When Mandy and I registered for our first Overnight Walk, we picked the team name Love Louder. Mandy came up with the name…. The idea was in spite of everything we can choose to love louder. The idea has really been a beacon for us as we have processed and healed through our journey. This year we decided to order some buttons that say Love Louder. We will be selling them to raise funds for the Austin Walk.
As I was packing for our trip to San Francisco for the walk last week, I decided to take some love louder buttons to hand out. It is amazing how fun it was to give people the buttons. It started on our flight. I thanked a flight attendant for something and she saw the button and said: “I guess I was loving louder”. I handed her the button and she was speechless as I explained what we were doing and the walk. She stated it gave her chills.
The second button was given to our Lyft driver Roxanne. Roxanne is from Iran and came to the states with her daughter ten years ago. During the 45 minute drive, she shared her struggles of being in a new country with no money and not speaking the language. She shared her daughter would be graduating from high school next week and going to the local college. Her story touched me so much. As I got out of the car, I handed her a button. She hugged me and thanked me.
Before the walk, I gave buttons to three older sisters. They hugged me and cried. I think I needed the hug from them more than they needed a button. They knew I had lost my mom and honestly as I reflect on it, they are the age my mom would be today. Having one of them embrace me was nothing short of being hugged by my mom. While I was trying to love them louder by giving them the buttons, I was the one being loved louder.
This was the first year Mandy was not at the walk. Each year she heads up the best cheering squad. While they are there to cheer for team Love Louder, they pride themselves on making each walker feel encouraged and valued. They bring joy to a long journey. Actually, we have made great friends from her cheering…. friends that continue today.
As the walk got closer, Mandy and I both felt the difference this year and the reality she wouldn’t be on this journey with me. I told her I would miss her and she explained she felt bad for not being there, but she knew me going with Matthew alone was what needed to happen.
Little did I know, Mandy had something fantastic up her sleeve… she held virtual cheering stations. All night she posted, tweeted, and cheered. She shared facts on suicide and gave us encouragement… but it didn’t stop there. Many of her friends and colleagues texted me throughout the night giving me encouragement and explaining what the cause meant to them. More than once I was humbled and brought to tears.
I didn’t start walking, speaking, or advocating about suicide for attention, recognition, or accolades. I did it because it is the one thing I can do to help others know they are not alone. I don’t want anyone to feel the helplessness my mom felt and I really don’t want those who have lost others to suicide to feel isolated and shame… Mandy and I felt this for too long. What I do is my passion. But I have to admit, reading very specific reasons of what my walking and advocating was doing for people I don’t even know was remarkable and I realized needed. As much as I want to believe I don’t need affirmation, I do. I am not different from anyone else and I too need to be loved louder from time to time. Mandy was not physically present, but her spirit of Love Louder was with me each step of the night and in five walks, I have never felt so supported and loved.
Speaking of feeling loved, my husband loved me the loudest during the walk. He not only walked each mile with me, but he also carried the backpack all night and did not complain once. Each step we took he was showing me how much he loves me and how much I matter… because isn’t that what we all need. We all need to know regardless of anything else we matter, we are valued, we are loved.
My soul needed this walk. I needed to be loved louder and I needed to be ok with admitting it. I needed to get to a point to realize I am just like everyone else and need to know not just what I do matters, but who I am matters. So thank you to a husband who loves me louder each day. Thank you to countless people who cheered for me through the night. And thank you to my sister who knew I needed this before I even did and who loves me louder each day.