indelible affect on him and it saddened him to realize how few who needed treatment could participate in such a program but would instead end up in jail or prison or worse. This has fueled our desire to honor Parker and realize his dream to help others less fortunate than he.

After a grateful, tearful and hopeful graduation from "Wilderness" in the Great Smokey Mountains that lasted through Halloween, Thanksgiving and on through Christmas, Parker exclaimed with heartfelt enthusiasm, "Everyone should go to Wilderness!" He was almost glowing. He went on from there to "TL" -a noteworthy transitional living program in Tucson, AZ with 15 other young men who shared similar struggles. He graduated from this recovery program after 13 months. He gave them his heart. He grew. And he grew. Parker made lifelong friends while he was in Tucson for 4 years. He loved them. And he was loved by them to this day. His counselors and his sponsors, too, quickly grew to love him, too. And they helped him on his way. But they advised him to take care of himself and not put himself last as was his empathetic nature to do. He once thoughtfully commented to his Mom about this very thing saying, "They want me to give up the very best part of me. Why would I do this?” Perhaps it is true that our greatest gifts can be our biggest challenges to manage.

He broke the mold of a traditional job and the college-bound path by insisting on pursuing a career doing what he loved to become the best tattoo artist ever.Through determination and talent, Parker, found an unlikely mentor, " Mac," who is a self-described "South Side Mick" from the tough inner city streets of South Side Chicago. Now Mac's story is a book unto itself and soon Parker and we discovered that his heart is as big on the inside as he is tough on the outside. Mac later shared with us that he felt an instant kinship with Parker and saw himself in him and so was drawn to be his mentor and later his friend and eventually he became Family. Mac jokes that he could not turn away Parker and his "puppy dog eyes." Mac took Parker in and taught him the art of tattooing. Mac was a task master, instructing him through exercises of repetition to ever improve his skills. Parker excelled once again. In no time he was creating original designs and attracting a following of loyal clients. These two men formed a bond that is rarely shared between two humans. They inspired each other. Each helping the other without even knowing it. Two grown men grew. Some of Parker's best days were in Mac's shop in Downtown Tucson. Inking his incredible art onto the bodies of people who were completely unaware of the significance of it all. I don't think Parker even knew the impact of his art on others. He had planned to open a shop in Portland and he already had a line out the door of those who were waiting to be “inked” by Parker.

Parker made a living for himself, and became a self-sufficient young man. He had his own money, found a wonderful young woman who became his fiance, bought a used car, kept an apartment with two cats, 5 frilled lizards, and a pit bull he rescued off the downtown streets of Tucson. Wesley is his name and he is a living legacy of Parker. He was doing what he loved. He had become a "World Class Tattooer. " These were some of the best of times.

As was his in his nature, he had a growing need to find the deeper meaning in life. Eventually he began again to have internal struggles. He had a strong sense that he was on the earth to do more for more people. There was an inner urging and even longing to make an impact in his life, but became tormented because he did not know how. He was a patriot and had a great love of country and wanted to join the military and find a way to save the world. Really. Remember that brotherhood thing with a common purpose? But he had been turned down at the recruiting office at one point because of his struggle with depression. He believed as did others that he had a higher calling but the demands of daily life precluded his realizing this for himself. He felt overwhelmed and couldn't shake off the deepening darkness. The nuts and bolts of everyday living are very hard for some people on this earth.

He fell into a terrible depression. His best childhood friend put all aside and came to his aid and helped save him from complete collapse on more than one occaision. His family and fiance were right there by his side, too. He was fragile but emerged to try again to find normalcy and carry on. Then after a series of mounting challenges, emotional stress, physical pain, financial worries and trying to deal with it all privately, internally, he again sank deeply into depression, deeper than he had before. Struggles of the past, too, had crept back in. Things were unraveling fast. He later told us that he wondered in that profound moment, "am I dying?" And in that next moment he summoned all his strength and he chose the love of his family over all else and ran for the phone to call his Dad who immediately dropped everything and went to his side. From this event, he called, “My Truth” and dated as his "First Sunrise" he seemed to have changed on a profound level.

Doctors will call it on one hand a panic attack or an anxiety attack and on the other hand on-set of schizophrenia. It could have been a side affect of the anti-depressants and mood stablizing medications he was prescribed. It could have been because he hadn't slept or eaten for a few days. It could have been that he was in a very stressful and extremely volitile temporary living arrangement. It could have been that he couldn’t work because he broke his hand. It could have been that he was in physical pain with a throbbing hand. It could have been that his eye sight had worsened. It could have been all the sports concussions that finally were having their cumulative affect like forgetfullness and headaches and poor vision. It could have been the cumulative affect of substance abuse that hurt his brain and body. It could have been any number of things combined to wreak havoc on his acutely sensitive mind, body and spirit. It could have been one or all of these factors but what we do know now is that this fragile state can last a lot longer than our culture and medical profession allows, and by pushing too hard, too soon by making the wrong assumptions we can do great harm. We didn’t know just how terribly fragile he remained and just how much tender loving care he truly needed. He was trying to not show it.

