"This is my grief story. It’s about how I felt before, during, and after our son, Rush, passed:
I had been gone totaling numerous months of Rush’s 7-months of life, due to being away with the military. It’s always very difficult to leave, because I know my family doesn't want me to go. I don’t either. My kids miss me, my wife needs me to share my responsibility as a husband and father, and it makes me extremely sad feeling like I’m neglecting them. But it’s what I “signed up for” and it’s “my job”. I always told myself, “I have their whole lives to make up the time I was gone” or “we’ll do it this weekend.”
Putting work first led to great opportunities. It led to wild adventures, getting to do things, and visiting places that most people never will. It even led me to a potential opportunity to fly for the Italian Air Force as an exchange pilot. However, I knew I could not do that to my family. Knowing that I would be gone often, in a small town in a different country, where no one spoke English. Although it was a wildly cool opportunity, it wasn’t good for my family. Following the decision to not pursue that path, along with having gone on a TDY and seeing what the life of a General Officer was like, I came to the realization that I just wanted to be with my family. I didn’t want to be gone all the time, I didn’t want those opportunities if it meant my family had to take a backseat. While I was gone, I became depressed as I felt like I neglected my family and my fatherly and husband responsibilities. I made the decision to take time off and spend it with them. I am glad I did, because it was the most time I got to spend with my baby boy out of the entire time he was alive, it was also the last times I would spend with him.
When I got back home from the series of trips, Hannah and the kids got back as well. That was Dec 15, 2022. We spent the following days together, as Rush developed his illness. Both Rush and Emmy were sick that whole weekend. As it worsened, we both got worried for Rush. Hannah’s amazing motherly instincts reached out for medical care. Hannah brought Rush to the ER, while I stayed home with Emmy. After the ER visit, which told us Rush would be okay, I kept trying to reassure Hannah that he would be fine, even though Hannah said otherwise. Hannah wanted to call 9-1-1, but I assured her Rush would be fine, because that’s what the doctor said. We agreed if he wasn’t better by the morning, we would take him to the pediatricians. Which is what happened the next day. Rush got worse, so Hannah scheduled an emergency appointment to be seen by the pediatrician, who again, reassured us Rush would be okay and it was just the common cold. It made me feel like we were over exaggerating and blowing things out of proportion, because these doctors kept saying it was just the common cold.
During this time, Rush would not sleep well unless he was being cuddled. I am thankful I was able to be home and cuddle him so much, and just be with him. Even on the last night of his life, I went to bed early, due to work in the morning. I cuddled him to sleep. A while later, since I had to be up early, Hannah stayed up/slept with Rush, so I could get some sleep. They sat in a vertical position all night to bring him relief.
I woke up early that morning to get a workout in before going into work, as well as take pictures of items for sale (we were getting ready to move). Looking back, I have no idea if Rush was alive or not at this time. I was stupidly taking pictures of items in our basement and riding a bike, when my son was struggling to take his final breathes. I got ready for work, said goodbye to Hannah and gave her a kiss, and said goodbye to Rush and Emmy (who were both asleep at the time I left). I do not know why I did not give Rush a kiss. I always snuck in before I left for work to give the kids a kiss and check on them. I didn’t do it that morning and I do not know if Rush was alive or not when I left. It is something I’ll always live without knowing and always regretting.
I went to work to go get qualified on a new handgun at the shooting range on base. The roads were a mess. Covered in ice and snow, with numerous cars in ditches. I made it safely, but the class was delayed due to road conditions, which I remember making me upset, because I could’ve been home with the family during this time (one of the biggest regrets of my life and something I will always kick myself for). But I knew I would be able to head home early after I was done at the range. I had taken my phone out of my pocket and put it inside my hat in the classroom, so I could comfortably wear my leg holster. I did not know that during this time, Hannah had found Rush, limp, unconscious, & blue in his bed. She was trying to get ahold of me, and I wasn’t there for her. I never picked up the phone, and never knew it was even ringing. It wasn’t until a range instructor came running and telling me and my director of operations that we were needed immediately. I thought it was about flying. She told us to grab our stuff as we wouldn’t be returning. When we did, she started running. She yelled out that someone was on the phone and it was for me. My heart sank, as I knew it was about Rush. When I answered, my senior enlisted leader was on the phone saying Hannah was trying to get ahold of me, and our son was being taken to the hospital. I will never forget that call. I immediately ran outside and saw dozens of missed phone calls. I was able to get ahold of the hospital, who told me to get to the ER immediately, as rush wasn’t breathing and would not survive. My director of operations drove me in my truck to the hospital. I am extremely grateful for him doing this, even in the nasty road conditions.
