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Cover Story

Diary of a Suicide Page 4

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

By Stephen Dark
Posted // December 3,2008 - width=285

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.”

hspace=5On 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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Post a comment
Posted // June 17,2010 at 18:59

Jason was my friend i miss you buddy


Posted // April 1,2010 at 16:45

A soldier, especially a paratrooper, has a personal responsibility to their own situation. Paratroopers are multi-volunteers, meaning they have signed their name repeaditly to volunteer for basic training, MOS training, Airborne training, Ranger school etc. They are given honors and distintions that no other person in the world can have. This is the explicit reason we have a volunteer military. No one has ever said war is heaven. Young men and women who sign their names need to be aware they are going to be handed a weapon and thrown into the depths of hell if the American people so wish it. The American soldier takes on this responsibility because they have the individual belief that it is nessacary. Todays soldiers have the honor of claiming that they made the personal choice to "heed the call." A Veteran has the same responibility as he/she did when they where a soldier. If you see the Devil he is going to come back and make visits to make sure you didnt forget about him. There are multiple resources witin the Military and community to assist veterans. It is up to the veteran to employ the same attributes that are so cherished by the American taxpapayers such as resiliency to help themselves and not give in to the enemy.


Posted // May 19,2010 at 17:00 - I cannot identify myself due to the sensitive nature of my MOS; however, you are short sighted and arrogant. Members of my team know that seeking help is not as easy as you make it sound, so our docs push us to use all our resources. You sound like some backfield pog who never left Bahrain.


Posted // December 9,2008 at 01:36 Jason was a good kid. He grew up as part of our family. He went camping and hunting with us. We will miss him very much. Please listen to the warning signs and extend your arms. maybe someday we will understand.


Posted // December 8,2008 at 04:49 Dont think this is a story of Iraq as much as I hate the war this is an oxycodone death with a wife also addicted who provided the meds. Terrible things happen in life. But those of us who treat addiction know the sun coming up is can be reason enough. Sad story.


Posted // December 6,2008 at 11:42 These are OUR people, it does not matter if you agree with them or not. It does not matter if you supported the war or not, the war is still going on. The war was started by leaders the masses ’elected’ and now we are stuck with the cold hard reality of war. It is not some glorious grand parade where people fall at our feet and our American patriotism protect as if some magic shield. We are not fighting some vile ’evil’ for some great ’good’. We are in a war with people that feel just as strongly as we do that they fighting some horrible force for some great cause.nnThe military is just another business and that often means that the soldiers are forgotten. We are all so busy celebrating the war or protesting it that we forget there are REAL people out there. People are suffering on both sides. No one knows what is right or wrong they are just doing what they are told. They are broken down and rebuilt into the war machine. These people were not aware of what they got into, just like war world II, but we still expect them to go about their lives as if they spent a summer in Europe.nnWe forget that their benefits (such as healthcare) have been restricted over the last few years. They are filed through boot camp, sent off to war, and then kicked out into society a month after they get back. It is no wonder why they have such a hard time. We as a nation have failed them in so many ways.