I remember when mom died, dad talked about how you are part of a club when you lose a parent. I have found his words true since I often find myself having deep empathy for friends whose parents die. And while my dad’s words were truth, the last two years, I’ve realized I’m part of even more of a specific group.
I am part of a club made up individuals who have been personally touched by suicide. While I knew I had lots in common with others who had lost a loved one to suicude, my membership in the club became clear as I participated in the Overnight Walks by AFSP the last two years, especially this year.
It hits me as I get to check-in and start reading the back of peoples’ shirts. I gasp as I realize the woman behind me is there for her 14 year old son who died. My heart aches as I see shirts with more than one family member listed. I want to hug the young girl whose shirt says she is walking for herself. It takes every ounce of my soul to stay composed and not become a puddle on the ground as a solider in his full gear, backpack and all, lines up to walk.
As I start walking the excitement, or the rain this year, distracts me from an unbearable collective grief. Quickly I start looking around and wonder how in the hell am I going to make it 16-18 miles. I walk with a friend I made from last years walk. We alternate between laughing hysterically to tearing up as the miles pass under our feet. We rejoice for breaks and are appreciative of family and strangers that cheer us on. We often share happy stories about the ones we lost.
During the last few miles we only hope we can finish, though we know we will even if we have to crawl. We are determined to finish because walking is one thing we can do in the midst the grief of suicide. One step at a time we take and eventually, thankfully, we see the end.
This year even though I knew it was coming, the finish line being lined with luminaries of all the loved ones lost was almost too much to handle. I wanted to fall on the ground and weep. The weight of the collective grief is suffocating and all I know to do is keep walking. So I keep walking and hug family and friends. I’m too tired to do much else. I’m ready for a bath, I’m ready for bed, I’m ready to take my shoes off. In that moment I know I have so much to process from that one moment.
Last year after the walk I never had the words to sit down and write about the experience, but this time, the experience is burning so deeply, I must express my heart. Somehow I must find the words to share why this event is powerful, why I yearn to do it again immediately after finishing even though I can’t feel my feet.
Somewhere in the collective grief there emerges a healing like no other healing. There is a truth, an acceptance, a beauty, when we all come together to say our loved ones mattered. We come together to say they will not be defined by their death and our lives will not be defined by suicide. We come together to show we do not walk in this world alone and together we will bring suicide out of the darkness. We come together with the hope, the plea that one day we can live in a world without suicude. We come together because it is the one place we completely belong. It is our club and although we would never pick the club on our own, we need the club and it needs us. The minute I walk back to everyday life, I long to be in the warm embrace of the collective grief, healing, and love.
This is why I keep walking. This is why I’m already planning my trip to DC for next year’s walk. This is why I’ve found my voice to speak out for suicide awareness. This is why I’ve found my way out of the darkness to be a light for others who have lost loved ones.