Sunday, October 5, 2014

AM~Erica Walked Out of the Darkness

So anyway...

Yesterday was draining!
Physically & emotionally...well...draining.

These past few months, I've been asking for support & donations for the AFSP of Greater Kansas (City)'s Out of the Darkness walk.

It's a walk that is a memory walk for the loved ones who lost someone to suicide, as well as those who have &/or still suffer. Teams & individuals raise funds for the awareness that will hopefully lead to the dwindling & eventually the prevention of suicide all together. As these walks grow, it's proof there's work to be done.

A few things happened yesterday that were really powerful. Let me try to pull myself together so I can tell you about it. If I get emotional (which I probably will), just hand me a tissue. I just want the word out...

The 3-mile walk took place at the Richard L. Berkley Riverfront Park. What a beautiful setting! And I heard it would be an emotional, supportive & healing day. Though those words do describe it, it's hard to just tell you about how true these adjectives really were.

I was so excited to see my friend, Jenn. I hadn't seen her in probably 20 years! We reconnected in a big way on Facebook...but not quite the same. If you remember, she's the one that started SOLOS ~ Survivors Of Loved Ones to Suicide. And I knew it was her in the distance! I ran up to her!! Our reconnection was so emotional! I was so happy to see her...just not under these circumstances. But as we talked, we knew God had put us in each other's paths for a reason. And here we were.

Just me & my girl, Jenn.
Love this girl & the reason I decided to tell my story.
She took this selfie of us.

Then I made connections with some pretty wonderful people in the meantime: Caroline Allen & Barb Nelson. These women are powerhouses for this Out of the Darkness walk...and their stories are heartbreaking. Loss of a spouse; loss of children. Mental illness that leads to suicide is a monstrous beast! I am so blessed to have met these women...but again...not under these circumstances.

I was running into people who were commenting on my tutu (of course). And we began to share stories, and we would erupt into fountains of tears, followed by much hugging. So beautifully overwhelming...

I had almost forgotten to check in as I was taking in what was going on around me, so I made sure to do that. As I checked in, the guy marked off my name & exclaimed, "Well, you raised a dollar or two!" He then turned around to get me a tshirt. See, if you raised at least $150, you get a tshirt! Because of some very gracious friends & family, I had raised $1,150 for AFSP! Thank you to those of you who helped with the cause!

Then I went over to get my beads. No, they aren't treated like getting them at Mardi Gras. Instead, there are 8 colors, and you get beads for how you are affected in this cause. I got green & blue beads. Green means I personally suffer, and blue is because I support the cause. I actually got 2 blue beads because I was asked to be a part of the opening ceremonies. I was floored & overwhelmed to even be considered! I was asked to represent those who support the cause...

A wonderfully sweet gal, named Katie Rohr, put the bead ceremony together. There were 8 of us on a tiny stage standing on either side of a decorated metal heart with colored daisies on it, one for each color represented. I was hearing stories of those who lost a partner/spouse, those who lost a sibling, those who lost a parent, those who lost family or close friend, those who lost someone in the military, someone else who suffered personally, and then...there was me. I was already crying listening to the heartbreak of these people standing there with front of about 800 other people. As my name was announced, my story was being read as I placed one of my blue beads onto the decorated heart. Though I was so honored to be a part of it...I felt so insignificant...I knew that I could have been one of those colors of beads around someone else's neck. That's hard to bear. But I stood there on stage in my Team SOLOS shirt & tutu (of course I was wearing a tutu), bundled up in layers (cuz it was COLD), weeping. I couldn't even look at the crowd. It was a tough & beautiful moment.

There's me standing on stage trying not to knock my new friend, Shaun,
off the stage. He is on the AFSP of Greater KS board & a fellow attempt survivor.
He's pretty awesome.

