Over a year and a half ago, my children lost their friend they had known since kindergarten. Our friends lost their 14-year-old son. For reasons we will never know or understand, he killed himself.
Today was the Memory Walk sponsored by the Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention. My friend had posted the announcement on Facebook, inviting anyone to join her on the walk. She was going to be one of the speakers at the ceremonies.
For the past week, I’ve struggled with the decision whether to go or not. I told my children about the walk and asked if they would join me. Both were reluctant to say yes, but didn’t say no. This morning, as I dressed and laced my sneakers, I continued to debate whether to go. I was afraid.
I went into my son’s bedroom to ask if he was going to walk with me. He shook his head. “I can’t, Mom. I don’t want to feel sad today.” My daughter was still asleep and I decided not to wake her. I already knew that she would feel the same way, that she didn’t want to relive the pain of losing a friend. I lingered over a cup of coffee, staring at the kitchen clock. I still hadn’t made up my mind. Finally, as the clock ticked towards 8:30, I grabbed the car keys and left for the park.
I’ve known my friend for almost 10 years, mostly because of our children. Our sons were in Scouts together and our kids shared many of the same classes. She and her husband included our family in their parties and musical events over the years. I have always enjoyed being around her. There’s a warmth and openness about her that is comforting.
I was afraid because I have seen the pain in my friend’s eyes when she sees my children. I know that for her, the events of that awful January night are still fresh. The emotions are just under the fragile armor that she has assembled. I wanted to show her my love and support, but I was afraid that showing up would be like tearing a scab off a wound.
I walked through the park to the area set up for the morning’s ceremonies. Everywhere, small clusters of friends and families gathered, some in matching shirts printed with the names and pictures of loved ones. The mood was reflective but not somber. I registered and was handed a tee-shirt. There were bead necklaces to wear, different colors signifying how we were connected: spouse, parent, child, friend. Each of us connected by one painful thread of loss.
I spotted my friend in the crowd and we hugged. I hugged the other friends who had come. We chatted , making small talk, not really talking about the reason we were gathered today. Then it was time for my friend to speak. She read her remarks, strong, unwavering, as she recounted the details of losing her son. She talked about the aftermath for her family, for herself. She has chosen to dedicate her time to helping others in the prevention of suicide. She wants to turn her loss into a positive for at least one other person. We all need to do our part to open the conversation about suicide and to reach out to the people we know who are in pain.
I am glad that I decided to go today, that I didn’t surrender to my fears. My friend’s journey will be a long one and I cannot always walk alongside her but my heart will be there.