Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's Your Blog: Lori

I am honored to once again bring you an important story from my friend, Lori.  This is a story of mental illness and suicide.  If you need help, please reach out.  And keep reaching.  I admire the honesty and courage of this young man's family in speaking up about the reality of their loss.
Today I'd like to share a story about Andy.  First, let me say, I never met Andy, although I really wish I would've had the pleasure of knowing him.  Sadly I will never get to know him, nor will anyone reading this, but Andy's is an important important that I really hope you take a few minutes to read this and then think about your own life, the people in your life, and how Andy's story could be similar to that of someone you know.  And maybe...just maybe...if this touches a chord with one person and one life is changed, then Andy's story becomes even greater.
Andy is the son of Sally Schindel.  Sally is my Mom's cousin.  So in some so-many-times-removed familial way, Sally....and thus Andy, are my cousins.  I'm not going to get all family tree technical, but just leave it at that...Andy is a distant cousin.  I have had the pleasure of meeting his mom, Sally, and her husband Gregg at family reunions.  Our family reunions can be crazy, and I've always enjoyed visiting with Sally and Gregg at those reunions.  Thanks to Facebook even the most distant of cousins can now keep track of one another between those crazy reunions.
Recently I received a message from Sally via Facebook that her son Andy had died.  Her exact words were "I am so sorry to let you know that my son Andy died by suicide on Saturday".
I read those words with shock.  First of all, I was shocked that someone so young had died.  I was also shocked at how she described his death..."died by suicide".  That made my heart break.  I felt horrible to know that she was facing the loss of her son and that she also had to deal with the fact that he had taken his own life.
Sally has been on my mind lately.  I knew that Andy was a combat veteran.  I wondered if the emotional weight of war had played a part in his mental illness.  I know that many servicemen and women come back and just simply aren't the same.  Some face survivor guilt...why did they survive when buddies died?  Some face the demons of flashbacks.  Some face substance addiction.  Some face all that and more.
Questions...that is what I had about Andy.  I questioned what he was like...what had driven him so low that suicide seemed his only was Sally dealing with this...what lessons were there to be learned in this tragedy...were any of my veteran friends facing similar issues...questions...questions...and more questions.
Today I got answers.  Today Sally posted Andy's obituary on her Facebook wall.  It was, quite possibly, the most touching obituary I have ever read.  After reading it I felt some of my questions were answered while new ones popped in my head.  I felt such an admiration of Sally.  She was not only facing the loss of her son head-on, but she was putting suicide and depression right into the spotlight.  That is NOT easy.  Let's face it...nobody wants to talk about depression, and even less...nobody wants to talk about suicide.  Yet isn't that EXACTLY what we should be talking about?  Because maybe in talking about it then we start to shed the stigmas that exist around mental health issues...maybe in talking about it we open up the possibility to someone that they, in fact, aren't alone...and taking their own life is NOT the only option.
So, with Sally's permission I am sharing Andy's obituary.  When you read it I think you'll find that Andy could be one of dozens of people that we each know.  He was a friend who loved to help his friends enjoy their lives...making them laugh.  We all know someone like that, right?  He loved his pets and caring for plants.  He loved to share his sage wisdom of practical jokes with his younger relatives, making sure that the tricks of old weren't forgotten!  He was a explorer.  And, possibly most touching to my own heart...he was a combat veteran.  He served this country in the Army's 82nd Airborne.  And after that service he came home, thankfully, but he came home a changed man.  Gone were the days of carefree youth.  He came home with war wounds...not war wounds one could physically see, but war wounds on his heart and head.  His depression spiraled and he found himself in a dark place...of which he felt he had no escape.
And that, readers, is what we must all think about and be aware of.  Every day we have veterans returning home to a world so different from what they have recently experienced.  If someone expresses feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts we must always take those seriously.  We must do whatever we can to help them and to be a positive force in their treatment.
Read Andy's obituary.  Think about him.  Think about people you know.  Think about how you can help to break down the "stigmas and silence about suicide and mental illness", as Sally so eloquently put.  She's out there...she's right out there saying "my son died by suicide".  She's standing out there saying the words so that hopefully it helps someone...somewhere...understand that there is help, and we must not be afraid to ask for help or offer help to someone that is suffering.  Sally's final line is quite possibly the most powerful, and one we'd all do well to remember..."Suicide and mental illness are NOT disgraceful".
Andrew "Andy" Steve Zorn, 31, of Peoria passed away March 1, 2014. He was son of Glen Zorn of Peoria and Sally Schindel of Prescott, brother to Sarah Zorn, step-brother to Kyle Griffin, and Grandson of Leona Zorn, all of Phoenix. He was nephew, cousin and friend to dozens and dozens, more than anyone ever knew.
He was born October 15, 1982 and his life was full of joy and broad experience. He traveled the world – Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Great Britain, Luxembourg, Mexico and Canada. He biked along the Rhine and Mosel Rivers in Germany. He visited WWII sites in Europe - Normandy Beach in France and Battle of the Bulge near Bastogne, Belgium. He turned 21 in Baghdad. He traveled the USA – coast to coast on 3 long road trips. He was born and lived mainly in Arizona but also California, then South and North Carolina and Georgia while serving with the Army's 82nd Airborne 2001-2004. He jumped out of Army airplanes 16 times – the first time landing in a creek. He loved his first civilian jump, experiencing great heights and spectacular views. His other accomplishments include earning his Associates of Arts degree from Mesa Community College with a 3.4 G.P.A., learning to play the banjo, and working at many different jobs where he acquired many skills in many trades.
Andy's favorite role was helping friends enjoy their lives, making them laugh and improving their lives, offering wise counsel. He started training for that in elementary school, loving to be the class clown. His best friend remembers how he befriended “the nerdy little kid” in middle school and gave him the best friendship he ever had.
Andy loved his pets – CC the Lhasa Apso from Kindergarten into the Army years, then Tritium his “pound puppy” German Shepherd mix, the beautiful Tortie cat K.C., guinea pigs, pet rats and koi too numerous to name. He loved to care for house plants, especially a huge Peace Lily and a beautiful Water Lily, both given to him by special friends.
Animals and children loved Andy and were attracted to him like magnets. His cousins looked forward to being with him as he planned pranks on the older cousins, teaching the younger ones his tricks like wrapping doorways in Saran Wrap.
We, his friends and family, remember him with joy and celebrate the happy life we know he had. But Andy's life was cut short when he could not get a grip on mental illness that was robbing him of joy. Depression and multiple other issues caused him to think he had never been happy and could never become happy again. His death by suicide on March 1, 2014 was to spare his family and friends a future of him getting worse.
Andy's life had great meaning that we are trying to comprehend. Perhaps one part was to help us all understand that stigmas and silence about suicide and mental illness are not helpful but very harmful and kept Andy from seeking the help that might have saved him. You, also, can remember and celebrate Andy and help to reduce those stigmas. Suicide and mental illness are NOT disgraceful.
A celebration of Andy's life will take place Sunday March 30 in Phoenix.
Interment was at V. A. National Memorial Cemetery in Phoenix on March 10, 2014.
Donations in memory of Andy can be made to animal care agencies or mental health care providers or to Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
To all of Andy's family and friends, my heart goes out to you.  He will not be forgotten.  May memories of the happy times you shared carry you through the days, weeks, and months ahead.

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