He’s a son, a brother, a husband and father to four beautiful children. He’s a Marine, a military policeman and a law-enforcement officer. He’s loved by so many. Yet, the sad truth is — he’s also a statistic.
Michael Lee Preston, 42, told two of his children, “No matter what happens, remember Daddy loves you.” He walked out the door, got in his car and drove to his friend’s driveway. The date was Jan. 13, 2016 — the day Michael killed himself.
More than a year after his death his brother John Preston, also a Marine vet, still wonders why this happened. There was no note, no explanation … nothing.
“I was numb when I got the news,” John said describing the night he found out his brother committed suicide.
The sad irony is that little brother John is not only a Marine vet and a firefighter; he’s also a musician. A musician whose aspirations weren’t so much founded in dreams of fame and fortune, rather he focused his musical talent on a cause — bringing awareness to service member suicide.
His newest video Superman Falls is a reflective look into his brother’s death. Like many music-industry videos, it’s cinematic, but the intro was neither scripted nor rehearsed.
The video captures a moment in time that was intended to be a celebratory occasion John and his band as they met with the combat wounded warrior band ‘Vetted’ prior to taking their suicide-awareness message on stage.
“I answered the phone … it was my wife and she was hysterical,” John said. “She was crying and she said, ‘Mike is dead — Mike killed himself.’ I never thought my brother would commit suicide. I initially said to my wife, ‘Mike who?’ Then it sank it — my brother was gone.
“I was numb. I don’t know how I did it, but we went out and did the show that night.”
Six months after their father’s passing, the entire family was still in mourning. John said he lost his best friend the day his dad died, and he knows Mike felt the same. Mike even said after the passing, “I’m the patriarch of the family now.” But John feels his father’s passing may have pushed his older brother over the edge.
“Mike was really proud of his time in the Marines. He was also really proud and committed to his law-enforcement career. But he witnessed so much death in his life — even the deaths of friends because as a first responder, he’d be called to a scene and the victim would be someone he knew. I really think his Post Traumatic Stress just snowballed. When dad died, the snowball just grew to large for him.”
Their father unexpectedly passed away during a routine endoscopy during the summer of 2015.
“If I’m honest, dad’s death blurred our vision moving forward. We were all grieving, and I just thought Mike was going through the same process. I didn’t realize he was broken. Suicide was never even a thought with him knowing how strong he was. The problem was he was loaded with pride, and it didn’t allow him to share everything he was feeling.”
Mike’s death was catastrophic. It’s reported almost daily that on average 22 people who serving in the military or who have served take their lives. What’s not reported is the path of destruction suicide leaves in its wake. John is understandably full of questions, grief and anger. To John, Mike was more than a big brother — he was his real-life version of Superman.
“My entire life I wanted to be as good as him. He was not just good but incredible at everything he wanted to accomplish — including being a father. He was Superman not just to us but to all who knew him.”
John reflects back to his youth and attributes who he is today to his older brother.
“When Mike got back from the Corps, I was just going into high school. I spent a lot of those years with him. I stayed at his house on the weekends and a lot of times during the week. He coached all of the teams I played on and taught me a lot about being a man before I left to the Corps. He taught me how to talk to girls and how to be cool because I was the skinny awkward little Preston, and he guided my personality to be as big as it is now. Mike was Superman to everyone,” John said.
John wants Mike’s death to be much more than the end of the story. He wants to amplify a simple, but often misunderstood, message. If a person needs help, he wants them to reach out. He talks about pride and how the Corps, police training and being a man in general engrains in people a mental complex that seeking help reveals weakness. John says this ‘tough-guy bravado’ is very dangerous. He said there are many more ‘Michaels’ out there, “These people exist — he is not the only one and that complex can mean the end.”
That cold day in January was the end for Michael. Today, it’s the family paying an eternal price for Michael’s demons. Through his tears, John struggles knowing the family will never find closure.
“We are not okay. The family is not okay. Every single one of us battles with the ‘why’ every day, and that causes tension between each of us individually. We will never be the same again and it is not going to be easy to find the new normal. His seven-year-old son tells his mother every day he needs his dad and wants him back. We can’t fix this, and we can’t be his father — his father is gone. There is no, ‘I’m sorry’ or fix for Michael’s ultimate choice.”
John says Michael is in his thoughts constantly — many times even in his sleep.
“Mike is a ghost in my dreams all the time. I see him, I run and try to catch him, but I never can. He’s always just out of reach. If he were here today, first I’d punch him in the mouth for all the pain he’s caused, then I’d hold him. I’d tell him how much he means to me and how much I love him.”
Nobody knows why Michael committed suicide. Was his exterior a facade masking a deep down lack of self worth that was developed from years of compiling survivor’s guilt? The family will regrettably never reconcile that question. The ‘whys’ are many in this painful tale.
“When I was driving to our show that day, I thought about calling Mike and touching base. Our relationship was in a bad place following dad’s death. It was starting to mend, but it wasn’t the same. I decided for one reason or another not to call. I found out later Mike and his wife had an argument the day of his death. Who knew we were all walking on eggshells? Who would think as a spouse a small argument may be the last? We’ll never get the answers — we’ll never be the same.”
John’s song Superman Falls is a tribute to his fallen brother. It’s a chilling realization that even though Michael thought he was battling alone, all he had to do is ask for help. During his funeral, more than 3,500 paid their respect. John said there were so many attending, they had to delay the 21-gun salute until later in the evening because the service ran so long. John also noted that during the remembrance, the Marine Honor Guard folded the flag with the stripes out — symbolic of how Michael’s death is so wrong.
John said he’s taking Michael’s message to the top of the music industry. He’s partnered with other artists and the Valkyrie Initiative on an album titled Battle Cry: Songs of America’s Heroes. The album highlights eight other combat veterans and the stories of their service and life after. The album pre-released in February and is set for its official drop March 17.
Through his music and through the love his fallen brother, John intends to make a difference for those battling Post Traumatic Stress. He said Michael’s story holds so much more than a sad ending — it holds opportunity. John hopes through awareness those who are struggling can learn to break through the stigma barrier and find healing.
“My brother was a hero to me. He was a hero to so many he didn’t even realize he touched. I just want to make him a hero on more time.”
A beautiful tribute to Michael was published to YouTube two days after his suicide with the user saying, “We’re all better for knowing you.”
If you are in need, or know of a friend in need, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.
Warriors who return home with the invisible wounds of war — Post-Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury can find help and resources at President George W. Bush’s site.
If you’re a Law Enforcement Officer, there are resources available for you too. COPLINE is the first national law enforcement officers hotline in the country that is manned by retired law enforcement officers. Retired law enforcement officers are trained in active listening and bring the knowledge and understanding of the many psychosocial stressors that officers go through both and off the job. They can be reached via telephone at 1-800-267-5463.
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