Yesterday the 10th annual Out of the Darkness walk in Cincinnati was held at Sawyer Point. This walk has grown leaps and bounds since I began participating six years ago. This year’s walk had over 1600 registered walkers and raised over $94,000. It was the most successful walk to date both in terms of how many people walked and how much money was raised. The Cincinnati chapter has done an outstanding job of raising awareness for this event, and near the end of the walk I saw at least two different news channels doing pieces on the walk.
The event kicked off at 5PM. They began by thanking all of the volunteers who helped to organize this humongous gathering and had a few speakers before the walk. They had a prominent psychiatrist from a local hospital speak about the importance of removing the stigma attached to mental illness. They had a couple more people speak about how important it is to come out of the darkness in regards to suicide. The more we talk about it the more we can raise awareness, they said. And they’re correct. Then, before the walk started, they held a moment of silence.
Everyone has their own reason for being there, and the moment of silence is held so everyone can reflect on what that reason is. This is, and always has been, the hardest part of these walks. It is during this time that the people in attendance are thinking about their loved one either attempting suicide or committing suicide. A quick glance around the park reveals many people with tears dripping down their faces as they contemplate why they have come. Parents embrace in shared agony as they remember their lost child. Siblings hold each other as they mourn the loss of their brother or sister. Children openly weep because their mother or father is no longer there for them. In my case, I have always watched my ex-wife and her mother struggle during this moment as they remember my son’s uncle.
Once the moment of silence was over the walk began. Sawyer Point is located right on the northern bank of the Ohio River so the the first half of the walk followed a path which trailed along next to it. Baby C couldn’t see the river from his stroller due to the high grass along the path, so I asked him if he wanted to ride on my shoulders. He did so I gathered him up and put him on my shoulders. Every time he caught a glimpse of the river through the trees he would shout, “Look! I see the water!” Every once in a while there was a clearing and you could see the entire river in all its splendor. There were people out boating and every time Baby C saw a boat he had to ensure everyone within earshot knew he saw it. “Look! It’s a boat!”
The walk was a mile long (I think) and that’s not bad, but walking most of that mile with a toddler on your back kind of makes your back sore. When we returned to the park entrance there was a bagpipe quartet piping out a somber tune. I went to collect my free Chinese lantern, when a volunteer handed me a balloon for the balloon launch. I was a bit surprised because normally after the walk the event is over, but it seems this year most of the festivities were planned for after the walk.
The balloon launch was scheduled for dusk this year. I was skeptical about that at first because after dark no one is going to see a bunch of balloons floating aimlessly across the sky. My ignorance quickly became apparent when dusk fell, however. The balloons had flashing lights in them. It was quite a sight to behold seeing hundreds of balloons flashing wondrously amongst the crowd.
While we waited for everyone to receive a balloon for the launch, there were things happening on stage. One of the board chairmen recited a poem dedicated to her best friend, who committed suicide. She then sang a song aptly titled Out of the Darkness. A handful of survivors took to the stage and shared their tragic tales of parents, siblings, friends, and children committing suicide and how AFSP helped them cope with their losses. One story stuck with me, though. It was a story about a man’s parents who made a suicide pact. This poor man lost both of his parents together when they committed suicide simultaneously. I can’t even begin to imagine the hell that poor man endured afterward. Losing one person to suicide is horrible enough, but losing both of your parents at the same time by their own choosing. . . I just have no words.
A choir from a local high school came out and sang a couple of songs. I didn’t recognize the first one, but the second one was Tears in Heaven. Again I watched while half the crowd wept, their hearts breaking anew. While the choir sang, the crowd began gradually releasing their balloons. The balloons slowly drifted away into the blackness of night, the lights inside them flashing while carrying loving words and thoughts up to heaven with them.
Then, it was over. I headed to my car and drove home.