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Paula Graham

“My story is actually the continuation of her story. I’ve heard it said that only a handful of people are ever lucky enough to meet their soulmate. I was blessed in that my soulmate was my younger sister whom I had in my life for all 38 of her years.

My name is Sara. I grew up the oldest of three girls in a military family. I was 18 months older than my middle sister Paula, but she and I could have been twins. She was my confidant, my supporter, my encourager and my best friend.

After graduating college, Paula joined the Army Reserves. During her time in the service she was deployed on two separate occasions. Once to the Persian Gulf and once to Iraq. She was promoted to the rank of Major during her service and received a bronze star medal. While deployed she suffered and fought with depression and suicidal thoughts. As she had a high security clearance, she suffered quietly and spoke only to her most trusted confidants.

After returning to civilian life she continued to struggle with her experiences overseas, however continued to refuse treatment for fear of losing her rank as she was employed at Ft. Lee. She spoke to me often about her experiences as I am licensed professional counselor, however I could not provide the therapy or treatment she desperately needed.

She went to a primary care physician for guidance and began to be prescribed medications to include antidepressants, sleeping pills, benzodiazepines and opiates. Against my advice, she continued to take these medications even though her depression worsened. Her personal life began to take a toll as she went through a divorce and faced the challenges of being a single parent. She began to turn to alcohol as a means of escape.

On September 18, 2015 she sent me a text message telling me exactly how she planned to end her life. As a mental health professional, I did what I thought was best at the time and called the authorities. The police came to her home and she was able to convince them that she was ok and was not in need of services. Her work found out about the police involvement and she began to worry that she would lose her security clearance and that she would not be eligible for the job promotion for which she had applied. She was very angry with me and told me that I did not understand how the military operated.

On September 19, 2015, after enduring several hours of radio silence from my sister, I got the dreaded phone call from a local police officer. She had followed through on her suicide and ended her life exactly as she had described to me.

My entire world fell apart. A part of me died. My heart was ripped wide open. I have never before or since experienced pain to that intensity.

I was ready for my own life to end. I could not imagine continuing in this world without my soulmate. Without my best friend. Without my sweet sister. There were several times I came close. I can barely remember that first year.
As people in my community and the military community learned of the story of my sister, I began to better understand the struggles and difficulties facing our military personnel. I began to understand the stigma of talking about depression and mental illness. I began to understand the desire for secrecy.

I became involved with a taskforce and started to participate in 22 mile rucks to raise awareness for Veteran Suicide. I began to post my journey with #missherloveher on every step I took. The first 22 mile ruck I completed I did so in her shoes. I wanted to literally, walk in her shoes and understand her pain. The harder I worked my body the more my heart began to heal.

Paula was an avid runner and completed several marathons. I had never completed anything beyond a 5K. I was asked about completing the 42nd MCM in 2017 and laughed at the idea. When I looked into it however, I discovered that it was going to be held in Arlington, VA which is near where she is buried in Quantico, VA. The determining factor however was the date of the MCM, October 22, 2017. The 42nd MCM was to be held on what would have been her birthday. I made the decision that I had to do it. For me and for her.

I again posted my journey with #formeandforher as I prepared for the marathon. I set a goal for myself to complete this marathon, knowing that quitting was not an option for me. I am proud to say that I did successfully complete the marathon and received my finisher’s medal on my sister’s birthday. For me and for her.

As I mentioned, I wish I had known about this organization (22 Too Many) before the marathon so that I could have further honored her and promoted further awareness. My story continues and I am going to continue to share the story of my sister. My hope is that another family be spared the pain and devastating grief associated with veteran suicide.” Shared by Paula’s sister, Sara

Paula was an incredibly loving mother who cherished her son, Liam. She was a beloved daughter, sister, and friend. Paula was born in Charleston, South Carolina. She graduated from Brooke Point High School, class of 1995 in Stafford, VA. Paula went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from George Mason University and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Columbia Southern University. Paula was a Major in the United States Army Reserves. She was a proud Veteran having served her country in the Iraq War. Her decorations include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Reserve Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, and the Reserve Components Medal. Paula also worked in Civil Service. She was a Budget Analyst at the Combined Arms Support Command in Fort Lee. In her free time she enjoyed running and participated in many marathons. She attended Enon Baptist Church in Chester, VA. Final rest: Quantico National Cemetery
#22toomany #OurHeroes are #NeverForgotten