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Military family grieving a Marine lost to suicide share message of hope for others

Dana O'Brien became a peer mentor for other families who have lost military family members after his grandson's suicide.

OGUNQUIT, Maine — When a family loses someone to suicide, it can be hard to go on. But some families take all that pain and try to use it for good.

Like the O’Brien family from Presque Isle. 

Dana O’Brien lost his grandson, Daniel, to suicide 13 years ago when he returned from Iraq, and since then has been working to help other veterans.

O’Brien is the patriarch in a long line of service members. He is a Marine, his son is a Marine, and two of his grandsons are Marines. 

But the youngest Marine in the family took his own life when he returned from his second tour in Iraq. 

"He just thought the world would be a better place without him, I believe," O'Brien said of his grandson.

Since Daniel's death in 2009, O’Brien and his wife have started giving back to other veterans who struggle with their mental health, through a peer mentoring program called TAPS.

"It’s changed my life where I’m able to go out and speak to the Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, coastguardsmen, and tell my personal story of coming back from Vietnam and losing a grandson to suicide," O'Brien said.

TAPS, or Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, is a way for families of military members who have died to come together and grieve together, whether it be from combat wounds or suicide.

According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 59% of its members personally knew someone who died by suicide.

O’Brien lost a grandson to suicide, but he too struggled when he returned from Vietnam. In an interview with TAPS he shares his mental health journey.

"I felt grief and at one point I even thought about ending my life, but I didn’t say anything because I thought if I said something others would think less of me," he said.

He adds he self-medicated with alcohol and cigarettes but one day, a switch flipped in his mind.

"I quit. It was either quit or I wouldn’t be here and I wanted to be here for my children, and my wife and grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren," O'Brien said.

Now, he gets to help support people from all over the country, and right here in Maine which he said is a bit more powerful.

"I’d rather do it in person. In person, you can actually reach right out there and hug somebody and share that love that you want to share," he said.

For military families who are dealing with grief, there are dozens of resources on TAPS.org as well as a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-959-8277.

For anyone dealing with a mental health related crisis, dial 988.

Let's talk about it 

Maine Crisis Hotline: 1-888-568-1112

Click here for a list of resources by county

Maine teen text support
This peer support text line is for Maine youth 13 to 24 years old and is staffed by individuals 18 to 24. Talk about your feelings and get support from another young person. Daily from noon to 10 p.m. EST at 207-515-8398

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