When he carefully and completely described his experience in a letter to us on that “first sunrise”, we believe it was a kind of awakening or "a rebirth" as he called it. He described it as saying he literally felt as if he were being birthed from God after being lifted up into the warm, bright loving light away from the frightening torment of earth’s grip. We have later learned that this has been described and experienced by others as a "Spiritual Awakening" or "Crisis of Consciousness," and even “NDE” (Near Death Experience). There are many labels for what had happened on that day to Parker, and based on how one looks at it, a treatment path prescribed by a western doctor can lead down one path and an eastern practitioner’s determination may lead down another very different path. We took our professional’s well-meaning advice and trustingly chose the most commonly advised former path. And now we will never know the alternative possible outcome had we embraced the other path less traveled.

We were by his side and he and his Mom drove the from south to north to come home to live in Oregon where he could be close to family and start anew. Back to his beloved "Shire." His hope was rekindled yet again. His 23rd year on earth from the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2014, he tried every day to overcome his acute anxiety and dark depression. He struggled immensely. All the while he worked towards landing a job in Portland while getting medical and psychological treatment. He poured his heart into helping others while helping himself the best he could. He participated in support groups with his peers who were also struggling young adults with similar stories. One thing that was obvious was that these beautiful young people were sensitive empathetic individuals who had a fragile way about them all. It was a roller coaster of wonderful progress then huge set backs but we thought we were going to make it.

Parker fought to overcome his anxiety and difficulty with keeping up his motivation and yet he accomplished so much: he obtained his peer support certification through NAMI to help others with mental health challenges; he competed Red Cross first aid certification training; he prepared and filed his tax returns paying his taxes from the income he had earned as a tattoo artist in AZ; He got his Oregon drivers license and registered to vote as an Oregonian; He paid all his debts; He had passed the Red Cross Blood Borne Pathogen Exam; he went to his group support sessions, occupational therapy sessions, doctors appointments and private counseling; he made the effort every week to help us with projects on our home; he was studying hard up to the last week of his life for his state exams to obtain his license to operate as a tattoo artist in the state of Oregon so he could eventually realize a dream of opening a tattoo shop in Portland partnering with Mac. Unfortunately, with the good intention of being protective of the consumer and/or the burdensome goal to collect governance fees, Oregon creates high barriers and requirements that make it difficult for small businesses to start, get on their feet and thrive in our state. This had a direct negative impact on Parker and he asked after reflecting on his past successful business in Arizona, “How come it takes so long for me to have this job here in Oregon?”

He made an effort to always join family for holidays and birthdays and Sunday night dinners; he went out and around Portland enjoying the parks or music venues with his Sis; he reconnected with old family friends for bbq's at their house; he joined us for concerts including Book of Mormon and Blue Man Group and his favorite band of all time--Devil Makes Three at the Crystal Ballroom; he went back to the gym and got fit again eating well and even helping another struggling friend to join him creating an illustrated weekly workout program for his friend to follow. He agreed to go along with his sister and mom to a meditation and healing 4 day retreat to Breitenbush Hotsprings. He continued to try to overcome the threats of impending panic attacks and social anxiety that he before had not had. He even tried to act like a “normal” 20-something by reluctantly agreeing to hit the clubs with a couple of his drinking pals when he knew it wasn't good for him to be in that kind of environment and that even one drink was a mistake.

He tried so very hard to persevere. He had long learned to live with pain. He had long learned to live with disappointment. A mentor and friend of his described him and those like him as “heavy lifters.” The answer to why he seemed burdened to carry such a heavy cross, we may never understand. Perhaps we are beginning to. He fought for his life fueled by his deep love and devotion for his family. His time back home with family is now priceless to us and every single little moment is unforgettable. It is the heaviest burden upon his mom and dad that we did not know the right way to help Parker find his way. This beautiful soul right within our very reach we did not know how to protect from harm. We didn’t understand what he needed deep down inside for so long. We believe we are beginning to understand now. We know what we would do and say now.

