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Hugs and Healing: Returning In-Person to The Overnight

25 Jan 2022 — 3 min read

By Heather Buckendahl, AFSP Out of the Darkness Senior Walker Coach

Collage of photos where Heather is standing next to walkers and smiling

Overnight Walk to Stop Suicide: June 4, New York City

The past two years have been strange, due to the pandemic. That might even be an understatement, honestly, but 2022 brings new light into our lives. One of those lights, at least for me, as a Walker Coach for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk, is returning to an in-person Overnight. This year will be my fifth year working at AFSP, and the New York City Overnight on June 4 (join us!) will be my ninth Overnight Walk.

There’s a line we say about The Overnight: The Overnight is “an event like no other.” The Overnight is AFSP's flagship fundraising event, bringing people together to walk 16 miles from dusk to dawn. The Overnight is an experience, a healing journey, an endurance event, and a community all in one. It brings together thousands of people each year, each with different stories, but with one common shred that attaches us all: hope and a shared mission to stop suicide.

At The Overnight, we all wear Honor Beads that represent our connections to the cause. During Opening Ceremonies, we take a moment to honor our loved ones and ourselves. We also take a moment to trade Blue Honor Beads, which represent our shared support of suicide prevention. It’s a beautiful moment, watching so many people, many strangers, until now; turn to each other, trade beads, instantly connect, and begin to heal. I’m not sure if we will be able to trade beads in-person this year, or what it would look like if we do, but I do know that the connection and camaraderie will still be there.

For me, The Overnight consists of a set of different scenes throughout the weekend. From seeing Walkers at our VIP Reception to setting up the Ceremony Site while the sun rises, watching our Walkers and Volunteers trickle into the site, honoring loved ones and ourselves witnessing the camaraderie of our Walkers and Crew Members along the route, and taking a moment of silent reverence to walk through the luminaria (each glowing white bag representing someone loved). Hugs, handshakes, tears, laughter—it’s all shared at The Overnight.

The Walk encompasses so much to me and to all of our participants. Throughout the years, I’ve heard many stories from our participants about the connections they’ve made while fundraising, the friends they’ve met at The Overnight, and the healing they’ve had throughout the whole process. It’s truly humbling to have a job, and to work on an event, where I know that we’re making a difference.

Many Overnight participants return year after year, and it brings me so much joy to see them again in the crowd and at check-in. I look forward to all those hugs that we missed in 2020 and 2021, and to seeing all the connections and re-connections that are made at the event. Each year, I am so honored to work with hundreds of people across the nation who have one goal in mind: to #StopSuicide. I’m honored to hear their stories, to share their triumphs, and be part of their journey. In many ways, The Overnight has been part of thousands of healing journeys through the years, including my own. As we begin the New Year and return to being in-person, I truly hope that you’ll join us. We’ve missed you, and we can’t wait to see you (and hug you!) again.

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