"When many people would have slammed the door shut on the world and hunkered down with their grief, Kim has left the door open," says Bonnie Carroll, the founder of TAPS. "She has allowed others to learn from her experience as a survivor and a caregiver."
"Suicide is very complicated; every individual case of suicide is different," Ruocco says. "It's important to decrease the stigma attached to suicide by the military and to offer services to support both troops and survivors."
Ruocco, who holds a master's degree in social work, reviewed her husband's personnel files. She found only outstanding reviews. But as she thought about it more, she found signs: For example, the helicopter pilot had been rattled by a number of fatal flight accidents in his unit during duty in North Carolina in the 1990s.
While commanding a helicopter squadron in Iraq in 2004, he again grew troubled. He told Kim that he felt disconnected from the family, that he had difficulty flying, and that he could no longer find beauty in the world. His habits changed: He stopped attending church, and he sent the family just two letters during his six-month deployment.
Ruocco recounts the next weeks with heartbreaking precision. In early February 2005, the family called John, a longtime New England Patriots fan, to celebrate the team's win in the Super Bowl. He hadn't watched the game, he said. Kim asked him outright if he was thinking of killing himself. He said he would never do that, not to her and their two boys.
Desperate, Kim took a red-eye flight to California, where John was deployed. The next day, two members of John's squadron found him dead in his hotel room. He had been scheduled to come home that Thursday.
"I was in a fog for those first two years," Ruocco says. Suicide is like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces have been scattered, she says. "Some pieces will never be found."