This year, the turnout for the AFSP Out of the Darkness Manhattan walk was the largest yet. The organization even changed its location for the walk from Battery Park to Pier 16 at South Street Seaport. This marks my fifth year fundraising for suicide prevention, and five years since I lost Ed. For whatever reason, it also felt the most emotional. Maybe it’s because this year, I was asked to be a part of the honor bead ceremony where the organization publicly recognizes its top fundraisers and lets the audience know how and why we participate in this walk. Each person who participates in the bead ceremony, with the color of the beads she holds, indicates what their connection is to the walk. White indicates you lost a child. Red indicates you lost a spouse/partner. Orange indicates you lost a sibling. Purple means you lost a friend or relative. Green means you personally struggled or struggle today. Teal means you are a friend or family member of someone who struggles.
I have orange beads for Ed. Being a part of the bead ceremony is a non-speaking role, but one of the chairs speaks for you and explains, in your words, why you walk. This was my description that I wrote:
For the fifth year in a row, Yvonne walks and fundraises in honor of her big brother Ed, who she lost to suicide five years ago after he battled a decades-long struggle with clinical depression and mental illness. Since then, she has been actively sharing her brother’s story in hopes that being open and honest about this tragedy will encourage others to be more aware and empathetic to the potential struggles that others face.
I was grouped with two siblings who lost their brother to suicide this year, so this was very fresh and raw for the two of them. They are part of a big family where they have siblings in Minnesota, their home state, as well as in California, and all their other siblings are also participating in the walk in their respective cities and raising money. Their team is Team Morgan, and they even gathered other friends and family locally to join in the walk and were the top fundraising team for Manhattan this year. When the brother and sister joined me on the stage and Max, the AFSP walk co-chair, read out their story of why they walk, the sister immediately started crying. It was a trigger for me, and I immediately started tearing up and embraced her. The three of us talked during the ceremony rehearsal. It was just so obvious to me that this was all just too new to them and that they were still in deep pain. When I told them I had lost Ed five years ago, they looked at me as though I was some saint….their eyes looked incredulous. It still hurts, but time definitely does help. You never think so in the moment or in the months after you lost. I still cannot believe it’s been five years since Ed was with us.
I’m happy to see the cause get bigger, to see more supporters and more people fundraising and walking. I hope the stigma around suicide gets lesser and lesser. We’d all be better humans if we could be more in touch with our emotions, more open to hearing what is most painful and revealing. It would help another person. It would gradually help the world. It’s insane to think that when this walk began several decades ago that there were detractors who said no one would ever walk for suicide, that it was just too scary and provocative of a thought, that other causes for diseases like cancer or HIV/AIDS were bigger or more important. Here in Manhattan, we collectively raised over $300,000 for this walk this year, and that doesn’t even count all of the donations we will continue to receive through the end of the year, including a number of corporate matches that are still pending for my individual fundraiser. This gives me hope for a better world. On this day every year, I always wonder if Ed is somewhere out there, looking down on me and wanting to give me a hug.
This is one of the days of the year that I miss him so much. I wish the world could have been better to him, kinder to him. But we can’t get him back. This is all I can do now.