To all my Hero’s (Military and Veterans) at Operation: 23 to Zero,
Greetings! My name is Mary Bergerson; I am the disabled widow of Sgt. Douglas Bergerson. Operation: 23 to Zero asked me to share my story with you.
Doug took great pride in his military service and the men and women he served with. Whenever someone asks me to share my story I try my best to honor both his memory and his service, while hoping that sharing my story will stop others from following in Doug’s footsteps. On September 15, 2005, my husband took his life, and changed the course of my life forever.
I struggle when I try to speak of Doug’s suicide. I don’t want to spend much time talking about what haunted him following his service that may have lead him to end his life. I also don’t wish to talk about the horrors of that awful day, as it is not my intent to spread my pain around. I feel stuck because sharing these details feels like I am dishonoring his memory. He was so much more then the “demons” that haunted him. He was an amazing man, a great husband and a devoted father. I am sure everyone reading this coping with the horror of war and PTSD understands my dilemma.
In the months prior to Doug’s suicide, our lives were filled with great hope for our future. He had graduated with honors from college with a degree in graphic arts and design. We were in the process of relocating to the twin cities. He was starting a new job as a press operator. He was in counseling and was working with a medical doctor to taper off oxycontin that he had been taking for his back injury.
I had already found work in the cities, and was staying with my parents and commuted back and forth to northern MN on the weekends. We were trying so hard to get all of our ducks in a row so we could start anew, but obstacles kept getting in our way. First his medical doctor went on leave and none of the doctors in the practice would prescribe Oxycontin since Doug was not their patient, therefore he was forced to quit cold turkey. Second our home had been on the market for nearly a year and there was little or no interest from buyers, and we had difficulty finding an apartment in the cities we could afford in addition to our mortgage payment that would allow 2 large dogs. I ended up staying at my folks with our dogs while he and the boys rented an apartment. Then, in the midst of it all, mom lost her battle with cancer and passed away and my world was turned upside down.
Doug had attempted suicide on several other occasions, but the children or I had always arrived in time to prevent it. This September day started out poorly. We had argued the night before and I was replaying the fight over and over in my mind. He had said something at the end of our argument that I didn't completely hear or understand. I was anxious to end my workday, so we could head up north to spend the weekend together as a family, and talk things over. Then a feeling of dread overwhelmed me as I realized his final words that night may have been a reference to suicide. Later when I received his death certificate the time of death matched exactly the moment that feeling of dread ran through my body. To this day, I wonder if I could have stopped him, if I had listened to that little voice in my head sooner.
In the 18 months that followed my mom’s death my life was reduced to ashes. I lost, my mom to cancer, my husband to suicide, my brother (who was also a veteran) died of alcoholism, and in among all of that, I lost our home, my kids went to live with their grandparents up north to finish school and have the support of their friends. Then I lost my job and because of the nature of Doug’s death I was asked to leave my church.
The horror of that day stays forever in my thoughts, my heart, and my spirit, and in the lives of our children, who have been profoundly changed by their father’s death. Even now, nearly 10 years later, the details and the images of that day still haunt my thoughts and live on in my nightmares. I continue to ask myself if I could have done or said anything, to change the outcome of that day. My head knows it was his choice, but my heart will never believe it.
For a long time my thoughts were consumed with joining my husband. I felt I had nothing left to live for. I didn't fit in with my family and friends. People were uncomfortable around me, because they didn't know what to say or do to help. I felt so awkward in public that I would panic to the point I avoided leave the house, and I dreaded both time with other people, and time alone with my thoughts. The only thought at this point that kept me from following in Doug’s footsteps was the memories that haunted me. I couldn't put my loved ones through another horrific loss and the lasting effects of finding someone afterwards.
To make matters worse I need a job and the only job offer was from the store where Doug purchased the gun he took his life with. The receipt lay on the van seat next to his body. Everyday I had to brace myself mentally to go into work. I’m sure the maintenance staff wondered who kept throwing up in their parking lot nearly every day for over a year.
The rest of my story is nothing less then a miracle. As I withdrew from society, family and friends, I found myself chatting on line, researching suicide prevention, visiting suicide support groups and making friends in various chat rooms. I found it easier to talk to strangers. Then I met man claiming to be of high-ranking military officer. He suggested I find a way to channel my pain and emotions into something positive. We tossed some ideas around and decided I would send care packages to soldiers overseas and share my story in hopes of stopping soldiers considering suicide from following in Doug’s footstep. The man who helped me come up with this idea was a fraud, he turned out to be a janitor in Ohio. After spending everything I had creating care packages and heart breaking hours writing my story to go in each box, I had no one to send them to. I went back into the chat room letting others know of this deception. As I explained what was going on a soldier in the chat room sent me a private message. It simply said, “You have no reason to believe me, but I really am a soldier in Afghanistan and I will take those boxes. If you email me outside of the chat room I will tell you where you can send them”.
In that year I sent all those care packages to three soldiers who shared them with their units. The number of packages increased greatly each year. On the anniversary of Doug’s death in 2013 The Mission Project as it is called today became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity, and in 2014 we sent packages to help meet the needs of 617 of our military.
They say, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. The truth is suicide doesn’t end the pain it just spreads it around to those left behind. It changes forms but it never goes away. It is a nightmare that just keeps on giving. It’s been 10 years since Doug’s passing, and God has been able to turn the most painful time in my life into a blessing. Doug is gone from my life and the pain of that loss will never leave me, but I feel as if he has left the entire armed forces as my extended family, and it has become my personal mission to try and save other soldiers from following in Doug’s footsteps. I share the desire to see Operation: 23 to Zero succeed. Please know if you are considering suicide, that there are those of us out here that care and want disparately to help. I hope you found hope and strength in my story.
So in closing I want to thank you for your service, and let you know from the bottom of my heart I care.