PHOTOS: 19th Annual Breaking the Silence Walk Offers Healing, Harmony, & Hope
They call him Boomer.
It's a nickname he's had for a long time and now, 16 years after his death, it's what they call him still.
Dennis Stoeger was 31 years old when he died by suicide.
His brother had been killed in a car accident years prior, and that's something he could never quite get over.
"He felt guilty because he didn't die," said Boomer's Mother, Carol. "So he turned to drugs and it was a hard time."
That hard time, to Boomer, must have seemed like there was no end in sight. Because that's how it is for those considering suicide; they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel or, worse, they don't feel like they're worthy of the light.
Maybe that's how Boomer felt in those final moments. Maybe he felt like the world, his world, would be better off without him. Maybe he felt like the burden that he felt he's caused would finally be lifted if he was no longer there.
Maybe his family wouldn't have to worry about him anymore.
"That's almost worse than the death itself," Carol stated. "I can tell him how much I loe him. I can tell him it'll get better. I can say all the right things, but if he doesn't believe it, what then? And I'm not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, so I don't even know what the right things would be."
The dirty secret is, there is no right thing to say to somebody who is considering suicide. There are no magic words that make everything better. Healing can't come from the outside; it has to come from within.
It wasn't always like this. For a long time, Boomer was the quintessential son, brother, uncle, friend.
"He was so awesome," his mother beamed. "He was so smart. So fun. He had an Associates degree in Physics and one in chemistry. He was smart and he was so much fun."
He was everything one could want in a family member, especially to his niece, Taylor.
"I took him camping once; him and his niece," Carol said. "He was her favorite person; that was who she loved the most. She thought he was the most awesome person because he was fun. He'd take her out on the river, out on the ice when he wasn't supposed to. He would just do fun stuff. He was a fun person."
Boomer loved being outdoors. He loved hiking and fishing, especially in the Big Horn Mountains.
"I think he felt peace there," Carol said. And that's important, because when you're dealing with mental health issues, peace is hard to come by, even though it's the thing you most desperately want.
"[Wyoming] needs more help for mental health, for drug addiction," Carol said. "Boomer suffered from mental health problems, so he turned to drugs. So he had the courage to kill himself."
And that's a funny word, in this context. Courage. It's not the word one would normally associate with suicide. But it makes sense. Taking one's own life is never an even decision, even in the harshest of conditions. The decision comes about when there seems to be no other decision. But even when it seems like there's no other choice, it still takes a lot of, well, courage, to follow through.
The thing is, it takes even more courage not to. But that doesn't mean, as some people believe, that taking one's life is the coward's way out, or the easy way out. It's not that simple; it's not that black and white. It's a shade of grey, and people struggling with mental health live in that shade of grey until they no longer can.
Boomer's sister said that she knew something was wrong when he called to tell her that she could have some of his things. His mom knew something was wrong when he just called to say 'I love you.'
"He called me that day," Carol said. "He was here in Casper and I was in Green River. He said, 'Mom, I love you so much.' And I said, 'I love you so much. Come home, just come home and we'll do something. Just come home."
But he couldn't. And on November 30, 2006, Boomer took his own life.
Carol said that she understands how people feel, when they don't feel as though they have any hope. She doesn't blame them, doesn't fault them. She just hurts for them.
"If I could hug it out of them, I would," Carol said.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that. Still, we try. And on days like today, Saturday, September 17, 2022, we all come together to mourn for those we've lost and we try to encourage those whom we haven't. Saturday was the 19th annual 'Breaking the Silence Walk,' sponsored by the Natrona County Suicide Prevention Task Force. It's a chance to remember, to reflect, and to re-examine how people get to the point where they feel like they have nothing left.
In 2020, there were a total of 19 suicides in our community. If the current trend continues, Lance Neiberger said, there will be 35 this year.
Because of this startling statistic, and all of the ones like it, there is the 'Breaking the Silence' walk. In its 18 years of existence in Natrona County, this walk has offered survivors of suicide an opportunity to remember their loved ones, to honor them, and to maybe, just maybe, offer them some semblance of peace.
Peace is what Boomer worked for, but could never quite find. It's what his family searches for now and some days are easier than others. But it still hurts.
"If he were here, right now, I would say, 'Boomer, look at all you've missed,'" Carol said, with tears in her eyes. "'Look at how beautiful everything is." More than anything, I would tell him that I love him so much."
She'll never stop loving him. She'll never stop missing him. And she will never, ever, stop walking for him.