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Golden Sparkles

Michele Kuehner


Be water, my son

After my son Rick was born I hung a framed quote above his bassinet that said, “YOU ARE A GIFT TO ME.” 

I was so in love with this tiny human…it was a love I had never felt before. I promised to love and protect him always.


He was a sweet, sensitive child, always eager to learn. We raised him on the Oregon Coast with the ocean as his playground.


He joined the Navy one summer on a break from college. He worked hard and excelled. 

I was so proud of him and his commitment. He loved being in the Navy.


He eventually got married and had a family. Being a husband and father suited him. Life was good.

Rick had many passions besides the Navy. Family, faith and friends were his foundation. His dogs were family too.

He would speak to them in french. It was their thing.

He loved spending time on his hobbies…art, music, soccer, playing games with the kids and vegan cooking.

He had a kind heart…always offering to help others.


After 11 years in the Navy Rick suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury.   

He struggled for the next couple years trying to be a good father, husband and sailor. 

He was diagnosed with PTSD, Bi-Polar and a mild form of Dementia from the TBI.

He would say, “My brain is broken and I’ve been diagnosed with all the letters!” 

Always trying to keep his sense of humor.


He started to have trouble coping with daily life. Sometimes he would say in front of his family, “Everyone would be better off without me.”

He rode his bike to the VA emergency room a couple of times desperate for help only to get there and turn around. He would call the VA crisis line or the White House and say, “Did you know that 22 veterans kill themselves everyday?” 


My heart was breaking for him. I know he was feeling so alone. We were desperate to find help for him.

He had agreed to move home to Oregon to be closer to family.


He was on his way home when I got the call that changed my life forever. 

It felt like my heart had been ripped out and shattered into a million pieces. I couldn’t breathe.

I had promised to love and protect him always and now he was gone.

He died by suspected suicide after suffering a psychotic breakdown.


Was there something more I could’ve said or done to help him…to save him? I felt so much guilt.


There were many times I didn’t think I could go on but then my mind would go to my daughter and grandkids that I love so much. We all needed each other and they were grieving too. 


I knew Rick wouldn’t want us to be sad. He was always happy, dancing with everyone.

Even in his last days he wrote in his journal…This book belongs to “Warrior”…"I am light…my body is prism//prison"…always trying to be strong and positive and choose light over darkness.


I was drowning in my grief and reached out for help to try and navigate through it.

I was invited to be part of the VA Legacy Song and Art Project with Jeaneane who had also lost her son.

We were guided by Heather, a therapist and Tam, a chaplain from the VA and Ian, a hospice nurse and gifted singer, songwriter and artist.

These people and this project became family and my lifeline out of the darkness. 

I felt their compassion and empathy and knew I could open my heart and share my story with them.


The song Ian wrote for Rick called, “Be Water” has brought a healing light into my broken heart. When I close my eyes and listen to it I can see my boy dancing on the waves reaching his hand out to me. When I heard about the portraits Ian does in ashes I wanted to be part of it. Rick loved to draw and paint and I thought he would think it was really cool. Ian drew a beautiful portrait of him in his ashes. When I look at it I feel him in the room with me. Ian also drew a beautiful rose for me titled, “Rick’s Rose” and a portrait of me titled, “Yvonne and Rick” with the ashes. The rose in ashes signifies that something so broken, so unthinkable can be transformed into something beautiful, alive and vibrant. It’s called, Kintsugi.


With the Legacy group I have found a way to be of service while navigating through my own grief journey. Our group is growing all the time. 

I believe I am turning my pain into purpose. I hope I am showing others an example of strength in the most difficult of circumstances. 


If only my son could have seen how all of us who loved him have suffered since losing him. Could it have changed our story…his story?

I would give anything just to have one more day with him…one more hug…tell him one more time how much I love him and everything will be ok and hear just one more time from him, “I Love You Mum.” 


He had so many people who loved him and would’ve done anything to support and help him.

His father could not grasp the loss of our son. He tried to drink away his pain. He died last year from alcohol related issues.


My hope is that this work that I do will help bring awareness to suicide and SI. We need to do everything we can to change the narrative and show people they are loved and not alone.


Every now and then I’ll be walking on the beach my boy loved so much and I’ll see a ray of light breaking through the clouds on the sand in front of me. I feel like it’s a sign from my boy that he’s ok and he’s proud of me!


We grieve because we love and as long as I keep letting the light in my heart will continue to heal.

The Forge

You and I were hard as iron

When we laid down upon the fire

I held you close as we combined

We were broken and refined


Heat won't break us up

It just melts us down

It has made us one

Don't ask me how

I just know that I'll forever be a part of you

I guess that's just what the forge can do


The shaping pain of every strike

Hammer fell and sparks were brought to life

You know I hate to see you cry

Love is waiting on the other side


Heat won't break us up

It just melts us down

It has made us one

Don't ask me how

I just know that I'll forever be a part of you

I guess that's just what the forge can do

Contact the VA

858-552-8585 ext 7680

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