“He didn’t want to deploy again. But in the military, you don’t really have a choice. He’d been home for about a year when it was time to say another goodbye. About halfway through the ten month deployment, his roommate was sent home. So there my husband was, on a ship, working and sleeping in the same room, alone almost every day. The tones of his emails changed right at the 6 month mark. I knew he was depressed, but communication is always sporadic during deployment, so I wasn’t too concerned when I hadn’t heard from him in awhile. I just didn’t know how bad it was. When he got home, I thought it would take about a month to re-integrate. It is always hard to readjust.
“After being home a few weeks, we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. He’d been in the Navy for 23 years, so our marriage had its fair share of ups and downs, as all marriages do. But this re-entry was particularly hard. There was a lot that went on during that deployment that I was trying to make sense of. After 22 years together, I didn’t know the man that came home from that deployment. There was an entire side of him that I had never seen before, and it was one I wouldn’t tolerate for myself or for our two children. It was a side I refused to live with. He told me I’d be better off without him, and in a moment I will regret for the rest of my life, I agreed. I left to meet another military spouse for lunch; I needed support too. When I came home, I was locked out of the house and I was furious. I was pounding on the door, yelling at him to let me in, and finally I broke a window. I found him laying on the garage floor, with a 50 caliber black powder rifle at his side. He’d killed himself.
“It’s been two years since my husband committed suicide. Our kids were 17 and 14 at the time. There was so much blame and so much grief. We were connected to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and it saved us all. Having a foundation with TAPS has given us all solid footing and a healthy way to heal. The kids have military mentors, who are active duty men and women who donate their time to helping kids like mine find peace. They’ve connected us with other families who have lost loved ones. It allows families a safe space to know that what they’re feeling, and their grief process, is normal.
“I’m telling our story because I want people to know that TAPS is available. I can’t say enough good things about this incredible resource. But more importantly, I want people to understand that their actions can make a difference. I wish someone would have spoken up for my husband when he couldn’t speak up for himself. I wish someone on the ship would have recognized the warning signs and done something. If someone is isolating themselves, or engaging in dangerous behavior, or needs help, say something, say anything. Speak up. Encourage them to get the help they need and that they deserve. It might just save their life.”