It is a very unseasonably warm November night and I am laying in a hotel that overlooks the river. I can see and hear barge horns from the patio door as the barges are slowly pushed down the river by pusher boats. They are illuminated with blue and green lights against the dark night sky. My husband lays beside me. He breathes deeply, letting me know that he is asleep.
We were running–not far, mind you–just two hours from home; far enough to be enough and close enough to be back home by bedtime, we thought. But, once we were gone and out from under the heaviness that had rested upon our home, we decided that we weren’t ready to go back just yet.
“We don’t have to go home”, I said. It wasn’t true;We did need to go home—but, sometimes need is vague, by necessity. We got the hotel on impulse and promised that we would be home by work the next morning. No clean clothes, toothbrushes and no medicine. Nothing. Just us and our phones in this hotel overlooking the river.
This night, three weeks ago, two military officers knocked on our door.
My back had gone out—sciatica—and I had been pretty bedridden for nearly three days. I was feeling guilty that I had not been able to spend a lot of one on one time with my youngest son (13 years old). So, I negotiated some terms with him to get him cuddled into bed with me to watch any Halloween movie that he wanted. He finally agreed and chose THE GHOST BUSTERS.
So, when my husband arrived home on this evening, he found us spread out over the bed. The bed and TV is his territory. When he is home, he is in that bed watching that TV; but, I needed it on this particular night. So, he made some food and then tucked himself in the corner of the bed to finish watching the movie with us.
Part way through, I heard something.
It sounded like a knock at the door, but I brushed it off because it was very late.
I heard it again. “I think someone is knocking on the door”, I said, more like a question, actually.
My husband got up and peaked around the corner. “There’s someone out there”, he responded.
He went to the door, opened it.
I heard the man at the door say, “Hello I am Captain *****. Are you Mr. Root?”
There was a pause.
Then, I yelled, “WAIT!!!” As soon as I heard the word Captain something inside of me instantly knew why he was there and I didn’t want him to say any more until I could get to my husband.
But, I was too late. I heard my husband cry out. And, I did my very best to roll myself out of the bed.
It took me some time to get standing and I kept yelling wait all the while. However, they (there ended up being two officers at the door) had my husband already seated on the couch and were giving him the formal declaration.
I hobbled down the hall. “Dammit! I said to wait!”.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” my thirteen year old asked, but I could only focus on getting to the living room; and, so I didn’t answer. The eyes of the younger officer locked onto mine as I came to the end of the hall; I saw the pain and realized that the inertia of this thing couldn’t have been rolled back, either way.
As I moved to the couch like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, my husband asked how his son had died. I pictured a training accident. Those words entered my head when I processed his question…training accident, I thought…yeah…that makes sense.
So, what came out of the officers mouth singed–no…it burned.
“What?” my husband asked, raising his head and staring deep into the uniformed mans eyes.
The officers face twisted as if he was choking as the words up climbed up through his throat, “By his…own…hands…hanging”.
My husband collapsed again with a howling cry, “Noooooo….”
I made it to the couch and both men, who had been seated on each side of my husband, quietly stood up and made room for me to take their place. They moved to the door, stealing away from the horror that they had just blanketed the night with–one of those weighted blankets, cast over our movie night.
My son stood across from the coffee table staring at the scene before him: his step father collapsed to the floor, bent over; the two officers standing at the door, fighting against the formal dress blues that covered their pained hearts, the younger one, his eyes welling with tears as he maintained his formal posture; and then, me, his mother scanning the room, figuring out how I was going to care for this room full of fellas.
“Gentlemen, thank you for your service. It is okay for you to go now, if you need to. We will be okay. I have him.”, I said.
“Silas, go get grandma so that she can take care of you while I care for Todd”, I added all while I had a hold of my collapsed husband.
And, then, we had the room to ourselves. My husband wept beside of me as my mind filled with the list of all of the “to-do’s” (my way of coping) as I stared off in complete emotional overwhelm.
