COMMENTARY: I'll call him "Rick"

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Maj.) Jonathan Wade
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing
I'll call him "Rick."

In the words of his military friends and co-workers, Rick was one of the greatest guys you'd ever want to meet: A hard working NCO in a high operations tempo unit, a family man, a compassionate friend always seeking opportunities to help others in his unit succeed.

Rick was humble, they said. He would never take credit for his talents, instead calling it a "team effort."

His supervisors noticed, at times, that Rick was unusually hard on himself and seemed depressed about his job abilities, despite the opinion to the contrary of the entire supervisory chain. Then, quite suddenly, Rick's attitude perked up. He seemed to enjoy his job. Gone were the self-criticisms that had plagued him in the past. His friends noticed, and remarked about the positive change.

Within a week or two, Rick requested leave so he could take his family on a dream vacation. Word was that it was the best vacation he and his family had ever enjoyed together.

Upon his return from leave, Rick quietly slipped out of his home and into his office in the pre-dawn hours, telling his wife there was unfinished business he had to complete. She thought nothing of it, as Rick often gave up his free time for work needs. Rick carefully stacked project binders and folders on his desk with notes to co-workers of what was unfinished and how to complete each project. Then Rick drove out to a remote part of the base, put a gun to his head and ended his life.

It's been many years since I cared for Rick's devastated wife, his grieving children, and his friends and co-workers. Despite the time, I have never forgotten Rick or the serious damage that suicide leaves in its wake.

Suicide is about more than just an abrupt, untimely end to a human life. It is about unanswered questions, unfulfilled dreams, possibilities that will never be, a struggle for closure that may never come.

As one child (now an adult) said of his mother's suicide, "For years, I thought that one of the reasons she killed herself was because she couldn't get us to brush our teeth or other things we were supposed to do."

He'll never really know the answer, and will struggle to find one, just as Rick's circle of relationships struggles to this day to understand.

Is there good news? Absolutely. Rick's death taught me early in my career that there is a simple but powerful tool to prevent suicide from taking another life and leaving behind its human wreckage. That tool is you!

As servicemembers, we would fight to the death to save our wingman from death at the hands of the enemy. When we fight, we fight for each other. Whether the firefight is with an external foe or an internal battle against an emotionally crushing problem, we are the instrument of help that can rescue our friend and all those who love and care for him or her. How? By simply remembering and implementing the ACE plan.

A -- Ask your friend how he is doing. Most people will typically respond "okay," because we use the "how ya doin'?" question as a common greeting. Take the time to ask him how he is really doing.

Sometimes all a person needs is someone to listen to them. So, talk less, listen more and let your friend share his story with you.

If you suspect he may be self-destructive, ask him directly if he is thinking of killing himself. Is that uncomfortable? Yes, but it can be the most important question you ever ask. Get over the discomfort and ask him.

What if the answer to the question is "yes?"

C -- Care for your friend. Don't leave him alone. Calmly control the situation by continuing to listen without judging him. Your job now is to care for your friend until you can get him to competent emergency care. Let him know that there is help available to navigate him through his troubles to a place of hope and peace.

E -- Escort your friend to the emergency room. His emotional wound is as life-threatening as a shrapnel wound to the heart. Don't leave your friend alone until you find the expertise to help him. He may give you many reasons he doesn't want to seek help, and you will have to be persistent and truthful. He may ask about how this affects his career and family. You can't tell him what you don't know. Let the experts handle that. What he needs now is someone to help him.

Remember, you are the best tool for helping a suicidal friend or co-worker. Remember ACE. There is help, there is hope, and there is an answer.