BY POLLY SIEMANN
VIRGINIA BEACH — On Saturday, Sept. 9, I will again be one of thousands coming together as a community to walk at Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach.
This walk, the Hampton Roads Morning of Hope, Help and Healing, is an annual event to increase awareness of depression and suicide — and to invite individuals and families to be there for one another.
I have been attending this September event, which this year evolved from what was an Out of the Darkness Community Walk, since this local effort to end the stigma related to mental health issues began 12 years ago. That was the very same year we lost our youngest daughter, Kara, at the age of 30.
Kara was a young woman filled with compassion and the desire to help those who needed a kind word or some assistance. She was diagnosed with major depression in her mid-20s, and she responded well to medication for a while. When she and her husband began planning to have a baby, she removed herself from her meds. Kara died three weeks later on April 29, 2005.
Our family was devastated, and we were consumed with trying to make sense of why our beautiful daughter had become a victim of such a horrible disease.
Each of us was caught up in our own grief, seemingly unable to help each other. During the months that followed we began to search for support groups to ease the awful heartache that was always there.
At some point during that summer, I heard about a suicide survivors’ walk to be held for the very first time in this area at Mount Trashmore. This local event has always been held on the second Saturday in September.
In its early days it was a pretty small event — you could even get a parking space nearby — but it has grown significantly.
I was gratefully accompanied by very dear friends. I also found so many wonderful people with whom to share stories much like ours and our sweet daughter.
I was invited to make paper cranes, small origami creatures to symbolize hope and healing. Learning the technique of making the 26 delicate folds that shaped each little bird and including a small prayer within each one became one of my joys. Making these lovely paper cranes became a way to remember our family member or a treasured friend.
There is now an entire team of cranemakers dedicated to providing cranes for the event. They are placed on ribbons to provide a beautiful, windblown curtain or pathway in the September breeze. And participants are invited to take a crane as they leave.
The event is attended by thousands of people including members of all branches of the military, and many teams are created to honor the ones who have been lost. I knew very little about mental illness and suicide 12 years ago, but I now better understand how so many families are touched by the anguish or loss of a child, a spouse, a father, a friend, a co-worker and so forth. Twelve years later, a day never goes by without powerful reminders of Kara, who loved to dance in the kitchen, who called me “little Momma.”
For more information on the Hampton Roads Morning of Hope, Help and Healing on Saturday, Sept. 9, at Mount Trashmore Park, visit hamptonroadssos-hope.org or reach Chris Gilchrist via (757) 483-5111. A downloadable podcast conversation about the event with Gilchrist is online via princessanneindy.com/podcast.
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