Tuesday, April 26, 2016. The day we lost our father to suicide, we woke up and began our normal morning routines. For Sophia (18 at the time), this consisted of getting out of bed, brushing her teeth, getting dressed, and going to Red Bank Regional High School. For Artemis (20 at the time) this meant getting out of bed at Rutgers University, going to the dining hall, sitting through an exam review, and then getting on the bus to head to the gym. At about 12:30 PM that day, we each received a phone call. We were told to come home immediately.
We arrived to a house full of sadness, tears, and pain. Family and friends were sobbing in disbelief. Our heads were pounding; we were shocked. That night, we went to sleep with feelings of deep confusion, unexpected loss, and extreme tragedy. Our life had been flipped completely upside down. Our dad had taken his own life that day, making April 26, 2016 the worst day of our lives.
The first few weeks after our father passed away were blurry. Days felt like hours and hours felt like days. Investigations were conducted to confirm his cause of death…but before they could be concluded, rumors had already started that our dad had had a heart attack on a run in the woods. It’s just what people assumed. Once the news of his suicide had been confirmed, we decided it was important to tell everyone what really happened.
Our father’s death was unexpected. None of our friends or family had seen it coming. Suicide could happen to anyone, we realized, and it became important to us to inform those around us that mental health conditions are common and stigmatized. Our hope was that others would want to follow in our footsteps in erasing the stigma, and becoming comfortable in talking about it.
We recently decided to start a 5k run/walk at Rutgers University, to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, called Into the Light. We hope that this title will remind people to see the positive in every situation. In every dark sky, there are stars radiating light. With every hardship comes momentary darkness, but this darkness passes. We all can grow from darkness and become bigger and stronger in the light that exists here on Earth. We hope to encourage others to come out of the darkness by sharing their mental health stories. We are excited to see people participate, and share the same passion in helping this cause.
When we began planning this event, we didn’t know what to expect. We were scared that a first-time 5K for mental health awareness at Rutgers would not bring in many people. However, we stayed confident and persistent. After four months of organizing a committee, volunteers, and social media plans, as well as reaching out to hundreds of participants, sponsors, and publishers, our walk has now raised over $46,000!
Multiple articles have been written about the event, and hundreds of participants are expected to attend. People from all over the country have written to us on social media, emailed, and called us with their personal stories of how they have been impacted by suicide. The growing awareness of this event has helped them come into the light and help themselves and others. We are seeing a community coming together of people who thought they would be silenced forever.
However, now they see light. The steps we are taking to encourage others to understand and empathize with people who have mental health conditions are helping to erase the stigma. We hope that individuals who struggle, along with those who have lost someone or know someone who is struggling, receive the respect and love they deserve.
On September 23, 2017, we will come together in unity to walk (or run!) out of the dark and into the light. We hope participants, and everyone who becomes aware of the event, will become enlightened on mental health conditions and realize the importance of opening up about them.
For more information on the Rutgers Into the Light event, click here.
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