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Diary of a Suicide

For two years Jason Ermer fought to make it home from Iraq. Last New Year’s Eve, he gave up.

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MY BABY’S GONE
Jason refused to return to the hospital. Allen was concerned enough about his son’s depression to ask him for his handgun. Jason handed over the .45 pistol. Brandi was furious; she wanted a gun in the house for protection. “Are you suicidal?” she remembers asking Jason. He told her that “was the pussy way out.” The only reason he gave the gun to his father, he told her, was to stop him “freaking out.” He telephoned his father to get the gun back. Allen returned the weapon.

By Christmas 2007, Jason seemed to improve. He hadn’t stolen Brandi’s pain medication for a while. Then, once again, her pills disappeared. Compared to the muscular man who returned from Iraq, Jason had grown emaciated. Brandi bought him a pair of jeans, 29-inches at the waist, for Christmas because his older pair kept slipping down.

Rosa looks at photographs of her gaunt son during his last weeks of life, a tissue clutched in her fist. He was unbearably sad, she says. He went to his parents’ home for his last Christmas. Passing each other in the hallway, Jason hugged his mom tighter and longer than usual. “You know what?” she said, “It doesn’t matter how old you are. You’re always going to be my baby.”

THAT MY EYES MIGHT SEE
On Dec. 30, 2007, Brandi left the house at 6.30 p.m. to party with friends. Jason had blanked on her birthday the day before, she says, and she wanted a break. She left him and Marley playing with Play-Doh. The next time she saw him was seven hours later at Ogden’s McKay-Dee Hospital Center, surrounded by his family. Calls to Brandi from Jason, drug counselor Murchie, the police and Jason’s family in the first hours of that morning went unanswered, and she finally called back Jason’s older brother, David. She screamed when he told her Jason was badly hurt.

When Brandi reached the hospital, Jason was on life support. Blood-soaked towels shielded the family from the sight of the exit wound on the left side of his head. The doctor told Rosa there was nothing he could do.

“Oh, honey, what did you do?” Brandi said when she entered the room. She gave permission to turn off the machines. “I couldn’t get mad at him any more,” she says, “because he was gone.” Brandi asked the family to leave for a moment. She lay on Jason’s chest and told him, “Don’t fight.” She heard the blood gurgling down through his body.

The doctor switched off life support. Jason took several breaths and died three minutes later at 2:18 a.m. He was 28 years old. Brandi donated his kidneys, skin and corneas. She later received a letter of thanks from a woman, once blind, who now sees with Jason’s corneas.

Jason left a suicide note for Brandi. He tore in half a birthday card envelope with her name on it and wrote on the back: “I’ll never hurt you again. I love you too much to stay here and keep hurting you. Please sober up and keep taking care of our daughter. I know you can do it your stronger then me. Love, Jason.’’

In a postscript, he asked her to give his father his commendation medal and the certificate signed by Gen. David Petraeus, the former U.S. Commander in Iraq.

It’s a tiny, fragile piece of paper to mark the end of a life. Says Brandi: “It’s just not long enough.”

Jason was buried in frozen ground in Roy City Cemetery on Jan. 5, 2008. A military honor guard attended. As the last notes of Taps faded away under an overcast sky, two soldiers picked up the corners of the American flag draped over the casket and folded it into a triangle. A third pressed it to his chest, tucking in the edges. He knelt down before Brandi, then gave her the flag. She broke down in tears as Jason’s parents looked on. [Graveside service video below, provided by family]

Ten months later, standing under a slate-gray sky by the grave, Allen and Rosa mourn all they have lost. “I want to feel about the war like Jason told me,” Allen says. “He said we did some good there, there were people that needed us there.” So all they can do, he adds, is live with it. “I don’t know what else to do.”

Brandi prefers to do her mourning at the boulder where Jason shot himself. Sometimes she takes Marley up there to play, although their 3-year-old daughter doesn’t know it was where her father gave up on life. A VA examiner concluded that Jason’s death was “related to military-acquired mental and physical disorders.” Brandi and Marley, who live in a new home Brandi is buying with a VA loan, will both receive a free college education courtesy of the U.S. government.

Two months after Jason’s death, Marley let go of a balloon in the kitchen and it flew out to the garden and up into the sky. Brandi told her Daddy would catch it for her. Marley ran out back to look for him. The despair on her daughter’s face when she returned empty-handed devastated Brandi, who gave her little girl the simplest explanation she could. Now, when Marley lets go of a balloon, she and her mother watch as it races up and up until it disappears. Then Brandi says, “Daddy caught it.”

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