Betty Buck of HM2 Buck For Hope Foundation: I Lost a Loved One To Suicide and Here Is What You Should Know
An interview with Pirie Jones Grossman
Losing a loved one to suicide is a heart-wrenching experience. It can also be confusing, and it usually comes with a lot of mixed-up feelings, including anger and guilt. What are some things that family members would like other people to know about losing a loved one to suicide? As a part of this interview series, I had the distinct pleasure to interview Betty Buck.
HM2 Buck for Hope Foundation was honorably founded by Betty Buck after the unfortunate and untimely loss of her oldest son, HM2 Daniel J. Buck by suicide. In their last phone call, the day he took his own life, Danny asked his mother to take up the fight against military sexual assault and suicide in his honor. It has become Betty’s healing pledge to change the way that all U.S. Military Branches handle these horrific situations.
Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I personally understand how hard this is. Before we dive in, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?
For 74 years my family owned and operated a beer distributorship in Maryland. I proudly ran the company for 35 years. After hearing the shot that took my son’s life, I sold the business to start his Foundation.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
HM2 Buck for Hope Foundation is constantly planning. We are proud to be hosting two fundraisers in early 2023, alone. One is a dinner show featuring the Neil Diamond Show. The second is a Longaberger Basket Bingo.
While we are excited about these events and the awareness that they will bring, the most important thing for us is to continue spreading the word of military sexual trauma and related suicide. We are working in all areas to help create change in the Military and the way these issues are handled.
We plan on continuing to table and attend local events around Maryland that surround the topics of suicide prevention, sexual assault prevention, mental health, and our military.
We have recently launched a #TakeTheTime campaign in the Annapolis, Maryland area, that focuses on making sure the community is aware of the new 988 lifeline. We attend events like suicide prevention walks and hand out swag to promote a positive message surrounding such a difficult topic. We’ve placed ads in local publications, on the back of city buses, and on local billboards. In addition, we post multiple times a week on our social media accounts to get our message out there. We work hard to provide resources and encouragement to those who are struggling.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“We owed something back.”
My father, Irwin Buck, always taught me that we made our living from the public and we owed something back to them. I have tried my best during my life, first, as a business owner and now after Danny’s death as the founder of HM2 Buck for Hope, to always do that.
Owing something back. That was the reason Danny asked me to do this work. He knew in his heart I would do it.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your loss?
I do. Thank you for asking.
What was the scariest part of it? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
Danny was a Navy Coreman who loved what he did, until he was sexually assaulted on a ship in Japan by three fellow seamen, who assaulted two other victims. Danny made his eventual return to his San Diego base where he was faced with very little support because of the military rules surrounding sexual assault. It also didn’t help that none of his friends or his family were there. Sadly, the pain and suffering he was dealing with became something he could no longer live with.
I had just two days earlier been the co-chair of a local Maryland hospital group to raise money for a new mental health hospital. Then, Monday, April 29, 2019, Danny called and said he wanted to FaceTime. So, we did for two hours, with me sitting on the edge of the road so we wouldn’t get disconnected as I drove into work.
He told me it was D-Day. My first thought was deployment. But as we continued to talk, I learned he meant… Death Day.
I got his two sisters to get on FaceTime with him as I sped as fast as I could get to work. On that call we learned Danny of his sexual assault and how he was forbidden by the Navy to share his painful experience with those closest to him. Plus, according to the rules of the Navy, he was given only one off-base psychiatric visit.
We talked to him for three more hours and got two of his friends to rush over to his apartment with the San Diego Police. He said he was going to open the door, instead he said goodbye to us and hung up his phone. I was yelling for the police to knock the door down, but instead, all we heard was Danny shooting himself in the heart. I will never forget the sound of that gun going off. My son was gone, all in a matter of a second.
The scariest part had already happened. I had lost my first-born son while on the phone listening to the bullet that took his life knowing I was thousands of miles away from him and couldn’t help. No parent should ever bury a child, I have lost both parents, but nothing compared to this.
How did you react in the short term?
I lost Danny.
Then, I had to open my door to a Naval Academy Causality Officer and Chaplain just like you see on TV and in the movies. They were there to help me and set up our family to fly to San Diego. Out west, we would attend the service the Navy had planned, as well as make the decisions of what had to be done next.
I had to tell those that loved Danny most, that he was gone.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
I had previously been seeing a psychiatrist. After Danny’s passing, I continued to see her to better myself after such a loss. This is how I was able to plan for the HM2 Buck for Hope Foundation.
Another comfort I found was talking to friends.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal, at least to some degree?
You never get over losing a child. Especially when you hear his life leaving after you brought him into the world. I was adopted by an amazing family but when Danny was born it was the first time I could look at someone with my eyes!
Starting HM2 and working on it full-time is healing. I find it the most comforting when I talk to people who are struggling or know someone else who is and tell them about the Foundation along with Danny and how there are so many ways to get help, or ways to talk to somebody. I let them know they are not alone.
In my own grief journey, I found writing to be cathartic. Did you engage in any writing during that time, such as journaling, poetry, or writing letters? If yes, we’d love to hear about any stories or examples.
