By Grace Dearing ’17
On Sunday October 18, over 2,000 people gathered at Sawyer Point to support suicide prevention and families who have lost loved ones to suicide. The Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention has been helping people in over 350 cities heal after a personal struggle or loss. I had the honor of being able to walk to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention alongside some of my closest friends.
The walk didn’t start until 6PM, but many people began to gather in the Sawyer Point area around 5 to register. While registering, walkers were given the opportunity to make any donations they wanted and received an orange wristband. The wristband had ‘Out of the Darkness’ written on it and glows in the dark. Now, whenever I’m wearing it and I see it glowing at night or I simply just see the bright orange band during the day, I am reminded of how many people are struggling with losses or dealing with personal struggles of their own. Walkers were also able to visit tables that gave information on mental illnesses and ways you can help someone struggling, which I thought was amazing because the first step in putting an end to suicide is to educate ourselves on the causes and learn how we can help those around us. Also available for walkers were different colored bead necklaces. Each color stood for a different reason for walking. These reasons ranged from dealing with personal struggles or attempts, loss of a loved one, knowing someone with a mental illness, or simply just wanting to support the cause.
At 6, everyone gathered in front of the concrete stage that is at Sawyer Point. There, a representative from the organization that helps the walk run smoothly got up and gave a speech about why we were all gathered that night. The cause is very special to him because he is still dealing with the loss of his son who committed suicide a few years ago. The Out of the Darkness walk and organization, he said, was very crucial in helping him, and his family, cope with their loss. One of my favorite things that he said during his speech was, “we walk so that one day there will be a world without suicide.” Because that is why we were all there. We were walking to end the issue.
Before the three-mile walk actually began, though, all two thousand of us joined in prayer and recognized all of the ways people are affected by suicide. Stepping up on stage was a representative of all of the different ways suicide affects the average person. Each holding a dove, there was a representative for people who have lost a child to suicide, a representative for those who have lost a spouse, one for those who have lost a sibling, and one for the loss of a parent. There were also representatives on stage for those who have lost a first responder/military personnel and a representative for members of the LGBTQ community who have had personal struggles or attempts themselves. Once each of these representatives had been introduced, together they released the doves they were holding to symbolically release the grief that they were carrying around.
Eventually, we embarked on our walk. The route for our walk started and ended at Sawyer Point and took us all around downtown Cincinnati. Once we were getting close to Sawyer Point again, the last leg of the walk was lit on both sides by paper bags. These bags had been decorated by families who had lost a loved one to suicide. What was really eye opening and heart breaking was seeing just how many paper bags lined the sidewalk and were placed in front of the stage, where we were to have the candlelit vigil.
Each walker was also given a candle so that they may participate in the vigil. Seeing as I finished the walk fairly early in comparison to everyone else, I sat down in front of the stage with my candle and just took in all of my surroundings.
On the stage was a man who was playing acoustic covers of songs about hope and behind him was a slideshow with pictures that had been sent in of their lost loved ones. Once all of the walkers were gathered back in front of the stage, the vigil began. It started with a teenage choir, and then we transitioned into prayer. Next, was a poem in which the entire community was able to join in by saying, “we remember them” after each line. Another speech was given about how we will never forget those who were struggling and felt suicide was the only answer. My favorite quote from this speech was, “Be the voice. Tell their story. Eradicate the stigma.” This quote shows exactly how everyone can be involved in preventing suicide, even if they have not been personally affected by the issue. Suicide is an issue that affects us all, whether we believe it or not, and it is an issue that we all need to work together to end.