Tracy Eiswert and her three little daughters entered their home on May 16th to find her husband Scott, their father, had shot himself. Scott’s suicide followed on the heels of his return from Iraq a year and a half ago, where he served with the National Guard, and his deepening and untreated PTSD. When he learned his unit would be deploying again soon, the pain was just too great.
Scott demonstrated almost all of the symptoms of someone suffering from severe PTSD:
withdrawal, angry outbursts, sadness, depression, isolation. He had early treatment for PTSD but it was deemed unhelpful and was discontinued. The National Guard offered no resources to this family – no support group, no outreach to wives of returning soldiers, no pre-deployment orientation so they would know what to expect while their soldiers were gone.
Tracy sought help following Scott’s suicide and every door was slammed in her face. She and her little girls are living in their basement, unable to go back into the rooms where the memories of their father are just too overwhelming.
A friend of Tracy’s found out about MFSO and contacted our national office in Boston and the call was referred to Stacy Hafley, Mid-West coordinator for MFSO. Stacy’s husband served in Iraq in the National Guard. She has three small children. Her family continues to struggle with the deep wounds of PTSD. She has a breadth of experience dealing with many of the same issues pouring into the lives of the Eiswert family. And Stacy is an unstoppable networker of awesome proportions!
Calls to local churches, law enforcement, funeral homes, the YMCA, and just about every other group or individual in the Greeneville, Tennessee telephone book that she thought might be of help kept Stacy on the phone for days. In the course of her tireless efforts to relieve some of Tracy’s burdens, Stacy shared what was going on with sister MFSO Board Member and Southeast regional coordinator Beverley Wiskow who lives in Central Florida.
Finally a Jeffers Mortuary in Greeneville offered to cover the costs of Scott’s funeral and his military service was held on May 23rd. The local community college will be offering art therapy for the children. The YMCA will host them for swimming lessons this summer. IVAW members in the region are forming a work team to go to Greeneville to assist Stacy in preparing her home for sale – she and her girls simply cannot live there any longer. Calls to 15 churches yielded no offers of assistance. The National Guard was AWOL throughout the week after Scott’s death. And Stacy pressed on, unwilling to take no for an answer.
Strangely, very strangely, Stacy attended two town hall meetings in central Florida this past Thursday as a representative of MFSO where she challenged Florida Senator Bill Nelson for his continued support for the war. One of her specific questions to the Senator was about the staggering increase in the number of soldier and veteran suicides resulting from the Iraq occupation and the conflict in Afghanistan. He offered his typical lip service and placations but did allow that he would be willing to meet with Iraq Veterans Against the War and would listen to what they have to say. Coincidentally, that night the MSM flooded TV news with reports on the dramatic increases in suicides in the military. Just that day Stacy had asked Senator Nelson if he was aware that the number of soldiers and veterans dying from suicide each week outstrips the number dying in the desert.
Leaving the town hall, driving through the sweltering Florida drought-plagued countryside, Stacy saw only the tiniest glimmer of hope because the Senator said he would sit down with IVAW and listen. Other than that, thinking about the tragedy of the Eiswert family, the seeming hopelessness of politicians ever stepping up and being leaders, the muddied priorities of a nation more concerned about who marries whom than about the illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq and our failures in Afghanistan, she was emotionally exhausted and discouraged.
As always, Stacy was wearing her MFSO tee shirt, the one that says “Funding the War Is Killing Our Troops,” when she pulled into a Wal-Mart in Bushnell, Florida to buy a nearly $4 gallon of milk. Accustomed to people commenting on her shirt, she wasn’t surprised with a very thin man with a bit of an edge in his soft voice said, “I like your shirt.”
She turned to him and asked if he had a soldier in his family. He said, “We did.” Those were chilling words and she gathered herself to ask if they had lost their soldier in the war. He said, “No, our son-in-law committed suicide.” The pain, the rage, the fear, the confusion in the faces of this gentle man and his petite wife were palpable. I asked if their daughter lived in Florida, thinking MFSO might be able to be of assistance to their family. They said no, that she lived in Tennessee.
Stacy was quite literally spinning when she asked Clif and Kathy if their daughter’s name was Tracy. Their eyes widened as they said, “Yes, but how…” She then asked if their son-in-law’s name was Scotty? At that point these three people, standing in the aisle of a supercenter in the middle-of-nowhere Florida realized that everything that had happened in the last several days had occurred with absolute precision to bring them together there beside the pots and pans.