Finally he could no longer find hope to overcome his nearly lifelong struggle with debilitating depression and more recent battle with severe anxiety. He hardly slept at night any more due to reoccuring night terrors. He was afraid of the next panic attack that made him feel that he could not breath, heart racing out of his chest--feeling like he was being chocked and pinned down. He felt that nothing he tried worked for him in relieving his suffering. He wanted to handle his own care, yet it was overwhelming. He seemed even to those who knew him best that he was “going to stay.” But he eventually withdrew from all of those who loved him believing falsely that he was a burden to his friends and especially his family. He held himself stoically not wanting to reveal his desparation. He was so strong in so many ways. We didn’t know that even among us he felt sheer loneliness and had lost his sense of belonging. Had he felt he could share what was weighing heavy in his soul, in this culture of ours that we were taught and that expects--especially of young men--to be strong and capable and never cry nor need others to lean on, what might have been a different outcome?

On Saturday Sept 20, 2014, one sublime Indian Summer day just before the Autumn Equinox and the rising Harvest Moon at 5:40pm, Parker quietly shed his body and his beautiful spirit traveled beyond the veil to Heaven. He did not want to die, but he saw no other way to end his unrelenting suffering. We later learned from his friend who told us about a prophetic yet strangely empowering comment by Parker when they were talking deeply about life and death, "When they find my body lying in the forest, I want to be holding a sign that reads, "I was not afraid to die."

His final earthly act was not cowardly or selfish. In fact the opposite is true. There are old cultural ideas that still linger, and are sadly perpetrated out of fear, judgement, lack of understanding and yes--selfishness of those who don’t understand. He felt he was being left behind and couldn’t keep up and was ashamed that it was so hard for him. He felt ashamed that he always need help when had instead wanted to be of help to others. He thought he should have been able to stand on his own two feet but it was too hard to overcome his dibilitating suffering. He thought it would release others of their feeling of responsibility toward him. He thought he wouldn’t be missed. Nothing is farther from the truth.

And if the word cowardly comes to mind, think again. The truth is, he was brave beyond comprehension--just for a moment try to imagine the act of taking your own life. It is nearly unfathomable. He was in fact, completely clean and sober with no medications not even nicotine from a cigarette was in his system. He believed, however wrongly, that his leaving would lift the burden he felt he was to his family and friends. He was acutely lonely even surrounded by those who loved him. He knew he held the key but didn’t know how to use it to free himself. He didn’t know how to let the love in.

Let's speak up and change all this wrong thinking and isolation that we keep doing to ourselves and others. But vastly more important than this, join us to direct our own new understanding that has come through losing Parker and begin to work together to offer hope to those among us, like him, who are so acutely suffering in silence. Let's help show them they belong and that they are not alone and we will walk with them. Let's be real and share our hearts even when we feel ugly and afraid and broken. Let’s be thoughtful and protective of others when they are working so hard to overcome their difficulties. Let’s help eachother remember that we hold the key within each of us to let love in. Let’s create community that serves to lift one another up as we walk through this life together. Let’s heal our mind, body and spirit and see how when we honor ourselves in this way, we can come back to find our health and happiness restored. Let's come together to discover real pathways to healing so we can know that we don't need to take our own lives to end our acute suffering. Let’s not just do this here and there and now and again. Let’s do this in our daily walk-- for the long run--and for the greater mission to save the world--one soul at a time--including our own.

Parker, we wish every single day that you had found hope. We wish every single day that you could have found relief from your suffering. We wish every single day that you could have seen yourself the way others see you. We wish every single day that you could have loved and cared for yourself the way you loved and cared for others....Now Parker, what continues is the hope that we can honor you and be your eyes and your ears and your hands and your feet by sharing your story and your heart with the world for the single purpose of helping others overcome their own devastatingly painful inner battles-- so they may once again bask in the light that shines within and around them.

Upon entering his apartment that warm evening that has been burned forever on our consciousness, we noticed a small beautiful tattoo design he had written on trace paper ready to likely become his next tattoo. It was written in Italian and taped to his wall above his yellow table where he would draw and write. It read, "Amor y Famiglia Sono Tuto." We asked our Italian friends to translate it for us: "Love and Family Are Everything." There are no better words that coalesce what Parker knew was the essence of what is most important. Letting Love in and Loving oneself ends Loneliness. Family means Belonging. We want to add one more: HOPE.

Parker, your story continues as your larger than life dream and beautiful heart continues to inspire us. Now we are committed for the long run to make this dream come true and hope to stir the souls of others who will participate with us in this life-affirming cause: Parker Bounds Johnson Foundation & Wilderness4Life “the pathway home.”

We love you forever, Son. We are more than proud of you.
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Parker Bounds Johnson was proud of the fact that he was "Made in Oregon". He loved the Great Northwest and when, for example, he beheld the green hills and lush valleys from his airplane window on flights home and away as a young man, he poetically called it "The Shire" -- evoking images of an Old World countryside from a scene of The Hobbit.

