I am a silent killer. I am indiscriminate, and I can strike without warning.
I not only kill but destroy the lives of those that are left behind.
I cause chaos and trauma. Those that have not come into contact with me are
frightened to utter my name for fear that I will touch their lives.
They don’t realize that the only way you can stop me is to talk about me.
I am Depression-I am Suicide Raise Awareness-Stop the Stigma
The text came through at 9:02 a.m. on December 27, 2014. I looked at my phone and panicked. My son had never sent anything like that, and I’d known he’d meant it. I’d jumped off my seat and called him. I texted him over and over and pleaded, “Please, Mike, don’t do this! We will help you!” Loss of hope doesn’t wait. My entire family was calling and texting him.
My son’s text:
“I’m going out to visit Pop, but I’m not coming home. I have struggled with depression all my life... I just can’t take it anymore. I’m sorry, I’m, so, so sorry I’m so selfish in my decision today. I can’t bear it anymore; I’m so sorry. Please ask God to forgive me and my actions today. I went to church before I came out here and asked myself, but I don’t know... I’m so sorry; I wished I got killed in Iraq to keep you all from my selfish decision today. These last months of my life were the happiest I have ever been, thank you all for giving me such a great life. I’m sorry, please remember the funny me.”
Full panic mode set in, and I began calling the cemetery, the police, anyone I could think of that could help. Our efforts would prove futile. So many thoughts went through my mind; 90% of me knew what had already happened and kept me stopped in time: numb, empty, and feeling the devastation of an irreversible loss. The remaining 10% of me believed he would be found alive. I could still remember when he would walk in the door, his beard grazing my jaw as he greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. I could see his face. I heard his voice. I could smell him.
Would I have ever thought my life would be like this? Oh, my god! How can you possibly prepare for the death of a child? The loss from dying by suicide is so very different and often more significant than any other type of damage. At times, my mind wanders to the day I had him: the labor; Aunt Julie, his godmother, and my mom there at the hospital in Lake Tahoe. Is this a nightmare? My mind fixated on the should haves, ifs, whys, and could have.
Everything had to be down to a T with Mike. A mild sufferer of OCD, he was fantastically organized and paid an excessive amount of attention to detail, right down to his suicide text—229 words of detail was a hell of a lot of words. It’s strange to say, but at least we got one. Many survivors have no reason why and no insights or closure,whatever that means. I know that I will never receive closure from my son’s death.
Mike had suffered from depression on and off since the age of six. I had no idea a six-year-old could be depressed, but what did we know about depression thirty years ago? Especially in children? He’d never worked through all of the compounded grief he had accumulated from my father’s death, a prior break-up, and his chaplain’s suicide. My father died unexpectedly on June 2, 2009, the same day; Mike flew back from Iraq. A long-term relationship ended in 2013. Then Mike’s chaplain—who was his best friend—took his life on January 11, 2014, eleven months before my son did. Chaplain and Mike were very close, but not nearly as close as Mike had been to my father. The hits just kept on coming.
I’d felt like a bad mother greeting my son with the unexpected news that Pop had died. It had been a bittersweet day. My son was home, yet my dad had just died. I was struggling as well, at the loss of the greatest father and grandfather. My son deserved a better homecoming then that.
It affects me to this day. I am still plagued by guilt as if somehow, I could have changed the outcome of the news. I remember the sobs I heard coming from Mike when I’d told him. He’d been inconsolable and never was quite the same again. Mike was so devastated by my dad’s death. He never dealt with any of his grief or the new horrors he’d experienced in the military.
I think that was the start of the major downfalls for him in 2009. Dealing with recently experienced grief right away is extremely important! Do not think you can do this on your own!
Mike had never dealt with any loss well; all it took was one more thing. His demons, depression, and loss of hope won that terrible morning.I was living every parent’s worst nightmare. We gave him a good life. We loved him. He loved us. He laughed. He made others laugh. Then WHY? The most burning question for me was why he choose to leave us. I felt his death was a rejection of his life with us. I couldn’t understand why our love for him wasn’t enough to keep him alive. Since then, I’ve come to the ultimate reconciliation that what happened had nothing to do with his love for us. It had been all about his pain and sad reality.
That morning, we all called the Veterans Memorial Cemetery, where my dad is laid to rest, Mike was probably there. They said they had received many calls for him. My whole family was calling in, frantic! I was out of town and had a grueling seven-hour drive back. I kept calling Mike’s dad, Steve, to see if anyone had heard from Mike. I called my daughter as she was trying to find and use his passwords to see if he might have left some type of clue. Nothing. We thought and hoped that maybe he’d gone up to Lake Tahoe where he was born and didn’t mean what he’d texted us, but needed to clear his head.
My mind went everywhere, trying to think of where else he could be, but I also didn’t want to believe that he’d meant what he’d written. In the meantime, Steve, Mike’s dad, was driving to the cemetery, which was a thirty to forty-five-minute ride south to Boulder City, Nevada, from Las Vegas. Mike had almost forty-five minutes to change his mind; I’d kept thinking. When Steve got to where my dad is laid to rest, he saw yellow tape all around and police cars and started crying immediately. He parked, then the policeman came up to the vehicle and spoke with him and asked if he wanted to identify the body. Steve said no. The policeman showed him a driver’s license—it was Mike’s. He broke down sobbing. The search was over. No more calls, looking for him, or texting. No more hope. Now he had to give all of us the terrible news. He told me he’d dreaded telling me the most.
