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My Way of Healing: Supporting Others in AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walks

23 Apr 2019 — 3 min read

By Valerie Olpp

Healing After Suicide Loss Conference to be Held in Denver

Apr. 23, 2019 - My 17 year old nephew died by suicide on November 3, 2006. Tommy was a wonderful young man – kind, talented, funny, loyal, independent and a great friend.  When Tommy died, our hearts were broken, our world was shattered, and our lives were changed forever.

One month after Tommy’s death, my daughter decided she would participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk on June 9, 2007 in New York City. She knew that by participating in the Overnight Walk, she would be honoring her cousin and helping to raise money that would enable AFSP to continue funding innovative research, advocating for smart suicide prevention legislation, and supply educational programs and support for those affected by suicide.

Still confused and full of grief – and not wanting my daughter to be alone – I decided to register as a Crew member for The Overnight, joining other volunteers in helping to support the Walkers.  As I walked into South Street Seaport on June 9th, I was nervous, and had no idea what to expect of the people or the event.

I was amazed at the number of people who began gathering throughout the afternoon.  I attended the mandatory All Crew Meeting and was warmly welcomed by The Overnight Staff and other Crew members. I realized then, that each person there had a story to tell and we were all committed to the same cause.

In the late afternoon, my Crew team was bussed to the loading lot and driven to our Rest Stop location. We unloaded our truck, set up tables, chairs, and tents, decorated porta-potties…and mixed endless gallons of Gatorade. Our goal was to support each and every Walker with nutrition, hydration, compassion and encouragement as they arrived at our Rest Stop and continued to the finish.

As the sun began to rise early the next morning and my Crew team returned to the Closing Ceremony Site, I was exhausted…but overwhelmed by the incredible Overnight experience.  I was no longer alone in my grief. I had shared my story and had listened to Walkers, Crew and volunteers share their own inspiring stories. I was hugged by strangers, who have now become friends in my journey. I had become part of a community of very special people.  I was proud of my personal accomplishment and overwhelmed with the impact this one night had had on so many people.

Throughout the years, I have overcome the physical Crew challenges of unloading a box truck, assembling and disassembling a Rest Stop and staying up all night. I have experienced a record heat wave in New York City, a Nor’easter in Boston, getting lost in Philadelphia, and having my thumb joint stuck in a tent hinge in Washington, D.C.

But the overall Overnight experience is so much more powerful than any physical challenges, and those who want to volunteer as Crew members should know that The Overnight team will assign them tasks in line with their abilities, skills and interests. During the night, Walkers, Crew and volunteers talk openly about their struggles with depression, suicide, loss and grief. Photos of loved ones lost to suicide are on t-shirts and signs. Honor Beads are worn proudly to show each person’s connection to the cause. Tears flow. No one is judged. There is no shame around the topic of mental health and suicide.

Several years ago, a wise friend summarized the Crew experience by writing, “If we helped save one life, or brought a little comfort into even one pained life, it was a good night’s work.”

Unfortunately, our work is not done. Suicide is still the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and we continue to lose precious lives close to us.  More than ever, I am determined to give understanding and hope to other suicide loss survivors.

For as long as I can, I will continue to support the amazing Walkers who raise valuable funds for the AFSP.

I am driven to be the voice for all those affected by mental health conditions and also feel inspired to become more active in my local AFSP Chapter to educate and raise awareness within my community.

Above all, I will continue to support AFSP in achieving their bold goal to reduce the suicide rate 20 percent by 2025 through their Project 2025 initiative. Working together, we can make a difference to end the silence and create a world without suicide.

To learn more about becoming a Crew member for The Overnight, click here.

For more information about The Overnight in general, click here.

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