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Archive for the ‘honoring suicide victims’ Category

Among healing rituals for those bereaved by suicide, the most imaginative I’ve heard about is the “Out of the Darkness Walk”–an annual event organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This year, the walk will take place from sunset June 1 to sunrise June 2 over a course of some eighteen miles in Washington, D.C.

Many participants are either suicide survivors or attempters who walk to emphasize suicide as a national health concern, heighten awareness of the need for suicide prevention, and raise funds for both research and prevention. What makes the event unique–even biblical–is its offer of a communal passage from darkness to light.

“By walking from sunset to sunrise,” says executive director of the foundation Robert Gebbia, “walkers make a powerful statement about suicide–that there is hope, a light at the end of the tunnel for those affected. It’s emotional but also very uplifting. . . and, in some ways, liberating because many people have not talked about this; and all of a sudden they’re with other people who understand because they’ve been through the same thing” (Arlington Catholic Herald. May 16-22, 2013, p. 7).

Regarding the June event, the foundation’s website states, “We’ll prove to the capital and to the nation What a Difference a Night Makes.

Less dramatic but no less essential, three–five mile “Out of the Darkness Walks” take place in communities all across the United States during autumn daylight hours. (www.afsp.org.) It’s customary to form a team that walks in a person’s memory and even, it would seem, to wear a shirt bearing that person’s name.

My daughter Mary left us in the dark of the night after overdosing on her anti-depressant medication when she was a senior in high school. But the mere thought of putting on a “Team Mary” shirt and walking out of darkness in the company of the courageous helps to reverse the damage of that night in 1995.

Truly, I won’t be walking eighteeen miles in D.C. on the first night of June. I honor and thank those who do walk and pledge that, in time, I’ll make a daytime walk on behalf of Mary and the tens of thousands of Americans who die each year by suicide.

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At the end of Mass one morning about a year ago, our celebrant announced the presence among us of a deacon who was to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest the next weekend in the Diocese of Richmond. Hearing Joe introduced to the faith community, I recognized his name as one my daughter Mary had mentioned occasionally in high school. There was the day she laughed about Joe pulling a harmless prank on the way home from school and the day she happily recounted the exact way he turned his name into a punchline when questioned by the school cafeteria monitor about misbehavior.

At least sometimes, Joe brought lightheartedness to my daughter; and that was reason enough to introduce myself after Mass. We talked about his upcoming ordination and a few of the life events leading to that holy outcome. Mary was in the conversation, too, in her own holy way. “No, I’ve never forgotten Mary,” Joe finally offered. It was a nice thing for him to say.

A few days after his ordination, though, I got a fuller sense of what Joe meant. “I carried Mary with me throughout the ordination,” he said. As the bishop imposed hands on Joe’s head, prayed, and conferred spiritual power and grace upon him, Joe was keeping Mary present in memory. For a Catholic girl ending her life at the age of seventeen–a sublime embrace.

“I’ve never forgotten Mary” took on added richness when Joe and I addressed a roomful of teens about suicide months later at a diocesan youth conference. “We’re here today to give this difficult topic a little air,” he told the high schoolers, “and to hear your concerns.” He added that the motivation was Mary. “People who die by suicide think they’ll be forgotten. When Mary died, I was sixteen years old and dumbfounded. But I pledged never to forget her.”

A priest’s resolution not to forget meant several dozen teens got to hear about mood disorders and suicidal thinking and what to do and where to turn. They paid attention and asked questions, some hesitantly and with tears.

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Today is the thirty-fifth birthday of my daughter Mary who died in 1995 by suicide at the age of seventeen. So I drove out through the Manassas National Battlefield Park which surrounds the Stonewall Memory Gardens containing my daughter’s grave. On this morning of sleet and sunshine, I thought it mattered that I be with Mary on her birthday; and I thought somehow she might know I was praying over her grave.

The Mary of 1977 was mostly on my mind this morning–her pinched red countenance bringing forth not only relief for a normal delivery but also gratitude for the unrepeatable gift I knew her to be. Poet William Blake describes the transcendence of the newborn this way, “Sweet babe, in thy face / Holy image I can trace” (William Blake, “A Cradle Song,” Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Franklin Center, Pennslyvania: The Franklin Library, 1980).

Losing Mary is also on my mind today. But to try to understand the eventual suicide of a newborn, my newborn, is to “try to comprehend the ungraspable phantom of life,” writes Jill Bialosky: “the power of darkness, fear, and weakness within the human mind, a force as mysterious, turbulent, complex, and uncontrollable as the sea, a force so powerful it may not be capable of withstanding its own destructive power” (History of a Suicide: my sister’s unfinished life. New York: Washington Square Press, 2011).

The holy image in Mary’s face has not faded. I regard her as an innocent overcome by mysterious darkness and fear, defeated by inner turbulence and psychological complexities. I celebrate the day she was born just as I honor innocent victims of suicide who bear holy image. And they all do.

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