I have journaled all my life and do find that it helps. I also see Danny in a lot of the things that I do and see that keeps his memory alive.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
After Danny’s death I planned a trip with my friends, a cruise to Greece, one of Danny’s favorite places. Being with people who loved and knew Danny and being able to relax and enjoy the trip in such a place was the best medicine.
I also continue to see my psychiatrist.
When you lose someone to suicide the first question is always “what could I have done and how could I have stopped it?” One of the hardest parts about this thought is that you can’t put that blame on yourself, and even if you stop it, it still might happen at a different time. It is not about you, it’s about the pain they are in. You cannot blame yourself! Getting professional help truly helped me understand this first.
Always share stories about your loved one and talk to your friends and family. Do something about it, don’t just let it go on without doing something productive! Help spread the word of 988 and other resources that people who are struggling can utilize. There is help, and that is one thing we focus on when posting on our social media accounts.
We utilize our social media accounts to keep the public informed. Suicide and sexual assault in the military are not spoken about enough and so we want to spread the word as we have the potential to save lives. On our social platforms, we not only share Danny’s story, but we also share an abundance of information to help those who have dealt with or who have been affected by crises surrounding sexual assault and suicide.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
I am so grateful for my friend, Pat, who was with me on the Greece trip. She had seen me through everything earlier in life and she had also had an oldest son, also named Danny, who died young. Her being with me on the trip and in my life after was so good for me because having been through it too, I could talk to her in a way no one else would understand because she knew and felt the pain that I was in.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learned that I want to make a difference in society. It is repetitive, but every day I work at the foundation, I am helping others and spreading the word that there are resources. I know I am doing the work that Danny asked me to do.
My grandchildren are the ones who give me the most strength in the world now. I also have an amazing husband, Adam, who has always been there by my side for all of it. The good and bad.
What did you do to get help and support for yourself?
I went to therapy as well as talked through what had happened to Danny.
What signs would you tell parents, friends or loved ones to look for in people they think may need help?
Anytime the person you love changes anything, any habits, you should ask them questions, get them talking, and know that getting them help and being positive and loving is imperative.
Thank you for sharing all of this. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what are five things you want people to know about losing a loved one to suicide?
Please share a story or example for each.
1. You never know when something like this could happen to you.
When I spoke to my son that day, I was never aware of what he was going through. I believed my son was doing well, though this wasn’t the truth. He loved his job so much, but he was fearful to share what he was truly going through after the assault. I stress to the public that they need to be aware of signs and pay attention to suicide.
2. You will feel lost and empty inside.
When Danny passed, I felt so helpless and hopeless as I was nowhere near him. I was on the other side of the country. I was at a loss for words and didn’t know how I was going to carry on.
3. You will want to share your story with others in hopes it will evoke change.
After Danny’s passing, I had so much rage in me, and I knew I had to do something so another family didn’t have to go through this. Prior to Danny’s passing, he specifically asked me, “Mom, when you believe in something you are a force of nature, and I am no longer strong enough to do this, but I need you to promise to work to make a change so that other children don’t grow up without parents.” I will never forget this promise I made to my son, which is why I started the HM2 Buck for Hope Foundation.
4. The public needs to realize this is a huge problem in our society.
The public needs to realize there is a problem. If you don’t realize there is a problem, then you can’t make a change. Once you have come to terms with this problem you need to begin spreading awareness and hold congressmen and senators accountable. I encourage those to share their stories so more attention can be brought to this.
5. You will be overwhelmed with support.
After my friends, family, and the local community began finding out about Danny’s passing, I was overwhelmed with support and love. As I mentioned above, my friend Pat truly aided in my grieving process because she went through the same thing I did. I am beyond thankful for everyone who has checked in on me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
There are so many things that could easily change that would save young people’s lives. We need to allow the power of help in the community to be used. In Annapolis, if a Naval Academy Cadet goes to the Anne Arundel Medical Center emergency room for mental health, the academy steps in and provides no assistance. At the hospital’s new Mental Health Facility, there are day programs that could provide cadets with mental health counseling.
My biggest dream is that we could change the whole system by using the state of Maryland as a pilot program to set up what needs to change. We are a small state with many important bases. If we could sit the base commanders in a room with stakeholders and government leaders, I believe we could design a pilot program that could then be rolled out everywhere. In this pilot program, we would ensure that cadets would be allowed to talk with their friends about their struggles without the fear of reprisal.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
If I could meet Condoleezza Rice or one of the Generals of the Armed Services to talk about how we can change things for all Military branches. Ultimately the goal of the HM2 Buck For Hope Foundation is to educate the public and officials about sexual assault and suicide in all branches of the military so stricter rules can be put into place. We hope that one day abuse in the military will no longer be able to be swept under the rug.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Our website is HM2Buckforhope.com. There we provide resources, Danny’s story, and more.
We also have Twitter (@HM2Buck4Hope), Facebook (@HM2 Buck For Hope Foundation), and Instagram (@HM2Buck4Hope) accounts set up to spread awareness. We provide resources for those who are struggling, tips and warning signs for family members and friends as well as support and condolences. We have been able to foster an online community of individuals who are just as driven as me to combat soldier suicide along with put an end to sexual assault in the military.
Thank you so much for your courage in telling your story. We greatly appreciate your time, and we wish you only continued success and good health.