My son was not a ‘war hero.’ But he fought — and lost — the battle of depression


This First Person article is written by Andy Griffin who lives close to Lakefield, Ont. For extra details about CBC’s First Person tales, please see the FAQ.

It was an uncommonly lovely afternoon on Nov. 2, 2021, and I was getting ready dinner when my spouse abruptly referred to as from the lounge. 

“Oh my god! There’s army individuals in full gown uniform in our driveway.” 

Our son Ryan was a bombardier in the Canadian Armed Forces. It registered immediately that their go to might solely imply one factor. Our 29-year-old son was lifeless. 

By the time they reached the door, I had turned gray, damaged into a chilly sweat and felt my knees buckle. 

Ryan had come house three weeks earlier at Thanksgiving. As it turned out, that may be the final time we might ever see him alive. He left behind a heartbroken and devastated household in addition to so many shut mates and colleagues.

Andy Griffin, backside proper, with Ryan’s mother, their daughter and two sons in 2009. Ryan Griffin, prime left, was combating depression. (Submitted by Andy Griffin)

Ryan did not die a “battle hero.” He was not killed in the line of responsibility. In truth, he was by no means deployed throughout his 4 years of service a lot to his dismay. The battle he lost was with depression. 

Tragically, Ryan had taken his personal life. In extra direct phrases, he died by suicide. Not “dedicated” suicide since it’s not thought of a crime in most international locations because it, ridiculously, was once in Canada till 1972.

It’s frequent to learn obituaries that point out somebody passing away “after a lengthy, brave battle with most cancers” or one other main affliction. What I’ve by no means seen is one which refers to “a lengthy, brave battle with depression.” Not shocking given the stigma nonetheless hooked up to that different, related phrase: suicide.

Ryan battled depression for greater than a decade despite the fact that he smiled simply and was usually “the life of the celebration.” Our household knew he had battled depression, however extra informal acquaintances most likely noticed him as a happy-go-lucky man. 

He was full of life. He was energetic, formidable, outgoing and witty. Ryan had a nice sense of journey and an curiosity in journey. He had a deep love of the open air — tenting, climbing and particularly mountain biking. He did aggressive downhill racing for a number of years.

A cyclist on a downhill racing course.
Ryan Griffin did aggressive downhill mountain bike racing for a number of years. (Submitted by Andy Griffin)

But I imagine becoming a member of the army had given him a sense of function beforehand lacking from his life. He cherished his profession in artillery, was proud of his promotion from gunner to bombardier and had ambitions for additional promotions going ahead.

However, Ryan additionally struggled to acknowledge his personal value and talents. He acquired remedy at numerous occasions and was prescribed antidepressants. 

As a mum or dad, it was onerous to understand how good or unhealthy it was for Ryan as a result of he hid his emotions and was typically unwilling to speak about it. He typically talked about that he did not need to burden others together with his issues. 

Prior to that Thanksgiving go to, Ryan mentioned he would come house provided that we agreed to not dwell on his issues and maintain the concentrate on a good household get-together. 

He had an appointment with a psychological well being skilled on base the day earlier than he died. Sadly, pandemic restrictions meant it was a telephone appointment and the one who spoke with Ryan did not contemplate him excessive danger.

I want Ryan might have seen how a lot he was revered and cherished by his colleagues and household. After his suicide, the chain of command informed us Ryan would have a army funeral. Some 160 troopers have been bused from CFB Petawawa to Lakefield, Ont., for his service. 

Losing a little one at any age is horrendous and heartbreaking. Sometimes although, it feels prefer it is likely to be simpler to simply accept Ryan’s loss of life if he had been killed throughout a deployment in some faraway place. And in the case of suicide, there are such a lot of questions, so few solutions and so few individuals to speak to. 

We have not hesitated to inform people who Ryan’s loss of life was a suicide, however most do not know what to say or tips on how to reply. After Ryan’s loss of life, one relative requested, “Couldn’t somebody have seen this coming?” 

We even have mates who’ve by no means truly acknowledged Ryan’s passing, though there are others who’ve offered fantastic assist. 

But I’ve realized many individuals do not want to speak about it as a result of there’s nonetheless stigma related to suicide and it may be an uncomfortable dialog. Even fewer individuals appear to know. 

The fact is we even have been utterly overwhelmed with a lengthy checklist of feelings. Immense disappointment, clearly, but in addition confusion, anger, hopelessness, frustration, shock, paralysis, nervousness and loneliness. So many “what-ifs.” 

A Canadian soldier in dress uniform stands between a man and a woman in civilian clothes.
Ryan Griffin, centre, together with his stepmom, Frances, and dad, Andy, at St. Jean sur Richelieu, Que., on Dec. 7, 2017. (Submitted by Andy Griffin)

What if I’d reached out extra usually? What if I’d reached out nearer to the day he died? What if I’d pushed even more durable for him to speak extra about what he was feeling? At occasions, emotions of guilt and remorse creep over me. No doubt the workings of the related stigma and taboo notion of suicide.

This is the problem for us as a society — to succeed in a level the place individuals really feel the similar consolation stage speaking about their depression as they’d telling somebody they’ve most cancers. Even if it means admitting to having darkish, suicidal ideas. Even if it means admitting to others that our cherished one died by suicide. A really robust dialog to make sure, however one which ought to be attainable with out remorse or embarrassment.

If you or somebody you recognize is struggling, here is the place to get assist:

If you are nervous somebody you recognize could also be in danger of suicide, it is best to speak to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning indicators: 

  • Suicidal ideas.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Anger.
  • Recklessness.
  • Mood modifications.

Do you’ve a compelling private story that may deliver understanding or assist others? We need to hear from you. Here’s extra data on tips on how to pitch to us.


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