Parker came into the world on September 26, 1990. We had just returned to our beloved NW with our precious 2 1/2 year old Breanna and now our family was complete. We were all just beginning the journey to know what incredible joy, perplexing challenges and utter heartbreak we would experience through loving Parker for his brief time with us on earth.

Parker was an exuberant happy toddler, curious and full of laughter, always testing the limits of his physical body in this world. He seemed almost like a pure ball of energetic light bouncing off surfaces and beaming pure unfiltered joy. Early on we noticed that he was keenly observant and deeply thoughtful. One time when he was about 6 years old he thoughtfully remarked after a discussion about deep space and black holes, "Everything and Nothing is in a Black Hole." His imagination could take him to miniature worlds as well as vast worlds beyond earth.

He was born with an astonishing artistic gift. He instinctively understood complex principles of art that very few elementary school children could. He drew insects in up-close detail, cross sections of ships, complex machines that could eat your homework, dragons climbing up high cliffs seemingly right off the paper, fighting Samurais with courageous expressions, stop-action sequence scenes of skateboarders or motorcycle riders, and even the internal systems of the human body. His creativity seemed to come to him almost effortlessly and although others were in awe of his abilities, he was humble and mostly used this skill as a personal outlet for his ever-busy creative mind. He won several awards for his art, yet the award or recognition never seemed to be what was important to him.

Parker became incredibly proficient in any athletic sport to which he was introduced, whether it was biking, skiing, swimming, tennis, baseball, soccer, climbing, diving, skateboarding, snowboarding, scuba diving, football or rugby. Even though he was smaller in stature, he was muscular and athletics came with ease from a very early age. When he was just 3 years old he asked that we take the training wheels off his bicycle and off he went down the street unassisted. If it was full of action he loved it. While still too young for football he played youth soccer. His first soccer coach--and one of his childhood best-pal's dad-- saw early on his truer calling. With laser focus on the ball and regardless of who might be in the path of the ball, Parker would go blazing through. He didn't understand that you needed to go around other players. His perceptive coach told us that he would excel in a sport where contact was actually legal. He never looked back on soccer and baseball and joined youth football. This is where he made some of his very best life long friends.

Parker's joy, energy, love for family and friends, and moving fast and fearlessly was his signature. Parker's 3rd grade teacher soon gave him the nickname "The Parker Magnet". He attracted everyone to his side--whether because of his silly antics, for his astonishing artwork or because of his friendly welcoming presence. He was happiest surrounded by his many diverse friends. When one mother asked her young daughter, "who is the most popular boy in school, she later told us, "Parker Johnson!" Parker loved school. Not because he loved school work. He loved being surrounded by his friends.

In Parker's early days the friendships he formed introduced many families to us and each other. These friendships and family connections grew strong and remain deeply connected to this day. The circle around "The Parker Magnet" seemed to expand ever greater for all of his nearly 24 years on this planet. We have yet to still meet in person some of those friends who have reached out to us and who have shared how they have been deeply impacted by knowing Parker.

Loyalty to Parker was one of his greatest virtues. When you became Parker's friend, it was forever. He would stand beside you or in front of you no matter what! He would give you the shirt off his back or his favorite toy just because you admired it. One of Parker's neighborhood pals approached us after Parker's passing and told us of a childhood moment when Parker had not known that his friend had had a recent birthday. His pal told us that Parker felt bad and then immediately offered any toy in his room as a belated birthday gift. Parker had just gotten a new red model sports car for his collection and upon his friend's selection of it, Parker didn't hesitate to give it to him. We are touched and grateful that his pal has kept it after all these years and now cherishes it as a symbol of the generous spirit that was Parker.

His love for his family grew deeply as well during his early years. He found a soul mate in his sister, Breanna, that crystallized at a very young age. His favorite pal was Breanna. They were inseparable--playing for hours, creating there own games, and becoming immersed in worlds of fantasy. He would gladly oblige endless play with Barbie Dolls just to be with her. Or agree to be dressed up in all kinds of silly costumes just to make her happy. Their bond was strong and deep. It never wavered. Parker so loved and admired his big "Sis." And although they took different paths and had different circles of friends over the years, they were best friends and confidants for Parker's entire life. It seems that in a subtle and unspoken way, Parker became the wind beneath her wings. Now he is her forever "Star Brother."

As Parker grew, so did the demands of school work. Middle school marked the beginning of his struggles with self-esteem and disappointment with his academics. No amount of acknowledgement of his intelligence could override the evidence of his test scores. He had been selected and tested for the TAG (Talented and Gifted) program because of his artistic gifts but because he was just average in the other academic skills such as math and reading he was turned away. Nowadays, fortunately--but too late for Parker--children who are artistically gifted are treated as such in our public school system. Again, regrettably, the methods of teaching in our public schools did not fit his learning style. This took a dire toll on his self -worth. He needed methods that capitalized on his strengths of hands-on, visual, and action-orientation.

