My name is Bonnie Walton. I was the wife of Corporal Brian Walton. Now, I am his widow. Brian had PTSD from two combat deployments. He was witty. Had a great sense of humor. He loved the outdoors. The “Mister Fix-it” for his family whether it was construction, building science experiments, or keeping everyone’s cars on the road. Loved dogs and kids. We were together for 13 years, married 10. It has been a year since we lost him. This is my letter to him.
The last text I got from you was “Goodbye Bonnie. Take care of Evan for me.” I was instantly dizzy and sick. I was at work and was the only nurse there and couldn’t leave. I called the cops to go to the house and do a welfare check and waited with my heart in my stomach. They called back and said your truck was in the drive but you wouldn’t come to the door. They couldn’t go in with my permission because of the dogs. As soon as I could leave work, an officer met me at the house. On the arm of the couch was a pile. Cell phone, cigarettes, lighter, and car keys. The things you never went anywhere without. I knew but was still hopeful.
The officer even gave me the look of “this doesn’t look good”. He and another officer searched the house and garages and walked the perimeter of our 5 acres. They assured me that they would keep coming by and try to establish contact with you. I had to return to work until another nurse got there. I called your brother. When I got home, your brother and friends were outside with flashlights. I was telling someone inside what was going on when a friend came in the house breathless and said, “They found him.” I think I asked, “Is he….?” and I could tell by the look on her face you were gone.
I am grateful I didn’t have to find your body. Your best friend did. He found you in a trash-filled, abandoned camper on our neighbor’s property. I am sure you did that as a kindness to us to not to have to clean up the mess. I never saw your body, and then you were cremated. You were just gone. Like aliens had just beamed you off the earth. I made my nephew come with me to see where it happened because I had to make it real to myself. I only remember bits and pieces of your funeral. I remember thinking that this is not my life, our life, any minute I will wake up and you would be lying next to me to comfort me back to sleep. But it was true. You are no longer here. Your funeral was the last time I have seen your best friend. Coming out here is too painful for him. I understand. I have to pass that spot every time I go down the driveway. I try not to think about it but the thought of “That is where he left us” inevitably creeps in my mind.
A couple days after you died, I stood there at the coffee pot, trying to figure out why I was going to fix coffee to start my day when I didn’t want any day to start without you. Our daily ritual of stumbling and grumbling to the kitchen. Leaning into each other while we waited for it to brew. Not speaking until we had at least half a mug in. Those thoughts kept me from making coffee for 4 months. Now, my routine is different. Everything is different.
I found your suicide note 6 weeks after you died. You had written it 6 weeks before your suicide. You had ripped it up but instead of throwing it away, I found it in pieces inside my old journal while putting away laundry. I wonder if you left it in hopes of me finding it in time. I so wish I had.
I know you were in a lot of pain. The flashbacks, triggers, nightmares, sudden disassociation, not sleeping for days and then sleeping 14 hours a day for days in a row. I know you had thoughts that we would be better off without you. Those thoughts that you were not a good person. Felt like you couldn’t do anything right because of your memory loss. You had told me about the intrusive thoughts of the horrors of war that interrupted your mood, your everyday thoughts. I hope that you have peace now. I can relate to some of those symptoms more now. Fear of the future, anxiety, depression so consuming that it feels like an effort to draw your next breath. Your suicide didn’t stop the pain, it just gave a piece of it to everyone who knew and loved you. If I could ask you one last question, it would be, “How are any of us supposed to be better off without you?”
There is one thing I really struggle forgiving you for. And that is having to look into our 11-year-old son’s face and say the words “Daddy’s not coming home anymore. Daddy is dead.” And then having to answer the how with “he shot himself.” There was no use lying or trying to sugarcoat suicide. He would find out eventually. He lost part of his childhood in that instant. For the rest of my life, I will worry about how your suicide will affect his life and if I am a good enough mother to give him the support he needs.
After your suicide, everyone remembered the last interactions they had with you and wondered if they could have said or done something different. Everyone who knew and loved you carries some sort of self-inflicted guilt of the “what ifs.” I know I do as your wife, friend, caregiver. What could I have done or said differently? Your Army buddies who you personally had talked out of crisis are still bewildered. Those inner thoughts that any of us would be better off without you were all untrue.
You left your son and stepsons without a father and half a mother. I know it sounds cliche’ that half of me died with you, but it’s true. You were my everyday for 13 years. Every decision, plan, thought of the future – you were in it. The other person who held the other half of our shared memories and inside jokes of all these years is just gone. So whatever memories my mind can’t recall are lost now forever. I can’t look at our photos yet. I have the pictures that were framed for your memorial service hung up for the boys, but I purposely avoid looking in that direction. Every time I see a glimpse of your smiling face from happier times, I fall in love and apart all over again. I am sure it will get better with time, just not yet.
I am sure I looked like a crazy person, sobbing at our son’s 6th grade orchestra concert. It just hit me of all the future firsts you won’t be here for. First girlfriend, first car, graduation, wedding, grandchildren, all of it. You didn’t just take your life, you took large pieces of ours.
Your absence will echo in our hearts everyday forever. My hope with this program is to honor your memory, to give other veterans hope and real life coping skills, to keep other families from enduring this grief, and to teach my kids that when something terrible happens to you, you find a way for something positive to grow out of it. I have learned that in my lowest points in my grief journey, the support of someone else who “gets it” helps tremendously. Some of my greatest supports are now other widows of suicide. There is compassion in our commonality. An understanding that someone else has been through this gives us hope for ourselves.
I buried part of your ashes at Winding River Ranch. This was one of the last places we were happy and together as a family. I remember sitting on the back deck by the fire and admiring the stars. You looked at me and said, “You know I love you, right?” and held me. I put your ashes there so maybe you are kept in that moment. Because you know I loved you, too. I will always love you. I miss you in every way.