This past Saturday we attended the 4th annual AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk in Orlando, FL. The rain that had threatened us all week held off, and it turned out to be a beautiful, sunny, 75-degree morning. (A huge relief since last year the winds were so bad our tent kept blowing away!)
The Out of the Darkness event is one of our favorites because of the special way attendees care for one another and find hope in the stories shared, but this particular walk was a highly-anticipated event for us as a team. Some coworkers and I thought it would be neat to create info cards to match the beads walkers are handed upon arrival.
At these walks, participants wear beads to signify the reason they are there. White beads are worn for the loss of a child by suicide. You wear red for a lost spouse or partner. Gold for a parent, orange for a sibling. Blue means you support the cause. You wear green beads if you’ve struggled personally, and you wear purple if you’ve lost a relative or a friend. Our cards were a simple message of why we were there – to walk for those who have died, for those who’ve lost a loved one, and for those fighting to stay alive. I was proud to walk among the 821 participants who had worked hard to raise over $50,437 for suicide prevention and recovery.
The walk is always a special day for our team, and attending had been a real privilege for me in the past. But this year was different. This year I attended with an entirely different reality than I did exactly one year ago. This year, I wore purple beads around my neck and I walked in honor of my best friend.
I lost my best friend Brittany this year, and it rocked my world. I mean it. Shook everything that was solid and challenged so much of what I understood. Having worked in the realm of addictions and mental health for a few years before she shared with me about an addiction that had been present in her life for nearly as long as I knew her, I quickly came to understand that helping a stranger and helping a best friend are two completely different realities. So last February I took her hand, and we walked it. We walked that road of recovery together for roughly three months before she passed away in May. After her death I began attending survivor support groups and going to grief counseling for free through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s online locator. Because I work with suicide prevention as a huge part of my job, it was really important that I embraced the grieving process entirely. It could have been easy to carry guilt and lose sight of hope. Working for TWLOHA during this season has been a blessing I cannot even begin to articulate, and my coworkers have been a huge part of my grieving process as well. It’s ok to not be ok some days, and that’s just how it is. Attending the event last weekend reminded me of this.
I realized that this walk was about me and about my recovery and health as much as it was about honoring Britt’s incredible life here on earth. I was chatting with a good friend recently, and we were just stunned by the amount of time it has taken us before we’ve been able to recount fond memories of our loved ones lost to suicide and not have those happy memories tainted by the tragedy of their death. However, our memories continue to carry us through, and sooner or later we feel like we can make it through too. I can honestly say that life is beginning to feel more like itself again. It’s like color has finally returned to my surroundings.
Suicide brings questions you’ve never-in-your-wildest-dreams-ever conjured up in your mind right to the forefront. And those endless questions can seep into everything you do. Some days your job, your personal life, your family and friends, and even your dreams can become saturated by the pain you feel. It can make you feel helpless and angry and relieved and unsure and defeated and everything else. And it’s all “normal.” And it’s ok.
So if you or someone you know is struggling in any way, or life is maybe even beginning to feel unlivable, know that you are not alone in your pain. There are professionals willing to help, friends and crisis workers ready to listen, and those who have experienced a pain similar to yours waiting to tell you that it matters, and that life is worth living despite that pain. There is still hope.
Losing Britt was a completely foreign experience, and I never want to lose a loved one by suicide ever again. But the process has changed, grown and stretched so much of who I am. And I am thankful to know that there are many people who care for me and want to continue to carry me when I’m unsure about how to deal with it. This week marks the ninth month since her death, and it’s hard. Really hard. However, I am doing better than I did last month, and that’s worth celebrating. I’ll keep walking for Britt and consider it an honor to adorn myself with those purple beads. I wish I could call her, hug her, tell her that I love her. But it seems that the next best thing is to carry her life’s story along on my journey.
Keep walking toward hope.