Our story started in highschool. My husband and I met after I had invited my friend Mike over for a swim one summer. He asked if he could bring a friend with him, I didn’t know his friend but said alright. From the moment we locked eyes, I felt a connection with Tim. We had a great time that day, and after they left Tim called me and admitted to me that he had asked to come along because he had a crush on me. I had a boyfriend at the time, and Tim had a less than stellar reputation at our school so I was hesitant to start anything serious, and asked if we could just be friends. Things quieted down until after I went to college. I was having lots of trouble with my boyfriend and Tim started spending a lot of time talking on the phone with me and visiting me. We talked so much that my dorm neighbors thought he was my boyfriend! I ended up breaking up with my boyfriend over winter break, and Tim was the first person I called to tell. He came over the next day and we had our first kiss.
Tim was not an overly ambitious scholar and didn’t want to go to college and was having trouble finding a job that kept him interested. He decided to enroll in the army. While he was still talking to a recruiter, his family was dealt a devastating blow in the form of his brother in law being KIA in Afghanistan when his truck drove over a roadside bomb. Tim’s brother in law was the only one killed, leaving behind his wife and 8 month old son. Tim was absolutely crushed but even more determined to enlist in the military. However his family and I were firmly against it. Finally in an issue of compromise, he decided to enlist in the Navy where it would be less likely to see direct action. Boot camp was a hard separation for us, especially waiting for those first letters. It was worth the wait though, because immediately after getting his first duty station assigned, he came home for Christmas and proposed. It was one of the most wonderful nights of my life.
We were married December 29, 2007, right after I graduated college. About six months into our marriage, Tim was assigned a submarine and began to go on deployments. His first six month deployment started shortly before our one year anniversary. Navy deployments are shorter than Army but just as hard because there is less contact. It was mostly just emails unless they stopped at a port and he could call, but email was often down for weeks or months at a time. I remember during one of the times it was down I got so lonely, I went out and bought another cat. He was so mad when he found out!
Then one night I got a call from our phone tree. They told me the sub had been in an accident but there were only minor injuries and there would be a meeting the next morning with more details. I was so scared at the meeting, wondering what they considered minor. They told us the sub had hit another of our ships and had been rolled 85 degrees, but were still operational enough to make into the nearest port. The worst injuries were actually my husband’s, with a mild concussion and bruised tailbone. They had to ride on the surface all the way home, with escorts. I was nervous but extremely relieved that it hadn’t been worse.
He arrived home and life seemed to go on without a hitch. They decided to rebuild the sub and we were told it would at least be a year before they were finished. We decided to try for a baby while we knew he would be home. We tried for almost a year before finally getting the happy news that I was pregnant. At this point they were way behind on the sub repairs and didn’t know when they would get it operational. Tim was so excited about my pregnancy, but so worried too! I had gestational diabetes, as well as a blood condition that made me a higher risk pregnancy so he was constantly worried we would lose her. I gave birth to our daughter on November 11, 2010, and the look on his face as the doctor handed her to Tim is one I will never forget. You could tell it was absolutely love at first sight.
They finally fixed the sub, almost two years after they had ended their last deployment, and were going out for a week long test run. Tim was so scared, he pulled me aside the night before they left to say he had taken out an extra life insurance policy because he was so worried that they wouldn’t come back up. I got a call a week later from him saying to come pick him up, that he was off the submarine for good. During the week deployment, he said he had slept about 8 hrs total, had extreme anxiety and nightmares, and couldn’t eat. He was diagnosed with PTSD, and assigned to a land job while the Navy decided what to do with him.
From the night he came back from that week deployment, he was not the same. He had an extremely hard time sleeping, nightmares, and panic attacks. He was put in therapy and it seemed like they assigned a new sleep medication every week for him to try. He was moody, more prone to fits of anger, and seemed to draw more into himself. He had always been one of those people that seem always happy and was friends with everyone, but he became quieter and more likely to sit around and play video games for hours on end, not really talking to anybody. They ended up putting him on a narcotic sleep aid for almost three months (we found out later, it’s only recommended for up to two weeks tops). And the Navy finally decided to temporarily retire him. Basically he was retired, but they had the right to evaluate him every six months and could pull him back into active duty at any time. He was give a class on resume writing and let go in August 2011.
Being let go, even though he said that’s what he wanted, seemed to make it worse. His mood swings got worse, and he starting sleeping in a different room in order to not wake me up several times a night. He contacted the VA, but other than refilling his prescriptions, they didn’t do anything for counseling. Not until January 2012 did they decide to evaluate him. They decided that the needed counseling, but didn’t set up the first appointment until March 22.
About two weeks before his first counseling session, he was given a refill on his sleeping aid. He said it looked different, but was told that it was the same thing, just a different manufacturer. He went from bad to worse as soon as he started taking them. He flew into fits of rage that actually made me afraid to leave our daughter alone with him, I had to call people to stay with him a couple times because I was so unsure of his temperament. He was extremely nauseous and couldn’t keep anything down. He also fell in states of depression where he would lay on the couch and not do or say anything. He even admitted that he had suicidal thoughts. I was extremely worried and urged him to call the VA doctor to tell them about these recent side effects. He called but there was no answer so he left a message. He didn’t get a call back.
On March 22, he left for his first counseling session. He came back and seemed tired and quiet, but told me that it had went well, that he thought he could talk to his counselor and get help. I left for work shortly after he got back, feeling hopeful that things were looking up.
When I got home, I knew right away something was wrong. There were no lights on in the house, and I walked up the stairs in the dark, something he knew I didn’t like as the stairs were steep and two stories high. I couldn’t find him or my daughter in the house and ran back and forth from room to room calling for them. I finally called my parents, who lived about two minutes away and asked if they were there for some reason. They told me that Tim had dropped our daughter off several hours earlier asking them to watch her as he had a migraine and wanted to lay down. Feeling slightly relieved but still worried that I didn’t know where Tim was, I headed back outside to go pick up our daughter. It was then I found him. I remember screaming and not even recognizing that it was myself making the noise. The rest of the night is mostly a blur, other than a few images that stick out…. the first EMT arriving and after hurrying to Tim’s side, turning and shaking his head to say there was no hope, my father arriving and asking if I had called Tim’s parents, my friend coming to sit with me while I sat in the police car being questioned, the first thing my mother said to me “don’t you dare follow him”
Tim committed suicide. It is such an ugly word, and in the weeks and months that followed, I have learned to hate it, but there is also a slight defiance in thinking about it. When people hear I’m a military widow, they immediately ask which country he was in, assuming he was KIA. All the forms I had to fill out afterwards where they asked for cause of death, I stumbled every time. It is hard to describe the mix of grief, anger, shame, and guilt that suicide causes, I don’t even think I can properly put it into words. While intellectually I know it wasn’t about me, the heart wonders why our daughter and I weren’t enough. The one thing I will be thankful to him for is that he thought to get our daughter to a safe place first.
Since he’s been gone, I’ve heard countless statistics on military suicides, countless stories of the VA being overworked and understaffed, and countless questions of “how are you” in that slightly pitying way that people have when asking after the death of a loved one. My mother in law wants to make a difference in the system after the loss of her son, to work on making the VA and Navy more efficient with dealing with PTSD as that is who she blames the most. For me, it doesn’t really matter if there is blame or who has the most blame, it will not bring my husband back. For now, all I want to do is concentrate on living and making the best life for my daughter that I can.
There is a quote “Suicide does not end pain, it simply passes it on to the living”, and I quite agree. I have my own counseling sessions now, and my own PTSD and sleeping problems. But that will not stop me from living my life and trying to be happy and enjoy what I can.