F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --
The day before one of my best friends tried to take his own life, he was laughing, joking and goofing around like he usually did.
It was a normal March Florida day in 2001, and several of us were hanging out after class. We talked about the upcoming football season, the ongoing hockey season and whatever else came to mind.
Though nearly everything seemed normal, the clarity of hindsight allowed me to see later something out of place. Near the time I was about to leave, he offered me things that I wouldn’t have expected him to part with, and then, as I was walking out the door, he said, “I love you, man.”
It never occurred to me that he was in such a bad spot that he would hurt himself.
I had to go to work an overnight security shift, and it was early the next morning that his brother, who was also a good friend of mine, called me to tell me that my friend was in the hospital after attempting suicide.
He survived that attempt, and we did our best to support him and not make him feel like an outcast.
We didn’t really even address what had happened, at least not to any deep level.
Time passed and we both moved on with our respective lives. I joined the Navy after college, and he moved to Texas. I saw him a handful of times between 2002 and 2007.
For years, I knew my friend had demons that he was fighting, even if he wasn’t fighting them out in the open. I knew he struggled, and while I offered to be there for him, I wasn’t when he needed someone the most.
I had not spoken to him for several months, due to my being stationed overseas. The time difference, along with the requirements of my job just did not leave much time for long-distance calls back to the U.S.
Then, the worst happened.
The night of June 5, 2007, my computer started buzzing with an alert of an internet phone call. It was about 3 a.m., and I woke to see who was calling. It was my friend’s brother.
I knew. I knew what he would say, and I didn’t answer. I just sat in my barracks room quietly, waiting for the voicemail.
My friend, his brother, was gone.
I did call back the next day to talk to his brother and connect with him in our grief. We both expressed that we wished we had done more when it counted.
I want to be clear that I do not blame myself for my friend’s passing. His decision was his alone and was made at the end of suffering I do not, nor could not ever, understand.
However, I cannot help but look back and consider what I could have done differently, even if I don’t blame myself.
Maybe if I had paid closer attention or called more often, maybe he would not have felt the need to take that terrible last step. Maybe if I had tried to help him soon after his first attempt, to help him get to the root of why he attempted, he would have had better coping skills to not want to try again.
Don’t miss a chance to tell someone you ARE worried about them. You might not get the chance to say you were.
* Note: If you notice changes in loved ones, friends or coworkers that give you cause to worry about their safety, call a helping agency. Call the Suicide Hotline, call the Violence Prevention Integrator or Suicide Prevention staffer, call a chaplain, call base law enforcement or even emergency services. If you are suffering yourself, those same individuals can help bring you from the darkness. Don’t suffer in silence and don’t suffer alone. Call someone. *
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Veterans Crisis Press 1
Text: WYO to 741 741
90 MW Chaplain: 773-3434
Military OneSource: 1-800-342-9647
Mental Health: 773-2998