Written By Karen Richards Nichols. In memory of her husband, Mark, who tragically took his life in 2014.
We all know the statistic: Every day 22 veterans take their lives.
As a nation, we have recognized the issue, assistance programs are in place. Things have changed, but too many veterans were taught “PTSD is for sissies” or something similar–a mentality that keeps them from admitting their difficulties and from seeking help.
One year & 25 days have passed since my husband, Mark, joined that number.
Do the math & you will find that approximately 8,580 other veterans have since followed that same path. An untold number of lives have been directly affected by each of these deaths. The numbers are saddening, even sickening. But these veterans and those loved ones who survive them are so much more than just numbers.
I don’t know any of their stories, but I know Mark’s.
Mark was a combat veteran. His combat experience changed him. In some ways, a lot. I could tell you the branch he served in, his rank, his postings, the medals he was awarded. But none of that would tell you who he really was, because he was so much more than his service history.
He was a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend, an uncle.
He was an amazing man: outgoing, intelligent, creative, funny, and generous with everything he had. He thrived on helping others: neighbors, friends, family, the elderly, the homeless, and random strangers. He was a good husband and such an amazing father. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the knowledge that he loved us so very much and yet still managed hurt so many people. I know that was never his intention.
We survivors are left with so many questions, so many “What Ifs” and “If onlys.”
What if I had recognized some of the warning signs, what if I had forced him to seek help, what if I said,… or didn’t say,… or did,…or didn’t do…. The list is unending.
I know I’m not responsible for his actions, but it doesn’t stop the wondering and wishing that there was something I could have done differently or better to have helped him and prevent his death.
Our family has been devastated. We’re still going, we’re still functioning, and some days we’re even doing great. But our loss is always hovering in the background.
There is an empty place at the dinner table, an empty spot in our lives. My children were 4 and 8 when Mark passed. Too young to understand. Too young to even attempt to explain suicide. I have done my best to explain PTS to them, but it’s difficult for them to “get.” Right now all they comprehend is “War is really bad. It kills people. Sometimes on the battlefield and sometimes long after they return home.”
My little boy tells me every day that he misses Mark and that he wishes he didn’t have to die. Every. Single. Day. For over a year now. I have no words, other than “Me too, baby. Me too.” I would give anything to know what to say or do to fix his hurt.
My son is only 5, and his greatest fear isn’t monsters or any of the usual little boy fears. It’s dying. He, at 5, realizes how very permanent it is.
My daughter misses her dad, but more and more has come to resent the loss. Truthfully, I don’t blame her. She has good reason be resentful. Her entire life has been turned upside down over the past year. Repeatedly. She has been told “No” and “I can’t” so many times. All too often, I just don’t have the time or energy. I’m too busy trying to fill his role in addition to my own with the kids and around the house. There just isn’t much time left for fun anymore. I’m doing my best, and she knows that.
She’s decided that she never wants to have children because she sees how very hard it can be when you’re a parent, and she just hasn’t seen enough of the joys that come with it over the past year. It breaks my heart to see her growing up way too fast, knowing that she’s doing it to help me, to step in and fill some of the void Mark used to fill.
As much as we miss him, I realize how much worse it is for Mark.
He’s already missed so much: holidays, birthdays, dance recitals, preschool graduation, and first day of school. The list will only continue to grow as the years pass. I know he would be so proud of the kids, of what they’ve accomplished and how much they’ve grown.
Mark was convinced that “PTSD is for pussies.”
This mindset is what prevented him from seeking help when he needed it. It’s the reason he isn’t here today. One single misconception with enormous repercussions. That one misconception is why I no longer have a husband, a partner in life. It’s why my children have no father.