Ed and Gloria Long never thought it could happen to them.
Ed remembers hearing when a young person would complete suicide and he would say “how could anything be so bad in that young life?’”
“Little did I know it would bite me in the butt one day,” he says now.
Ed and Gloria’s son Ben committed suicide April 12, 2015 after suffering from substance abuse, becoming addicted to heroin following a work accident.
They’ve now dedicated their lives to helping others who suffer from depression, substance abuse and suicide by starting the Living the Dream Foundation. The foundation will host its third annual 5K and Walk from 9 a.m. to noon at Yowell Meadow Park on Saturday. The cost $25 for runners while walkers are free, but a donation is appreciated.
Their goal is to give hope to others who suffer from the same symptoms Ben did, ones they weren’t aware of until it was too late.
The Long story
Ben Long was a success story. He was a 2008 graduation of Culpeper County High School – a member of the marching band there lovingly known as “Clore’s Crew”, an Eagle Scout and a positive personality to his friends that knew him at Old Dominion University.
“He was always the champion of the little guy,” Ed said.
“He very much had Robin Williams’ personality,” Gloria said. “Ben was very outgoing and was very popular. People very much liked him. His friends were all so shocked it could happen.He was more depressed than we understood.”
He was handy, always helping his friends fix cars and his personality – outwardly – was bright. He was the life of the party and his friends gravitated to him.
Lurking underneath, however, was a sadness. That sadness manifested itself following a work accident after he graduated from ODU, and he started taking pain medication. The pain medication soon wasn’t enough and he was introduced to heroin. His parents think he started to use it in January of 2014, but they aren’t sure. In fact, they weren’t aware of any issue until October of that year.
“I was born and raised as an Inskeep, I would have never imagined any of my family to be on drugs, to have an addiction and certainly not to complete suicide,” Gloria said.
Their first warning sign came when Ben’s ex-girlfriend called and said she was afraid he was going to kill himself. Worried, Gloria called him immediately and asked if everything was OK. He said it was, but her motherly instincts told her to keep reaching out. She slept with the phone by her bed all night, calling almost hourly to check in to make sure he was OK. In reality, he wasn’t.
He moved home in the beginning of November, bringing with him a cat and later a dog. He wasn’t himself, often leaving in the middle of the night and disappearing for days. His younger brother Marshall, who had been taking care of him in Norfolk, stopped coming home because his brother was around.
Still, it wasn’t until the first of the year that Ben acknowledged the issue.
He had gone away again and hadn’t answered. On Jan. 2, 2015, he finally touched base and came home.
Gloria confronted him and he admitted – “Mom, I’m addicted to heroin and I desperately want to get off.”
That alerted them to his substance abuse issue, but they still didn’t realize how depressed he was. Now, with hindsight being 20/20, they admit there were warning signs. Having taken the Gatekeeper training that helps identify those at suicide risk, Ed says his son was showing 11 of the 12 characteristics of a suicidal individual.
Gloria recalls how he would always argue when she would point out it was a beautiful day outside.
“He would say ‘Mom, do you see clouds in the sky?’,” Gloria said. “He would just go on about it’s not gorgeous. He was in a dark place.”
Once they discovered he was on heroin, they reached out for help – but found none. Every place they called said there were no beds available – some said they’d have a bed available in five or six months. Ben needed help immediately.
Instead, he drifted further into depression. He applied for a job repairing Sears appliances and was hired, but a speeding ticket had led to his license being revoked and when the company found out, they rescinded their offer. He was crushed.
On the day he died, Gloria was upstairs when she heard a pop. She assumed his dog had broken something in the basement and went to investigate. What she found changed their lives forever and will haunt her for the rest of her life.
“It was quite a shock to me of course,” Gloria said. “I had no idea. Even when I heard the shot, I had no idea. Right before I had heard the shot he texted the three of us to say ‘I love you.’ But I hadn’t seen any of that, I just saw Ben. I went up and even touched him and said “Ben, you better not have, you better not have boy,” but he did.”
Why Living the Dream
In their grief, sitting with their remaining son Marshall at Pepper’s Grill because they weren’t allowed back in the house – it was now a crime scene – they pledged to share their story, to tell Ben’s tale and to do something. They just never realized how much of a difference they would make.
They started to have people come up to them and talk – about their substance abuse issues, about family members having issues with depression and suicide and they asked “why us?”
“People started coming to us before we even started the foundation, asking us for help,” Ed said. “Why would you ask us, we don’t know anything? We were the ones looking for help.”
“When you hear from a child, speaking some of the same words that your deceased son was saying, I know you have to be trained,” Gloria said. “It’s terrifying.”
They formed the foundation and called it Living the Dream.
“Just about every kid we talked to would talk about Ben’s smile and how he was a friend to everybody,” Ed said. “They all commented on that when you would say hello to Ben, his comeback line was always ‘Living the Dream.’ The weird thing is I never once heard him say that.”
In the three years since Ben’s passing, the epidemics of opioids and suicide has increased in the region. The Culpeper Police Department saved 19 lives last year from opioid overdose, the 20th life they saved was from a suicide attempt.
The fact it has become so prominent has made it easier to find help. Ed and Gloria hope to be a part of that.
“I think because everyone is talking about addiction and suicide it’s made it a little easier,” Ed said. “Law enforcement is, oddly enough, leading the charge. They have been the spearhead, but the addicts are a little more receptive to talking about it. I think those contemplating suicide, when you recognize the signs you have to reach out to that person.”
Living the Dream Foundation has partnered with the town police for Hidden In Plain Sight, a program that helps alert parents to dangers that their kids may be facing that are hidden right under their noses.
They’ve started scholarships for CCHS, Eastern View and Madison high schools and have Orange County High School in the works.
Everywhere he goes when he talks to students, they all have a story that is similar to their experience.
“It’s amazing to me how many people who have loved ones who have dealt with addiction,” Ed said.
Their goal, with the 5K and their work, is to bring hope to the hopeless.
“That’s probably what bothers me the most about Ben’s death, is he basically says it in the suicide note, that he had no hope,” Ed said.
“There is hope,” Gloria said.