In the weeks, months and even years following my brothers passing in March 2004,
my heart wrestled with anger and pain. I was mad at God and blamed Him for Ben’s death. The climate of my emotional and spiritual state was controlled with an attitude of, “How could a loving and sovereign God allow something so horrible to happen? He should have stopped Ben from dying…Instead, He let my dad die and then years later He let my little brother die…now I’m all alone.”
Many nights were spent waking up in a cold sweat, from nightmares related to the morbid scenes and nuances of death’s physical toll, which I had seen in the funeral home when I last saw Ben’s body.
My heart would race with every reminder of that day; my hands would tremble, and breathing would become difficult. Sudden recollections, flashbacks if you will, would race across my mind…I’d remember vivid and clear details of how my brother’s body looked lying in the casket…his hands cold and stiff, dominated by the chill of rigor mortis; his skin waxy and pale and his face eerily serene, as if he was asleep dreaming.
Seeing my little brother in that state haunted me. Gut wrenching pain and panic attacks would overwhelm me every time I’d imagine him six feet underground…slowly returning to the earth.
I would have recurring dreams of his grave being re-dug with his coffin just barely open; each time I was afraid to look inside…so I’d force myself awake.
Anxiety, hyper-vigilance, angry outbursts had become my new normal. I was constantly living in a state of angst and tension.
My lack of peaceful sleep led to fatigue, fatigue led to apathy and apathy led to depression.
The nightmares and hauntings I wrestled with at night, also affected my daytime. Weekends were spent drowning my sorrow and grief with alcohol. As my nerves and senses slowly became dull with each drink, I would sit in my home office by myself, on my computer looking at old photographs and listening to old songs…all in an ill attempt to grieve my brother’s loss and close the void left by his sudden departure.
This was the beginning of a cycle of self-medicating and poorly managed grief. My wife and daughter suffered because I refused to come to terms with the loss of my brother. I didn’t receive counseling for the abuse I endured growing up and I never healed from the trauma in my childhood, including the morbid and horrific aftermath caused by my father killing himself.
The pain had always been there, unresolved and brewing under the surface; like a dormant volcano waiting to erupt. The loss of my little brother was the catalyst which set ablaze the embers of hurt which had been smoldering for years.
Meanwhile, I continued to excel at work; my performance was exemplary and steadfast. My shipmates and leadership didn’t know the scope and level of pain I was wrestling with; I didn’t want to share it. I was afraid of looking weak or worse, being a burden and liability.
These were all the telltale signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)…something I would not seek help for until the loss of my daughter, many years later.
With my mental, physical, and spiritual state still very fragile and hurting, a few months after my little brother Ben passed away, I received more bad news.
My aunt, one of my mother’s younger sisters, called me up to tell me that something awful had happened…an uncle of mine, a brother of my mother and aunt, had taken his own life.
Still reeling from the shock and pain of my little brother’s sudden loss, hearing about one of my uncle’s committing suicide was like a kick in the gut while I was already down. I was particularly close to this uncle; he had spent time with us during the holidays and summer. He was one of the funniest people I knew; gentile and kind. This uncle had spent time with me, teaching me about the game of baseball; showing me how to collect baseball cards and how to read all the statistics for each player.
Hearing about his death deepened my resentment and bitterness toward God. The loss of my brother was bad enough…in my mind, hearing about my uncle committing suicide just added insult to injury.
Reaching out to my mother on the entire matter was difficult; the woman had lost her little brother, on the heels of losing her youngest son, my little brother. My mother was reluctant to share any of the details about my uncle’s death; which simply added frustration to the pain…I wasn’t even able to find out where he had been buried; every time I’d bring up anything related to my uncle’s passing, my mother would become guarded and emotional.
I never went home for my uncle’s funeral; in fact, I don’t even know if he had one. All I knew was that he wasn’t buried in Rhode Island, but instead, his remains were laid to rest at a veteran’s cemetery, located in Maryland.
As my three-year tour aboard USS KITTY HAWK drew to a close, it was once again time to select orders to my new assignment. My family and I had been stationed on the West Coast and Pacific Theater of Operations for almost eight years.
After a few months of negotiating for my next tour-of-duty assignment, I was selected for orders to Hawaii.
Monologue: My tour in Japan was over. While there, I had to say goodbye to my only sibling; and lost an uncle who invested so much into my childhood. The ground on which my heart, soul, and faith was resting had been violently shaken and quaked; my wife Erica and daughter Elizabeth were left with the aftershocks.
In the fall of 2006, my family and I were transferred to Hawaii. During the nearly four years stationed there, I continued to wrestle with my pain and grief.
During that season, life continued to unfold, and tragedy once again hit my family. In 2007 the sacred earth in the cemetery where my dad and brother were buried, was once again broken, and another one of our own was laid to rest.
A beautiful young life, full of promise and potential was overcome and extinguished by the same thoughts of hopelessness which had already taken so many…