Like the ring they've created to help raise awareness about veteran suicide, the paths of Sarrah Roberts and Michael Nicolai connected at one point in their life and the journey has never really ended.
The life and tragic death of Marine Sgt. Jordan Roberts is where their story begins and they are kicking off their new business with Operation Awareness to honor his memory and raise funds for the mission to end veteran suicide.
Sarrah Roberts is the widow of Jordan Roberts and watched her late husband's personal battle with PTSD related to his military service.
Jordan Roberts deployed three times, twice to Afghanistan, and was medically separated from the Marine Corps after an injury during one of the deployments in Afghanistan. He was diagnosed with PTSD and was completely disabled when he left active service.
Sarrah Roberts said his issues with PTSD became issues in their marriage, and it was just three weeks after they separated that he shot himself with their then 2-year-old daughter asleep in the next room.
It was Nov. 14, 2017.
Sarrah Roberts said she was not staying at the house at the time and by the time she got the message Jordan sent to her and she made the 30-minute drive to the house, he was already dead.
"One of the hardest things for me to process is that he must of felt so alone," she said.
Operation Awareness, she said, is their project to honor Jordan and other veterans who battled issues that led to their suicide.
The couple started their business, Crafts by Sarrah and Michael, in April, merging her craft business with his new venture in custom ring design.
Through the end of July they are donating 50% of the proceeds for each ring designed for Operation Awareness to Mission 22 to help in their efforts to end veteran suicide.
"It's like I'm doing this for Jordan," Sarrah Roberts said. "I wasn't able to help him when he needed help and I know he was in pain. If we even sold 5 or 10 rings and that could help one person, everything is worth it. I know the pain and no one should have to go through it."
Life in the two months after late husband's death was one of darkness for her.
"I don't remember those first two months" she said.
She wasn't eating, didn't leave the house, and admits that she started drinking a lot. Life stopped for her and her daughter.
Gradually she began to find comfort through the connections she made with her late husband's friends through social media. Anyone who knew him or had deployed with him, Sarrah Roberts held on to their messages to remain close to her husband.
"If anyone made a comment or said anything about Jordan or wanted to help, I was adding and adding them as friends," she said. "
Nicolai was one of them.
Nicolai had deployed with Jordan Roberts in Afghanistan in 2011. He was a pall bearer at his funeral.
Sarrah Roberts and Nicolai only met in passing at the funeral and there was that initial message on Facebook, but it was a chance meeting that really brought them together.
They connected one day on a dating site and clicked right away. They messaged back and forth for hours without ever realizing they had met before. Sarrah Roberts happened to mention she had been feeling depressed and Nicolai asked her why she was hesitant to say too much.
"Something in the back of my mind just told me to tell him," Sarrah Roberts said.
When Jordan Roberts' name came up, Nicolai slowly put the pieces together and asked if the Jordan Roberts who was his friend was also her late husband.
From that point on, Sarrah Roberts said, Nicolai has been her rock in her time of grief.
And what started as a friendship developed into more and the two are now engaged and business partners.
She had her craft business and he, who served in the Marine Corps for 10 years, was exploring options for things to do after he got out. He was a mechanic as a Marine and worked with all types of metals and had dabbled with designing rings.
"I like the idea of being able to take a plain steel rod and turn it into something new," he said. "There is nothing automated and it is all custom made by hand."
As they made the transition to a new business they also learned of at least 10 other veteran suicides among Jordan Roberts' old unit.
That is when their Operation Awareness project began.
They decided to design a ring in the memory of those who had lost their lives and Nicolai saw his way to be a part of helping fellow veterans.
He custom makes rings using various metals, including stainless steel, titanium, brass, copper and Damascus steel, and can combine the metals or incorporate color pigments to create unique, custom-order designs.
For this particular design he chose a ring with the colors of the ribbons that represent support for the troops (yellow) and suicide awareness and prevention (purple and teal).
They were familiar with the organization Mission 22 and reached out to them to see if they could help.
Nicolai, who also has PTSD, wanted to contribute in some way to help raise awareness about veteran suicide and PTSD.
"It is a way I can give back to all the veterans who are suffering every day," he said.
It affects many and is not just from combat, he said.
While he deals with service-related PTSD, Sarrah Roberts lives with the scars of the trauma of her husband's death.
They have helped each other through tough times and continue now on a new path together and with a mission to keep Operation Awareness going.
This year's fundraiser is a trial run as they get their new business off the ground. They hope to hold them at least annually.
For details about Operation Awareness or their business, visit their website at craftsbysarrahandmichael.com.
This article is written by Jannette Pippin from The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.