A doctor diagnosed him with ADD and he was from then on expected to be medicated. Then what followed were daily announcements over the school intercom by the nurse to come to the office for his mid day medication, and the shame and humiliation for this middle-schooler was damaging, to say the least. He then soon after was diagnosed with depression and treated medicinally by his new psychiatrist and what followed was the all-too-common route of "self-medication." This path gradually lead his sensitive soul to dark places of bewilderment and feelings of despair. But few if any of his friends knew of his hidden pain. One Christmas we gave him a book with a message, “I hope you dance.” Later we found it’s pages torn and the cover dented and bent and we didn’t understand why... until much later when we found in his journal a passage, “how can I dance when I haven’t even learned how to walk?”

Then came football and what he would later call "His Sport"-- rugby. Here are two sports where a young man with fearless determination, a huge heart and loyalty to his teammates can excel. And excel he did! An incredible tackle that clinched Beaverton's win landed Parker in full color on the front page of the sports section of the Oregonian. Although smaller than many of his teammates he made up with toughness and finesse. When Parker took to the field or the pitch the entire tone and spirit of the game would immediately change. His brothers would rise up and rally around him. What he loved more than the game itself was the brotherly bond that transcended the game.

There is an image that is emblazened forever in his mom’s mind of a very cold January night well after 10pm when the Barbarians had finished another tough but fun practice. His mom had recalled the privilege to have witnessed what felt like a sacred moment frozen in time and space. Coach called all the boys to circle round him as they each took a knee in silent respect and listened with upturned faces at their tough-loving mentor as he said whatever coaches say to scold, teach and inspire. From the warm and waiting car a distance away she could not hear a word or even see the details of their faces as the light caught their collective perspiration evaporating and rising up in a mingling circle of mist from their still hard-breathing bodies. As the stadium lights shown brightly down upon them with the dark night circling the periphery, the darkness seemed to fall away completely as if they were on a stage under a single spot light and all time stood still in a perfect moment. This was one of those rare and private scenes of reverence and brotherhood that few may know and fewer have the honor to witness. Words cannot be found to describe the palpable beauty that was real and lingered in that moment of what must be Heaven. This feeling meant everything to Parker.

His accomplishments in athletics were many but what speaks most to the character of Parker is his ability to connect with others and stir their hearts. His all time favorite movie was “Remember the Titans.” One evening before a high school football game, his mom discovered that he was watching this movie in his room alone under his blankets just to feel inspired by that feeling of being a part of something greater than himself. He loved that ideal. He received the "Most Inspirational Athlete" award 3 times. One as a senior in Football and 2 times voted by his rugby brothers. He didn't feel comfortable with this kind of recognition. He gave his team mates the credit. That was the way he was. They were HIS inspiration. His rugby "Coach", whom he admired, feared and loved, was, in his own words, a hero to Parker. When Parker later joined The Barbarian Old Boys in the rugby alumni brotherhood, his Coach discovered that they both shared identical tattoos over their hearts: The Welsh Dragon. There is more to this remarkable story between the player and his Coach that speaks of a bond of respect and love that is timeless.

The high school classroom was difficult and discouraging for Parker. At one point in 9th and 10th grade he had written in a journal that he felt invisible and that no one could even see him as he walked down the halls. He was even belittled and manipulated by some he thought were his friends. He was not thriving and there were few staff that believed in him and after a while, in fact, struggling to even get up out of bed to go to school was a daily challenge. There were however two encouraging staff members with the ability to see a “diamond in the rough”, and so because of their wisdom and kindness he felt understood and was able to persevere.

But he "excelled" on Friday and Saturday nights. And many nights a week as we had come to find out. That's where he became known as "All-Out." Everything you could think of doing in high school in "all-out" mode, Parker did. In part because he was enjoyed by his friends, in part because he could escape his feelings of low self-worth as being "the life of the party" and in part because in the moment he could feel "happy." Many of these times of experimenting and pushing beyond safe limits, he would black out and not remember the night before. It caught up to him in many ways. Parker's family and close childhood friends and their families rallied around him in a loving intervention and set in motion life-changing events. By his sheer determination, a mother’s love, and an exceptional vice principle and caring math teacher who believed in him, he prevailed and walked at graduation with his peers-- earning a Diploma from Beaverton High School in 2009.

