Most of the people wore strands of brightly colored beads around their necks. There were white ones and red and gold and orange and silver and green and blue and teal. Each color held specific meaning.
All of these people, nearly 500 of them, had gathered to celebrate the lives of loved ones lost to suicide, and the beads represented the nature of the their loss. White designated the loss of a child, red meant the loss of a spouse, gold a parent , orange a sibling and so on. The beads color-coded their pain.
The turnout last Saturday at Monument Mountain High School was for Out of The Darkness Walk to Prevent Suicide, one of 400 such events held around the country by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to support survivors of suicide and work to end it.
The Walk was billed as a celebration of the lives of those who are gone by those who remain. One of the speakers addressed the seeming conflict of joy amid such pain.
“How can we feel such profound gratitude and such profound sadness at the same time?” she asked. Everyone there seemed to know. There were tears, as people stood at the microphone and explained their color “I am wearing orange because I lost my brother- my best friend”.
“I wear silver today because I lost military- a couple of them”.
“I’m wearing white because I lost my twin sons” -both of them.
Bertha, one of the event organizers, wore nearly every color- father, child and other loved ones- all lost . And she wore green to represent her own struggles with suicide.
Yes there were tears but also smiles and hugs and laughter and camaraderie. And that of course was the answer to the question- that amid that profound sadness, they could feel gratitude because they all had the support of each other- they all understood.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.