“He parked his truck and walked into the woods, and he never came out.”
That’s what Lori Tinsley says happened the day her son killed himself. Specialist Gregg Mandeville was with the 1161st Army National Guard out of Spokane, Washington. He was on leave from Iraq at the time.
“He was happy,” Lori says. “He had a great sense of humor, and he was a great little actor because nobody knew that he was going to die when he did.” That day was February 9, 2011; Gregg Mandeville was 33.
The Veterans Administration estimates that every day, we lose another 22 veterans and one active duty service members to suicide.
“When they die by suicide, it’s because they have to end that pain,” Lori says. “It’s just too much: the nightmares, the thoughts, everything. It’s just too much. And my goal in life is just try to help them somehow shake those demons.”
It took Lori Tinsley 6 months just to leave her house after her son died. She eventually gained strength from the support of her husband Randy, and the support of the D-A-V, the Disabled American Veterans. She’s Senior Vice Commander now of the Paducah Auxiliary and tries her best to help family members left behind by veterans, as well as the veterans themselves.
“My heart lies in helping veterans before they get to the point that they’re just going to walk off and not come back,” she says. “Because the struggles of a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, trying to learn to live again, after the loss to a suicide…it’s a battle.”
Tinsley wants to invite folks to the D-A-V. Their motto is “veterans helping veterans” but you don’t have to be a veteran to join; family and friends of veterans are welcome. They have “Coffee Call” every Wednesday from 8 to noon.
In talking to veterans, she tries to see warning signs but admits they’re hard to spot. She realizes now just how much her son was hiding with his humor. “Robin Williams said that a good smile can hide all kinds of pain, and no one will ever know,” Lori says.
Lori scattered some of her son’s ashes in the Ohio River in honor of the time he worked on a towboat based out of Paducah.
“The last conversation I had with my son was the night before he died, and I had talked to him and I told him I was so proud of him. And he said ‘don’t be, Mom. I love you.’ And that’s the last thing I heard.”
If you are a veteran, or a veteran you know is thinking about suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 for help.
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