The alarm rings at 4am. Walk day is finally here! I get up and stumble downstairs to wake my sleeping boys. Jack & Andy jump right up, excited for the day’s events as they put on their new team shirts. Charlie, well it’s too early for him so I let him sleep a little longer. We check our list, making sure everything’s packed. It’s a long drive so there’s no coming back. It’s 5am and we head out into the rain. I stop for coffee & donuts, my bribe to get the boys up and out on time.
We exit the freeway, following a long procession of cars all going to the same place. One by one we pull into the parking lot of Sugarhouse Park and back in to unload our cars. A team of headlights, flashlights, and headlamps light a path in the darkness. The boys help where they can, with minimal complaining even though they’re cold. They’ve helped with the walk every year. They know how much this means to me, so they do it too. When they were younger they didn’t understand why we did the walk. They just liked wearing matching shirts with their Dad’s name on them and spending the day with family and friends. Now that they are older, they know that the thousands of people who come to the walk have also lost someone to suicide. They know they are not alone in their grief. Here, they are part of something huge. They are surrounded by people who just like them, have survived an insurmountable loss, people who have lost their Dad too.
The people we have met on this journey have become our family. Suicide shattered all of us, and I believe we were brought together to help mend each other’s broken hearts. They are amazing, passionate individuals and I am grateful to have them in my life. They have such a fire within them to prevent suicide and educate our community. This fire keeps us going as we work together throughout the cold dark morning, preparing for what’s ahead. It doesn’t look like much now, but just wait. The sun starts to peek out over the mountains. It casts long beams of light over the park. The boys look around in amazement. Everything we have done in the dark is now being touched by the sun. The chairs sit in perfect rows, the tents are set up, and the stage is set. It has all come to light, and it’s beautiful.
The excitement in the air is almost visible. Now the real work begins as people start to arrive. A trickle at first, then a steady flow of teams comprised of seasoned veterans like us. And teams who have lost someone so recently, they probably won’t remember being here today. They are on autopilot. Just going through the motions of life, but still needing to do something, anything they can to make sense of it all. They want their loved one’s death to bring change, hoping to prevent another family from facing such an unimaginable loss. Each doing everything they can to feel something other than their unrelenting sorrow, and bringing some peace to their tortured hearts. This is a place where others can truly relate to each other. Everyone here understands. Not a single word needs to be spoken. There is just a knowing. Throughout the day we are inspired. We hear messages of hope and healing. People lean on each other, hold each other up. There are tears of sadness, but also tears of joy in the remembering of their loved ones.
Each year I have worked registration where I get to see the teams arrive. I see the wonderful bond in families and friends who have come together today to honor their loved ones. Because of this position I don’t have an opportunity to actually walk with my boys to honor their Dad, my husband, Rudy. I haven’t participated in that capacity since our very first event 7 years ago. I walked with my friend Taryn to honor her father. It was the first Out of the Darkness walk held in Utah. She and I walked together while my kids were home with their Dad. Little did I know, they would be walking in honor of him just 2 years later.
Today, I decided I would walk. Even if it was just a short distance, I had to make time. The walk starts and my kids are already gone. They don’t wait for me because they know I am too busy to come along. But I find 2 out of 3 boys, Charlie is long gone with a friend. Jack & Andy are so happy I am walking with them. We enjoy the sunshine on our faces. We remember Rudy. We honor his life and reflect on how far we have come since his death. We walk with thousands of others who are feeling the same things we are. One big family brought together by tragedy, walking out of the darkness and into the light.