There was one topic I had considered including in the book but as I sat down to write it, the wounds were too fresh so I intentionally left it out. Since it has been just over a year and a half, and the wounds have slowly begun to heal I wanted to discuss it in hopes that it will allow someone to get the help they need. The topic is that of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.
PTSD is a condition many relate to military personnel but it affects police officers, firefighters, medical personnel, and a litany of other people. In its most simplest definition, people forced to see or deal with certain traumatic events can be scarred from their exposure. I have been to some of the most horrific crime scenes and exposed to deadly force incidents which have had a profound effect on myself and those around me.
Living in Las Vegas, which is home to Nellis Air Force, we have witnessed countless airman, soldiers, marines, and other servicemen who have come back from deployments much different than when they left. We have responded as negotiators to deal with servicemen who had barricaded themselves or were threatening suicide after facing the myriad of difficulties associated with those suffering from PTSD. Having responded to countless events like these, I felt I was pretty good at recognizing the signs and symptoms of PTSD as well as being able to help those suffering from it. Unfortunately, when it is closest to you, you sometimes fail to see the forest through the trees.
My son Nathan is a Marine. When we watched him leave for his first overseas deployment in 2009 from 29 Palms, he was full of vigor. We were so proud of him and his service to his country. When Nathan came back though, he was different. It was hard for me to put my finger on it, but he was just different.
In 2012, Nathan left for his second deployment. We again watched him depart but for some reason I could not help but think about the mild changes and wonder if they would continue. My worries were right. He returned unharmed, or so we thought. We were just thankful to have him home as unfortunately many families did not have the chance to experience our same joy.
Nathan returned to the civilian world, got a job, and life moved on. Days turned to weeks and weeks to months. I noticed Nathan could become irritable much more easily. He lost his job but explained it was management’s fault. This happened again at his second job. He started drinking more. Stronger drinks and more of them.
Nathan bought a café-style motorcycle and rode fast. He went rock climbing at the nearby Red Rock Canyon without using safety gear. It was all right there in front of my face but I was too blind to see it. He was purposefully engaging in dangerous behavior. He was crying out for help but I didn’t listen. All I saw was the poor behavior and was constantly on him about improving himself. Obviously, it was simply his bad-boy ways. There couldn’t be anything wrong with my kid. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
On August 23, 2015, just ten days after his 26th birthday and a night of binge drinking, my son took his own life. We were in shock. Nathan was a strong spirited man. I never thought someone as strong as he would ever find himself in the situation he was. Why didn’t he tell me he had these issues? Two weeks later, I retired from the police department.
My retirement brought many quiet moments. Time to reflect upon the past. It was during these quiet times I realized Nathan had been crying out for help the whole time. I was likely too judgmental, preoccupied, or foolish to see. My quiet moments can be tortuous, playing the awful game of, “If I would have only…”
I spoke privately and separately with several very close friends of mine and confided my struggles. As close friends often do, they listened intently, non-judgmentally, and allowed me to cry. All things I wish I would have done more for my own son. But they also helped me understand I cannot change the past.
Nathan’s loss has caused a tremendous open wound for me and my family. The best advice I have received is to not be so quick to close the wound. To allow the wound time to air out and heal. I have tried to follow that advice and it is the main reason I chose to write this.
There are countless people currently dealing with PTSD and the demons is can bring. I implore each of you to watch out for your friends and loved ones. Take time to learn the signs and symptoms of PTSD and be there to support those in need. Those suffering need us more than they can every explain. Lastly, never miss an opportunity to hug your loved ones. We’ll never know when it may be our last.
I love and miss you Nathan.