We need to tell my in laws, but we have to tell them in person…I cannot call them…I should call his brothers (my brother-in-laws) and have them meet out at his parents home, they should hear this as a family…he is going to need a haircut for the funeral…I need to tell my sons…I‘ll send a group text now (why did I send a group text, I ask myself now. It must have been shock, is all that I can come up with)…someone needs to stay with Silas for the next few days to make sure that he has food…I hope that he is okay; I will hug him when he comes back from grandmas and ask…I am going to need to see the doctor and go ahead and get that steroid shot in my back–even if it makes me sick…
…on and on.
That is just how my brain works in these situations.
I sat there, with my husband at my feet, in complete shock.
And, that is how we found out that my stepson had killed himself. He had hung himself in his room, alone…on his base…states away. He completed suicide just two months before his parents expected him to be home for the holidays; all without leaving a note to answer any questions.
He took his life.
Done. Over. Finito. Not coming back.
I loaded my husband into the car, after popping a handful of Ibuprofen to maybe survive moving about with a severely pinched sciatic nerve, and drove to my in-laws home to break the news to his side of the family.
The weeks following his death, we had daily visits from the military, family and friends; There was no silence for days, which turned into weeks. I was craving some time to just lay in bed and process all that had been happening to us, but that wouldn’t come for well over a month.
The week after my stepsons death, the military flew us to his base. I ended up having to get that shot in my back, after all. I’m still really not sure how I made those first couple of weeks happen…especially with carrying luggage, sitting on airplanes, climbing in and out of vans, etc. I guess God just gave me enough “get up and go” to do what I needed to walk with my husband through everything.
The military wanted to allow us to tour the area where my step son had lived the last couple weeks of his life. He was stationed at another base, where he completed the initial phase of his basic training, prior to being stationed in Arizona to complete his AIT. However, because of COVID-19 none of us had seen the last base, either. He completed and graduated basic via a Facebook LIVE ceremony since everyone was on lock down to prevent the spread of the virus.
Once in Arizona, we were assigned two military escorts who stayed with us the entirety of our stay. They were given a passenger van and told to take us anywhere that we liked. So, the first night we drove up the mountain that was situated within the military base boundaries. My husband and his ex-wife have images of my step son standing on that very mountain, looking out over his base; and, his new base is beautiful. Guilt weighed on my heart as I tried to imagine how anyone could complete suicide in such a beautiful place–mountains underfoot and to his back and desert prairies to his front; all while full well knowing that that is not how suicide works.
I had asked the military to allow us to see my stepsons body and his room, but we were not allowed. Even though his death had been self-inflicted, it was still under “criminal investigation”. We grappled with knowing that we had flown to the same location where his body resided–he was out there somewhere–yet, we were not allowed to see him; It was a strange taunting.
While there, the military had a memorial service on my stepsons behalf. I have included the video of that memorial service below. It isn’t fancy; no music playing in the background or fancy transitions; it is just straight out of the GoPro–and it is long. But, it is intense and emotional. So, sit down with a drink of your choice and take it all in.
We had a whirlwind two days in Arizona with running from the time that we got up to the time that we went to sleep–literally.
A day after we returned from his base, his body was flown into our local airport. The military calls this a Dignified Arrival. I have included the video below, but be warned that this IS to music and it is a tearjerker. Make sure that you have some tissues for this one, especially.
And, so this is where we find ourselves today. The quiet that I had once longed for had left the two of us in our home, alone, to stare at one another and talk of what-if’s; stress about being self-employed and the consequences of losing over a months worth of work; stuff you don’t care about in the throes of catastrophe, but that wait ever so patiently for when you do come around.
So, I decided to run…and my husband, of course, wanted to run with me. It was probably best; no one wanted me to leave him alone anyway; worried that he might do something rash.
And, here we are. Laying in an hotel bed, doors opened, Me–listening to the river, river boats and wind swirl through the valley while my husband sleeps a deep, deserved sleep.
And, I am doing what I do to survive: I am writing and I am releasing…
If you are interested in more posts about our experience with suicide, check out the following posts:
My perspective as a Stepmom
Suicide and the effect that it has on a family
If you know someone struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.