“Someone told me, ‘Grief is just love you’re not able to give someone anymore,’” he said, his heart so full of that love that it nearly overflowed the bottoms of his eyelids. His throat tightened and his voice strained as he said her name, Ciarra Joi.
When Joel “Dusty” Rhodes talks about his daughter, who died by suicide at age 13, it’s still deeply painful. But he keeps telling her story in the hopes of helping others, he said. He has spoken in a variety of settings on and off post, to the military community, to rotary clubs and to parents. “Whatever groups want me to talk to them, I will go and talk to them,” he said.
Rhodes recalled his daughter’s active, engaged life and generous spirit. He described her as smart, funny and outgoing. “She loved to sing,” he said. She also enjoyed softball, horseback riding and even sang in The Voice of Germany kids edition. She baked cupcakes to raise money for a child in Nepal her class “adopted.” She saved a portion of her allowance and birthday money to donate to charity, which her parents then doubled.
Ciarra, who wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up, was attending a German school in 2013. “There were cliques in her school, you know, like there are in every school, I guess,” he said. “She was always the person standing up for others. She was the anti-bully. It was important to her.”
She went to a birthday party one Sunday night – they went to the movies. When she woke up Monday, she didn’t feel well, so she stayed home from school that day, Rhodes said. “I got home from work and my wife got home from work,” he said. “Everything was fine. She was feeling a little bit better. We ate, we watched a movie, she went back to bed. The next morning I went downstairs to go to work, and I heard my wife scream.”
Ciarra died Dec. 10, 2013, three days before the family was scheduled to fly to Florida for a vacation his daughter had been looking forward to, Rhodes said.
The police took her computer and phone, but they found no obvious reason, no threat made to her and no notes or emails to give the Rhodeses any clues as to why their daughter took her own life. Rhodes said he had regularly monitored his daughter’s messages with her consent and never saw anything alarming.
He later found out a lifelong classmate of his daughter’s had been bullied so badly that her mother pulled her out of the school. He said he fears his daughter may have become the new bullying target after that happened. “I still don’t know why,” he said. “I’ll never know why. So I stopped asking.”
Still reeling from his daughter’s death, Rhodes’ wife of nearly 20 years passed away in May of 2016. She had been in and out of intensive care for four months. “I think she died of a broken heart,” he said.
Rhodes is retired from the Army and works as the assistant superintendent at the Rheinblick Golf Course at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden. He said what keeps him going is giving back and helping others. One of the ways he does that is through an annual memorial softball tournament. Through it, Rhodes, along with other members of the planning committee, have donated almost 70,000 euros to suicide prevention charities, he said.
They give half of the money they raise to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the other half to the German AGUS – Angehörige um Suizid e.V., an organization that offers counseling to survivors, and where Rhodes also received counseling.
One day Rhodes was sitting at home, had just put his softball uniform on, and he told the woman he is now seeing that she should go to sleep because he was going to go see his girls. “I have no idea why, no idea what I was doing,” he said. “I have no recollection of it, but I was going to get in my car and go drive off a bridge.”
He spent the next three weeks in a psychiatric hospital. “That was my breaking point,” he said. “Because I held everything in; I didn’t talk about it. I was trying to help everybody else and stopped caring about me.”
He said his time in the hospital helped. “People need to know that you have to talk to somebody. And if somebody is trying to talk to you, then let them talk to you. You don’t have to solve the problem; sometimes you just gotta listen.”
He gets emotional every time he tells his story but said it’s worth reliving the pain. “It still hurts,” he said. “And talking to people is sometimes hard. But I think she’s still helping, through me, and that’s why I do what I do. I wish more people talked about it.”
When he speaks to a crowd and hears their reactions, he said, it reminds him that what he’s doing is making a difference. He wants to end the stigma so that people can talk about suicide in different settings.
“I don’t have all the answers,” he said, “but I know talking about it helps.”
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and the focus is to interact with people, to reach out and to be engaged, said Jason Mohilla, the garrison’s Suicide Prevention Program manager and Army Substance Abuse Program specialist. “If we were all to interact and get away from our isolation, get out and actually interact with other people, and be honest about how we’re feeling, it would help a lot.
