Some folks hide in dark places with the window shades pulled down after the death of a loved one by suicide, held hostage by shame and often the guilt of not seeing it coming.
Not Maria Ruane. Well, at least not anymore.
Of course, her remembrances are still tender; always will be. But gradually she’s replacing the dark with the light that comes from moving forward. That’s the thing Maria knows for sure.
Part of her own healing comes in finding ways to spread awareness about the tragedy of suicide and the answers that others on the edge so desperately crave.
That’s why Maria — whose brother, Mark, died seven years ago by suicide — has organized “A Walk to Prevent Suicide: Out of the Darkness Campus Walk” Sunday, April 27, on the campus of the University of Akron at Stile Athletics Field House. Registration at noon. Walk starts at 1 p.m.
Maria, now a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said the aim is to start a dialogue among others who have experienced the same kind of loss.
Few of us are immune from its impact, but talking about suicide has, in the past, been pretty much taboo. However, as Maria noted, staying silent and not sharing information and feelings does nothing to alleviate the problem, the pain.
“We all know people, whether we realize it or not, who are suffering, have suffered, know someone who has or know someone who had died by or attempted suicide,” Maria said.
On a personal note, I’ve lost a family member as well as friends and co-workers to suicide.
Even now their names tend to be spoken in hushed tones, as if they and the deed that ended it all are somehow the same. They’re not. The people we loved are separate from the acts that took them away from us.
Maria Ruane has taught me that.
The key to starting healthy dialogue is changing the language “from ‘he or she committed suicide’ to ‘died by suicide,’ ” Maria noted. “Saying someone ‘committed suicide’ paints that person as selfish or a coward. My brother was neither.”
She has since some to terms with the fact that although he was “gregarious,” he also was “depressed clinically, although not diagnosed.”
“Mental illness [depression and the like] is a topic that many people are still afraid to talk about. But there is help available,” she said. “But until the discussions start, we won’t be able to change this sad and tragic cycle.”
Maria participated a year ago in the nonprofit’s national Dusk to Dawn walk in the nation’s capital. She plans to do so again, this time with her immediate family. Participating walkers commit to earning $1,000 for the walk. Maria ended up raising $3,000.
“I just felt that I needed to connect with others who knew what I was going through,” she said. “Doing that walk strengthened me. It was very impactful, drawing over 2,000 people.”
That’s why Maria wanted to bring a walk to Akron: to address young people in particular who are being affected by such issues as bullying, social media taunts and hatred towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.
Maria is supported in her effort by several student groups, including the School of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology’s Living Learning Community. Although the walk is taking place on UA’s campus, it is open to all.
Coincidentally, Mariel Hemingway — granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway — is exploring her family’s troubled history of mental illness and suicide in the documentary Running from Crazy, which airs on OWN TV at 9 p.m. April 27, the day of the walk.
Suicide has claimed seven members of her family, including her famous grandfather and her supermodel sister Margaux Hemingway. The aim of the documentary, like the walk, is to jumpstart a dialogue about suicide and mental illness.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, founded in 1987, is dedicated to “understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy and to reaching out to people with mental disorders and those impacted by suicide.”
The message is that there is so much help out there if we open our eyes to it. Professional counselors will be on hand at the Akron walk.
According to the foundation, more than 8 million people in America seriously considered suicide last year and 1.1 million made an attempt. Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are particularly at risk. “These deaths take a serious toll on the family members, friends, co-workers, classmates and the communities as a whole that are left behind … Most mental illnesses are highly treatable and most of those suffering from mental illness do not die by suicide.”
The walk will raise awareness and funds for suicide prevention; research into genetic, biological and behavioral factors; and educational programs including those for colleges, Veterans Affairs and the NFL.
So, please support a walker with a donation. Visit www.Campuswalks.org to register to walk or make an online donation. Or contact Maria Ruane at 330-819-4780 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, visit www.afsp.org/walk and help create a world without suicide.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or email@example.com.