The Naslunds ~ Our Story
Sergeant Dillion D. Naslund was our son, our brother and our uncle. He was also a friend, a cousin, a nephew and a comrade in arms. A veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Dillion served our country well. On December 10, 2012, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), Dillion took his own life, leaving his family and friends stunned with grief. And, then, the Naslund family found purpose.
These days, Dillion's parents are often asked, "Why do you continue to talk about this horrible and painful tragedy?" Our answer: "Because we want Dillion's death to make a difference, to have meaning. Because we love him. Because we want others to know about the resources that are available to help address the consequences of PTSI. Because Dillion thought he was alone. He was not; he just didn't know it. We want others who are facing Dillion's challenges to know that they aren't alone. And we want them and their families to know why and where to go for help."
Here is our story.
Small town Iowa natives, Jeff and Lisa Naslund married in 1984. By 1988, they were parents to three beautiful children: Krystal, the big sister; Dillion, the middle child and only son; and Shelveé, the youngest child and little sister. There are tons of photos of their vibrant family and of their lives on the third generation family farm in Galva, Iowa. Many can be found here and elsewhere on this site. While the kids were young, the Naslund family also spent a few years in Van Wert, Ohio, where they missed time with Iowa-based aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents but also made deep, Buckeye friendships which last to this day. Family and friends are central to the Naslund family's deeply rooted Midwestern values.
Part of the family ritual was "Sunday Funday." The entire family would gather at Jeff and Lisa's supper table for a day full of fun and food. The fun was always planned by Dillion. Sunday Funday has been a bit of a struggle since Dillion's death. We'll talk more about that later.
For now, let's talk a bit more about Dillion. He loved farm life. He spent countless hours with his friends exploring the farm and playing army men. He worked with his grandfather and his father raising cattle, feeding the calves, doing chores, and fixing fencing. Dillion turned hay bales into a playground. He could light up a room with his smile, laughter, pranks and fun.
Dillion grew up fishing and hunting with his Dad and his Dad's friends. He loved to barbecue with his Dad, who spent a few years on the competitive barbecue circuit. Dillion developed passion for go-cart racing, dirt bikes, and four wheeling. This was a young man who loved life and lived it to the fullest.
Dillion is uncle to seven nieces and nephews. Unfortunately, he met only two of them and only one of those two remember his uncle, Dillion's oldest nephew. Dillion introduced his nephew to four wheeling, playing army men, and playing hunting. They adored each other. The world stopped for their playtime.
Among Dillion's sisters' regrets is the fact that six of his beautiful nieces and nephews don't know (or remember) him. If, as a family, the Naslunds can influence just one soldier or veteran to seek help that will allow them to become a parent, an aunt or an uncle, then Dillion will have made a difference.
While Dillion was deployed, the Naslund family continued with Sunday Funday. It wasn't the same without him, but knowing that the family continued with Sunday Funday was important to Dillion. He would ask about it every time he called home, wanting to know what they had done for fun and what his dad had made for supper.
After Dillion's death, Sunday Fundays became a struggle. Only a handful happened in the two years after his death. The Naslund family's 2015 New Year's Resolutions include re-initiating weekly Sunday Fundays. Dillion would have wanted it that way.
The Naslunds expected that a different Dillion would return home from his final deployment. They were not prepared for the man he had become. The carefree, fun-loving man wasn't there. Instead, he was a man who was always on edge, was nervous, anxious, short tempered, sad and depressed. He was drinking excessively. Daily life was a challenge. He was no longer the honest, responsible, hardworking man they had known. He was skipping work. Previously pleasant and polite, he was now frequently rude. The family did what they knew: they provided lots of love and support. That's when Dillion started isolating himself.
In August 2012 (11 months after Dillion's return from Afghanistan), it had all become too much for Dillion. One evening, in despair, he sneaked into his sister's home after bedtime and kissed everyone goodbye. The family was awakened. It was a pivotal moment for the Naslunds. This is the night that Dillion told his family about the nightmares and flashbacks he was experiencing and about a couple of combat incidents that truly haunted him. Dillion had previously shared very, very little about his combat experience.
The Naslunds realized that Dillion needed more help than they could provide or knew how to provide.
Finding help wasn't easy: a trip to the emergency room; misunderstandings about the availability of military insurance; a mother in tears as she reached out to secure the information and assistance that was needed by her son. Finally, insurance issues resolved, Dillion was moved from the emergency room to the VA Hospital. This is where Dillion was diagnosed as having PTSD1. Other than that, the VA Hospital experience did not go well. In just a week, Dillion returned home ashamed about his inability to cope with the consequences of his military service. He also came home with medications, counseling services and the deep support of family and friends. The Naslund family began their search for understanding of PTSI. They were hopeful when Dillion got a job shortly after his return from the VA. They did not know that the battle within continued to rage. They soon learned that PTSI lays low and then re-appears "bigger and badder" than before. Jeff and Lisa call the disease the "Beast."
Dillion's depression returned. Excessive drinking began again. Nightmares and flashbacks were creating sleep deprivation, making it difficult for Dillion to go to work and, when at work, it was a challenge for him to stay focused. He was, again, on edge. Not long after, things began to get better. There was a new girlfriend, a new job. The "Beast" was laying low. Then, the relationship with the girlfriend didn't work. Dillion was again in turmoil.
On December 10, 2012, alone and ashamed, Sergeant Dillion D. Naslund made his way to an Iowa gravel road, where he ended his life with a shot in the chest.
1 We prefer the use of the phrase Post Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI), while the medical community continues to use the phrase Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)