I was on my way home from California and had stopped to get something to eat, even though I was not hungry. I called Mike’s dadas I walked outside Denny’s restaurant to hear if he had any news on Mike. It was 12:30 p.m. I knew by the sound of his voice. Quietly, he said, “He’s gone.”
I fell to the ground screaming, crying, “NO! NO! NO!”
In that instant, my life had changed, and I would never be the same. My son was dead at thirty years old. My Michael? “NO! NO! NO!” I kept screaming and crying.
I would soon come to learn that I would not just be mourning my son’s death, but the part of me that died with him: the old me, my past life, a marriage that would soon be ending, and I would be moving across the country. Depression, passive and active suicidal ideation (see Chapter Four), and post-traumatic stress disorder would soon follow. Nothing had prepared me for this, no matter how strong I was. The change that was in store for me over the next several years would change the course of my life forever.
Bill, my husband, at the time, came out of Denny’s when he heard me screaming. He rushed over as did other people in the parking lot, not knowing what had happened. I don’t remember much except that he wanted to take me to a hospital as I was crying and speaking incoherently. I said no, and that I wanted to get home. My thoughts were that I wanted to get on the next plane. I didn’t know what the best thing to do was. No matter how I looked at it, I was not going to get home much faster, whether by waiting for the next flight home or driving. Of all times to be away from my son. That was the longest and worst day of my life. I wasn’t there on that day! To this day, when I think about that, I close my eyes and feel sick.
It was the only Christmas I had not spent with my children. Bill’s mother had cancer, and I’d thought we should go there to be near her. I’d felt so much guilt knowing I was never away from my kids atChristmas. It had been Mike’s last Christmas, and I was not there. If I’d only known, I would have turned around and run to him.
Mike’s last spoken words to me on the speaker at my sister’s house were, “Merry Christmas Mom, I love you!” The same words in his text to me Christmas morning. The last words I would hear.
I was beside myself and losing my mind at the same time over the death of my son, and didn’t know the massive amount of guilt that I would put on myself for not being there. For the possibility that maybe if I had been there, he would not have left that morning. The never- ending sickening feeling that I could have made a difference if I had been there. The if’s, should haves, could haves, and why’s that would soon follow. It would become part of my vocabulary.
The nature of suicide makes the aftermath damn near impossible to navigate compared to any other type of loss.
I called my friends and different family members, crying and crying, on autopilot. They said they could hardly understand me. Everyone was shocked. The body’s way of coping with trauma is through shock. I pulled in the driveway to go into my house. My daughter, Nicole, and her boyfriend were there for Christmas week. Her dad, Steve, came over to tell her that her brother was dead. He later told me that when he’d told her, he had to hold her up as she’d nearly fainted, and her face had turned green.
Nicole, who was twenty-five at the time, told me, “When dad went out to greet you, I sobbed knowing what he was going to tell you.” Her brother—my son—had shot himself in the head, in his truck where my dad is laid to rest.
Here is a poem written by Beverly Levin Copeland about her friend’s son, who shot himself as my son did. I picture my son on that morning as I read it.
An Ending - in Memory of Isaac
The blackest possible darkness descends.
The walls come closing in.
Fear, exhilaration, panic, and unreality loom within.
A shiny silver object lies within arm’s reach.
A hand moves closer, fingers flex and unflex,
then flex again as the object is grasped in a sweaty palm.
The heft and intent of the instrument are considered, again and again.
The cloak of blackness grows tighter,
An arm is shakily raised, eyes are closed,
the cold of metal on skin,
An instant of heat..........and all is dissolved
Beverly Levin Copeland January 23, 2020.
I would ask myself over and over, “We gave him a good life—then why?” Mike was a real soldier inside and out. He loved his family so much that I knew his pain level must have been unbearable to do this to us. I know he didn’t do this to us. Again, the whys, ifs, and should-haves that would follow.
I remember trying to make sense of it. But I won’t, ever. I still shake my head to this day, thinking about his choice. All kinds of thoughts flashed through my mind. How did this happen? We’d just celebrated Christmas. Mike was great, the happiest we had all seen him.
I remember feeling like I had been in a boxing ring. My head was fuzzy, and the sounds were faded in my head. People were all talking and crying. My daughter mentioned that Mike had come in the night before.She said he seemed checked out. He went upstairs to my room, and that was the last time she saw him alive.
For the first few weeks afterward, my daughter felt that if she had heard him leave, maybe it would have made a difference. I told her it was not her fault. How many times will we say, “If,” “should have,” “could have” or “why?” We cannot stop our loved ones from taking their lives. There are limits to what one can do to stop them. If they want to, they will find a way.
How do I do this? I thought, my mind spiraling. What do I do now? Where do I go? What happens now? I was in shock. It was Christmas week. My life was crumbling like a building rocked by a 9.0 earthquake. Me—someone who was always so strong, one of the things Mike admired about me—my kids’ rock.
Look at me now, Mike. I was drowning, drowning in the storm. Little did I know what lay ahead....