WHY? The question after suicide

by Senior Master Sgt. Jeanna Stansbury
786th Force Support Squadron superintendent

Why? Who knew a three letter word, one little question, when left unanswered could have such a tremendous effect?

It was a Saturday morning and I had just returned home from coaching my 9-year-old youth basketball team through another game toward their undefeated season. My husband’s phone rang, he came upstairs with phone still in hand and I heard him say, “We’ll be right there.” He hung up the phone and pulled me close into a hug. He whispered in my ear, “Don’s dead. He committed suicide. Diane (his wife) is there. She needs you.”

We arrived to a chaotic scene of police cars, ambulances, police members in uniform, Office of Special Investigations agents, squadron and group commanders and their wives all scrambling around, most of them with tears in their eyes. I went to Diane, who was sitting in her car. She kept saying, “I knew he was upset. I shouldn’t have left him alone, I should have stayed with him. I should have known. I just don’t understand. I just don’t understand.”

I spent the next 16 hours with Diane trying to comfort her. She wanted to see her husband. I kept making phone calls, trying to get answers for her. All they could tell me was that the process and investigation take time. I’ve had a little experience when it comes to suicide; three of my family members chose suicide as their solution to their temporary problem. Now, a friend, a peer, a mentor had made the same choice and I was left trying to figure out why for his family, for his Airmen, for myself.

Even with the experiences in my life, I couldn’t figure it out. It made no sense.

Don was the chief master sergeant of the security forces squadron, and I talked to him at least once a week. I knew he had challenges at work, but we talked about them and at the end of our conversations I always said, “You good? You know, I’m always here if you need to talk or vent.” He would say, “Na, I’m good.”

Why didn’t he take advantage of that open door? Why didn’t he use other avenues of help such as Military OneSource, Military Family Life consultants, or our chaplains who are available 24/7? Why did I not see this coming? I should have known. Why did he do this to his family, his friends, his Airmen? You could see the confusion and hurt in every Airman’s eyes across the entire wing.

“If the chief made this choice, what do I do when I have a problem?”

Our job as leaders is to let the Airmen know they always have other options and there is always another choice they can make. For the next few weeks our marching orders were “eyes on every Airman.” Because if we missed it with the chief, who else have we missed?

A year later, I still don’t know why, but I can share with you why not. There is always another solution, whatever it may be, that you can live with. You may just have to work toward it. Why not? Because suicide is one of the most selfish acts you can choose.

Your choice causes so much pain and anguish for the family and friends left behind; they are the ones who suffer for your choice.

Why not? Because your family, more than 300,000 Airmen, is willing to help you through your problem.

We have an entire staff at the mental health clinic dedicated to helping you do just that — work through your problem. For those Airmen who have heard that going to mental health will affect their career, you heard wrong. I’ve been going off and on for the past few years for various problems I’ve faced, both professionally and personally, and I have worked through each and every one of them with a little help.

I’m willing to bet that the 59 Airmen in 2012 who chose a permanent solution to their temporary problem would have been able to work though theirs as well.

Did you know you can get help with your problem through Military OneSource, over the phone, face-to-face or even online and no one has to know?

I promise there is another solution, and if you can’t figure it out on your own then someone will help you. All you have to do is ask. Don’t leave your family, friends, co-workers with that one question they’ll never get the answer to — why?