When Suicide Hits Home

“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” – Rumi

I lost a good friend last week, and the SEALs lost a teammate and legendary warrior. Mark Crampton will be dearly missed by those of us touched deeply by his presence, sense of humor, and courage.

Suicide is hard to understand. Most can’t imagine the existential torment that makes dying appear more reasonable than living. My team and I at the Courage Foundation have worked very hard to help veterans struggling with PTS and suicidal thoughts. To date, all of the vets we’ve supported looked and acted the part… meaning that outwardly they showed signs of PTS in the form of depression, addiction, and isolation. Mark had none of that, which makes his choice feel even more unexpected and tragic. 

In search of closure, I’ve naturally been rewinding the tape and turning over in my mind Mark’s possible reasoning for his choice. I’ve often heard warriors claim that they would rather die in battle than live as old, indigent, and helpless men. Perhaps Mark felt the same and had evidence he was heading in that direction. If true, then he refused to be a burden to his family… and wanted to be remembered by his teammates as the incredible warrior that he is. 

Another thought on my mind is that Mark was always, always in service to others. He was selfless and mighty in his care and concern for his teammates, for the SEALs, for our country, and for his family. I wonder, though, whether he was ever able to direct that level of care toward himself. The amount of love he had for others sure made me believe that he loved himself. But perhaps he had trouble there. Perhaps he found meaning and joy in helping others, but when he needed self-love, his well was dry. 

While I miss Mark dearly, I pass no judgment about my friend’s choice. There were circumstances in his life that led to this decision. And though I wish his decision had been different, it was his to make, and make it he did. All of us wonder why he didn’t reach out for help. The only answer that comes to my mind is that he didn’t want to be talked out of the decision. His suffering must have been so intense that he was desperate for a way out. 

So now it begs the question: if someone as apparently solid and stable and caring as Mark can do this, what other seemingly stable friends or family in our personal orbits are at risk? It’s time to have those conversations.

This weekend, my wife and I made a pact: If we ever got to the place where ending things seemed like a reasonable option, we would talk to each other. Though it may have been symbolic, it was an important declaration that we are not alone and will support each other in the worst of times. I encourage you to have a similar conversation with your loved ones. You never know how someone is really feeling underneath. 

Rumi is my favorite poet. He was a Sufi mystic who understood the power of silence and stillness to hear the voice of inner love and goodness that lies in every human. I wish Mark had been able to experience that stillness, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt his goodness and value to the world – regardless of whatever challenges arose in his personal life. Mark has reminded me of the imperative to spend time every day in silence. In that silence, we can connect to the absolute love that we are. Without that, we get caught up in the drama and challenges of outer life, which compound and can lead to extreme suffering. The only way out of that mess is to go inside. There, the quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.

RIP Mark… we love you brother.

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