[Editor's Note: Capt. Elizabeth Schloemann, in her own words, shares the story of her husband's suicide and the lasting affect on her family. Capt. Andres Schloemann, a member of the Army National Guard, took his own life in December. Elizabeth hopes their struggle will save future lives and serve as a wake-up call to the Army.]

Six months ago the war finally hit home.

I didn't wake up knowing that this day was somehow different. There was no sense of dread of what might come.

I got the kids up for school and went to work. By 10 a.m., my husband sent me a text asking me to have lunch. At 11 a.m. I got called into an impromptu meeting and had to cancel. "Maybe tomorrow," he said. "Definitely," I replied, looking forward to some alone time with him.

When I got out of work, I went to the kids' Christmas pageant at daycare where I met up with my husband. Our youngest had a red-painted nose and antlers. Our 5-year-old was so excited to see us that he was bouncing on his toes. I took a lot of pictures, the kids sat on Santa's lap, got hot chocolate and candy canes, and then we all went home.

After the kids were asleep, my husband and I sat down to watch a movie. It was "The Kingsmen." I remember because I spent months wondering if maybe I had picked a different movie — something less violent — would it have changed the events of that night?

Capt. Andres Schloemann with his two sons Gabriel and Sebastian.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Capt. Elizabeth Schloemann

In a brief moment after the movie ended, as I checked on my crying son, a gunshot rang through the house. It was so loud that I jumped, but not loud enough for me to realize what it was. I took another minute to make sure my son was asleep before going to find the source of the sound. I was not prepared for the smell of gunpowder that wafted up the stairs, nor the sight of my husband's body lying next to the Christmas tree.

I stared, trying to process the scene in my mind. Was it a joke? Had he gotten that cynical from the war that he thought suicide was a joke? I thought maybe he was trying in a really sick way to make me feel bad for fighting with him. It wasn't until I crouched down next to him that I saw the blood and the casing on the floor.

The gravity of what had just happened crushed me instantly. I reached out to check for his pulse and saw my hand shaking. What else was I supposed to do? I wanted to know and not to know in the same instant. When I couldn't feel anything, I thought I was doing it wrong. But from my years of volunteering on an ambulance, I knew that the reason I couldn't find his pulse was because he was already dead.

You see, it was that quick. There was no chance of revival. There was no cry for help. He was alive one moment and gone the next. I never got a chance to talk him out of it. He didn't leave a note. He was simply gone. There were warning signs that led up to that night, but he hid things from me so well that I never got a chance to connect the pieces. Yes, he had been drinking, but he had been drunk many times and none of those ended in his death.

Capt. Andres Schloemann committed suicide in December. His wife, Capt. Elizabeth Schloemann, hopes their story will prevent future soldiers from taking their own lives.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Capt. Elizabeth Schloemann

My husband was lost. He was lost somewhere in his mind, and I couldn't help him find his way home. Maybe he needed a brother in arms to walk beside him in his darkness. Maybe he just needed to feel welcome in a world that sends people to war and brings them home to a country where people don't understand the sacrifices made for freedom.

The weeks following my husband's death are a blur. I remember trying to work through all the emotions while my house was full of family, friends, and coworkers trying to help. Then there was the funeral and all the decisions that needed to be made. I remember everyone sitting around the table for days, waiting anxiously for me to finish funeral arrangements and trying to get me to hurry up.

I tried to be gracious. I tried not to cry. At times I would escape to my room to hide, hoping nobody would try to come find me. I wanted comfort from the life I had known before everything fell apart. I wanted to know everything would be fine and that it wasn't my fault. I wanted confirmation that the world as I once knew it hadn't just been destroyed. I wanted everyone else to know exactly the words I needed to hear, but I didn't even know what those were.  I got sick of hearing all the cliché answers.

"It's going to be okay." No it isn't. Not for a long time.

"It's not your fault." Are you sure? Were you there in that moment in his head? Can you really know that?

"There's nothing you could have done." Don't get me started. I can't tell you how many times I've gone over and over in my head what I could have and should have done. Don't make me tell you all of them. I know it won't change anything. I'm the one living with it.

After the funeral, everyone dispersed. I was alone with my boys for the first time and Christmas was less than a week away. At least the beauty of the tree wasn't tarnished by the image of my husband's body lying on the floor next to it. I knew the kids would never know, and I couldn't ruin their Christmas. The house had been rearranged for us and the neighborhood banded together to bring presents to make sure the boys had enough distractions to get through the holidays. My friends kept us company so we wouldn't spend Christmas alone.

And then it was all over. The kids went back to school, I went back to work and people around us began to forget. It remained in the hearts and minds of those who were close to my husband, but they were so far away. I started the process of calling all the utility companies and banks to tell them my husband had passed away. My initial assumption was that it would be simple and they would be sympathetic. I was so wrong.

It took over 5 months to get all the utilities right. I paid so many fees and spent hours day after day trying to get everything sorted out just to find out that it was still wrong. The creditors started calling wanting money  My bank account was depleted from paying funeral costs, even after my parents had chipped in. The SGLI didn't show up for months. I found out the National Guard doesn't offer a death gratuity to offset immediate expenses.

I was a wreck and had no outlet for any of my frustrations. People asked me if I was going to see a grief counselor. I didn't need a grief counselor. I needed someone to hold the utility companies accountable.

While I spent most of my time trying to check things off my ever-growing list, I decided it was time to write my story. I wrote about the night my husband took his own life while it was still fresh in my mind. I knew people would continue to ask me about what happened and I knew that I didn't have the strength or the patience to tell it over and over again. A representative from the All Warrior Network asked me if he could publish it and I said yes. It was raw and ugly in all its explicit detail for the world to see. I didn't understand why we are so careful to shield the world from pain. Pain will inevitably find its way to each of us.

