Who's Left Behind When a Soldier Commits Suicide?

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.

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.


"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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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan

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