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Empathy and Pain and Hope: Finding Connection Through the Out of the Darkness Walks

September 14, 2021 – 4 min read

By Tammy Lundy

Drawing with chalk on sidewalk

My experience with suicide loss is threefold: first, my ex-husband (my daughters’ father) in October of 2009; my Aunt Sandi in June of 2010; and then my beautiful, loving, and vivacious daughter Nicole in July of 2010. All these losses, coming so close together, raised different feelings and emotions for me.

It was a very difficult time. To be truthful, I didn’t know what I needed or how I would navigate life without my daughter. I was lost. My journey with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention started when I came across a flyer for one of AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks in a pile I had made of the gifts, cards, and care baskets that had come to the house after Nicole passed. To this day, I do not know who the flyer came from, but I am so very thankful for the gift. It was this seemingly simple piece of paper that started my healing journey, and changed the trajectory and purpose of my life.

My family and I formed Team Nicole Lundy in September of 2010 to participate in the Indianapolis Out of the Darkness Walk, and it was the best thing we could have done. The walk started by simply giving us a way to honor Nicole, but it turned into so much more. This walk was the first place I felt connected during this difficult time: I met other mothers and suicide loss survivors who had the same questions and feelings I did. I met people who understood that suicide can be prevented, and wanted to take steps to help families like ours who had lost someone. When I read about AFSP’s core pillars – research, education, advocacy, and survivor support – I knew I had found my people, and I wanted to help make a difference.

Walking in these events has enabled me to learn how to help others: to meet them where they are in their journey, and support them. By connecting with others along their grief journey, I have been able to not only help them, but also myself. One of the lessons for me has been the ability to recognize when I need self-care. Sometimes I need to take the time for me, so I can help with AFSP’s mission: “To save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.”

It has been 11 years since my first Out of the Darkness Walk.  I started off as a walker, and I am now the Indianapolis Walk Chair and Indiana Board Chapter Chair. It is through this lens that I can truly see the impact and change that I and my family have had. And we are just one family of many working together to fight suicide. I have met some of the most amazing people along my journey. We have laughed, and cried, and made extremely sincere connections. It’s something difficult to put into words. It’s a genuine connection of empathy and pain and hope, all rolled together. We know each other’s stories; we know our loved ones’ names. And sometimes we don’t have to say a single word to one another to know it’s just one of those days.

My family’s first walk in Indianapolis was less than 500 people. In the years since, that event has typically grown to include over 5,000 walkers. When I pause and reflect on this growth (which I honestly should do more often), my hope is that others who have been affected by suicide find their way to AFSP, whether it be through an Out of the Darkness Walk, or through other events like International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. I hope they will be able to connect, just as I did, with fellow loss survivors, and feel a light and hope that I once never thought was possible for myself.

I no longer just walk for Nicole and my family members. I also walk for those who I have been able to meet, and for those who are still fighting that I have yet to meet. If you are reading this and your loss is new or old; if you struggle; or if support someone else who struggles, I encourage you to walk, connect, and find your people.

Nicole is forever my daughter, and I am forever her mother. She is loved and remembered. Her story will continue through me and through my involvement with AFSP. The Out of the Darkness Walks give me an active and outward way to express the deep love I have for my child and those who are a member of a club no one wanted to join.  My family’s initial connection may have begun rooted in loss and pain, but it is now actively thriving in hope to make a difference: a hope for more research, a hope for additional resources, a hope for those who struggle, and a hope for brighter tomorrow.