FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) Friday is Veterans Day. The day we honor the men and women who dedicated their lives to keeping us safe, but that dedication often takes a toll. Each day 22 veterans take their own lives. It is a grim reality many don’t want to face, but now two widows from Fort Wayne are making it their mission to help veterans and their families who are struggling with PTSD.
For years Stephanie Mckenzie was like so many military wives. She was bbalancing their home life, children and her relationship with her husband, who after two decades serving in three branches of the military was struggling with PTSD.
“There were evenings his anger was so intense and I blamed myself for it, I blamed the children for it, I blamed the house for it,” Mckenzie said. “I lived in a lot of shame.”
He’d gone to several doctors and gotten treatment several times. Right up to the end.
“After 20 years of service my husband committed suicide,” Mckenzie said.
Little did she know another military wife, Mayme Donaldson, was going through the exact same thing. On the exact same day.
“My husband Mateo Donaldson was a sergeant in the Army,” Donaldson said. “Mateo was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. Then on February 19, 2015 he died by suicide.”
Both were on rock bottom. But Mckenzie wasn’t going to stay there.
“The moment he died I had promised myself that when I was out of my own hell I was coming back for my surviving sisters and brothers,” Mckenzie said.
For the past nearly two years Mckenzie has been working with other survivors helping them through the grieving process. She met Donaldson and now the two are working with the VA, spearheading a support group for families like theirs.
“A place to vent, a place to be honest and cry and say what needs to be said. A place to have feelings validated,” Mckenzie said.
Donaldson said it’s giving her new purpose.
“To make sure that Mateo did not die in vain and how I can do that is bring awareness, stop the stigma. It shouldn’t be a taboo subject,” Donaldson said.
Helping others and helping themselves along the way.
“It’s very healing,” Donaldson said about her work helping others. “Just knowing that maybe our story, even though we had to go through hell, maybe that will save another family from having to go through that.”
It’s a mission neither woman ever expected or wanted to go on, but an important one.
“We are a family forged by fire. Semper Fidelis. We are always, always faithful,” Mckenzie said.
To learn more about the support groups you can contact Mckenzie at firstname.lastname@example.org.