|The finish line!|
Some of you have loved and supported me through nearly losing my dad in 2007, and his death in 2009. You've been with me through my first, second, and third Overnight walks.
The back of the shirt says, "I'll be up all night for" and then you fill in the space below.
Before last weekend, of course I was acutely aware of who I'd lost, and the importance, in my mind, of keeping this from happening to others. But I wasn't focused on the simplicity and gravity of walking dusk to dawn in memory of someone.
It is hard both emotionally and physically. I always cry at the opening ceremony, where people share experiences and talk about who they are honoring with their walk.
|Second Lieutenant USAF, Travis Michael Jordan|
My father was mine, as was my uncle, who left no one but us behind. I tell you that my uncle believed he was alone in the world, and his funeral was standing room only.
But I never had to ask anyone about them. And I didn't contemplate the gravity of it.
This year, I also offered for people to give me a name to put on my shirt. If you wanted to add a loved one--or, in some cases, more--I would be honored to carry them with me all through the night, on my shirt and in my heart.
(In previous years, I wrote names on pieces of beautiful paper. I don't know why I didn't think to open up my shirt. Which sounds like I was flashing people. Which I most certainly was not.)
This year, on my shirt, I had an awful lot of names. Mothers, fathers, teenage boyfriends, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends...
People gave me what felt best. Initials, first names, full names. One friend gave me initials but emailed me the full names, so I would know them in my heart. This felt right to her.
One long, long-time friend, who supported us through very hard times with my dad, and was very private about her dad, gave me his full name for the shirt. The import of this struck me hard, and upon reading, I burst into tears.
It still crushes me now, all the names, all those we love and miss.
This year, I raised a shocking (to me) $8,425 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I felt proud to do this in my cousin's name.
When, at the walk, they talked about the millions raised for research, I felt hopeful. My kids are half me, after all, and depression and suicide are on both sides of my family.
Many SOLOS teammates have been walking together for years. They've formed friendships through walks and volunteer efforts. Our teammate Connie walked the halls of the Capitol doing advocacy work the week of the walk.
The long-time teammates know each other really well. These walks are a reunion, and odd as it may sound, something to look forward to annually.
They're kind and loving and supportive. They welcomed those, like me, new to the team. They were immensely supportive of first-time walkers.
They hug. They're funny. They bake for the walk. One of them made these muesli chocolate balls. They are dense, heavy balls. There was some worry of them becoming moist in all the humidity. Stacie's balls became a running joke.
This year, with this team, I really felt connected to the walk, in a way that I hadn't before.
In April I told my acupuncturist that I cry a lot while fundraising for the walk, because it keeps the topic of suicide and loss at the forefront of my mind.
She asked why I do it. And she didn't buy my answer of raising money for research and outreach. She said, "You have some reason you do this for yourself. This is hard and upsetting. You need to figure out why."
In April, I didn't have an answer.
Now, after last weekend with this team, I do.
Because the walk is healing. Because I need to feel like I am doing something positive. Because I want to honor my loved ones. Because I like being with others who understand the crushing terribleness of losing someone you love to suicide.
Because it is a relief to talk about some terrible details and know you are not describing the unimaginable, because we've all, in one way or another, lived through the unimaginable.
Because it makes me feel less alone.
My lovely friend Laurie, who I met when we both performed in This Is My Brave in 2015, joined the team as well. This was her first walk, and I was so glad to walk together.
Laurie and I met up with our friend Jenn, the founder of TIMB, who volunteered at the walk.
|Mini Brave reunion|
I wrote about it. Weird as it sounds in this public space, that felt safe. But I didn't discuss it with most people. Some people I knew for a fact knew about didn't ask or offer condolences.
I knew why. I wasn't mad, but I knew it was different.
After some time the hurt became manageable, so I wasn't just a giant walking wound. But with time you just have to wait, and wait, and wait.
It turns out that time really is the longest distance between two places.
(It also turns out that if you wear a flashing safety bracelet in a port-a-potty, it's like being in a tiny disco in hell.)
Three years ago, Nick asked me very gently if I thought maybe there was something wrong with me, or if I needed some extra help. Because my dad's death was still a near-daily topic for me, and it had been five years. He worried that I was unusually upset.
He didn't say this unkindly. But the implication was that five years was long enough. I should be done.
Five, as it turns out, was the year that I finally realized that I couldn't save my dad. That I hadn't failed him. That helped more than anything.
It was also the year I also understood that there is no "long enough" for your grief. There is no particular point where you should be "over it" and moving on.
When I was small, five was the biggest number I could imagine. I would say to my mom, "I love you five!" Because there was nothing more vast.
Five was big for me. Eight, where I am now, is an even better place to be. A man I met, who'd lost his 26-year-old son, told me he's in a much better place now that it's been 12 years.
Grief is not linear. It loops and doubles back, and just when you think you're fine, it punches you in the stomach.
Birthdays hurt. Death days hurt. Every single year.
It doesn't matter how many years go by. It hurts to lose your dad, your twin brother, your baby sister, your husband, your son...It hurts and hurts and hurts.
Other people, even close friends and family members, get tired of your grief. One woman voiced this. Another shared her similar experience. And another.
I hadn't heard this from others before. It resonated.
The walk itself was physically hard, my hardest one yet. I think mainly because the humidity was at approximately 100 million percent.
And I am a person who embraces heat and humidity.
|So tired, so sweaty, so ready to stop walking|
Our team all started out together, then we lost each other for three or four miles, and then grouped back together.
One of the members was in his military camouflage. This made him easy to spot in the sea of blue, although, even with his boots and 50 pound pack, he was generally way ahead of us.
My dear friend Amanda dropped in to walk for a couple hours, just as she'd done on my first walk. And then, when we were on Capitol Hill, Kris and Megan texted to say they'd seen some walkers at a rest stop, and where was I?
|Lovely friends! And gelato!|
Kris treated me to Pitango gelato. I got the cardamom flavor and it was basically a cup of magic.
You walk through the night, and arrive in the dark before dawn. Your path, and in this case the steps of the Lincoln memorial, is lit with luminaria, which are paper bags that participants decorate to honor their loved ones.
While you walk, volunteers fill them with tiny lights, so they glow from within.
The bottoms of some of the bags had disintegrated in the humidity, and they'd blown away in the breeze. We wondered if ours had.
After about half an hour searching, we sat down, exhausted and disappointed. And then Laurie said, "I hope the two of them floated off together and are having a great time."
That comforted us both.
On Friday night, the man I mentioned who had lost his son said, "This is a great group of people. But it's not a club you want anyone to join."
This will forever be true.
If you have lost someone to suicide, the walk, and being immersed in a group that really understands, is immensely healing.
I never want you to join my club. I really, really don't.
But if it happens that you do, we will embrace you with arms and heart wide open.