As the holiday draws closer, the series of text messages I received from our mutual friend on that spring day keep pushing their way into my mind.
"I'm sorry for the text, man. But I just can't do any more phone calls today."
There was a moment of silence before he continued to write that our friend "blew his brains out yesterday. The funeral is Saturday in New Jersey. That's all I know at this point. I'll give you a call tomorrow."
I remember looking out the car window at the lights of random buildings flashing by as I sat in the passenger seat on the way home from my niece's wedding. My heart pounding as the familiar sense of violent death and loss worked its way into me.
In the years since I fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, Memorial Day has always had a certain type of sting to it. It has been a day for quiet reflection and thoughts of friends who'd fallen. Men like Marine Capt. Robert M. Secher, or "Cubby," as we affectionately called him, who was killed by a sniper in Hit, Iraq in 2006.
Brothers who now, still, years later, I think of every day.
Rob, along with others I've known, fell while serving as U.S. Marines engaged in combat with an enemy who was trying to kill them.
But this year things already feel different. Because my buddy died by his own hand.
So it became clear that the cost of a war is even greater than I could imagine. Because war has such an insatiable appetite for death that it continues to kill Marines and soldiers long after they're done actively participating in it.
The day he took his own life, my friend posted a picture of himself on Facebook. The photo has since been removed, but the look in his eyes has been burned into me forever. I thought I could see a mix of sadness and anger in his eyes. And I can still feel a silent and private hopelessness.
I remembered how in my own dark time after the war -- it lasted nearly two years -- my soul felt like it had been shot to pieces by things I saw. The things I smelled. And the things I did. I recalled how life becomes somehow smaller as you systematically isolate yourself from those you love. And those who love you.
Then there's a slide down a slope that begins with feelings of confusion, then moves along to anger and then finally, indifference. And somewhere in that dark and heavy indifference lies the point of emotional exhaustion where you find yourself standing at the edge of an abyss. Soothed by the fact that once you jump in, all feelings will end.
In a 2012 suicide data report
, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that on average, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. The problem is so prevalent that the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
(IAVA) -- which is, in my opinion, the most effective, relevant and impactful organization representing my generation of veterans -- made combating suicide their No.1 priority for 2014.
I believe there is a stigma within our society when it comes to seeking mental health care. As a result, I fear that many who would benefit from treatment choose to stay silent. Yet, in an IAVA survey, 77% of the veterans
who responded said they "sought care when it was suggested that they do so by a friend or family member."
So if you know someone who may be struggling, please let him or her know that it's OK if they're not OK
and there's no shame in it. Reach out to them and urge them to seek help.
Because unfortunately, as is the case 22 times each day, that person's life may depend on it.
Help for veterans and their families is available at the Veterans Crisis Line 24/7. Call 1-800-273-8255 or send a text message to 838255. You can also chat online
. Another option is calling the Vet2Vet hotline: 1-877-VET2VET (838-2838).