“Each person has their own way of dealing with things, and everybody can benefit from talking to somebody,” Mohilla said. “It’s about finding the right fit for each person — that’s why we have so many suicide prevention resources; if one doesn’t work, we can look to something else.”
People who are feeling suicidal may internalize instead of seeking help, Mohilla said. “They may say they don’t need help, until it gets to a point where they can’t handle it anymore. I think if we could make it easier for people to seek out help a little earlier, it would be a great benefit,” he said.
“In this community, we deal with a lot of intelligence and aviation, and a common answer for people not seeking treatment is losing their clearance or flight status,” Mohilla said. “They’re concerned that interacting with behavioral health could impact their career or future earnings potential. The Army is aware that this is a problem and has made significant changes to minimize the negative effects of seeking help. But as long as a stigma is there, it could potentially prevent people from seeking help.”
Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans, and many people who die by suicide are not known to have a diagnosed mental health condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
The 24-hour duty chaplains are a great resource and have protected interaction, Mohilla said. They are specially trained and have the highest level of amnesty that you can interact with, he added. The Employee Assistance Program – for civilians 18 and older – offers up to five free, confidential, solution-focused counseling sessions. And school-aged kids can get support from counselors at each of the schools.
Mohilla encourages community members to have the difficult conversations, help reduce the stigma and reach out to resources available at garrison level, as well as personal resources such as spirituality, family and friends.
Rhodes talked about the challenges and barriers to getting mental health care. “You can see a broken arm,” he said. “You can fix a broken arm; take an x-ray, put a cast on it and it’s fixed. You can’t do that with mental health.”
The pain of unrelenting guilt gripped him for years, he said. “I would tell people that if the mailman came up and knocked on the door and said, ‘Hey, I’ve seen this child and he needs a heart,’ I would’ve been like, ‘Take mine now’ and not felt anything. I didn’t care.”
But he has found a way to keep on living and doing what he can to spare others the suffering he’s endured. “I have to help people — that’s why I’m still here. Both my wife and daughter were much better people than I am or ever will be, so if they’re gone and I’m still here, there must be a reason.”
Rhodes now lives with his girlfriend who he says “gets” him. He said that although he’ll never forget his wife or daughter, “Life can go on, slowly but surely.”
For more information on the annual softball tournament in Ciarra’s honor, visit rememberingciarra.com.
The Army encourages leaders, family members, and friends to check in with each other and ensure that even though the world is physically distancing, people are still connected. Call the Military Crisis Line from Europe at 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118 or visit https://www.dspo.mil/spm/.
For emergencies call 112 or the Military Police Desk Sergeant at (0611)143-548-7777 or 7778.
24/7 On-Call Duty Chaplain
The Wiesbaden Religious Support Office provides Chaplains who serve as the 24/7 On-Call Duty Chaplain to provide counseling and pastoral care for after hours emergencies. Any individual or family member on assignment orders to USAG Wiesbaden or one of our tenant units can speak to the On-Call Duty Chaplain at 0162-274-7337
Behavioral Health Clinic
The Behavioral Health Clinic is open to walk-in crisis care from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in Bldg. 1526 and can be reached by DSN 590-1320 or civilian 06371-9464-1320.
The Military Crisis Line serves Active Duty, Retirees,and their Dependents and is available 24/7 via phone, text, or online chat at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net, DSN 118, or civilian 001-800-273-8255.
Employee Assistance Program
The Wiesbaden EAP, part of the Directorate for Human Resources, can see DoD Civilian Employees, Military & Civilian Family Members, and Retirees. EAP is a free, confidential screening, assessment, and health-related referral resource that can provide short-term,non-therapy counseling and support. EAP is available now primarily through telephone consultations. POC is Dr. John Kaiser at DSN 548-1402/Civilian 0611-143-548-1402, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Military Family Life Counselors
The Military Family Life Counselors assigned to Army Community Service provide non-medical short-term, situational problem-solving counseling for service members and their families who may be dealing with stress. The MFLC services augment existing military support services. Their services are otherwise confidential and private, except for duty-to-warn situations.
Military Family Life Counselors assigned to our community:
- Hainerberg Elementary School: 0152-2390-2413
- Wiesbaden High School: 0151-4558-3637
- Child/Youth MFLCs: 0151- 5478-5029
- Adult MFLCs: 0176-5594-8229/0170-591-4771