About a year and a half ago I was browsing through r/TheBrewery on Reddit. I saw a post from an individual that was wanting to make the jump from the coffee industry to the brewing industry. I posted that we would love to talk to them if they were interested in SW VA. What I got instead was a private message from a young man named Nyles Sanna-Withers. He was a brewer at Brookville Beer Farm in MD.
I hired Nyles and he quickly became an integral part of our team. He was super creative, mechanically inclined and had the fortunate problem of not sitting still! This led to him picking up small projects that we just had not had time to get done. The result was a smoother running brewery and a staff that was super cohesive.
A serious lover of the outdoors, off road motorcyclist and snowboarder he would bring in tales of his adventures from the weekend, from riding powerline trails to car camping at Snowshoe in the freezing weather. We loved him like a brother.
Because we all were so close, we noticed when he was seemingly down. He and I spent long periods of time talking about jobs, family, friends, love…just life in general. I shared some my background and some of my experiences in the 2 decades of military service and 2 decades of brewing I had. After those talks, he would have an upturn but then quickly fall back to being down.
We all at Parkway Brewing were worried. Nyles and I had spoken at length when he told me that he needed to seek help. This is a serious step for most people. The prevailing thought pattern among people that need help is that they don’t. Admitting he needed help was probably hard for him.
After missing a work commitment, we talked about giving him some time to concentrate on getting the help he needed. We arranged a leave of absence so he could get the help. We were hopeful for a recovery and were looking forward to his return after a couple months. Everyone missed him.
After about a month he called me to tell me he was getting help but that he would need to move back to MD and would also need to resign his position. I was super sad about it, but my entire philosophy of leadership is to encourage people to do what is best for them. I told him that if he needed anything to please reach out, he would always have our support and encouragement. I would have hired him back in an instant even if I didn’t have a specific space for him on staff, He was just that type of person.
In early August, while out on the brewery floor, the taproom manager came to find me saying Nyles’ mother was on the phone. She told me that Nyles had left the house the day before and walked out into the woods: he texted his family and told them he loved them, but that he just couldn’t do it anymore (in looking at his posts on Reddit, I noticed he did the same thing there.) Nyles then took his life. As hard as it is, Nyles’ family gave me permission to talk about his story.
We spend a lot of time talking about it around here. We all still believe there was something more one of us could have done to help, something we could have said. We all understand that this was not about us…it was about him. It was about a war that was waging inside of him.
Many believe that committing suicide is giving up. It is? Or is the end of their courageous fight?
Many believe that committing suicide is selfish. It is? Or is it that person deciding what they believe is best for them? It is an end to their war?
How do those of us left behind talk about these losses? Many times, people want to place blame on themselves or on the person that suffered. Blame is not fair to either party.
There are lots of different resources out on the web that talk about what you should and shouldn’t say to someone after they lose someone to suicide. One of the best suggestions we could find was saying “remember when”. The theory is that by doing this we can remember the person and the impact they had on the people around us. It also fosters discussion about a subject that many do not want to address directly…but we all need to talk more about suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among males aged 10-34. 22 Vets a day lose the fight. It is not limited to just men and vets. Women are more likely to use “non-violent” means and are sometimes misclassified for cause of death. Most families hush up the fact that a loved one has taken their life. Like it is something they are ashamed about. We need to bring this problem into the daylight. People should talk about it. We should be doing something about it.
Talking about it….we at Parkway Brewing have settled on this: Remember when…
Remember when Nyles showed up in purple work pants and bright white rubber boots?
Remember when Troy gave Nyles Magic Erasers for Christmas so he could take care of the scuffs on those boots?
Remember when I asked him about his girlfriend and his face lit up like it was the most amazing thing he had ever experienced?
Do something…. Parkway Brewing has decided that we wanted to do something to help. We pulled out one of the small batch recipes that Nyles made. It was a Snickerdoodle Cookie Ale. It was very popular; so, we brewed it to honor Nyles Sanna-Withers, his contribution to Parkway Brewing but most of all to share OUR love of Nyles.
It will be released each year as “Remember When Cookie Ale”. A portion of the sales will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. AFSP is a nationwide network with over 200 chapters. Our plan is to offer the recipe for other breweries to brew with the understanding that they too will make donations to AFSP or to another suicide prevention organization of their choice.
In the meantime….RAISE A GLASS AND TALK. We want to be able to say “Remember When” helped save someone’s life.