tWitch is a household name in my family. Today, as I casually popped open my social feeds while cuddled on the couch for a quick family getaway, I was stunned and saddened to see the news that one of my favorite performers, Stephen “tWitch” Boss, had died by suicide. Through the years, tWitch brought so much joy into my life through the screen.

As a newlywed, my husband and I watched him share his incredible hip hop moves on the talent show, So You Think You Can Dance. We’d watch in complete amazement…. “How does he make his body move like that?!” we’d exclaim, as we laughed out loud at our own hysterical attempts to replicate his pop-and-lock moves.

As I became a mom, I spent the early, sleepless days of maternity leave watching clips of him on The Ellen Degeneres Show, where more of the world got to experience his talent, and meet his talented wife, Allison Holker, and their growing family. Their son, Maddox, was born just months before my son in 2016. I felt connected to them as we were experiencing some of the same life changes, despite being strangers across the internet.

In the past year or two, I’ve had the joy of sharing tWitch’s talent with my son, now six, through family nights watching episodes of Ellen’s Game of Games, where tWitch and Ellen led contestants through silly games like “blindfolded musical chairs” and ”know or go.” Those laughs together as a family, as we enjoy our son’s boyhood giggles, are just priceless.

When I think of tWitch, I think of joy. His talent in music, dance, and performance and his fun-loving personality came across the screen time and time again over the last decade of my life. Now, in light of the news of his death, I’ll forever also think of pain. Joy AND pain.

To hear the news that he had taken his life, at age 40, with what – from the outside seemed – was a joyful, love-filled life, is heartbreaking. Like me, he’s married with young kids. Like me, he loved music, dance, and laughter. And, like me, those who loved him are now experiencing the pain of suicide loss.

I work for a suicide prevention organization. I’m educated on the topic and have daily discussions about suicide. And it still crushes me every time I hear news of someone taking their own life.

We know that service members and veterans have a 57 percent higher rate of suicide than their non-veteran peers, but suicide is an issue for all Americans. Some 48,000 Americans a year die by suicide. Stephen tWitch Boss was a man, in his early forties, who (based on early reports) died by a self-inflicted firearm wound. Aside from his non-veteran status, he’s a quintessential example of the clients we serve day in and day out at Stop Soldier Suicide. While we’re saving lives every single day – lives of so many heroes that have served and sacrificed for our country -- tWitch’s untimely death is a stark reminder that we still have so much work to do.

If you, like me, take times like this to ask yourself what you can do to help, I have a few suggestions for you…

  1. Check on your friends. Check on your acquaintances. Check on strangers you encounter on a daily basis. Outward appearances are many times not reflective of inward struggles. Suicide plans can sometimes move from idea to attempt in less than 20 minutes. You never know who is struggling and how a kind word or two can make a difference.

  2. Educate yourself on the risk factors and warning signs associated with suicide. We have great resources to reference here, here, or here.

  3. If you’re worried about someone in your life, connect them to crisis resources like 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or, for service members and veterans, connect them directly to Stop Soldier Suicide, at (844) 503-0553 or via our web-based request form.

While the busy holiday season from October through December is known for its hustle and bustle, data shows that the number of suicides deaths is actually higher in the immediate post-holiday months – right around the corner. Knowing the steps above and taking action to support the loved ones in your life during the dark, cold, winter months ahead could save a life.

Tonight, at my family’s nightly get-out-the-wiggles-before-bed dance break, I think I’ll dance my heart out to Joy and Pain and probably a YouTube video or two of tWitch so my son can see the JOY he brought to me, my husband, and the world. And tomorrow, I’ll wake up once again with a renewed focus on the important work ahead at Stop Soldier Suicide. Families like mine and yours depend on it.

by Tina Starkey
Chief Growth Officer, Stop Soldier Suicide