Local View: Beware another kind of deadly COVID-19 threat

Buddies Mike Grezetich, Andy Rauschenbach, and Brad Jelinek fished the Gile Flowage in Wisconsin in August 2017. Their friendship began in childhood in Lisle, Illinois, in the 1960s.

My husband and I were excited that Friday evening when we arrived at camp. We had a few hours before the sun would set. We rocked in our recliners, enjoying a moment of summer bliss when a call came through from Brad, Andy’s long-time childhood friend.

When I answered the cell phone, Brad’s voice sounded different. He wasn’t speaking in his normal boisterous tone. The first thing that came to my mind when I handed the phone over to my husband was that Brad’s dad was either not doing well in the nursing home or he had passed away.

I handed the phone to Andy and headed toward the fridge to start putting the weekend supplies away.

“What!?” I heard Andy yell into the phone. I turned and saw that his face was contorted into more of disbelief than sympathy.

“When the hell did that happen?!”


A warm breeze seemed to silence the birds. I held my hands up in one of those “what-happened?!” gestures. Andy was tense with emotion when he looked toward me.

“Mike shot himself,” he finally said.

“What?!” I answered. Mike was the third stooge of the three childhood friends. Mike’s suicide was an unbelievable kind of message. Mike was divorced, but that had been years earlier. He was still in contact with his step children from that marriage. He had a job he didn’t love, but he also had enough financial security that he could have retired if he wanted to. It didn’t make sense. Not Mikey!

I listened into Andy’s end of the conversation, sickened in knowing his questions may never be answered. When did it happen? Where did it happen? Who found him? And the hardest question of all: Why would he do something like that?

Brad said Mike suffered from bouts of depression since the loss of his parents a few years ago. When Mike came to visit us at our lake property, he was in his best element, so we didn’t see any signs. Few people knew about his depressed states.

For Andy, it was the worst way to find out. The would’ves, could’ves, and should’ves seemed to be unfairly dumped upon his broken heart. “I just talked to him at the end of May?!”

I sat down near Andy so I could hear Brad’s end of the conversation. It was Mike’s boss who had called the authorities on June 24 for a well check after Mike missed days of work and wasn’t answering the phone. When the police got to Mike’s house, the door was unlocked. They found a note on the kitchen table dated June 6. The note didn’t say much except that he wanted his sister to have everything. After two hours of searching, they found Mike in the barn from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“He was really freaked out about the coronavirus,” Brad explained. “He called me one night, and I tried to calm him down. He told me his friend, Bob, came over to see him and he hid.”


I could hear Brad gasp, then shout, “Mikey was so scared of the virus that he wouldn’t let Bob come in!”

“And yet he shot himself?” Andy responded with both anger and disbelief.

“Well, everything was going wrong,” Brad said, his voice turning soft again. “Something was wrong with his holding tank and he was out of water for three weeks. There was something wrong with his truck. His tractor was broke down.”

I heard Brad’s voice escalate: “But he knows how to fix that stuff!”

Mike was a kind and quiet soul. His social circle was small. With the stay-at-home order, we guessed he spent too many hours alone, listening to the constant news reports of a world that seemed doomed. Stay at home! Social distance! Ventilators! Death! It seems almost criminal to think about how hopeless and frightened he became, the deeper he sank into his depression.

Suicide is a tragedy. Besides the fact that Andy has to deal with the loss of his dear friend, he also has to deal with the guilt and anguish of wondering what he could have done better to have prevented it. It’s not fair. It’s painful.

In these days of forced isolation — and with psychologists and other health officials sounding alarms about a coming crush of suicides and mental health challenges related to COVID-19 — I think it’s important we all become more aware of folks like Mike who are at high risk. If you know someone in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 800-799-4889. All calls are confidential.

Contact social-media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social-media updates, or dial 911 in an emergency.


Maybe sharing my husband’s heartache with the world will save someone else’s loved one. And then, maybe, Mike’s family and friends will find the forgiveness and peace they need in order to move forward.

Doris Rauschenbach is a writer in Ashland and a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. Her website is , and she can be followed at . She can be contacted at .

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