Tomorrow I will walk in Orlando’s 8th annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk for suicide prevention. The World Health Organization reports that more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year, and it tears at my heart because I believe that suicide is preventable. I believe that if we could learn to let go of the stigma surrounding mental illness and be more accepting of one another, we could see that number dramatically decrease. I have been involved with To Write Love on Her Arms and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for many years, and I know not everyone understands why. It seems like a weird hobby, I guess. I’m walking tomorrow because I think that decreasing the rate of suicide is an obtainable goal. I’m also walking tomorrow because I know what it’s like to lose someone.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. It started off like a normal Saturday. I woke up on my living room floor next to my two best friends, Theresa and Cara. It had been a fun Friday night – eating chicken nuggets at the mall, making up silly nicknames, and watching a baseball game.
“Theresa, wake up! Get up! You have a soccer game in two hours!”
It took a few nudges and repetitions of “Come on, wake up!” but soon we were up and out the door. It was just another Saturday. I hugged my friends and said goodbye.
“We’re still going to the mall tonight, right?”
I remember watching Theresa wave to me from the rearview mirror of my car as I drove away to dance class. I went to the mall that night, but she never came. I was standing outside of the food court when I got the first phone call.
I’ll never know why Theresa took her life that night. She was a girl with the world at her fingertips. She was funny. She was beautiful. She was a star athlete. She had people lined up to be her friend. The days, weeks, months, and years to come passed with unanswered questions.
Why did she do it?
Why didn’t she talk to me?
Why didn’t she talk to SOMEONE?
How is this possible?
What am I going to do?
I wish I could say I’m writing this now because I’ve finally figured out the answer to one of these questions, but I haven’t. I still don’t know.
What I do know is that I miss her a lot today, and I will miss her for the rest of my life. Every year, spring time rolls around. Those first few days when the sun begins to push through the clouds and birds sing and the air smells fresh and new – that’s when it hurts the most. Sometimes, I’m walking through a store or flipping through radio stations, and I hear the first few lines of “Over My Head” or “Everything Is Alright” and it feels like my heart might actually break in my chest.
Someone will say, “Man, I love this song!” But I’ll smile because I love it too.
Every day I wear a little gold rabbit ring on my thumb to remind me of my best friend, “Rabbit.” I miss her, and I’m certainly not the only one. Her parents, her sisters, her family, her friends, her soccer coaches, and countless people who had the pleasure of knowing Theresa miss her every single day. We all lost a piece of ourselves on that spring day.
Theresa was the first friend I lost to suicide, but sadly she was not the last. Tomorrow, I am also walking in memory of my dear friend, Anna – another beautiful, funny, talented girl whose time was cut far too short. Anna was brave and unafraid to speak her mind. She was a friend you wanted to have on your side, someone who would stay up and talk with you all night if you had a problem. I’m also walking in memory of Zach, my classmate and friend since third grade. Ask anyone who knew Zach what they remember most about him, and they will probably say, “That LAUGH.” Have you ever met someone whose laughter was truly contagious? I have. It’s really hard to write about my friends and share it with the world – not because I’m scared or ashamed, but because I want it to sound just right. I wish I could share all their little quirks and fun stories. I wish I could find a combination of letters and words that could make strangers understand how wonderful they were and how much it hurts that they are gone.
The Out of the Darkness walk is one of the most important days of the year for me. It is a time to come together with others who have been affected by suicide and to remember those we have lost. It is also a time to see tangible progress. As of the time I’m writing this, tomorrow’s walkers have already raised $70,780. Every penny and every step counts for something.
This is my story I’m sharing, but at the end of the day, it isn’t for me. It’s for my friends – the ones I’ve lost and the ones who have stood by me through all the good and bad times. It’s for anyone who has lost someone. It’s for anyone out there who is struggling or feels alone.
If you feel this way, I hope you know there is someone out there who wants to help you in the places you feel broken. There is someone out there who has spoken with you in a coffee shop or a grocery store and thought, “I wish I could get to know her better” or “He seems like a great guy.”
If you feel this way, please remember this: There is someone out there who would miss you very, very much if you were gone.