On June 16, I will be walking 18 miles overnight through Philadelphia on my fifth walk to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
I walk in honor of my cousin Travis, who was 23 when he left us in May 2016. He is forever young, vibrant, joyful, and so loved. I walk in honor of my dad, who died in May 2009. This was just three months before the birth of my son, who we named after him. I think every day how much he would’ve loved my kids, and how much they’d revel in his attention. I walk in honor of my mother’s brother, Arlan, who we lost in 1997. He died believing he was alone in the world, and his funeral was standing room only. He had a vast collection of “good ol’ boy” hats that were distributed and donned at his funeral.
Travis was a joker, a hugger, the person his peers, his coaches, his teachers looked to for a smile and a laugh. He worked hard, and achieved his goals. He was so handsome, and never without a smile, or a helping hand. He volunteered throughout his life and took pride in making other people’s lives better. He’d worked diligently through four years of ROTC training, and had so proudly earned an officer's commission as Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. In doing so, he’d achieved a lifelong dream. Nobody could imagine Travis ending his life.
When I look back at my uncle’s life, I can recognize depression, but none of us were aware of it at the time. My family was overseas, and Uncle Arlan was in Texas. He was a hard worker, and built a successful business from nothing. Toward the end of my dear grandmother's life, he moved home to care for her. He died three years after she did.
My dad was charismatic, smart, and funny. He laughed with his whole being. And he occasionally slid into darkness, more so as he aged. I grew up forbidden to talk about his suicide attempt when I was 11. In later years he shut down conversations about depression or medication. After he died I was able to recognize the depth of shame he felt. My dad died on his seventh suicide attempt. His shrink told us that based on the severity of his attempts, we should expect him eventually to die by suicide. But it didn’t make the loss any less brutal.
Losing a loved one to suicide means some people will avoid talking about your loss. It can make survivors feel isolated, which is all the more devastating. I talk and I walk in an effort to break the stigma, and normalize the conversation associated with mental illness suicide. I believe silence and shame kill people.
I’ve found dear friends in the suicide prevention community. I walk with others who have lost a parent, sibling, or dearly loved child. We walk and we talk through the darkest hours of the night, working to heal, and raising funds in hopes that others might not ever need to join us.
Research shows that depression has a genetic component, and on my dad's side of the family, depression and suicide attempts go back at least two generations. I know that my children are more vulnerable. Raising funds for depression research and breaking the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide are all things that are very personal for me.
If you are able to support this cause that is so unfortunately dear to my heart, I would be very grateful.
If you’d like to give me the name (or initials, or whatever feels comfortable) of a loved one to walk for, I would be honored. I'll write them on my walk shirt, and carry them with me throughout the night.