Chaplain survives aftermath of son’s suicide, spreads awareness
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- While enjoying a drive through the rolling Tennessee countryside with his wife, the shrill ring of his cell phone pierced through the tranquility of the moment. Maj. William D. Logan's daughter, Blair, managed to utter, "Zac has done something really bad."
Dread and confusion seeped in as she explained what had happened.
The now 35th Fighter Wing deputy wing chaplain's son had done the irreversible--he ended his life. An ordinary day had come crashing down in mere seconds. Nothing would be the same. After an argument with his girlfriend, Zac shot himself.
Despite the doctors' efforts to save him, Zac died before Logan reached the hospital.
"He called me one night to tell me he was going to enlist in the Air Force," said Logan as he recalled their conversation. "Things were going well. There was no indication [of suicide] and none of the classic signs. It was just an impulsive action."
Zac was one of two children Logan had from a previous marriage. Logan described him as smart, charming, social, funny and artistic. On the other hand, he wasn't known for making the best decisions.
"People would say Zac didn't have good friends or bad friends, just friends," said Logan. "He was also in a very volatile relationship with a young woman that drove me nuts. I told him several times to run."
Despite worrying about the company his son kept, Logan watched as Zac steadily worked toward his future. He had just moved closer to his mother in Montana and finished a year of college.
"It was a time of great hope for me," said Logan. "My wife, Beth, and I were expecting our first child and permanently changing station to Hawaii in 2003. Life was good."
So when Logan received news of Zac's death, the good times in his life became enveloped in darkness.
Then the questions came. Why did it happen? What could he have done better? Who was at fault?
"I felt tremendous loss and guilt," Logan revealed. "I saw disturbing images and had bad dreams so real I thought I'd wake up and see [Zac]."
Following the initial shock came secondary traumatization. Logan found few people contacted him in the aftermath due to the stigma associated with suicide.
"People don't know what to do with you," Logan said. "It's like something is wrong with you and you're contagious."
On top of that, Logan recalled most people who reached out to him tried to fix what had happened.
"Sometimes we're critical of each other's grieving process," he recognized. "If you're down and suffering a loss, people try and get you to come up. But if you're doing better, people question why you're happy when something bad has just happened."
Logan believes it's more healing for an individual who has gone through a loss to be in whatever emotional state they're in and not to pressure them to feel one way or another.
"It's not something you get over or forget," he said fervently. "I never want to forget my son. I want his memory to be lodged in my heart until I die and beyond."
During the recovery process, surviving the suicide of a loved one ultimately becomes part of who you are--Logan pulled from a number of different facets of his life to endure the healing process.
"I was mad at God," he admitted. "It'd be crazy not to be. But believing in something bigger than yourself and that there's a plan in use, was one thing that got me through."
Logan's wife, Beth Logan, said he never lost sight of the bigger picture. Even when faced with tragedy, he was thankful to have known Zac as long as he did.
Having the support from his wife, family and close friends, also carried him through this time of great adversity and brought him to where he is today.
"[Supporting someone] is about being there for them unconditionally," Beth said. "It's important to let them lead the grieving process and not judge whether they are crying enough. Instead, feel their pain, however it is expressed. Grieving people need to feel loved and supported--not abandoned."
In addition to his loved one's support, Logan expressed feeling blessed by the birth of his two newborn sons.
"[My sons] don't replace Zac, but they provided hope and a new start," he said.
Many people in emotional pain have lost hope, an aspect of life Logan highlighted as being especially important.
"Hope is a future vision, or a dream," he said. "It empowers you and when that hope is taken away, that power is gone in the present."
Logan found the courage to carry on after his son's death, and 18 months later, he became a trainer for a program called Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
He has since talked with more than 400 people in the last decade.
"If you have a loss and get broken, doing something for someone else is extremely redemptive and empowering," Logan recommended. "I'd trade most of that wisdom to have Zac back, but I wouldn't have gotten any of it had I not lost him."
Logan learned it's important to forfeit preconceived notions about who is and who isn't at risk for suicide and instead take the time to listen and understand each other more clearly.
By showing someone they're loved and cared for, they can achieve the courage needed to overcome any hardship, especially the death of a loved one.
"Someone once said, 'the test of sailors isn't when the sea is calm, but how well he does when there's a storm'," Logan said. "It's the storms of life that give you the opportunity to be strong."