BY RITA ANN BELL
NORFOLK — I truly believe everything happens for a reason.
On the morning of May 27, 2004, I came out of the bathroom expecting another normal workday. To my surprise, my grief-stricken dad, husband and one of my sisters stood in my living room.
My dad looked at me. He had tears in his eyes. “Your mother is gone,” he whispered.
The evening before, my mother, Rita Hughes, lost her five year battle with depression.
She had gone through numerous treatments – therapy, medication, inpatient hospitalizations, family suicide watch, even a one-month stay at a hospital in Chicago that specialized in depression and suicide.
My mother was married for 30 years, and she raised five children. She had six grandchildren and two more on the way. Her youngest daughter was in college.
She had just earned her college degree and was talking about starting her master’s degree.
She was dedicated to her church and her family. One of my mother’s greatest attributes was her commitment to helping others.
She was the strongest and bravest woman I knew.
She didn’t want anyone except her close friends and family to know of her struggles with depression.
So how could this happen to my family? So many families that lose a loved one to suicide struggle with this question. Or they struggle with the “what if?”
The June after my mothers’ death, my sister and I started attending the Survivors of Suicide Support Group, facilitated by Chris Gilchrist, a licensed clinical social worker. We discussed the Out of Darkness Overnight Walk, a dusk to dawn walk held in a different community each year to fight suicide.
As a soon-to-be mother, I knew I would not be able to participate in a 16-mile overnight walk. On a whim, I asked Chris whether we could start our own community walk.
We all agreed that it would be awesome if we could have a walk here. Little did I know the walk would now be going into its 11th year thanks to Chris’ hard work and the dedication of so many volunteers.
What does our walk mean to me?
In the beginning it was about healing and connecting with other people who understand a loss to suicide.
Eleven years later, the walk is about helping others who have lost someone to suicide, stopping the stigma surrounding depression and suicide, educating people about depression and helping those who struggle with it.
Every year, I attend the walk and look around at all the people present. It gives my mother’s death a purpose – helping others that have gone or are going through the same thing I went through.
Losing my mother to suicide is one of the most painful events I have endured, but I have gained from this loss lifelong connections with members of the Survivors of Suicide group.
This walk is a symbol of my mother’s commitment to helping others.
When I see the thousands of people at this walk each year, it is a reminder that something positive came out of the suicide that was so painful for my family and me.
Rita Ann Bell lives in Norfolk with her husband and two sons. She teaches first grade at a local private school.
Registration for the 2016 Out of the Darkness Community Walk is now open. Visit sos-walk.org for more information. It is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10, at Mt. Trashmore Park, 310 Edwin Drive. A severe weather date for the walk is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 17.
© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC