Ben Calvin: Friend, veteran, son and victim of suicide

Jake Hughes
September 15, 2018 - 6:30 am

(Image courtesy of Sarah Calvin)


Let me tell you about my buddy Ben Calvin.

Well, “Buddy” may be a strong word. He was definitely a friend, an “internet acquaintance,” if you will. We met through a Facebook group for military and veteran nerds, which we both were. We spoke online, trading memes and generally shit-posting with our friends.

“Any specific memory? I have so many,” says our mutual friend Nathan Skeen, who is currently serving in Afghanistan. “He was there for me day one coming back from my first deployment in '13. We became friends, and supported each other through anything.”

His mother Sarah Calvin says, “He was sweet and quiet. He had a big heart. He spoke up for what he believed in. He hated bullies! He loved his country. He loved his friends and he loved his family, especially his animal family. His dogs and his cats. He even liked our two pet donkeys!”

In our limited interaction, I knew Ben liked to play around. “His dad got a game camera for Christmas and would put it out in the woods behind our house to spot deer and other wildlife,” Sarah says. “Once a week, on Friday nights, he would get the camera and put it on his computer and watch it with our 4-year-old grandson and see what he caught on camera that week. You probably know where I’m going with this. Ben dressed in camo from head to toe and went out there one evening carrying a big hunting knife. He walked around in view of the camera and then right up to the camera and put his face as close as he could get. The following Friday night, as usual, they got the camera and watched it on the computer. We had a great laugh as they were trying to figure out what it was they saw on that camera.”

Ben and I, along with others from the Facebook group, would meet every summer at a nerd convention in Baltimore. Once, I even held a panel at the con about how to deal with media at conventions, and Ben helped out, coming on stage with me and filling in the gaps. It was a Godsend since while I am immensely capable of bullshitting my way through things, even I couldn’t fill an entire hour. That was in 2016, which was the last time I saw Ben. We interacted on Facebook after that, but nothing major.

I had no idea something was wrong.

“When he was in the army he called me and told me he was depressed and seeing a counselor,” says his mom, Sarah. “I said to him at that time. ‘If you ever feel suicidal promise me you will talk to me or someone.’ He laughed and said, ‘I would never do that’.”

When Ben got out of the Army, he continued to battle depression but seemed to be doing well with the help of medication. He had ups and downs, which worried his mother, but nothing too major. Eventually, things began to look up for Ben. He joined the Army Reserve and did shift work for BAE Systems. He bought a car and a new motorcycle, which he loved to ride. He was even looking for a house.

On Sunday, October 1st, 2017, Ben came home from work tired. Sarah thought something might be wrong, but figured it was just the stress of shift work. He ended up going to bed without eating dinner, saying he had to get up early for another shift.

The next morning, Sarah knew something was wrong. She and her husband found that Ben’s car was still in the driveway. Thinking he rode his motorcycle, she sent her husband to check. But it, too, was still there. A bit more frantic, she thought maybe he overslept. She knocked on his door.

No answer.

She knocked again, harder this time, calling out his name. Still, no response. Her husband went to get the key for the door, but Sarah couldn’t wait, and broke the door down. And then she knew.

On Monday, October 2nd, 2017, Benjamin Paul Calvin killed himself. He was 25 years old.

Ben became one of the estimated 7,000 veterans that took their own lives in 2017. The common myth is that 22 vets a day commit suicide, but it’s actually closer to 20. As if that’s any better.

The point of this article isn’t just to tell Ben’s story, although it could be just that, as it is a story that deserves to be told. No, the point is to show the cold realities of suicide. I could type all the platitudes I want, but I feel nothing is as effective as telling Ben's story.

Nathan was stationed in South Korea at the time. “I was about to go to PT formation, and a message appeared from a mutual friend delivering the news. I was initially in pure shock. My heart just dropped to the bottom of the floor. I tried to keep it together, but when I walked up to formation, I lost it. I started sobbing uncontrollably, gripping my buddy tight and just saying, ‘He's dead,’ over and over. It was the worst feeling in the world, my heart and guts just twisted in knots. I never would wish that feeling on anyone.”

“I was shocked, confused,” says Sarah. “Why? What happened? How could he do this? What was so bad in his life? I spent days feeling like this. Looking for answers. Reaching out to his friends to get some understanding... the guilt of not seeing that my son was this depressed was consuming me. Mainly shock and guilt were what I felt.”

It's been said that suicide doesn’t end the pain, it just transfers it to someone else. After talking to not just Nathan and Sarah, but many of the friends Ben and I shared on Facebook, that sentiment rings true. It seems cold, or maybe silly, to talk about my social media feed when considering a friend’s suicide, but it’s how I knew him best. My feed was filled with tears. People devastated that their friend, whom they may just have talked to, would do this.

I asked Sarah and Nathan what they would say to someone who is in Ben’s situation. “You may not feel it right now, but you matter, you have value,” responded Nathan. “The pain is so bad right now, but it will get better. Do not lose hope, and you can change your future to be bright. People care about you far more than you realize at the moment. Give yourself a chance.”

Sarah responded in kind. “There is help available! Think of the people you’re leaving behind and how it will affect them for the rest of their life! Your parents, your children, your friends! Life is like a book full of chapters. Some chapters are happy, some are sad, some are exciting, some may make you cry, some may make you laugh! Keep turning the pages!”

I write this article not just as part of my job, but as a message to anyone who might be considering taking their own life. The actual reality of suicide is that you don’t just harm yourself, you harm everyone around you. That’s because the people around you care about you, whether you think they do or not. They are not “better off without you.”

I’ve been thinking of a good way to end this. I think that the most powerful way is showing this:

Me: If you could tell Ben one thing, what would it be?

Sarah: “I love you, I’m sorry I couldn’t take your pain away, I miss you.”

Now, imagine your mother saying this.

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