In 1962, my grandfather on my father’s side took his own life. This after murdering his estranged wife. His murder-suicide shook our immediate and extended families to the core. I was just eight years old and loved both deeply.
The aftershocks and ripples of that singular act were catastrophic for many, many years. My father, his oldest son, changed entirely as he grew older. His anger, fear, remorse, and self-hatred that came from the event consumed him. He isolated
—never explored counseling at any time although he could have afforded the best
—and died without meaningful resolution.
Twelve years ago, given the incredible training and real-world experience I had working with the U.S. Special Operations Command’s Care Coalition as a Warrior Care provider and in lieu of nearly ten years on the street as a police officer with experience investigating suicides and attempted suicides…I investigated my grandfather’s most terrible act.
I discovered no one else in the family had — to include my dad and his two brothers. And I discovered what we all thought was an accurate account was not. We had all lived our lives believing bad information, trauma generated recollections, and the masking of the event even having occurred (The Terrible Secret).
I learned the facts from reading the reports and asking questions, lots of questions, of those of our families still alive and willing to talk. I then shared the true story with everyone to include my father in a three-page letter.
The healing process began…for those who wanted to heal.
I was blessed to spend ten years working with our most seriously wounded, injured, ill, and suicidal. I was well educated along the way —and well trained. I was privileged to participate with equally skilled (many much more so) advocates and clinicians, police officers and hospital staffs, and family members of great courage, to successfully intervene in active suicidal situations.
We continue to lose between 35-40 Active Duty/National Guard/Reservists and Veterans a day to suicide. That is a body count we should be ashamed of. Too many trans-generational war fighters over the past 20 years of ongoing armed conflict. Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, husbands, wives, grandchildren, friends, family…deceased by their own hands.
There are no memorial walls for those who take their own lives. The stigma of suicide ensures silence, shame, and secrecy. However, this cultural branding is changing. We know more about what takes our loved ones to the precipice of death by their own hands. And we are learning more to care for those left behind and to break the chain that suicide in a family or in a military unit can create unless challenged.
To kill the Most Terrible Secret you must expose it to the light of Love, Truth, and Self-Care. You must band together with like-minded warriors and fight the good fight.
And if the suicide is successful you then turn to those left behind, as I have, and self-educate, self-care, and seek professional counseling. Breaking the chain is possible – and important – as is re-learning to love the ones we have lost.
Because suicide is not painless.
MSG (ret) Leroy Petry, Medal of Honor, on the challenges of adversity and embracing one’s life because “we only get one go-around here on earth and if we don’t take care of it…it’s not going to last.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMXSr8S-nVQ
Here are some of the exceptional resources in the war on military service-connected suicide that I have professionally worked for or with and with great success.
“No Fallen Comrade Left Behind”
Lines for Life Military Helpline
Military One Source Confidential Counseling
The Mighty Oaks Veterans Warriors Programs
The Green Beret Foundation
The Cedar Hills Hospital Military Program