Everyone experiences loss, but it usually follows a long life or extended illness. When individuals face untimely losses, assumptions about fairness, justice and control are called into question.

When he was a young child, Dennis' parents separated after years of alcohol abuse and violence in the household. Dennis' father, after struggling to care for five children alone, began asking extended family members to care for the siblings. Before Dennis could be placed with another family, he witnessed his father's suicide.

"What happened was never talked about, I never spent a moment in therapy or counseling, I was told that I acted like a normal child so I should be fine."

In about 10 years' time, the cycle of violence repeated itself. Dennis' stepbrother, whom he loved deeply, died of suicide.

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Milton Lee Dennis smiles as he sits beside his father in what was the family's final photo together.
Milton Lee Dennis smiles as he sits beside his father in what was the family's final photo together. Photo provided by Milton Lee Dennis.

By 2002, Dennis felt that the dark cloud over his family had lifted. He had become a successful entrepreneur and had hired a nephew to work in the family business. The uncle and nephew were close and enjoyed working together. As the autumn leaves began to fall, a darkness again descended on the family. The beloved nephew died of suicide.

The loss of his nephew and recent death of his mother from alcoholism, resulted in Dennis and his older brother growing closer than they had ever been. "We talked many times about our hurt and pain, how we could not understand why there was so much loss in our family," said Dennis.

That was what made July 20, 2014, so difficult to endure. "I was fishing and got a call to return to the dock. When I arrived, I could see everyone waiting for me. They looked upset," said Dennis. "I asked what was going on, what happened? The response stunned me. My brother had died of suicide."

Through loss after loss, Dennis had created a barrier that he believed protected him from pain and helped him cope with tragedy. It was after the loss of his brother in 2014 that he found this wall was not the answer. Determined to face this loss differently, Dennis sought the aid of the Architect of the Capitol Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to better manage his feelings and to support his personal and professional growth.

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A family photo shows Dennis' brother Calvin, who passed in the summer of 2014.
A family photo shows Dennis' brother Calvin, who passed in the summer of 2014. Photo provided by Milton Lee Dennis.

"For the first time in my life I said out loud, one by one, to each of my family members, I forgive you — I love you — I miss you. That made the difference in my life," said Dennis.

Determined to help others who may be experiencing similar trauma, Dennis began working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Preventing Unnecessary Loss through Suicide Education task force. He shares his story to let others know they are not alone, and to provide hope.

"I deliver a positive message of surviving loss to let others know that sharing provides comfort and, hopefully, breaks the stigma of mental health challenges," said Dennis. "I also was afraid of what people would think if they knew the stories of loss that I have experienced. As each loss occurred, I began to speak more and more, the feeling of relief to get that off my chest made the difference in my survival. I speak openly about all four family members who I lost to suicide. Talking about it with EAP and friends has been the best therapy I could have ever given myself."

Dennis is driven to share his story with others. "It makes a huge difference when someone can relate to you, and you can connect with them. It could save a life."

Having a purpose, even amid profound grief, often sustains people who have experienced unspeakable losses. Dennis has found such a purpose, and with it hope and a drive to help others struggling with mental health challenges.

"The pain never goes away, but I've learned how to cope and channel those feelings into something good," Dennis said. "I want others to know that they can succeed too."

Comments

Dennis, thank you for sharing your story. By pulling back the curtain you are giving hope to so many who may feel like they are alone in their pain. Thank you for caring.

Thank you for sharing your story it's much appreciated. Have a blessed day!

Thank you for caring enough to share your story. May your story help others to overcome their own pain.

WOW!! Dennis, thank you so much for sharing your story. All the best to you for continued strength.

Thank you for sharing your story, I applaud you for your strength and positive outlook on thriving in life. I to have gone through multiple family deaths recently and really understand your pain.

Lee, Thank you for having the courage to share your story. The pain, and feeling of loss can be unbearable. Your strength will help you, and to help others.

Dennis, thank you for STANDING STRONG and sharing your story. May your story help others to overcome their own pain. Thank you again Buddy for sharing.

Lee, the passion you show in your work and towards everyone around you is a testament to the individual you are. Thank You for sharing your story to bring light to this subject and hope your story will resonate with someone who may have not considered asking for help..

What a powerful story of loss, courage, and hope. Really appreciate the share. May your healing journey continue to be a shining light for others.

Thank you for sharing your pain and your loss to help someone else find a way to share their own. May what you do for others strengthen and enable you to keep working to reach others. I commend you for being so open and vulnerable.

What an inspiring story of positivity, resilience and intent! Your choice to respond to your personal tragedy in such a humble and selfless manner is awe inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story and your SELF! May peace and light be your blessings always!

Thank you for sharing your story and encouraging us all to address our mental health.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Remember that you are strong because you've been weak.
You are fearless because you've been afraid.
You are wise because you've been foolish.

Extremely Inspiring Story Keep Going Dennis!

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