*mild trigger warning*
Last week our nation was hit by a terrible tragedy, leaving so many of us reeling and wondering “why?” and “how”? This weekend my family was hit by a tragedy that hit much closer to home.
I don’t write much about Hailey (both to protect her, and because she’s not really old enough to make a valid decision if she wants her whole life recorded in my strange little diatribes) but those of you who know me well enough know that Hailey was very blessed to go to an after-school and summer program she went to every day for years. She loved Ms. Ally (her teacher) and Mr. Dan (Ally’s husband) and they loved her right back. Ally and Dan were very special. Loving, supportive, always helping. Ally taught the kids and Mr. Dan (her soulmate of many, many years) was there for anything anyone needed. He loved those damn kids. He loved his own kids. He loved his wife and the community, and he was the first person to show up at my door if I needed any sort of help.
This weekend Dan lost a battle with depression and ended his wonderful life. He will be remembered as a strong and amazing man with a contagious smile and laugh, a father, husband and mentor, and the not for the demons that ultimately took him from us.
We – the men, women and children who loved him – can ask ourselves “why” and wonder if there was something we could have seen or done, but in the end sometimes terrible things happen in an instance. And sometimes beautiful things happen too. Like the way that our tiny community is coming together to try to help Ally and her family. But there is so much more to be done. Ally cannot (and could not be expected to) return to that home. Her children can’t handle this alone and should never have to. There are so many things that need to be done and we’re doing everything we can. We’re standing by the family. We’re rallying. And we need help.
If you pray, pray for this family. In the coming weeks I may direct you toward a fund to help with the expenses (once we know better what they are). If you can’t do either of these I understand, but you can do something else. You can tell your family that you love them. You can tell them that you expect them to ask for help as soon as they need it. You can forgive yourself for any guilt you have for living when others aren’t so lucky, because that’s what they would want. You can post information for the suicide hotline on your twitter and Facebook or blogs. You can save someone else in the same way Dan saved so many people in his life.
A lot of you have asked if this had to do with the Connecticut shooting and in some ways it may have contributed. Dan worked Search & Rescue in the Coast Guard for many years and never fully recovered from the trauma of retrieving young bodies from the sea. PTSD is an misunderstood thing and can lead to inconceivable actions. I’ve never really written about it but when we were newly married Victor was lost at sea during a terrible storm and was finally rescued by the Coast Guard, so there’s a special place in my heart for those heroes.
One of the hardest things to accept about this tragedy is that Dan did ask for help. When things got bad he went to the VA but was told that he couldn’t get the specific help that he needed because he didn’t serve during wartime. I don’t know if he tried again for help, but personally I know how incredibly difficult it is to fight for your own mental health when depression lies about how you aren’t worthy of that help, and I know how hard it is to find good mental health in America when you barely have the strength to get out of bed.
The last time I was in true jeopardy I couldn’t find anyone willing to take me as a patient and had to call a suicide hotline to get their help in finding someone. Even when I did find a doctor who specialized in what I needed she didn’t take my insurance so I happily pay thousands of dollars a year out of my own pocket to keep myself sane. It shouldn’t be this hard to get mental health help.
There are no ultimate solutions. There are no answers to the questions of “why?” There is only us. And that’s one hell of a thing to be proud and happy for. The Dan that I knew would not want us to grieve for him, and would be the first person here making an irreverent joke to make everyone feel better, and I think that helps…knowing that he’d want us all to be happy and to remember his best times instead of his lowest.
There are other things that you can do so that we can make sure the Dan’s life wasn’t in vain. We can remember the joy he brought. We can remember the love. We can help others who are currently in Dan’s place, who are hurting more than they ever let on. We can push for better mental health resources and make sure that our friends and family know exactly where the current resources are. We can tell them to not believe the lies of depression and remind them how much they’re worth to us. When this happened I tweeted about it and a brave soul came forward to say “The bravest thing I’ve ever done is to seek help and check into a hospital. I’m proud of myself for once.” I retweeted it. That day two people contacted me to tell me that was the impetus for them and they were going to ask for help themselves. We help each other in ways we can’t possibly imagine, and the good outweighs the bad, even if it’s sometimes hard to see.
We can come together. We can make this world brighter for all of us one tiny candle at a time.
Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow we’ll be better.
Dan would hate for me to end his story on a sad note, so instead I’m ending it like this: A few weeks ago I asked your help in raising the money to donate Nighty-Night Packages (a new blanket, stuffed animal and book in a canvas bag) to 1,000 homeless children. Last night these tweets came out from Project Night Night:
Thank you. Because out of the darkness shined a light that I needed to see, and I’m so grateful to be part of a community that can laugh together, cry together, and help together. I love you all very much.