When the initial shock of realizing she was speaking with Tracy’s parents and their amazement that they were speaking with someone in this MFSO group, about which they had just learned, and that was doing so much to support their daughter – when that bizarre confluence of unlikely events registered, they hugged and talked for nearly an hour about Tracy, their grandchildren, how terrified and traumatized they are, and how desperately Tracy needs help, how she literally tore up her Masters Degree certificate in her grief, and of course they exchanged email information.
Tracy’s father is a Vietnam Veteran. Clif is in the last stages of stomach cancer, “unofficially” related to his exposure to the still dirty little secret called Agent Orange. Kathy, Tracy’s soft-spoken and spunky mother is preparing for her husband’s death with a profound peace and strength. She also cares for Clif’s brother and her mother, both of whom are disabled. Both Clif’s health and the realities of finances make a trip to Tennessee to be with their daughter and their grandchildren simply impossible. Clif and Kathy said they want to be part of MFSO, another American military family ready to speak out!
So Stacy left the store and immediately called the MFSO office in Boston, heart still pounding about the synchronicity of the astounding encounter with Clif and Kathy. Ryan answered the phone in Boston and was quite literally speechless. He said he would call Tracy in Missouri to tell her. Within a matter of minutes, Kathy called her daughter and shared with her this incredible meeting at the local Wal-Mart. Kathy called Tracy in Missouri to tell her what neither of them could believe.
Here we are 48 hours later. We have created a website for the Eiswert family. It is a tribute to Scott as well as what we hope will be a growing resource for other military families whose soldiers are suffering from PTSD.
Donations can be sent to the Memorial Fund for the Family of E-4 Scott Eiswert through a PalPal link on the website or mailed to the bank address also available on the website.
A bank account has been set up in Tennessee to receive donations for Tracy and her family.
The manager of the local Wal-Mart in Greeneville cut through some formidable red tape to get a gift card to Tracy last night so she could buy food. The girls had ice cream today – doesn’t sound like much but it made their day! Beverley’s husband, an assistant manager of Wal-Mart in Dunnellon, FL, even secured a gift card for Tracy’s parents!
VFP and IVAW continue to coordinate resources to help Tracy with the transition to a new home – she’s looking for a place to move into as soon as possible – any realtors out there with TN connections?
There are substantial debts, including a small amount still owed to the mortuary. Counseling has begun with Tracy and the little girls. You National Guardsmen out there: where are Scott’s commanding officers, his fellow soldiers, other families? We need your help waking up the Tennessee 278th Army National Guard!
Friends, relatives, connections in Eastern Tennessee? Please let us know!
Tracy and her daughters have prepared a thank you note for the local Wal-Mart manager and have made calls to a number of MFSO people today to thank them! In the midst of her grief and with so many concerns, her sweet heart is filled with gratitude. This is a young woman who was definitely “raised right” as we say in the South!
Most of all know this: every single phone call, every letter to the editor, every hour you spend on the computer, every article you write, every person you meet and talk with about MFSO, every family that is scouring the internet for information while their soldier is still serving or who has returned home changed, one of those suffering from invisible wounds to his or her soul, every time you nervously stand up to speak in front of a not-so-friendly crowd about the necessity of bringing all of our soldiers home now and caring for them when they return, every time you spend money you don’t have to make copies of flyers, or to buy gas to drive to a meeting or an event on the other side of your county, every night you can’t go to sleep because of all that is still to be done, your mind spinning with how you’ll manage to get a project finished on time, every time you’re your home phone and your cell phone batteries wear out because you’ve been doing the work of MFSO, every day you wonder why we continue to plod through the quicksand of a broken and corrupt political system, a failed government, a shredded Constitution, a neglected military, and a VA that is totally unprepared to deal with the casualties of this continuing nightmare – every time you think we are little more than a tiny drop of water trying to move a giant stone, remember Stacy and Unity, Breanna, and Cristina. Remember Clif and Kathy.
Remember we are where we are supposed to be.
Remember we are doing the work we are meant to be doing.
Remember we are family – all of us.
When your child suffers, all of us cry.
When your daughter is hurting, all of us feel her pain.
When your husband’s pain takes his life, all of us mourn.
When your son is in a coma in Kansas City, all of us – in Maine, in North Carolina, in Oregon, Las Vegas, at Ft. Hood, in Alabama are watching over him and seeing him whole and healed.
And when you or your soldiers have a need, all of us are only a phone call or an email away.
They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. Who knew our MFSO family would be precisely the friends we would have chosen!
Our new sister-daughter-granddaughter Tracy and for her little ones have many needs right now. Scott served and was grossly neglected by the country and the Army he trusted. MFSO will do better for his beloved family. And Tracy is already “one of us” – read her post on her Facebook page and on the website. She is already reaching out to other families, hoping to save them the loss she has suffered.