JEFFERSON, Iowa – In 2022, 49,449 people took their own lives, an increase of over 2.5% from 2021. September is National Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month, but one local family is using their voices, year round, to help remove the stigmas surrounding mental health and suicide and to encourage everyone to take on some of the hardest conversations of their lives. This, the Kiner family says, could save a life.
Scott and Tammy Kiner have four children, Mae, Heidi, Myles and Kyler. Heidi said she and her younger brothers had a particularly close bond. The family suffered a heart wrenching loss in March of 2018 when Myles, who was special needs, passed away from an illness. This was very difficult for everyone, but Kyler took Myles’ death hard.
Heidi said the entire family thought he was working through it. Kyler had a recent promotion at a new job, he purchased a farm with his significant other and launched a new start-up business of his own. “He was your average wild child,” Heidi said. “All of it, the four wheelers, the motorcycles, the trick bikes, the snowmobiles, worried me to death.” But in the summer of 2019, Kyler began to exhibit even more risky behaviors and shared his thoughts with Heidi after a recent break-up.
“If I have to watch her go on, I will either hurt someone or myself,” Kyler said. He and Heidi talked about it, but Kyler had been drinking and it was not brought up again. Just a few short months later, on November 3, Kyler reached out to Heidi again, texting her to tell her he thought she and her husband Mike were great parents.
The next morning, when Kyler did not respond to a Snapchat, Heidi asked her husband to check on him. That morning is one she will never forget. “At 9:13 a.m. I got a phone call, and it was Mike,” Heidi explained. “It was an ear-piercing, breathless scream coming from Mike, just yelling my name.”
Heidi’s manager raced her to Kyler’s farm, and when she entered the garage, she found her husband on the floor holding her lifeless brother. “I just threw myself onto Kyler,” Heidi said. “I shook him, wake up, wake up Kyler!” Mike had walked into the garage and found Kyler hanging from the rafters.
Her parents arrived shortly after, and were given the devastating news that their son had been transported to the local funeral home. Only 20 months separated the deaths of Myles and Kyler.
Heidi said she has been through other kinds of grief, but suicide grief is very different, with many triggers. “The hardest part is getting yourself out of bed the next day. The depression that sets in. The anxiety when my friends don’t respond to my Snapchats,” she said. In looking back, she points to warning signs, and said the text to her the night before was likely one of them. This, she stressed, is why the Kiner family is sharing their story; to help people understand that it is okay to not be okay and to open up the hard conversations if they get even the slightest feeling that something is wrong.
“We can bring up our younger kids now and teach ourselves that it is okay to talk about it,” Heidi said. “Kyler did not feel that. He felt he had to be this big, tough guy, and that nobody talks about that stuff. Please, please,” she said, “talk about things. Acknowledge everybody.”
The suicide and crisis hotline at 988 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help those in need. If you or a loved one needs someone to talk with, whether you are thinking of suicide, are concerned for a friend or family member or are trying to cope with the loss of a loved one. You can also contact Behavioral Health services at Greene County Medical Center by calling 515-386-0500.