I spent the majority of the weekend volunteering for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual fundraising walk, The Overnight. It’s the first time I’ve been involved in a walk of such magnitude. There were somewhere between 1,300 and 1,500 walkers. The course was between 17 and 18 miles.
My first shift was at the information desk/baggage check. So I interacted with quite a few walkers. Most of them were excited, a bit nervous, and raring to go. They came from around the country to honor their loved ones and raise awareness.
The walk started around 8 pm. I left around then, and came home to nap for two hours. I returned at midnight to help put the luminaria out by the finish line. Walkers had decorated white paper bags with photos and messages. Everything from a simple “I miss you” to paragraphs of writing. Volunteers had put a bit of sand at the bottom of the bags for stabilization, and we turned on the battery-operated tea light candles, and started placing the bags. After we placed them all, my job was to stay at the luminaria tent to assist any walkers who needed to prepare bags after the walk. Some walkers choose to bring their decorated bags with them on the walk.
After the walkers returned, the mood was different. A mixture of melancholy, relief, and thoughtfulness. Many were exhausted, walking slowly or limping. Some looked almost forlorn as they walked away from the luminaria tent, holding on to their illuminated bags. There were some upbeat and energetic walkers, however, who seemed happy and content to have done something so meaningful. A hot breakfast was served, and people ate together and talked. Most people waited to attend the closing cermony at 5 am.
That was the only time I cried, at the ceremony. I don’t think I cried because of any specific sentiment…I just felt sorrow. And hope. Hope that the stigma of depression and mood disorders will someday disappear.
What struck me most was to witness the wide range of people affected by suicide. A group of three girls walking for their dad. Parents walking for their son. Friends walking for friends. A woman walking for her husband. A college-aged man walking for his mother. I was stunned to see that some walkers were walking for more than one person! This tragedy has hit some people more than once.
I leave with you some statistics, courtesy of the AFSP website:
Every 16 minutes, a person dies by suicide in the United States.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens and young adults in the United States. It is the second cause of death among college-aged young adults.