Through paradoxically challenging and serendipitous events, Parker was given a chance at a new direction in life that unfortunately too few get. He agreed to get on a plane and fly across the country where he would participate in a nearly 2 month Wilderness Treatment Program crafted to help young people like Parker who are struggling to find their way. His bright light that we knew was still deep inside him had become covered up by layer upon layer of disappointment, difficulty and despair and from the outside Parker seemed to have become a different person than the boy he had started out in life as being. In time as his Wilderness experience unfolded, he said, "the fog finally cleared" and the light of his huge heart reappeared. He gave it to others with struggles. In return he gained strength and meaning. This Wilderness experience had an indelible affect on him and it saddened him to realize how few who needed treatment could participate in such a program but would instead end up in jail or prison or worse. This has fueled our desire to honor Parker and realize his dream to help others less fortunate than he.

After a grateful, tearful and hopeful graduation from "Wilderness" in the Great Smokey Mountains that lasted through Halloween, Thanksgiving and on through Christmas, Parker exclaimed with heartfelt enthusiasm, "Everyone should go to Wilderness!" He was almost glowing. He went on from there to "TL" -a noteworthy transitional living program in Tucson, AZ with 15 other young men who shared similar struggles. He graduated from this recovery program after 13 months. He gave them his heart. He grew. And he grew. Parker made lifelong friends while he was in Tucson for 4 years. He loved them. And he was loved by them to this day. His counselors and his sponsors, too, quickly grew to love him, too. And they helped him on his way. But they advised him to take care of himself and not put himself last as was his empathetic nature to do. He once thoughtfully commented to his Mom about this very thing saying, "They want me to give up the very best part of me. Why would I do this?” Perhaps it is true that our greatest gifts can be our biggest challenges to manage.

He broke the mold of a traditional job and the college-bound path by insisting on pursuing a career doing what he loved to become the best tattoo artist ever.Through determination and talent, Parker, found an unlikely mentor, " Mac," who is a self-described "South Side Mick" from the tough inner city streets of South Side Chicago. Now Mac's story is a book unto itself and soon Parker and we discovered that his heart is as big on the inside as he is tough on the outside. Mac later shared with us that he felt an instant kinship with Parker and saw himself in him and so was drawn to be his mentor and later his friend and eventually he became Family. Mac jokes that he could not turn away Parker and his "puppy dog eyes." Mac took Parker in and taught him the art of tattooing. Mac was a task master, instructing him through exercises of repetition to ever improve his skills. Parker excelled once again. In no time he was creating original designs and attracting a following of loyal clients. These two men formed a bond that is rarely shared between two humans. They inspired each other. Each helping the other without even knowing it. Two grown men grew. Some of Parker's best days were in Mac's shop in Downtown Tucson. Inking his incredible art onto the bodies of people who were completely unaware of the significance of it all. I don't think Parker even knew the impact of his art on others. He had planned to open a shop in Portland and he already had a line out the door of those who were waiting to be “inked” by Parker.

Parker made a living for himself, and became a self-sufficient young man. He had his own money, found a wonderful young woman who became his fiance, bought a used car, kept an apartment with two cats, 5 frilled lizards, and a pit bull he rescued off the downtown streets of Tucson. Wesley is his name and he is a living legacy of Parker. He was doing what he loved. He had become a "World Class Tattooer. " These were some of the best of times.

As was his in his nature, he had a growing need to find the deeper meaning in life. Eventually he began again to have internal struggles. He had a strong sense that he was on the earth to do more for more people. There was an inner urging and even longing to make an impact in his life, but became tormented because he did not know how. He was a patriot and had a great love of country and wanted to join the military and find a way to save the world. Really. Remember that brotherhood thing with a common purpose? But he had been turned down at the recruiting office at one point because of his struggle with depression. He believed as did others that he had a higher calling but the demands of daily life precluded his realizing this for himself. He felt overwhelmed and couldn't shake off the deepening darkness. The nuts and bolts of everyday living are very hard for some people on this earth.

He fell into a terrible depression. His best childhood friend put all aside and came to his aid and helped save him from complete collapse on more than one occaision. His family and fiance were right there by his side, too. He was fragile but emerged to try again to find normalcy and carry on. Then after a series of mounting challenges, emotional stress, physical pain, financial worries and trying to deal with it all privately, internally, he again sank deeply into depression, deeper than he had before. Struggles of the past, too, had crept back in. Things were unraveling fast. He later told us that he wondered in that profound moment, "am I dying?" And in that next moment he summoned all his strength and he chose the love of his family over all else and ran for the phone to call his Dad who immediately dropped everything and went to his side. From this event, he called, “My Truth” and dated as his "First Sunrise" he seemed to have changed on a profound level.

