Taking steps to overcome loss, tragedy

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Many years ago I lost my brother-in-law to suicide. He left behind a little girl who could not comprehend the loss of her father, and many grieving friends and loved ones who will miss him forever. Sadly, we missed all the signs and pleas for help.

It took me a long time to not feel confused about his choice. I was hurt by the loss of my friend and brother-in-law. I felt guilty for letting him down and angry for his selfishness in not thinking about the damage he would leave behind. His suicide was like a massive storm that raged sorrow over our lives.

Finally, I had to accept that it was not my fault. It was his choice, and there is no rationalizing the irrational. No one was listening to his pleas because we did not understand he was asking for help. His excessive drinking, reckless behavior and non-caring attitude were all screams for assistance. After his death, I never wanted to be in a situation where someone was asking for help, and I did not respond.

Later in life, around 2010, I was able to assist a military member in avoiding a similar fate when something she said during a conversation sent up red flags. I did not know the woman personally, but she had been in a support group I was hosting. In the end, all she needed was a friend. She needed to know she was not alone, and someone cared. Most of the time, when we feel alone, hopeless and helpless, all we need is to feel like someone is there for us.

There are times when some individuals do not ask for help or show signs of distress. I had another friend commit suicide, and, unfortunately, no one saw any indicators. Later we learned he had shown signs to his wife but they were dismissed. He was a young father, a good friend, and it was an unfortunate loss to all who knew him.

Misunderstanding, dismissal and avoidance are all possible reactions people have when someone they love, know or care about is showing signs of contemplating suicide. Hurlburt Field leaders have decided we cannot afford to lose any Airmen, community members or others we care for to suicide.

I am glad to be in a place where I can make a difference. I am proud to be involved with a base that cares so much about its Airmen and has an open communication which allows Air Commandos to feel safe, confident and comfortable in seeking assistance.

There are many helping agencies and training programs available that allow each Airmen the chance to assist people. At the Resilience Center, we have master resilience trainers and assistants who instruct various resilience courses to strengthen Airmen’s skillsets. We have resource volunteers that help with safeTALK classes and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.

We have many resources on base including the Preservation of the Force and Family program, the Resilience Center, Family Advocacy, Behavioral Health, licensed clinical social workers, chaplain, Airmen and Family Readiness Center, Military One Source and more. These services offer various avenues military members can take if they are dealing with the loss of a loved one or going through a rough period in their life. The new Green Dot training has generated proactive individuals that are no longer willing to be bystanders to violence. We are in a great place to have such a huge and positive effect on the environment and culture.

It is ironic, the curve balls life throws you. The irony is we have the ability to turn our own struggles and tragic experiences into better outcomes in the future. There is not a day that passes that my brother-in-law does not pass through my mind. Taking the ASIST class let me know exactly how much his death had affected me. It also gave me the training to step out of my comfort zone and be able to assist someone in the future.

If you are interested in being a part of the effort to change the lives of Airmen and their families for the better, contact me, April Crooks, at 884-6820 or Tech. Sgt. Jameson Thornton, master resilience trainer, at 884-8811. We can direct you to the right point of contact based on your goal, need and desire to be involved.