These were the words that made me cry the most while working on this story. When I sat down with Shane Carey to listen to his story about losing his son to suicide, just days before I had learned that my brother Russell was in bad shape and hooked up to a respirator. My mom, who had only a few months earlier had lost her husband, my dad, and was heading to my brothers bedside with the knowledge that she was likely going to have to let him go,
"You shouldn't have to write your son's obituary."
There may not be a greater truth.
My brother did pass later that week and it was and is sad.
Shane and I talked for about three hours. He opened his heart and mind to me and I sat there in the presence of a strength I couldn't imagine. He told me intimate details about his life with his son and his son's deepest secrets so that I might understand better how to tell a story that needed to be told. A story that very, very few would be willing to tell. In fact in my 22 years in this business, no one has been willing to talk about this subject.
When Shane sat down to talk to me I didn't know what I was getting into. At the time I knew he was going to do a 22-mile hike with a 22-pound backpack the following day to honor his son on his 21st birthday. I was thinking I'd be getting a little background information to do a little story the next day.
I was wrong. I learned about this young man's life that was filled with incredible highs and near debilitating lows. A young man who had a heart to help those who needed help and leadership skills to get the most out of the people around him. I learned he struggled with relationships in the family because he wanted more than some were willing to give and I learned that a father and son could be coach and player or they could be just be buddies talking about life. That was the relationship these two had.
When I heard he had killed himself I was in shock. I, sadly have known several friends who have committed suicide, but admit I know little about it. I think I'm like most people who think it must be some deep dark place that you reach that you can't come out of, but can't really see myself there. But then there are the high profile cases like Robin Williams, who was supposed to be happy because he was funny. But.....
So what are we missing?
Good people reach places they can't see themselves living through. How does this happen?
I know, in doing this story, I certainly didn't find any answers. It doesn't make any sense.
But, yet, it happens.
"If this can happen to Tyler Jonathan Carey it can happen to anyone."
Shane Carey may be one of the strongest people I've ever met. He told me point blank he probably needs help dealing with this. He's a Recon Marine, but some enemies are stronger than even a Marine.
"You shouldn't have to write your son's obituary."
I thought about my mom writing about my brother. I choke back tears thinking of her strength.
When I talk with Shane and his wife Angel I also choke back tears. Then I look at their two sons, Tyler's brothers.
I thought about this a month ago as I was standing in St. Patrick's cemetery looking at Tyler's grave. What a lucky man my father was for living almost 90 years and what a lucky man I am for knowing him for 52 of those years.
I had seen Shane's posts about his son and I know he felt lucky to have known Tyler and learn from him as he taught him. It is clearly written in his face today what his son taught him about life.
As I was writing this story I was aware of things I should put in and also what I should leave out.
We learn nothing from 'sensationalizing" any part of a story even if it is true. Tyler took his own life, that's all we really need to know about it, the rest is personal and between he and his family. If we're curious to know how or why, that is human nature, but it is none of our business. Shane may want or need to know, but he may never even know for sure. It's a sad thing not knowing why, but I also wonder if its a gift from the person taking their life to not explain it fully. Perhaps knowing why is even more painful? I don't know. I'm guessing no one knows.
If Shane decides to give details to others in hopes that maybe something can be learned about how a person reaches this point, that will be his decision.
The following day Shane was going to hike 22 miles with a 22-pound pack on his back. The next day was Tyler's 21st birthday. To honor his son he took the 22 challenge of doing 22 push ups a step further and created an endurance event to raise awareness about the Veteran's Administration's claim that 22 veterans or active duty service men or women take their life every day.
Read that again. 22 men or women veterans or those in active duty commit suicide every day. That is over 8,000 people connected with military service each year. Over 8,000.
How is this happening? Why is this happening? What can be done?
I admit I have no answers, but we can't figure it out if we don't try to do something. Shane and his family are trying to do something. They are trying to at least raise awareness by telling the story of their son, a star athlete with a huge heart who helped the kids who were picked on in school, had fun making funny videos dancing around, who joined the Marines to be a warrior and serve his country, and who was one of the 22 who took their own life for reasons they just don't know.