Doctors will call it on one hand a panic attack or an anxiety attack and on the other hand on-set of schizophrenia. It could have been a side affect of the anti-depressants and mood stablizing medications he was prescribed. It could have been because he hadn't slept or eaten for a few days. It could have been that he was in a very stressful and extremely volitile temporary living arrangement. It could have been that he couldn’t work because he broke his hand. It could have been that he was in physical pain with a throbbing hand. It could have been that his eye sight had worsened. It could have been all the sports concussions that finally were having their cumulative affect like forgetfullness and headaches and poor vision. It could have been the cumulative affect of substance abuse that hurt his brain and body. It could have been any number of things combined to wreak havoc on his acutely sensitive mind, body and spirit. It could have been one or all of these factors but what we do know now is that this fragile state can last a lot longer than our culture and medical profession allows, and by pushing too hard, too soon by making the wrong assumptions we can do great harm. We didn’t know just how terribly fragile he remained and just how much tender loving care he truly needed. He was trying to not show it.

When he carefully and completely described his experience in a letter to us on that “first sunrise”, we believe it was a kind of awakening or "a rebirth" as he called it. He described it as saying he literally felt as if he were being birthed from God after being lifted up into the warm, bright loving light away from the frightening torment of earth’s grip. We have later learned that this has been described and experienced by others as a "Spiritual Awakening" or "Crisis of Consciousness," and even “NDE” (Near Death Experience). There are many labels for what had happened on that day to Parker, and based on how one looks at it, a treatment path prescribed by a western doctor can lead down one path and an eastern practitioner’s determination may lead down another very different path. We took our professional’s well-meaning advice and trustingly chose the most commonly advised former path. And now we will never know the alternative possible outcome had we embraced the other path less traveled.

We were by his side and he and his Mom drove the from south to north to come home to live in Oregon where he could be close to family and start anew. Back to his beloved "Shire." His hope was rekindled yet again. His 23rd year on earth from the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2014, he tried every day to overcome his acute anxiety and dark depression. He struggled immensely. All the while he worked towards landing a job in Portland while getting medical and psychological treatment. He poured his heart into helping others while helping himself the best he could. He participated in support groups with his peers who were also struggling young adults with similar stories. One thing that was obvious was that these beautiful young people were sensitive empathetic individuals who had a fragile way about them all. It was a roller coaster of wonderful progress then huge set backs but we thought we were going to make it.

Parker fought to overcome his anxiety and difficulty with keeping up his motivation and yet he accomplished so much: he obtained his peer support certification through NAMI to help others with mental health challenges; he competed Red Cross first aid certification training; he prepared and filed his tax returns paying his taxes from the income he had earned as a tattoo artist in AZ; He got his Oregon drivers license and registered to vote as an Oregonian; He paid all his debts; He had passed the Red Cross Blood Borne Pathogen Exam; he went to his group support sessions, occupational therapy sessions, doctors appointments and private counseling; he made the effort every week to help us with projects on our home; he was studying hard up to the last week of his life for his state exams to obtain his license to operate as a tattoo artist in the state of Oregon so he could eventually realize a dream of opening a tattoo shop in Portland partnering with Mac. Unfortunately, with the good intention of being protective of the consumer and/or the burdensome goal to collect governance fees, Oregon creates high barriers and requirements that make it difficult for small businesses to start, get on their feet and thrive in our state. This had a direct negative impact on Parker and he asked after reflecting on his past successful business in Arizona, “How come it takes so long for me to have this job here in Oregon?”

He made an effort to always join family for holidays and birthdays and Sunday night dinners; he went out and around Portland enjoying the parks or music venues with his Sis; he reconnected with old family friends for bbq's at their house; he joined us for concerts including Book of Mormon and Blue Man Group and his favorite band of all time--Devil Makes Three at the Crystal Ballroom; he went back to the gym and got fit again eating well and even helping another struggling friend to join him creating an illustrated weekly workout program for his friend to follow. He agreed to go along with his sister and mom to a meditation and healing 4 day retreat to Breitenbush Hotsprings. He continued to try to overcome the threats of impending panic attacks and social anxiety that he before had not had. He even tried to act like a “normal” 20-something by reluctantly agreeing to hit the clubs with a couple of his drinking pals when he knew it wasn't good for him to be in that kind of environment and that even one drink was a mistake.

He tried so very hard to persevere. He had long learned to live with pain. He had long learned to live with disappointment. A mentor and friend of his described him and those like him as “heavy lifters.” The answer to why he seemed burdened to carry such a heavy cross, we may never understand. Perhaps we are beginning to. He fought for his life fueled by his deep love and devotion for his family. His time back home with family is now priceless to us and every single little moment is unforgettable. It is the heaviest burden upon his mom and dad that we did not know the right way to help Parker find his way. This beautiful soul right within our very reach we did not know how to protect from harm. We didn’t understand what he needed deep down inside for so long. We believe we are beginning to understand now. We know what we would do and say now.

