Finding Purpose in the Overnight Walk

The 2016 Out of the Darkness Overnight Walks will be in San Francisco on May 21 and New York City on June 4.

Three months after our beloved son Tommy died by suicide, my niece Kristin announced that she had heard over the radio about an 18 mile walk to prevent suicide. She decided that she was going to do it in memory of her cousin Tommy. Still reeling in grief and trying to cope with the profound loss of my 17 year old son, I decided to join her.

It was, for me, a lifesaver. I started walking….and haven’t stopped. Along with my family, I became actively involved in AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. It gave me purpose. It provided me the opportunity to talk to others about suicide and mental illness. We started a dialogue. We removed stigmas and we helped others seek and find the help they so desperately needed – for themselves or a loved one.

The Tommy Fuss Team started small. In 2007, we were three walkers and one crew member. Over the last nine years we have had 74 team members walk a total of 2,493 miles with 17 crew members. Together, we have raised nearly $400,000 for AFSP. The 2016 New York City Overnight will be the Tommy Fuss Team’s 10th Overnight Walk.

One of the ways we’ve been so successful in attracting so many walkers is that we truly raise money as a team. Although each person has an individual fundraising goal, we each make a point of asking family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues to support any member of the team who has not yet met his or her fundraising goal. This is important, especially with the young adults, whose networks are still limited and who may not feel comfortable asking people for money, despite their passion for the cause and their love for Tommy. We do it this way because I believe that participation is important. It helps all of us “move on” in our own way, both individually and together. We all know we’re looking out for each other.

Aside from working as a group, two other things help in our collective fundraising. Firstly, each spring I host a fundraiser for the women in my community as a way of saying thank you for their generous support, year after year. Secondly, we have made the Overnight a kind of reunion for many of our friends and family. Depending on the city, we might do some sightseeing the day before the walk. We’ve been to the Top of the Rock in NYC, we’ve Segwayed through Chicago, we’ve visited a winery north of San Francisco, and we’ve experienced the Boston Duck Tour! Each year my husband and I host an early supper the afternoon of the Overnight for all the participating family and friends who will be joining us for the opening ceremony.

For me, the Overnight is special because of the time I spend walking and talking with as many of my teammates as possible. Nothing, though, compares to the time I spend walking with Dan, our son and Tommy’s brother.

While we remember Tommy, we celebrate his legacy for bringing people together. By doing so, we are raising awareness, removing the stigma around suicide, and encouraging people in need to seek help. There are no words to express our loss, but together we move forward, one step at a time.

tommy fuss


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