The “Why”: Bonnie’s Letter to Walton’s Warriors
This letter is published as part of a blog series about the new Walton’s Warriors Peer Mentor Program.
My name is Bonnie Walton. I was the wife and caregiver of Cpl. Brian Walton. He was a combat infantryman with the 76th Infantry Brigade. He served two tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2008. He was diagnosed with PTSD and battled it for seven years before taking his own life on March 5, 2016.
My hope for Walton’s Warriors is for our veterans to feel connected to someone who “gets it” – the shared experience of war, PTSD, and life – someone who understands what it is like to feel isolated in your own pain. Through my own trauma and grief, I have found how vital it is to find someone who gets it. I found solace and support with other widows of suicide. We are able to share more freely with people who share our experiences. We find compassion in our commonality. We find strength in the shelter of each other. Some people may find it odd that I have a hard time looking at pictures of Brian. The only reason I can give for it is that when I look at those pictures, I fall in love and apart all over again. I now know that’s common for some widows. The reason I know this is because of finding my peer mentors, people who have walked this same road. I am working on it.
Moving the focus from our pain to how we can prevent someone else from experiencing it is very powerful and healing. Peer mentoring is not just listening to one another. Unlike counseling where you just talk about your experiences, you are sharing a common issue with someone who “gets it.” Learning from each other is the fundamental purpose of human communication. It is how we survive. We all need to find our tribe.
No veteran should feel like suicide is the option. I will forever feel broken that Brian ever felt like he was expendable. He was a loving father. He chose to help me raise three sons from a previous marriage and one we had together. If you had ever heard him talk about any of the kids, they were all his. He was fun, witty, and the first to offer help to someone. We had huge Halloween and Fourth of July parties. He loved the people he served with. He had a lot of friends and a big family. It is unacceptable that he ever had the thought that we would be better off without him. He didn’t just take his own life: he took large pieces of ours.
I share our story to shine a light on preventing suicide among our veterans, to prevent their families from the pain and chaos of losing them and to prevent another mother from having to say to their child, “Daddy isn’t coming home. Dad is dead,” and having to answer the question of what happened and having to say the words, “He shot himself.” I remember having to tell one of his friends that he was gone, and he said, “Bonnie, he didn’t mean it.” And in a way, I know that. He didn’t want to die. He just wanted the pain to stop. He would have never wanted to be the source of pain to his family. But it doesn’t make him any less gone, and it doesn’t stop the pain that all of us who loved him feel.