Jean Kirschenheiter came to MilitaryMamaNetwork in an unusual way. She had lost her son to suicide. She wondered if we would still welcome her; at least that was the question she asked: am I welcome. The answer, of course, was yes. Our question to her: how can we help? We connected her with TAPS.org in the days following the loss of her son. TAPS is a wonderful organization. They walk with families devastated and shocked by loss. They help get family members taken care of; have retreats and events for family members; and offer gatherings for surviving family members. They responded to Jean; but still for she and many others who have lost family members to suicide, there is a gaping hole and a question. Will you help me honor my loved one? Are you a safe place for me to share my story? It is our hope that MMN is a safe place for stories. A place to share the tears and the pride; a network of people who embrace our families through loss and beyond the first days, weeks, months and even years.
Jean shared a video she made of Raymond. I wept when I saw it. He looked happy; had a beautiful family and was celebrating his retirement from the military. Raymond, like so many we have lost to suicide, seemed to have everything to live for. We don’t know what happened the day Raymond died. But in the days, weeks, months following, we know this: Raymond has a legacy to share. His mama was committed to keeping it. Raymond decorated headstones at every request. He honored the fallen with flags, time and a pause at each gravesite. After Raymond’s death, his mama continues the tradition. She laid wreaths this year, in snow so deep she got stuck. She was cold, and sad in a way few of us understand, but she kept going. For Raymond. For his family. For every family represented that day. She’s keeping Raymond’s promise. We are keeping ours….meet Raymond. In his mama’s words.
He was my oldest son. Raymond was a very thoughtful person. Many of his friends & coworkers have said that he was always willing to stop what he was doing to give a hand & help out. My first memory of Raymond was he was a good child. He did well in school & church. My best memory is a photo of him from a computer page that said Happy Mothers day Mom! I still have it on my wall in a frame, he was in Iraq at the time too. My most vivid memory would be the time he surprised me at home by showing up unexpected From being overseas. It as a warm summer day and he had a big smile on his face. I hugged and kissed him and didn’t want to let him go.
The hardest thing about losing my son is the heartache–it never goes away. They say it gets easier in time but you never forget. If my son was still here with me today I would be saying please reach out to your parent, friends, coworkers etc… we love you dearly and want you to get the mental help services you need as a veteran and deserve. I miss my son’s phone calls: he always sounded cheerful and concerned for me. He never let on that PTSD was a serious issue for him.
I think he would want to be remembered for being a great father to his 4 children. He loved and adored that role dearly. His biggest obstacle is that he became a teacher instructor in the states because he did not want to have to go back to the war in Iraq/ Afghanistan again after the 4th time.
We didn’t really have many disagreements but we didn’t see eye to eye on about why his father and I divorced so I never mentioned it again.
What makes me smile about Raymond is how proud I was of him for all his accomplishments. He went to night college courses in between teaching. My relationship with my son was a very loving one. I could have never asked for a more kind and caring son if I was looking for one. I felt like I had the grand prize already.
My son was a handsome man whether he was dressed in military clothing or regular day clothes. He did like his shorts and flipflops mostly. I don’t remember him ever playing any jokes but he did have a very hearty laugh and sense of humor.
The day his daughter Emma Grace was born he was beaming with huge smiles and she became daddy’s little girl. I believe his hopes and dreams were that he was happy & grateful to have a great family; his new job was doing well.
My son Raymond recently had a tattoo on his arm of all of his children. That’s how much he loved them. Not too many people knew that.
What can you do?
I’m different now because the heartache and pain at times becomes so overwhelming. I cry lot. I don’t want to do anything anymore or go out to places. I’ve become depressed and I’m under the care of my family doctor. The image that persists in my mind is that I couldn’t wrap my head around that my son was capable of taking his life. It doesn’t seem real still. The reality is very hard. I honored my son on December 16th for Wreaths Across America. It brings me some comfort to be there for him and all the many soldiers.
The most thing that help me in my grief is for my friends & family remember him. Many people don’t know what to say to me or is there anything I can do. My answer is yes, please come and visit me. Give me a friendly call to chat. Ask me out for coffee or lunch. It’s been 4 months now and everyone has seemed to disappeared.
Having Thanksgiving dinner without him was very hard. So I set a place setting for my son at the table. It is now almost Christmas and I wish it was over and gone. I can’t even put up a tree or decorations. The only thing that has kept me going on a daily basis is my daughter & grandsons.