I was able to get in contact with our neighbor, who informed me Hannah and Rush were being taken to the hospital. Then, I was able to communicate with Hannah, who was just arriving at the hospital and screaming asking me where I was. It’s about a 25 minute drive from base to the hospital, but it felt like hours. I knew what was happening, but I didn’t want to believe it.
When I arrived to the ER, I was told to get to the room immediately. I saw dozens of medical staff surrounding a bed, and on the bed was my little baby boy. They were trying their best to perform continuous CPR. He was covered in tubes. Hannah was standing next to him, hunched over him, and crying. I tried my best to consul Hannah, while trying to hold Rush’s hand. He was motionless, and you could feel him getting colder. You could feel his hand becoming stiff. That ER medical staff tried so hard. Out of the dozens of different personnel, not one of them gave up. I knew Rush was gone, and he wasn’t coming back. But they still kept trying.
After what seemed like hours, but in reality was probably 15-20 minutes, a doctor told us that they would keep trying for a few more minutes, but they would have to stop. They fulfilled that promise and kept trying. But the time came that they had to stop. They marked the time that they discontinued CPR and staff started to leave. We were left with our lifeless baby boy. Hannah and I were a mess. Hannah was yelling out to God, praying, pleading, for Rush to come back. Begging Rush to wake up. She was saying how it must’ve been a dream and that it wasn’t real. I remember thinking about how this isn’t supposed to happen. Bad things happen, but they get better. Things ALWAYS end up getting better. He just had the common cold. There’s no way our little happy boy was dead.
I knew I had to be strong for Hannah. She was a mess. We both cried and were in disbelief, but I tried so hard to be her rock. To be the husband that she needed and be the person she could lean on. We spent the next few hours with Rush, holding him, before taking him to the morgue. We called our parents and told them what had just happened. Before we could leave the hospital, I had to make the decision of what funeral home Rush would be taken to. That’s not anything I ever thought I would need to do. I just wanted to be with my baby boy, I didn’t care about a funeral home. I ended up just choosing the first one on the list.
Following that, my commander, DO, and a base chaplain met us when we left the ER. My DO again drove us home. When we got home, Hannah was in shock. She could not talk, and did not want to see anyone. Now was the time that I needed to be the strong one. Hannah is the mother and just lost her baby, who she created, that she carried for 9 months, and nurtured for 7 months. I needed to be there for her. I ended up going and picking up Emmy and our dogs from our neighbors, and telling them what happened. I called our family and Hannah’s close friends to tell them the news. I talked to the hospital and the funeral home to talk about Rush. In the following days, I took it as my responsibility to make the decisions about the service, coordinate friends family arriving, and a plethora of other things that I didn’t not have the energy to do, but that had to be done. I felt that I had to be the strong one.
I wanted to take my family on vacations, I wanted to make them feel alright, I wanted to love and care for them, I wanted to fight for them, but all my love had been spent. It took so long to gain that energy back and to start caring again.
A few weeks later, we went to Florida. It was here that I fell into a deep depression. I went into a dark abyss, with no intentions of climbing out. Life was so hard. It took so much effort. Being surrounded by darkness was easy, I thought. I could just let it envelop me, and eventually it would take me away. I thought that was easy and what I wanted. I had mental break downs, trouble sleeping, over-ate, was easily agitated, got easily angered, felt hopeless, felt guilty, etc. I remember I was driving and saw a Kid’s soccer practice. I had to pull over and have Hannah drive, because I had a break down and started crying knowing that Rush would never play a sport. For weeks, I had no intentions of getting better. I developed suicidal thoughts and plans of how I would do it. But I knew I couldn’t do that to my daughter or to Hannah. That was selfish. How could I make my family go through loss again. Losing a child and a loved one is something I would not wish on anyone, and I could not put my parents, my wife, or my daughter through that. But it popped up in my head daily, if not more. It seemed like the answer. Some days, it got so dark, that I couldn’t think any other way. But you need to know that suicide is absolutely devastating to those who love you. Some people think that I am not easily scared, or that I am brave. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I am only brave, when I have to be brave.
I felt a constant whirlwind of emotions:
Minute by minute. Sad, angry, happy, depressed, confused, numb. Constantly numb. Lost and confused, surrounded by a darkness I’ve never seen.
I had random and impromptu outbursts of rage and anger. Followed by sadness and guilt. I was always on edge.
