Local military family grieves loss of twin brothers, both victims of suicides
Just as the grief from the loss of one of her twin sons was numbing into a sad new normal, Jaye Lene Cornell Long of Prescott Valley got another devastating blow: The passing of the second twin, Brandon, at the age of 28.
Heartbreakingly, both young men had taken their own lives, about a year and a half apart.
Long, who comes from a longtime military-family tradition, attributes both deaths to the horrors of waging war on terror.
This past week, as she was preparing for Brandon’s memorial service, Long reflected on the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that she believes was at the root of the suicide of first Travis Selinsky in February 2017, and then, two weeks ago, Brandon Selinsky.
Both were in the Army at the time of their deaths — Travis in Hawaii, and Brandon in Virginia — and both had been deployed multiple times to war zones in the Middle East.
“What’s so alarming about the war on terror is these are our kids,” Long said. “These kids that got committed on 9/11, and all of the things they saw that day.”
Even though suicide-prevention efforts are in place to deal with the alarming rate of suicides among military veterans, Long believes more should be done. “It hasn’t become an alarm,” she said.
NO OUTWARD SIGNS
For Long, the word of Brandon’s suicide on Aug. 26, 2018, was especially shocking because he seemed to be dealing with the loss of his twin brother.
“We were all grieving,” she says. “We were all going through a process, and Brandon was right there.”
Brandon’s sister Cassie Bertella agrees. “I talked to (Brandon) the day he died, and everything was fine,” she said, noting that the two had discussed their plans for a motorcycle ride in Colorado.
“I never expected it from Brandon,” said Bertella. “It was very shocking.”
This past spring, Brandon’s family knew the twin’s common birthday, March 16, would be a tough time.
To commemorate the day, the family got together for a dinner at a Phoenix restaurant, and Brandon surprised his mom by traveling in from Colorado. Long remembers him being his typical exuberant self.
“It’s not like my son was outwardly depressed. There were none of the usual signs,” Long said. “He was always high-stepping into the next day.”
Now, though, the family wonders if that cheerfulness was a front for the pain of losing a beloved identical twin brother.
While Travis had been diagnosed with PTSD from his wartime experiences, and had obvious signs of it, Bertella believes Brandon’s trauma likely stemmed from the loss of losing his twin brother.
“There was a lot of guilt that he didn’t get to spend enough time with his brother because of the military service,” she said. “And there was the whole bond between twins. I think unless you are one, you don’t understand.”
For Long, the big family dinner in Phoenix would be the last time she would see Brandon.
She has a difficult time now to put into words the anguish she is feeling at the second blow. “There are no words,” she said this past week. “That’s the overwhelming response I’m getting from people — ‘no words.’”
Long chose to talk about her dual sorrow, she said, because she wants people to remember that young people continue to die in the war on terror.
Travis and Brandon, who grew up in the Prescott Valley area, were just 11 years old when planes struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Long says the horrific act of terrorism was a defining moment for them.
The twins’ older brother Kyle was the first of the Selinsky boys to join the military, and he was followed by Travis, and then by Brandon.
At one point, Long was dealing with the wartime deployment of two of her sons at the same time.
Travis enlisted in 2008, just a couple of months after turning 18. Soon after, he was deployed to Iraq for a year, from 2009 to 2010.
Two years later, Travis was deployed again — this time to Afghanistan for nine more months. It was there that he encountered an improvised explosive device (IED), was riddled with shrapnel, and took action to save his fellow soldiers. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action.
Later, Travis was assigned to Maui Center, Honolulu Company, as a recruiting non-commissioned officer.
“He was stationed in paradise, but, in the end, it didn’t matter,” Long says, noting that Travis was unable to deal with “the demons and horrors of war.”
Brandon followed his twin into the Army in 2012. He was deployed to Afghanistan for about eight months in 2014, and then to Kuwait in 2016, and again in 2018.
When Brandon enlisted, “He wanted to see the world,” Long said. But after serving in war zones, she said, “They don’t come back the same.”
Long says she took steps early in the twins’ lives to ensure that they retained their sense of individuality. They were in separate grade-school classes, and they never dressed the same.
Still, she said, “They were so close; that brotherhood was a very tight bond.”
Now, Long and the rest of the family believe, “Brandon just missed his brother so much.”
Brandon’s memorial service took place this past week in Carefree. Long and Bertella say the family is working to ensure that Brandon and Travis are buried alongside one another at the National Memorial Cemetery in Phoenix. A plot has been reserved next to Brandon’s resting space, and the family is awaiting authorization to have Travis moved there.
“The whole family wants to see it happen,” Long said.
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