Sunday was our big community walk for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention here locally in Seattle. You may know I’m on a Board of Directors here in Washington State, so I was there as volunteer event staff, a new position for me. At last year’s Seattle walk I was a volunteer handing out honor beads to attendees, and years past I raised funds and walked myself, or with a team. (By the way, our fabulous walk chairperson Heather (next to me, bottom 2nd from the left) rocked the walk out of the park. It was awesome.)
Every year Seattle is the biggest walk for our chapter, and it continues to grow each year with over 1,100 participants yesterday. I find myself thinking YAY and BOO all at the same time. It really kind of sucks that more people each year join our community, because maybe that means more lives have been lost.
But I try think about it in another way.
More people at the walks means more people are hearing about us. More people are finding a community to join of survivors of suicide loss and those who struggle themselves. More people are “doing something” with their grief and letting this walk be a part of their healing process. It is very hard to hear the stories and be public about our own losses, but it is also very inspirational.
My role this year was social media/event photographer, and I was joined by a fabulous volunteer Dennis (who captured this pic of me during the Opening Ceremonies.)
When I arrived at the walk, I noticed Dennis standing there with his giant DSLR camera and went up to ask if he was there to help me shoot the event. He said he had planned to walk, but would love to help out. I learned that Dennis lost his wife to suicide just this year and she was a photographer….and that giant camera on his arm was hers. He told me that he decided to learn photography after her death, and I was so struck by that beautiful tribute he was making to her life. Not only to learn photography but to volunteer his time to document this suicide prevention walk. (He had also photographed our Bellingham walk in September.)
We worked together getting shots of set up and booths, sponsors, people as they arrived and registered, then we shot photos of teams and the opening ceremonies, walk kick off and end.
At one point, as I stood shooting a team photo for our Chapter Facebook page (which is where you can see all of our photos and more to come!) She was under our Out of the Darkness blue balloon arch, kind of stumbled over how she wanted to take the photo. She frowned, she smiled. “Do I smile at this kind of event?” she said.
I told her that I knew exactly how she felt. It’s hard to know at an event like this. I’ve done several now and I can tell you it’s a mixed bag of emotions. Some moments are full of tears and others laughter. There are quiet hugs and whoops of joy. For me, this kind of event has been such a positive thing over the course of my own grieving and that makes me happy. It’s why I’m seen often smiling in my own suicide prevention walk photos. It’s also a joy to come together as teams to honor our loved ones’ memories. It’s an accomplishment to raise funds and then finish a walk together.
The whoops of excitement, the smiles, we need those to keep moving forward, to heal.
So, yes. I do think we can smile that this kind of event.
I smile because 1,100+ people joined forces to show the world that suicide and mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Because suicide is not caused by a character flaw or weakness. It is caused by a medical condition that can be treated if we are willing and able to find help.
If you are struggling, please reach out. There is hope and there are people who understand what you are going through. Find resources here. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK or visit online at SuicidePreventionLifeline.org. More info about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention can be found at AFSP.org.