I wanted everyone to read it. I wanted people to see that we are only human. I made mistakes, too. As a leader, a Soldier, I felt like a failure. How often is it that we're trained on suicide prevention? Were there things I should have known, should have looked for? Did I use all the resources I had available?

I wanted to revolt against being a widow. I am many things, and I didn't want being a widow of a suicide to be the one that defined me. I am a woman, a warrior, and a mother. I am strong and fierce, proud of everything I have accomplished, but suddenly found myself an unwilling victim of something I couldn't control. The temptation to stare everyone down and force them to look me in the eyes and see me instead of my burden was overwhelming.

Then the strangest thing happened. People began to write to me. Stories flowed into my inbox from Soldiers, spouses, and veterans. They wanted to share their stories and I had given them an outlet to do so. They had the same fears and problems. Some of them saw a reflection of themselves in my husband's actions and realized that if they didn't reach out for help, his story would become their own. Week after week, the messages kept coming in. It was then that I saw the problem for what it was.

It's so easy for us to think suicide is the problem and all we have to do is teach people not to kill themselves, but we're wrong. Suicide isn't the problem. It's the end result of a series of problems and we need to learn how to treat Soldiers like people and help them find the right outlet.

We have a hard time in the Army getting out of the rigid structure we frame everything with. With the force drawdown, we have more tasks to complete and fewer people to complete them. People become tasks with faces and we want results yesterday. The daily decision of what actions we're willing to assume risk on becomes a never-ending battle as we're pulled in three different directions. Sometimes we don't even know the faces of the people in our own organizations because we can't break away from our desks long enough to create dynamic work relationships.

When a Soldier misses formation, our first instinct is to be angry or insulted instead of finding out why they are missing work. A Soldier has to believe their leadership is invested in them as a person. The ones who do are going to perform at a much higher level than those who know that if they were to disappear for a day nobody would even notice.

My husband hated his leadership. In fact, every single phone call he made home during his deployment to Afghanistan was a stark reminder of the way he was being treated. He was sent out to remote FOBs as part of the retrograde mission to shut them down. Diary entries from his deployment show he felt ignored by his command. He felt isolated and grew angry with the lack of care and compassion. His bitterness was rooted very deep by the end of his deployment. He kept note of all wrongs that had been done to him listed in the last few pages of his little green book. The anger is almost palpable in the contempt of his words.

It wasn't a stretch to imagine what he had endured.

His gear still sits in boxes in my garage waiting for me to open it, some of it still sealed from Afghanistan. I wonder what I'll find when I open them. How much of it should I keep? What will I give to the boys and what will I tell them about Afghanistan? Every time I open something, I find more reminders of his death – clips of hollow point rounds from his .45, his Colt AR-15 case full only of accessories because my unit confiscated all the weapons from my house after his death, bottles of alcohol that he purchased that day and I've never opened.

It's hard for me and I know it's even harder for my boys, especially my 5-year-old. There are days he sings about people dying, nights that he remembers that his dad is dead and starts balling, and all the while I try to understand how his 5-year-old brain is processing such a terrible loss. He's been getting in trouble a lot at school. My son has a firm grasp of death and is tormented by the fact that his dad is never going to come back, but the compassion for his wounded soul is absent. When I want more than anything for everyone to wrap their arms around him in love and show him the beauty of life, they push him away like a pariah. He is not a bad kid.  His dad died 6 months ago.

Capt. Andres Schloemann with his two sons Gabriel and Sebastian.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Capt. Elizabeth Schloemann

My 4-year-old is still too young to fully grasp it, but it breaks my heart to hear him tell strangers that his dad is dead. One of my friends told him that he was in Afghanistan with his daddy, and my son asked if he was the one who killed him  He knows Afghanistan is what caused the wound that ultimately led to his dad's death. Even at 4, he's trying to understand. He had an inseparable bond with my husband, and I often think about the night he died.  My son woke up about half an hour after it happened, crying. When I asked him why he was crying, he said, "Daddy's calling me." I know he'll never remember. I'll never forget.

There is a long and crazy road ahead of us. We take each day as it comes and they all offer different challenges. The pain is far from over. Some people say it's good the kids are young. I wonder if that's true. When they are older and understand, will the pain be greater then?

People say suicide doesn't end the pain, it just passes it on to someone else. Well, it isn't just "someone else." It's the spouse, kids, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, friends, colleagues, and classmates – everyone whose heart has ever been a part of your life. And the pain doesn't just pass along, it multiplies by every person who has ever loved you.

And the saying that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem? It was a single moment in our lives that my husband couldn't overcome his pain. He'll never get a second chance. We'll never get a second chance.  All the days in our future – the firsts and lasts, the best and the worst, the accomplishments our boys will make as they grow into men – he'll never be a part of. Whatever he saw or felt cast a shadow over his world and stopped him from seeing all the good that was still to come.

Capt. Elizabeth Schloemann is the Brigade S2 for 5th Armor Brigade. She lives on Fort Bliss, Texas with her sons Gabriel, age 5, and Sebastian, age 4. 

If you are afraid to seek help within the Army, Schloemann recommends the following resources: 

Stop Soldier Suicide

www.stopsoldiersuicide.org

22 Until None

www.22untilnone.org

22Kill

www.22kill.com

Active Heroes

https://activeheroes.org

The Battle Buddy Foundation

http://www.tbbf.org/about-us

Heroes Outdoor Therapy

http://www.heroesoutdoortherapy.org/uncategorized/heroes-outdoor-therapy/

Real Warriors

http://www.realwarriors.net/family/support/preventsuicide.php

Mission 22

http://www.mission22.com/resources-2/

Battle in Distress

http://battleindistress.org/

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