Who's Left Behind When a Soldier Commits Suicide?

Becca Morrison's husband came home from Iraq and killed himself. She's "still here, and still fighting."

Who's Left Behind When a Soldier Commits Suicide?
Mark Graham

The day after her husband's funeral, a week or so after she found him, Rebecca Morrison somehow managed to get dressed and get in the car. She was exhausted, wrung out of tears. She could barely move or speak. All that week her family and friends had to feed her, bathe her, walk her to the bathroom, sleep beside her. Every few seconds she had flashbacks to the scene in their house. Each time, she screamed.

Now she and her mom had to get back from Killeen, where Ian's funeral had been held, to Dallas, where Becca's parents lived. Becca, 25 at the time, had been given a lot of medication to help her through: Xanax, Ambien, an antidepressant, things she didn't usually take. Between the meds and the grief, she could barely speak. She slumped in her seat. Her mom, Pam, drove and worried.

"Do you think you could drink a milkshake?" Pam asked.

Courtesy of Rebecca Morrison
Courtesy of Rebecca Morrison

Details

Email the author at anna.merlan@dallasobserver.com.

Becca said she'd try.

Pam pulled into a Braum's and ordered a tall one.

Becca took a couple sips and put it down.

A few miles went by. Becca sat up and looked at her mother.

"I need to go to Walmart right now. My dog is at Walmart."

"Honey," Pam said carefully. "Your dogs are at home. They're being taken care of."

"No. You have to go there."

Pam had no idea what Becca meant. She and Ian had two dogs together, and they were at home, being fed by a friend. But it was the first thing her daughter had asked for in a week.

"I'll try," Pam said. She hadn't slept either. On autopilot, she drove through the tiny, unfamiliar East Texas town. Somehow they found themselves in front of a Walmart.

Pam pulled in. There was a guy in a truck. He had puppies in the bed, squirming around in a playpen. Another man was standing nearby. He picked up a loud, yelping spotted one, all black and white, and looked her over. The rest of the dogs were brown.

Put her down, Pam remembers thinking. The man did. As soon as he walked off, Pam swooped in and grabbed the puppy. He looked up at her and yelped a little.

"That's my dog," Becca said.

Pam, ignoring her confusion, put the puppy in her daughter's arms. The dog licked her face. Becca, for the first time since she'd found Ian's body, took a long, deep breath.

The man with the dogs didn't want to be paid. He said he'd only been there two or three minutes when they showed up. Becca held the puppy and they got back in the car.

Trying to shrug off the weirdness of what had just happened, they started talking names.

"What about Daisy?" Pam asked.

Becca would eventually realize the last thing Ian put on her iPod was a Switchfoot song with the lines "Daisy let it go/Open up your fists/This fallen world/Doesn't hold your interest/Doesn't hold your soul." And that just after he came back from Iraq, he'd given Becca a simple Christmas gift: a ring with a daisy on it.

A few weeks later, the fog of the funeral still unsettled, Becca would get some things back from their house: a file folder with Social Security information, some bank statements and a card from a few years back. It was hand-drawn on thick, rough paper, folded into a rectangle. "Will you be my Valentine?" it asked in pretty, painstaking black cursive. On the outside, Ian had drawn a dog. It was black and white and spotted.

Becca looked at her mom, beside her in the car, the puppy sniffing contentedly between them.

Daisy.

"That's her name."


Becca Morrison is sitting in her new house, a two-story place in a quiet, half-finished Grand Prairie subdivision. The house is large and airy and immaculate, not a speck of dust or a rug corner out of place. The table is set for six, though she's not expecting company. The countertop is lined with her paintings, a hobby she took up after Ian's death.

She's 26 now, with dark blonde waves and big brown eyes that get bigger and sadder the longer she talks. She's plainspoken and self-aware, showing flashes of dry wit and a lovely, albeit occasional smile, which emerges when she remembers something goofy about Ian.

She sits very still, curled up with a pillow against her knees. Daisy, banished momentarily to the backyard, peers in through the glass door. When Daisy's inside, the dog tries her best to climb into Becca's lap, although she doesn't even remotely fit. The dog sleeps near Becca, too, and follows her around the house while she cleans or does laundry or grades her third-graders' schoolwork.

The day Becca met Daisy wasn't the last time she felt Ian's presence, pulling her through the darkest time of her life. She's still emerging from that darkness, and she's trying her best to make a roadmap others can follow. That's her mission this year, and it's landed her, among other places, in the pages of Time magazine and on a stage in front of 2,000 military medical providers. She wanted to help them understand how to better care for their soldiers, while they're deployed and when they get home. And she wants other suicide survivors to understand, as she says, "that you can live through this."

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16 comments
DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

War Criminals ... doing society a favor.


Willie
Willie

Well done.  Thanks for the fine story.

Kristin Haggard
Kristin Haggard

Rocky Top Therapy in Keller offers equine therapy through their Horses for Heroes program. Great program for DFW-area vets. Ask for Brooke.

Danni McCarthy
Danni McCarthy

That is so horrible and I haven't even read it yet!

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

Thank you guys so much for reading. Becca also wanted me to mention that TAPS operates a national helpline for suicide survivors in crisis: 800-959-TAPS. She says, " If you are in crisis please call. Get help. Reach out. You are important."

Genevieve Kissinger
Genevieve Kissinger

I haven't read something that hit me like a ton of bricks like this in months..

Brian Whitson
Brian Whitson

damned shame. Too many are going this route. War is hell. Esp. a sham like Iraq. R.I.P.

Joshua Jennifer Faught
Joshua Jennifer Faught

This is why Pathways, www.createagreatlife.org , and "Soldiers Serve with Heart" have such an interest in helping those who return home to bring them ALL THE WAY HOME.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

NVRS 5/5 well done, a sad story to read for sure.  And sad to hear this is your last story for the Observer.  Good luck you in your endeavors and let us know where you go.  We must never let the Vagina rating die.  I can only imagine what the new vagina writer for the observer will think the first time she sees that rating

mcdallas
mcdallas

@bvckvs Wow, you are so militantly anti-Christian.  I assume that extends to all other religions.  But thanks for at least being sensitive about it.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@bvckvs ... and that his soul in now burning in Hellfire for eternity for the heinousness war crimes he participated in.

... or for gross hypocrisy. 

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

@ScottsMerkin She'll have to decide, as I did, whether to be offended or amused. I'm glad I went with the second one. 

 
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