DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- I was a pastor for 16 years before I was an active-duty chaplain. At my last position, I had the joy of working with a vibrant smallish intergenerational congregation. A retired couple, Cam and Connie, welcomed my family and me when we first arrived. Cam was a WWII veteran who always smiled. He would vigorously shake your hand and say, “Welcome!” when you crossed through the church doors. He was close to 93 when I first met him, and he was full of life. He was very active and would golf 18 holes in the summer, as well as shovel the snow from a neighbor’s driveway on a winter day. Connie was always kind and openhearted. She would pull me aside and tell me stories about living in Atlanta when she was younger.
Once, they invited me to their home for lunch, and I enjoyed the meal, their beautiful garden and listening to them talk about their life’s experiences. Connie told me that her son, Bryan, had committed suicide back in the early 90s. Connie and Cam had gotten remarried to each other after Bryan had grown up. Cam didn’t raise Bryan, but I could tell that his death had affected him as it obviously did her.
They helped to start a survivors-of-suicide support group that drew people from surrounding towns to attend. I visited once at Connie's and Cam’s invitation. I sat and listened to people who had lost a loved one years ago tell their stories. A close friend's dad had committed suicide back in the early 2000s. I didn’t know his father very well, but it shook me then to see his son, my friend, grieve. I had not thought of the experience until my time with Cam and Connie and my visit to their support group. I opened up to Cam and Connie after the support group, and I was surprised at the imprint that my friend’s dad’s suicide had left on me.
It hurt. It hurt to talk about it even after all those years had past. It hurt, because my friend whom I love hurt then and is in different ways still hurting now.
Suicide is a tragic event, and I can’t imagine all the different stories that lead up to someone taking their life. Know this: Your life makes an imprint upon others in ways beyond what you can imagine. As a pastor and a chaplain, I urge every reader of this commentary to consider that their very being is precious and that they are beloved.
For suicide prevention for yourself or a loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The call is free and confidential. The mental health clinic (302-677-2674), Military One Source (1-800-342-9647) and the Military and Family Life Counseling Program (302-898-4126) also provide free counseling services to active-duty Airmen. For completely confidential counseling, regardless of religious beliefs, chaplains are available at (302) 677-3932. In addition, Airmen can seek help within their chain of command and from their fellow Airmen.