Sharing the burden of grief
Though the gathering for the Fifth Annual Suicide Awareness Memorial Walk held October 12 in Carlton was a somber event, there were smiles amidst the tears.
Angie Cook, the main speaker at the event, told of Jason, her son’s generous nature, particularly when he was on a mission’s trip to Guatemala.
“I had given him some special things I thought he could use on the trip,” said Cook. “Later I learned he gave them all away. He told me he found people who could use them more than he could.”
The proud mom, also a musician, drew the line when she gave her son an expensive guitar.
“When I gave him the guitar,” said Cook, “I had to let him know, hey, this is something you shouldn’t give away.”
Gentle laughter rippled through the people gathered to hear Cook's story, people who were also affected by the loss of a loved one.
Though her suffering was apparent, Cook pressed in to speaking with people who shared the experience of loss.
“We want to get awareness to people because life is hard and people struggle,” said Cook. “We are trying to live again with this hole in our hearts. It is only possible because of a very strong faith. God knows intimately what I need.”
Jason’s father, Greg, is of the same faith.
“I have a faith in God that gets me through,” said Greg in an interview after his wife spoke to people who gathered for the event. “It’s the only thing that could possibly walk anyone through this.”
Attendants of the event drew strength from each other.
“It helps to have a group of people to pull together,” said Casey Alaspa, remembering Eric Laine and Doug Angell as he held a sign while participating in the walk. “It’s so tough. We just have to hang in there and stay strong.”
“I think it helps to face it when they know that other people are out there supporting them, grieving with them and trying to put a stop to it,” said Kathy Barrett, remembering her nephew, Doug Angell. “That’s basically what everybody wants.
“We don’t want to forget our family member who has died. I think the whole idea behind it is to get people to talk.
“We’re honoring all the families who are survivors of the people who have gone. What we want to do is get the word out that there is help.”
Present at the gathering was Health Educator and TXT4Life Coordinator, Sierra Bechman, who prayed for the group prior to the walk. Bechman offered print information and resources for the vast array of people affected by suicide.
Pamphlet titles included: After an Attempt, A Guide for Taking Care of Your Family Member After Treatment in the Emergency Department, A Guide to Taking Care of Yourself After Your Treatment in the Emergency Department, Suicide Assessment Five-step Evaluation and Triage, Assessing Suicide Risk: Initial Tips for Counselors.
Bechman provided instructions for TXT4Life. Text “LIFE” to 839863 or visit http://www.txt4life.org.
Within the group of people attending the event were people who have experienced and overcome or are in the processes of overcoming depression.
“I am a survivor,” said Maryssa Lafave while holding Landon, her son, in her arms, recalling her own close encounter with death. Her perspective now is drawn from experience.
“All I can say is, don’t make a permanent decision based on a temporary feeling or stage of your life,” said Lafave. “It passes. I know. You come out stronger and a better person.”
Though she doesn’t have specific plans as yet, Lafave is pleased to be working things out for her future.
“I’m still trying to figure that out, but I know I’m here!” said Lafave. “I’m happy I’m here. What counts is that I get to experience it all, the good and the bad. It’s all, ‘This too, shall pass.’”
One of the main themes of the day for those who remain after someone has taken his or her life is not to become unhealthy by taking on guilt for what happened.
“I keep wondering, if I had done something different, would Jason still be alive?” said Cook. “Then one night I had a really amazing dream. Jason showed up. We talked all night.
"At one point, he said, ‘You can paint my room, Mom.’ He told me to paint it salmon. I thought, salmon?
“Then he gave me a hug and a kiss and said, ‘I love you. I gotta go.’”
It was only later that Cook was speaking with a friend who told her salmon means nurturing and health.
“Now I know what Jason was saying,” said Cook. “I had a hard time changing anything in his room but now, after that dream, I can deal with that.”
Though each person has a different story to tell, and each person has their own way to deal with the agony of loss, another theme of the day was that talking with other people who share the same kind of pain does help in the way of guidance and direction in having to adapt to a life without their loved one.
“I never wanted to bother people,” said Cook, “but one thing I’ve learned through all this, people need to talk and be there for each other. You’re not bothering anyone when you want to talk. Reach out if you are hurting.”
Confirming that thought was attendant Darla Pappas, remembering Jeremy Campbell. Pappas said the gathering was for people to be there for each other.
“Be there to support each other,” said Pappas, “even if it’s people you don’t know. We’re all here for the same reason. There’s always a hug available.”