Finally he could no longer find hope to overcome his nearly lifelong struggle with debilitating depression and more recent battle with severe anxiety. He hardly slept at night any more due to reoccuring night terrors. He was afraid of the next panic attack that made him feel that he could not breath, heart racing out of his chest--feeling like he was being chocked and pinned down. He felt that nothing he tried worked for him in relieving his suffering. He wanted to handle his own care, yet it was overwhelming. He seemed even to those who knew him best that he was “going to stay.” But he eventually withdrew from all of those who loved him believing falsely that he was a burden to his friends and especially his family. He held himself stoically not wanting to reveal his desparation. He was so strong in so many ways. We didn’t know that even among us he felt sheer loneliness and had lost his sense of belonging. Had he felt he could share what was weighing heavy in his soul, in this culture of ours that we were taught and that expects--especially of young men--to be strong and capable and never cry nor need others to lean on, what might have been a different outcome?

On Saturday Sept 20, 2014, one sublime Indian Summer day just before the Autumn Equinox and the rising Harvest Moon at 5:40pm, Parker quietly shed his body and his beautiful spirit traveled beyond the veil to Heaven. He did not want to die, but he saw no other way to end his unrelenting suffering. We later learned from his friend who told us about a prophetic yet strangely empowering comment by Parker when they were talking deeply about life and death, "When they find my body lying in the forest, I want to be holding a sign that reads, "I was not afraid to die."

His final earthly act was not cowardly or selfish. In fact the opposite is true. There are old cultural ideas that still linger, and are sadly perpetrated out of fear, judgement, lack of understanding and yes--selfishness of those who don’t understand. He felt he was being left behind and couldn’t keep up and was ashamed that it was so hard for him. He felt ashamed that he always need help when had instead wanted to be of help to others. He thought he should have been able to stand on his own two feet but it was too hard to overcome his dibilitating suffering. He thought it would release others of their feeling of responsibility toward him. He thought he wouldn’t be missed. Nothing is farther from the truth.

And if the word cowardly comes to mind, think again. The truth is, he was brave beyond comprehension--just for a moment try to imagine the act of taking your own life. It is nearly unfathomable. He was in fact, completely clean and sober with no medications not even nicotine from a cigarette was in his system. He believed, however wrongly, that his leaving would lift the burden he felt he was to his family and friends. He was acutely lonely even surrounded by those who loved him. He knew he held the key but didn’t know how to use it to free himself. He didn’t know how to let the love in.

Let's speak up and change all this wrong thinking and isolation that we keep doing to ourselves and others. But vastly more important than this, join us to direct our own new understanding that has come through losing Parker and begin to work together to offer hope to those among us, like him, who are so acutely suffering in silence. Let's help show them they belong and that they are not alone and we will walk with them. Let's be real and share our hearts even when we feel ugly and afraid and broken. Let’s be thoughtful and protective of others when they are working so hard to overcome their difficulties. Let’s help eachother remember that we hold the key within each of us to let love in. Let’s create community that serves to lift one another up as we walk through this life together. Let’s heal our mind, body and spirit and see how when we honor ourselves in this way, we can come back to find our health and happiness restored. Let's come together to discover real pathways to healing so we can know that we don't need to take our own lives to end our acute suffering. Let’s not just do this here and there and now and again. Let’s do this in our daily walk-- for the long run--and for the greater mission to save the world--one soul at a time--including our own.

Parker, we wish every single day that you had found hope. We wish every single day that you could have found relief from your suffering. We wish every single day that you could have seen yourself the way others see you. We wish every single day that you could have loved and cared for yourself the way you loved and cared for others....Now Parker, what continues is the hope that we can honor you and be your eyes and your ears and your hands and your feet by sharing your story and your heart with the world for the single purpose of helping others overcome their own devastatingly painful inner battles-- so they may once again bask in the light that shines within and around them.

Upon entering his apartment that warm evening that has been burned forever on our consciousness, we noticed a small beautiful tattoo design he had written on trace paper ready to likely become his next tattoo. It was written in Italian and taped to his wall above his yellow table where he would draw and write. It read, "Amor y Famiglia Sono Tuto." We asked our Italian friends to translate it for us: "Love and Family Are Everything." There are no better words that coalesce what Parker knew was the essence of what is most important. Letting Love in and Loving oneself ends Loneliness. Family means Belonging. We want to add one more: HOPE.

Parker, your story continues as your larger than life dream and beautiful heart continues to inspire us. Now we are committed for the long run to make this dream come true and hope to stir the souls of others who will participate with us in this life-affirming cause: Parker Bounds Johnson Foundation & Wilderness4Life “the pathway home.”

We love you forever, Son. We are more than proud of you.