Survivors Speak: Kenzi Vizzari

Fallen Patriots Scholarship Recipient

I was fifteen years old when I lost my dad, Army SSG Dennis P. Merck. He was serving overseas in Baghdad, Iraq for only a couple months when my family received the life-changing knock on our door by two men in uniform on October 20, 2005. His death was deemed suicide; a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

Growing up, I did not realize the impact that my dad’s military service and frequent deployments had on his psychological state. He was so passionate about the Army and serving his country that he never revealed the emotional vulnerability that came along with his job. My family and I never truly understood how deep some of his wounds were until he decided he couldn’t live with them anymore. As a teenager I struggled with a whirlwind of emotions: anger, resentment, shame, denial, grief beyond measure, and beating myself up over questions that I knew I’d never receive answers to. It wasn’t until I started studying Psychology in college that I realized my dad had suffered from severe PTSD – something he had never talked about with us. It helped me to understand that this illness really exists and is an ongoing epidemic for our nation’s veterans.

While earning my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, I finally came to terms with my dad’s death after years of grief. I found emotional healing through art; most specifically, drawing, painting, and photography. My dream is to one day work as a counselor with surviving military children/spouses, using art as a form of therapy to help them heal and express their emotions.