He said he wasn't sure where it would go, he mentioned writing a book, but he knows he needs to do something. Nearly everyday he posts to facebook thoughts about Tyler and suicide awareness. In the story we published on May 24, I mentioned what he has done so far and hopes to do in the future.
Another thing Shane said to me that will resonate with me for the rest of my life is about the strength and guts he thought his son had.
He thinks about his son all the time. It has been only 3 months.
My dad, who lived a long life died 10 months ago. A piece of mail I got today from my mom was a newspaper clipping with my dad's name listed with all the other area veterans who died since last Memorial Day. I hadn't really thought about Memorial Day and my dad's passing yet. I cried thinking about how much I miss him. I cannot imagine what Shane and his family feel this weekend.
That is a very hard endeavor. I love what I do, but admit some days are harder on the soul than others. But often they elevate the soul as well.
More on Mission 22: https://www.mission22.com/#ourcause
Below is a slightly different version of the story:
Franklin resident Shane Carey never really paid much attention to suicide. He is a decorated Marine veteran - strong, proud and committed to his beliefs of right and wrong.
"I'm 198 percent against suicide," said Carey.
However, on February 19, 2019, the topic smacked him like a baseball bat to the back of the head when his 20 year-old son Tyler, killed himself while serving his country, also as a Marine.
Now the elder Carey has turned his full attention toward suicide awareness and prevention, especially within the military and among veterans. "Our men and women in the armed forces are not weak, and they need to know they are not alone Carey said.
"If this can happen to Tyler Jonathan Carey, this can happen to anybody, even if you don't think it could," he added.
A Marine knows
The day Carey found out about his son's death started like any other day....he went to work, his wife, Angel, went to school where she works in a special needs classroom, and his two youngest sons, Blake, 12, and Jakob, 7, went to school.
So, when two dress Marines, specially trained to notify families with a death of an active duty marine, showed up at their house in the middle of the day, no one was home to answer the door.
The two Marines then began investigating a way to find Carey on social media. They learned where he worked and got back on the road. Carey is a foreman at the NLMK Coating in Sharpesville, about an hour away.
When Carey got called to report to the office he wasn't concerned about anything, it wasn't at all out of the ordinary.
But as he approached the office he saw the two marines waiting.
"A Marine knows what this means, but I wasn't letting myself go there," he said. Carey thought to himself that his son was in the safest place a Marine could be, working as a mechanic based stateside. So he walked into the office thinking this wasn't about his son.
Then one of the Marines asked "Are you Mr. Carey?"
"I dropped to the floor," Carey remembered. "Not my son, I talk to him everyday. No way, I felt like I couldn't breathe."
A stand-out kid
Tyler Carey, a 2016 graduate and stand-out athlete, known for his big heart, at Franklin High School, was stationed at Camp LaJeune, North Carolina. He was assigned to mechanic training after not passing one component of the Recon test which is what he became a Marine to do. Recon is the Marine's special forces unit with a battery of tests to determine a Marine's physical and mental stamina and strength. He had failed the treading water training test. Failing just one qualification, no matter how well you succeeded in all others, is enough to keep you out.
Shane Carey said his son did exceptional in all other tests and wasn't giving up his goal to pass the requirements.
He kept positive, Carey said of his son.. "It was a defeat and he wasn't happy, but he stayed focused on career and kept up his training and trying to improve his water training to retake the test."
While he trained to improve his strength and stamina in the water, the Marine Corp. assigned him to work as a motor mechanic. Shane Carey laughed. "Ty never turned a screw driver, how do you go from being a warrior to a goddamn mechanic in a garage?" he said.
But he didn't get down on himself continuing to push his limits to be the best Marine he could. Shane Carey learned after his sons death that in the motor pool Tyler earned meritorious promotions. Something his dad said proved he was working hard on his future.
"He never even told me. He wouldn't brag, to him he was just doing his job.," Carey said.
On president's day weekend, Tyler Carey's unit was on a three day pass. Carey stayed on base to work out while his buddies took advantage of the break. Shane Carey said his son didn't have his phone because it had broken and he was waiting for a replacement.
