Marking a special time of raising awareness and offering support, the Walk for Wellness & Suicide Prevention was held last month at Cranna Lake.
This year marked the 11th annual event, which was started by Heather Jackson and Barb Walker with some help from local agencies.
Jackson, who has lost two sons to suicide, said the first walk was in 2012. From the start, the community’s support and the comfort of coming together for such a meaningful event have meant so much, she added.
“My daughter and I had gone to a similar event in Edmonton in September of 2011 because we had lost our youngest son to suicide. So we went to that event, and I wanted to get something started here.”
Jackson and Walker began to plan the Walk, and with others coming onboard from various local mental health agencies, the first event was held. It was a tremendous success.
A few years back, they also started to do some fundraising at the event.
“We found that people really wanted to contribute somehow, so it was suggested to us that we start to fundraise. The first year, we raised over $2,000 and we donated it so Suicide Information Services in Red Deer.
“Since then, we’ve been working on forming partnerships with local mental health therapists in Lacombe and the area.”
The vision is to help youth and young adults in particular to get the therapeutic resources they may need.
“We had no idea, when we lost our first son Wade, how many people we knew who had never talked about their losses to suicide, or their relationships with mental health. It affects more people than you realize,” she explained.
“A lot of the reason that people also don’t come forward when they need help is because of the stigmas around mental health,” she said. “People are becoming more aware but awareness isn’t the only thing,” she said, adding that often, it’s hard to see or to understand what someone else is going through.
Jackson said that coping in the wake of suicide requires work each day to not just move forward but to even survive it.
“As a parent who has lost two children, overcoming your feelings of failure, the dread in your soul of another bad thing happening, and the unanswered questions take time and work and educating one’s self,” she said.
“I think that the most important thing I can say about how to get through the minutes and days after a loss like that is to seriously take one moment at a time. Looking forward can be so overwhelming. And just to be patient with yourself.”
Ultimately, Jackson said the goal of the walk is to help inform, inspire and support the local community, and to offer a loving, safe place to gather with others who are struggling with life or a loss.
At this year’s event, she also spoke with those gathered about grief, and the things that grieving people need as they move through that journey.
Sometimes they don’t want your words - they want your presence, she said, adding that ultimately, keeping lines of communication open is key.
“What they need to know is that grief is a very personal thing - as personal as the relationship between them and the person they lost,” she said.
“Sometimes, people don’t want to find healing in their grief journey because grief is one of the only connections left to hold onto and because feeling joy again can feel like a betrayal.
“Their grief is a sacred testament to their love and their grief becomes a part of who they are,” she said. Also, each person’s experience of grief is different. “You have to give each other room to get through it,” she said.
“Being present, listening and continuing to support their need to remember their loved one by saying their name and remembering their life are the best ways to offer support.”
Journaling can also be helpful - regularly recording one’s thoughts, feelings and memories. “It can become really hurtful and frustrating when you start forgetting things - so it’s a way of remembering and also of releasing your feelings, too,” she said
Jackson wants those who are struggling to know there is help available.
“You are not broken beyond repair. Your story is not over yet, if you can just let tomorrow come. Let tomorrow come and seek out the help that you need and deserve.”