What is the weight you carry? Physical weight pales in comparison to mental weight.
This might not have been something Shane Carey would've ever thought before February 19, 2019 when he learned that his son Tyler had committed suicide while on active duty in the marines.
Now Shane carries a weight most of us cannot even imagine. "You know it’s still heartbreaking," Shane said two years after losing his son.
He's not alone, his family also carries the same weight and though they help each other get through each day, there are times it is still unbearable.
"We have our good and our bad days still. Some better than others, but you know we are just trying to move on the best that we can."
One thing that helps them "move on" is trying to help others. When Tyler died an average of 22 veterans and or active military individuals took their life each day. In two years, through awareness efforts on the national scale like what Shane is doing locally seem to be helping with the average dropping to just over 20 a day according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Still too many.
A story I did two years ago while working at The Derrick and The News-Herald. Shane opened up to me about his son and over a beer and several tears we conducted one of many interviews/discussions.
A Ruck Walk means you carry your gear with you as you move from point A to Point B. In this case the Carey's asked participants to carry 20 pounds, symbolic of the number of military suicides a day, for 20 laps around the perimeter of the Venango County Courthouse and two adjacent parks. It wasn't mandatory they carry the weight or even walk, they welcomed anyone who came to support.
"I'm carrying mine and Tyler's," Shane said as he stopped to adjust a sock about halfway through the walk. "I have to carry it the whole way he said." He was offered help, but it was important for him to finish the walk with his son in a way. "It's supposed to be uncomfortable, it's supposed to be something that reminds you of how hard life is, but this is nothing compared to what Ty was carrying." Shane said.
A few dozen walkers took part in the Friday morning walk. Several others stopped by to learn more about the efforts of groups trying to bring awareness and hopefully a halt to veteran suicides. Others cheered on the walkers and remembered Tyler.
"I hoped more of Ty's old friends would show up," Shane said disappointed he wouldn't see his old friends for a little while and tell old stories.
One gentleman, who is a marathon runner from Florida participated and asked if it was disrespectful if he ran instead of walked. Shane said go for it.
The proceeds from these two events, which also consisted of a silent auction, gift baskets and sales of items to increase awareness will be split between , Mission 22, IGY6, 22 Until Valhalla, Stop Soldier Suicide and KILL22. Click on their name to learn more about each organization.
Writer's note: I had first met Tyler in 2015 when I began work at the Derrick. He was a stellar athlete and I remember meeting him at football practice where I took head and shoulder photos for the upcoming season. He could stare through you when he wanted to. He was very professional and focussed. He wanted to get back to practice with his teammates not have his picture taken.
He was a leader and that was obvious as I watched him that season right up to when they lost a playoff game up at Edinboro University. He was also a tough as nails wrestler.
When I learned of his death by suicide I was shocked and sad. I went looking for that head shot, but couldn't find it. I also went looking for other football photos but struggled to find those too.
I don't remember what the paper did at the time of this news.
When I learned his father was planning to do a 22 mile hike on his son's birthday, only a little more than a month after his sons death, I reached out to see if I could do a story. I was surprised when Shane agreed to meet with me and I told him I'd listen to anything he wished to share.
And he shared.
As we talked a drink at an empty chair with Tyler's bracelet dangling on the rim of the glass sat there full the entire time. That was Ty's drink. We talked for easily 3 hours.
That first meeting led to several discussions after that, I attended the 22 mile walk and visited Tyler's grave with the family. We eventually published the story on Memorial Day weekend in the Derrick and News-Herald. I was honored to be trusted and accepted into this story. Two years later I'm still honored.
The photograph that I made that struck me the most was watching Shane helping to carry his son's headstone to be placed at St. Patrick's cemetery. That one still gets me.
You can read more and see that photo by clicking the link.