So Shane Carey said he didn't talk to him that weekend.
Carey admits his son had some things from childhood that weighed heavy on him, but he said he always stayed focused on succeeding in whatever he did.
"It doesn't make any sense, Ty is not a quitter, He doesn't give up!" Shane Carey said.
As Shane Carey knelt at work, devastated, listening to the words he couldn't believe he was hearing, he knew he still had to go home and tell his family. Thoughts flooded his brain.
"I was crushed, I was even thinking about killing myself too. I can't live without my son. How do I tell his brothers that their superman, the guy who is larger than life, killed himself?"
But, as he was driving home with tears in his eyes he realized what his family needs is for him to be strong.
And obviously his wife and two sons were devastated. As they grieved Carey turned to trying to find out anything he could.
As is military procedure in death's like Tyler Carey's, an investigation was opened. Tough the investigation will take months to close, Shane Carey was able to find out the contents of a note discovered when his son was found.
"Tell my mom and my dad I love them and tell them I'm very, very sorry," was all it said.
Tyler was one month shy of his 21st birthday.
Shane Carey began pouring over every memory and conversation he had with his son to see if he missed a cry for help. He looked at every post on social media and every text message.
He hasn't found anything.
The Veteran's Administration estimates between 20 to 22 veteran or active duty military personnel, on average, commit suicide every day.
When Shane Carey heard that statistic he knew he wanted to do something to help and honor his son.
"I made a promise to Ty I'd see it through. Military suicide (awareness) will be my life long cause," Carey said pointing and looking up to heaven.
Carey became aware of the 22 Challenge and decided that was a good place to start. The 22 Challenge is a nationwide campaign focused on creating awareness by publicly doing 22 push-ups and telling anyone who asks about the on-going problem of suicides among veterans and active duty personnel using the VA's daily suicide statistic. On March 25, the day Tyler would have turned 21, Carey took the challenge one step further by creating an event to do the challenge but adding a 22 mile hike while donning a 22 pound pack.
He started telling people on social media of his plan. Posts about what he was going to do and posts about the military suicide problem. He said anyone who wanted to join him was welcome.
Shane Carey would've done this even if no one else joined him, but along Sandycreek trail he wasn't alone. The Marines who notified him of his sons death, a few close friends and family and some of Tyler's friends from high school all joined him for all or just parts of the hike. Other friends ,who could not join, did the challenge elsewhere and sent video messages back to Carey. Leading up to the event and during Shane Carey posted video thoughts to social media and tried to let people know what he was do and why. He wants to get the word out about the problems of veteran and active duty suicides.
After the grueling nine hours in the sun, Carey completed the first mission of his goal to spread the word. His social media posts from the event were seen by people all over the world.
Last month, with help from family and friends a tribute concert in Franklin for Tyler was put together and raised over $8,000 that will be donated to Mission 22, a group dedicated to the problem of veterans and military suicides, and help with other awareness efforts. Carey will also create a youth sports scholarship to help send a Franklin wrestler to camp at Penn State next year, something Tyler benefited from in his youth.
Carey isn't doing this alone. His wife Angel is there by his side all the way, The Carey's haven't determined the next step, but they know whether its large-scale or one-on-one, the goal remains unchanged - to help.
"I don't know? Maybe I'll write a book, whatever, but I need to do something." he said.
In the meantime he remembers his son daily and shares his thoughts on his loss and his immense pride in his sons life. He stops somewhere each day to do 22 push-ups.
And he keeps up with some of Tyler's Marine friends and tries to help them if he can.
Recently, while scanning Facebook, a post by one of his son's friends caught his attention. He thought what he was reading might be a cry for help. Carey took action. He alerted the proper people at the base where the Marine was stationed. They checked on the Marine to discover he was indeed struggling. They got him the help he needed.
Later Carey reached out to that Marine to offer an ear and apologize if he overstepped his bounds. The Marine thanked him.
"Maybe through Tyler's tragedy we can prevent another tragedy. If we can prevent one that is a success," Carey said.
He doesn't want another parent to go through what he and his family did.
"You shouldn't have to write your sons obituary."