MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Kristen Christy, the 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year, shared her story of tragedy, mourning and resiliency with Air University personnel Dec. 9, 2019, on Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
As a nearly full-time resiliency speaker and advocate, Christy has leveraged her platform in order to share her experiences and give insight into how she has overcome great adversity throughout her life.
Having grown up as a military child and later marrying an Airman, she knows many of the struggles service members and their families face. From deployments to moving, Christy has faced the hardships almost all military members and their families have, and will, face throughout their careers. Unfortunately, she has also had to experience, first-hand, one of the foremost issues surrounding the military as well: suicide.
Kristen admitted she noticed some changes in her husband, Lt. Col. Donald Christy, following a deployment to Afghanistan; he was withdrawn, unable to sleep and wasn’t communicating like he had in the past. She knew the risks of deployments and the potential affects they can have on service members, both physically and mentally.
In April of 2008, Kristen, her husband and their two sons were stationed in Colorado. Just a few days before Donald was set to be promoted to colonel, she answered a knock on the door that would change her life forever.
The base coroner and chaplain were standing on her front porch and informed her that her husband had taken his own life.
Eleven years later, Christy received a voicemail from her youngest son, Ben, who was 20 at the time, which made it clear this single event that happened over a decade before was still significantly impacting the family.
Her son had called sobbing, expressing that he has been mourning his father’s loss for eight years and that he could not live without him.
She found out the next day that Ben had attempted suicide that night.
Ben wasn’t the only one who was still affected by his father’s death as her eldest son, Ryan, also attempted suicide and struggled with drug abuse throughout his teen years. After eventually managing to get clean, Ryan disappeared and has been missing for the last four years.
According to Christy, this chain-reaction was proof that suicide is contagious.
Despite going through this horrific series of events, Christy managed to use these experiences as a means to help others, claiming “smiles are also contagious.”
"The average person has 44 people within their sphere of influence,” she said. “If you can help one person, you aren't just helping one person, you're helping 45. You can't solve people's problems, but if you notice and you go up to them and give them a hug, a handshake or a smile, it can mean the world."
For more than a year, she has traveled around the world, sharing her story with others, during a critical time in the military in which we face some of the highest ever rates of suicide.
Christy brought attention to four bullet points during her presentation:
- Show up.
- Do something.
- Be intentional.
- Use resources.
“Every installation you will be assigned to have resources,” she said. “The best time to find out about these resources is when you’re in a really good place. It’s not selfish because those resources aren’t just for you. Someone in your community is going to need you to help them find those resources.”