That's my friend, Jenn, talking! And me on stage, plus me walking.
My high school friend, Amanda, got these pics!
A pic from Barbi (who was a fellow walker that I went to high school with)
Just me walking with Amanda & her son with his friend

Then we cleared the stage to make way for a couple of of them was Jenn. She was beautifully eloquent about losing her mother, what it meant to her, and how she's helping others others with their grief thru SOLOS. And she is what inspired me to step forward with my story so maybe I could help others who are not only in my position, but also to try to help others who do not struggle learn to have conversation & to help break the stigma. So I owe a lot to Jenn.

We also heard from Susie, the Chiefs' Cheerleader who rides Warpaint!

As the opening ceremonies were winding down, the teams began to gather & the walk began. For those that could, there were 3 loops around, a little over a mile each. I got to talk to some from high school that I probably hadn't talked to since...well...high school. I also got to meet a few on the team I didn't know at all, also. And still more stories were coming as to why those of us were walking that day.

And I was glad my girl, Monica, came to join us this year, too!

When the walk was finishing up, the walkers were gathered back together for some closing ceremonies. There were about 4 participants who were honored for raising $1,000 or more for the cause. Remember how much you all helped me raise? Yep! I was called up to the stage! And I got a certificate, a ribbon, an AFSP pin & an AFSP Out of the Darkness bracelet. Oh...and a hug from Barb Nelson.

Me on stage with Barb Nelson

It then went on to the reading of names of loved ones lost to suicide. My friend, Jenn was asked to do this along with my new friend, Caroline. Wow! That was heartbreaking! And moving...
It was followed my a moment of silence for all of these who we lost...
Then there was a balloon release with names & messages of & for those lost to suicide.

A pic of the balloon release from Barbi.
Isn't it beautiful?

It was pointed out that the tears shed this day were not of sadness, but of healing.
Pardon me...I'm getting verklempt...


As things were winding down, and raffles were being handed out, I knew I needed to head out. It had been a long & emotional day. And I met some wonderful people, and got to reconnect with others. It was beautiful.

As I come away from this event, I know this is where a passion of mine is. It was certainly cemented at the walk.

I have also taken first steps into my field advocacy for AFSP. The ball is rolling & I'm looking forward to getting the word out, to stop the stigma, to open conversation, and to make sure those who need treatment get the treatment they need.

I know there are many out there who are grieving those they have lost to suicide. And with the stigma still so high, it can be so hard to grasp. But please know, these people who suffer do not choose suicide, they don't want to suffer anymore &/or be a burden to others. Please understand their reality becomes different during an episode they go thru. I want to be clear on this.

But, there's those of us who are still here. We don't know why, but we are. And we realize there's family hurting because of it. It's that high stigma & expectation thing, I guess. But to the families who still deal with the grieving that almost happened...let your family member know you are glad they are still here. Don't hold the resentment. Somehow there's another chance. More life has been given. And it's OK to talk about it. We NEED to talk about it! I know the more I talk about my struggles, the less likely something will happen. Because I still suffer from time-to-time. I don't choose it. None of us do.

And for those who are in my shoes, and I know you (or a loved one) is still here after a failed attempt, I walked for you. I honored each & every one of you that I knew of.

So, I walked in a way that would honor you (them) by wearing the initials of those of us who are failures...and are still here to talk about it.
I will never give a story out. Several have come to me with their own struggles or a struggle within their family/friend circle. I also know it's tough for many still. So if you come to me, I will never give out those stories. They are not for me to tell. But I will keep you in thought & prayer. And with initials on a bracelet during the walk.

I have something special I will be doing with these bracelets. And if I had your initials, I will be contacting you soon. I walked for you & the fact that we are still here. A walk of healing among grieving folks who actually lost someone. We are here to tell our stories in our own time. Heck, it took me over 20 years.

And now there's work to be done. Stories to share, conversations to be had, stigma to drop. We can do this. We ALL can help!!

Be watching...I may be helping with these walks next year...I have an in!

As always, thank you all for your support!

Stay tuned...

God Bless, AM~Erica

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