I felt lost. Lost as a father and husband, lost as a human. I was trying to be strong for my wife and daughter, and figure out future paths. But couldn’t shoulder it anymore. I had always been taught to make a plan and take action, but in those moments, I did not know what to do.
Hannah became my rock through this. She was there for me and supported me. I had an amazing support of family and friends. People who checked in and reached out to me. I knew I had people who loved it, but it really didn’t matter. My son was dead. He was not coming back. I had missed out on the majority of his life, all just so I could go to work and do a job that my family and I resented. Knowing that, along with knowing I would have to live without my son and return to normal life and work, was what made me believe that life was not worth living. It was just a series of going to work to do (in the grand scheme) meaningless tasks, being gone often, and coming home to an exhausted family. It felt like we got kicked to the ground, then kicked some more, and it just ever ended.
I became easily irritated. At the slightest thing, I would snap. I would get so angry. Mostly, at the ones I loved. I then would become filled with guilt, so much so, I would hate myself. I hated who I was. Which is what led to the suicidal thoughts. I knew I needed help. I reached out to the base’s mental health and begged for help. Unless I drove there, which I was in no state to drive, they were unable to get me help for a few weeks. I had friends who were able to help me get help, which I am thankful for. Once I started being seen by military mental health, I was open about everything. I took the survey’s, I told them I feel helpless, and checked the boxes about suicide. Although it was nice to express my feelings and talk about my emotions, I was pressured to return to work, because that’s “where you belong right now”. I was pressured to return to fly, because “that’s what you're good at and you have a job to do”. I constantly asked for help. I told them everything. I told them I wanted to die. Their answer was to go back to work and turn my firearms into the base armory. Every time I showed up to an appointment, I was just constantly asked “so are you going to kill yourself?” at random points in conversation. To which I always told them no, I just need help. I was just prescribed a series of pills. I ended up telling them I would figure it out on my own.
Return to work
I hadn’t taken my prenatal leave yet from the military. I was planning on taking it after the new year, to prepare for our move. A new policy was released, stating that upon death of a child, the leave is terminated. My leadership did the best they could to give me time off, but eventually, I had to go back to work. We are a single income family and I needed to return to work, which weighed heavily on me.
Although work feels meaningless now and I have not a single care to give, I still have to do my job. I’m back to work now, and maybe it’ll give me some sort of motivation. Time will tell.
This is what I was told by people I trust:
“Men are focused. Men don’t have distractions.”
“Men don’t have to think about the family/household matters.”
“Men are supposed to be strong and not show weakness”
This makes me feel like a failure. As a husband and father. Because most men do care. They do think about their families, their chores, they try to share responsibilities, they try to be everything for everyone. They spread themselves thin, trying to please everyone.
I’ll say this, when the weight of the world is on your shoulders, it makes the easy way out look so easy and so tempting. It’s hard to be relied on, when you have a foggy head. It’s hard to help others, if you can’t help yourself.
You hit this pain. A pain I’ve never felt before. A pain worse than anything I’ve ever known. Even if I’m smiling, even if I have a job that many people are envious of, even if I look like I have myself put together, I don’t. I'm struggling. I don’t know what to do. My heart beat is gone. Why should I live. I’m trying so hard. I’m trying to do everything I’m supposed to do. But nothing is working. But I’m still here, so I guess something, somewhere, is working.
I thought tearing my Pec Major tendon was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I was very wrong. Both the physical and mental pain from losing Rush has caused a suffering, that unlike my Pec, which was able to be repaired, this never will.
It’s crazy how one day you feel on top of the world, strong, and confident. And the next, you want to end everything. Life is long. Life is hard. Life is unfair. But you have to keep going. Even if it’s only one day at a time.
We’ve learned to move on. We will never be healed, and the waves will continue to come, but we’ve learned how to survive it. More than that, we’ve learned how to use it as motivation to help others. Every time I see a picture of Rush, tears come to my eyes. I want to think the negative thoughts, such as “my only job as a parent was to protect you, and I failed”. But rather, we stop those thoughts and instead think “I’ll make sure you are so damn proud, rush.”
I tell myself this, “We created Rush, which means Rush still lives in each of us. Although he is not physically with us, he has not ever left us, and he never will.”
***If anyone reads this and is in that dark place, please give me a call (561-531-0634). Even if you can’t think straight, it’s 3am, and you’re about to pull the trigger, you need to talk to someone. Chances are, just that simple talk, will bring you back. I called my dad to talk me down, and it worked. Call someone and talk to someone. Talk to a therapist. If they are not helping, find a different one. But talk to someone.
USA Suicide hotline: 988"
Written by Jalen Auer, Rush's daddy.