The suicide rate among veterans in the United States far exceeds that of the general population. In fact, recent statistics indicate that the veteran suicide rate is twice that of the general public. About 20 percent of all adult suicides in the country at this time involve a vet.
I’m a vet myself. After my service, I knew I wanted to go into business for myself. Eventually, my wife and started a business we call Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company. Eco Bear is what is known as a biohazard remediation service. In common parlance, what that means is our company is called in to “clean up” after some sort of catastrophic event in a location like a residence or business. Examples of the kind situations we work on for our clients include the aftermath of accidents, suicides, and homicides.
Suicides are uniquely tragic events. Not only do they involve people so desperate that they feel they cannot go on living, they are incidents that leave behind horribly grief-stricken people in their wake. In addition, because of the truly traumatic nature of some suicides, the death scene can be gruesome, a shattering mix of blood, bodily fluids, and other biological materials.
Late one evening about a year ago, a friend of my wife and I telephoned us as we were sitting down to dinner. Because of our connection, our friend, Joe, knew we are in the biohazard remediation business.
Joe was reaching out to us because one of his work colleagues was in need of our assistance. Joe advised that this other gentleman was in a horrible situation. My friend’s work colleague had a brother who was a vet of the Iraqi War. The brother was diagnosed with PTSD, among other issues. Evidently, the brother had been enduring some rough times of late. The brother ended up taking his own life, about a week before Joe made the phone call to me.
Evidently what Joe’s colleague’s brother had been experiencing particularly strong PTSD and depression symptoms. Indeed, the emotional toll for the man became too much. Joe explained that the vet swallowed a handful of sleeping pills, went to bed, and died.
While the suicide was horrible in and of itself, an added dimension made the situation even more horrific. The vet’s remains were not discovered for about a week from the day he died. The vet’s remains were discovered by his brother, the man Joe worked with and who Joe was assisting following the death.
Joe inquired if I would be able to go with him that evening to his colleague’s brother’s home to provide an estimate for a suicide cleanup of the premises. With the information that the remains of the deceased vet had been left unattended in the residence for almost a week, I knew that the cleanup and remediation project would be more challenging.
Joe came over to our home not long after our phone conversation and we drove the deceased vet’s home where the man’s brother was waiting for us. When we arrived, Joe made introductions and then retreated to another part of the house to give us time to visit.
Casey, the brother of the deceased vet, wanted details about what was involved in getting the room where his brother died back into a usable condition. He also made mention that he wasn’t sure how he was going to pay for the cleanup.
Helping a client figure out what resources are available is one of the parts of my work that brings me satisfaction. When people are facing a tragedy, I take comfort in being able to provide comprehensive services to them. By that I mean not only dealing with the remediation of a challenging situation at their homes or businesses, but also in finding ways in which the process of restoration is as painless as possible for them. That oftentimes means assisting them in seeing what financial resources may be available to aid in paying for a cleanup.
In the case of the cleanup of Casey’s brother’s home, we were able to find coverage for a good part of the expenses associated with the remediation through his deceased brother’s homeowner’s insurance policy. My wife, the co-owner of our business, assisted with getting a claim filed.
As my team and I were completing the cleanup of the bedroom where Casey’s brother had died, Casey made the decision to put the house on the market for sale. He was his brother’s only heir, a fact that gave him a good amount of control over what would happen to the house.
In some cases of a suicide, a decision is made to sell the home where the death occurred. In most cases, it is a situation in which the person who took his life lived alone. However, because of the pervasively traumatic impact a suicide can have on survivors of that type of loss, families at times make the decision to move.
An ancillary component of our company’s suicide cleanup efforts in some cases is not only assisting in finding financial resources (like homeowner’s insurance) to pay for the work but also in preparing a property for an estate sale. Unlike the suicide scene cleanup, Casey played a more direct role in assisting with the estate cleanout process.
Because of that added endeavor of estate cleanout, Casey and I had a good amount of time to spend together. It was during this phase of the overall project involving the suicide of the deceased vet that perhaps the most gratifying aspect of my work came into focus. Through my business, my wife, my team, and I oftentimes have opportunities to provide support to our clients through something seemingly as simple as conversation.
The suicide of a family member is particularly challenging for survivors of this type of loss. In addition to tremendous grief, a survivor of suicide loss many times carries an added burden in the form of shame. This was the case with Casey.
In our conversations, I quickly learned that Casey felt shameful about the manner in which his brother died. In addition, his grief was magnified by a pervasive sense of guilt.
Because I had served in the military, I was in a rather unique position to share with Casey that an unfortunate reality in this day and age is that an alarming percentage of veterans suffer from conditions like PTSD. I was able to honestly tell Casey that a significant number of people I’d served with faced issues like PTSD and depression. There were people I served with that had taken the drastic step of taking their own lives.
What I’d witnessed as a result of these types of losses was that people left behind all grieve in their own unique ways. I emphasized a number of points with Casey. Some time later, Casey reached out to me and said our conversations and the points I made at the time stayed with him and were helpful in his grieving process.
I stressed that we all grieve loss in our own unique ways. We cannot look to how others grieve to obtain markers on what we are or are nor experiencing.
I also made a point of sharing with Casey that feeling guilty can be expected, is something of a natural response. However, just because an emotional response is to be expected and even natural doesn’t mean it’s fair or even appropriate. Guilt over something for which a person has no control – like the suicide of a loved one – is misplaced.
Finally, Casey would also later tell me that our conversations revealed to him that there are indeed other people who’ve lost loved ones to suicide. According to Casey, my sharing of the losses of people I served with and how it impacted my life demonstrated to him that he could talk to others about his brother’s death and not burden himself with a sense of shame in the process.
In the end, in my work, there is nothing more gratifying than a human connection with positive results that arises out of what otherwise is an utter tragedy.