I come from a large family, and I grew up tending to my four nephews. I enjoyed entertaining them during the holidays and babysitting them in the summer.
In 1991, I served in the first Gulf War as a member of the Army Military Police. I have a very clear memory of a moment when my unit was under a serious potential threat. My last thoughts were that my nephews would be taken care of and how much I would miss seeing them grow up.
Some 23 years later, my nephew Phillip died by gun suicide. One of my closest friends was his neighbor, and she called me while the ambulance was still in his driveway. I was the one that notified my family members.
Phil was 33 years old and had just returned from a vacation with family and was planning to propose to his girlfriend. The day that he took his life, he had reached out to to ask about a family history of mental illness. No one will ever know what his mindset was because, with a stroke of the trigger, his life was over. I often wonder about the unanswered questions: What happened? What was he experiencing? Could I have been a better resource for him? I will forever remember Phil’s infectious laugh, his warmth and his ability to put others at ease.
To be able to write about this as part of the Moments That Survive project is very important to me. Until recently, I had not thought of myself as a gun violence survivor, and now it is clear that I am. As a veteran, I am very aware of the impact mental illness plays in suicides. It is important that we make space for people to talk about their fears and concerns. We must also hold our elected officials accountable for providing the necessary support to our local communities by fully funding mental illness and enacting Red Flag laws.