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Those left behind wonder: Why?

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. (ACCNS) -- "Bob's dead." The words are as fresh in my mind today as the day 10 years ago when my wife said them to me while I sat in the barber's chair at the base exchange.

As the base's casualty-assistance representative, many thoughts ran through my head. What happened? Was anyone else involved? How did it happen? Who's doing the casualty reporting? Who's going to help Bob's family? Every question was soon answered except the one question I didn't think of immediately: Why?

The "what happened" was Bob hooked a hose from the exhaust of his car to the driver's side window, closed all the doors and windows to the car in his sealed garage and started the car. The question of "was anyone else involved" was answered with a resounding yes: from Bob's wife and infant daughter to the many people who knew him, worked with him and called him friend. I had the pleasure of knowing Bob and his family socially for about a year before his suicide. Although we weren't buddies, we did build a professional respect for one another.

For me, my coworkers and everyone else who knew Bob, life wouldn't go on as it had before. I was lucky enough to be busy during the first few days after Bob's suicide, but once I had the time to reflect, the fundamental question was "why?".

Why did Bob do it? Why didn't he seek help? Why didn't he tell someone, and if he did, why didn't they help him? Why did Bob do this to his family, to his friends, to his coworkers -- to me! Why?

Of course there were no easy answers to these questions and each question brought up others.

My coworkers and I didn't talk about it much after an initial counseling with the professionals at mental health. But we all knew it was still in the air. Even though it seemed like we had recovered from it, we hadn't.

I could tell by the expressions on my coworkers' faces they felt the same things I felt: hopelessness, loss, guilt, and, above all, confusion. I have to think each of us, in his own way, still reflects on the day we heard the news and wonders why. That question will never be answered; the only thing that anyone can do for the future is to be attuned to each other.

Don't just consider the annual suicide-prevention briefing a standard "bore fest." Go there as an active participant: learn what the signals of suicide are.

Looking back, I can see where, even as a casual acquaintance, I saw some of the signals in Bob but chose to ignore them. I chose to gossip about Bob's problems instead of trying to help him. I chose to ignore the signals. I chose the easy way out.

The easy way left a fellow servicemember's family living the rest of their lives without him -- without their husband, their father, and their friend. I know it's not my fault that Bob killed himself, but, like hundreds of other people that knew him, we all probably wish it were our fault he didn't.

Engage

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