Good Morning. I am the VERY proud mother of two daughters. My youngest daughter, Kate, you’ve just met… isn’t she terrific? My older daughter, Ginny, died by suicide in 2008. She was 31. Since that time I’ve done 2 of the 18-mile overnight walks for this organization (one in NYC and this year in SF), and I’ve been to each of the previous walks here since 2009 when some of my daughter’s friends started these Oakland Walks. This is the ONLY community walk in the country held at dawn so it is special in so many ways…and to think people told us no one will show up at dawn….As I’ve heard others at these events share stories, I’ve thought I could never do that… and yet…here I am. I WISH I could tell those who are new to this that the grief gets easier. For me…it hasn’t so much….but it HAS become more manageable and in some ways more private. I COULD describe the tow-headed happy little girl I once had and how she was sensitive and caring right from the start…even as a toddler she would cry when a playmate got hurt…and I could describe what a beautiful and brilliant young woman she became…and how midway through getting her master’s degree, her emotional volatility became so severe and random that she knew she was unraveling.…but I can’t really tell you what went wrong or why or exactly when…I CAN tell you that I am still so VERY proud of who she was and how HARD she worked, desperately trying to find help, and how brave she was at the end when she told us “I don’t WANT to die but I just can’t go on living in this much pain and without any hope of getting better. I’m working these days to have my daughter’s life not defined by the tragedy of her death…so I prefer to talk about what we all share. We all have a different story, but we all SHARE in the grief and guilt of not having known how to help and we are all BAFFELED by the pain of losing someone we loved to suicide. Some here may still struggle with chronic, unexplained and debilitating depression. And we ALL have to wonder: How on earth can this country put a man on the moon, or replace human legs and even human hearts, or find cures and treatments to some of the world’s most terrible diseases and yet…we can’t find the most fundamental treatments for mental health, much less find any explanation for what goes wrong when someone dies by suicide. We are here this morning because we all share a desire to find a better way. So, let me tell you three important things said to me after Ginny died. First, within hours after I found her….I was still in shock, and I made the usual awful calls to her sister, my sister, my mother…and finally….I called a woman at my office to say “I won’t be back to work for quite a while” and told her why. She listened quietly and then she said “what do you want me to tell people?” It was a question that took me aback…I hadn’t really thought about that….I hesitated and then I said “just tell them the truth”. I knew I couldn’t deny HER truth…which was that the pain she suffered was simply too great. That decision hasn’t been easy. Too many times someone asks a simple question, like how many children do you have? And then how did she die?, and my answer is followed by a look of horror, or a comment that shows they just can’t comprehend. Those moments provide an opportunity to educate and inform and to counter the pervasive misconceptions about what a victim of suicide is
like. Every news story about suicide is followed by some comment like “he was just divorced or filed bankruptcy or she lost her job”…as though these events are the cause of the suicide…WE know it isn’t that simple. Which leads me to the second and most common thing I’ve heard…and that is “you did everything you could do…” I appreciate that sincere effort to comfort, but I know... it’s untrue… and it misses the point. What IS true is that I did everything I KNEW to do at the time. But in the past 4 years I’ve read a stack of books this high to learn everything I could have, should have, would have done. I know so much more about the warning signs, the treatment options, the resources, and the struggles that so many suffer. I STILL don’t know if anything different would have saved her but one thing I DO know we didn’t talk openly enough about her struggles to her friends, her fiancé, and her family…because no one struggling that much should have to do it in the alone or in the dark and this is the point: Silence breeds shame… and while maybe no single one of use can save someone, collectively, through awareness and openness about it, we may be able to provide a safety net… buying time for those struggling to find hope for a better future. The other day I read on the AFSP website about the Kennedy family trying to find a way to get the National Health Institute to focus on the suicide epidemic we now have in colleges and the military… I was amazed to find they were promoting medical insurance companies be required to provide equal benefits for treatment for mental disorders... just like any other chronic disease…and I then I realized: why should I be amazed by this?…indeed why should we expect anything LESS? Those who suffer DESERVE to have reasonable and insurable treatment…with this walk…we are bringing light to this issue and because of our pressure and insistence, solutions WILL be found. Our loved ones deserve no less. And that leads me to the last thing I want to share which was a ‘not-so-nice’ comment made in a condolence card that said something to the effect that “it is so hard when one of our children loses their way”. My first reaction was that Ginny didn’t “lose her way”… she found the only way out of her pain she could. And it took me awhile to realize that I was annoyed by the implication that she was somehow less than or a failure. It is tragic and wrong that she tried so hard and couldn’t find help. Those who knew her knew she was caring, creative, managed a great job and seemingly well-accomplished. Her smile, like the faces I see on the columns behind us, could light up a room. And she didn’t deserve to be ill, she didn’t deserve to die, and she was anything but “less than”. We are ALL deprived when the lives of these incredible people are cut short because they are unable to find the help and treatment they need. We can change that, by refusing to let the stigma prevail and I’m confident it is changing. Our grief is immense. Someone who lost a child once told me that the hole this kind of loss creates never goes away. Like a hole in a tapestry but it can’t be repaired or mended and you can’t make it smaller…you can only weave the tapestry of your life bigger... so that the hole becomes a less prominent part. And this walk is one part of doing just that. So, none of us here are strangers…we all share a reality we wished were different…and I encourage you now, as you take this hour to walk into dawn, to go shake the hand or give a hug to someone you don’t know and share the name of the person you are walking for…if you are wearing beads because you lost
a child find someone who lost a parent, if you lost a sister find someone who lost a brother, find someone who lost a dear friend and or who is walking for their own struggles and BE a friendâ€Ś.tell them you understand their baffling painâ€Śand to HOLD ON because we ARE making a difference one step at a time. Thank you for your time and shared energy and for getting up so early on a Saturday morning. Thank you for your love.