Turning Young Loss into Awareness: Remembering Owen

October 27, 2017 – My best friend of ten years, Owen Kelly died by suicide on January 18, 2016, when I was 15-years-old. I was absolutely devastated. To experience such an unexpected, agonizing tragedy at that age was absolutely awful. It was very hard for me to recover, because of how close we were and because of how random it felt. I wasn’t the only one to feel an extreme loss—Owen had many friends. There were over 1,000 people at his wake. My community was broken, and in mourning. I thought if I could start raising money for suicide prevention, if I could try to make sense of the awful thing that happened, people could begin to heal together. I read about the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk, and thought it seemed incredibly powerful. I immediately wanted to be a part of it.

When I first began to fundraise, my goal was to help the people around me come to terms with suicide, and try to begin the healing process. I realized that suicide prevention was very important, not only within my small community, but also on a much bigger scale. I would never have even imagined being involved in suicide prevention if it hadn’t been for Owen, which is why I think it’s so important to educate and spread awareness: people don’t think of suicide as something that will ever affect them, until it does. It’s so important to get to the root of the problem before it’s too late.

At first, I had a very small goal. I wanted to raise $1,000. I started fundraising in April, and the walk was in June, so I knew I only had about two months to reach my goal. I didn’t know how to fundraise, had no real prior experience, and didn’t expect people to be so generous. I raised $24,000. $17,000 was through an online campaign in which I shared my story and asked others to share it as well. $1,000 was raised through two school bake sales; another $1,500 was raised through a car wash. The rest of the money was raised by my teammates. When I achieved 24 times the amount of my original goal, I was surprised beyond belief.

At the beginning of the next school year, as a junior at The Ursuline School, I asked my principal if I could start my own suicide prevention club. Over 100 people signed up. Together, we raised $13,000: $7,000 for AFSP’s Westchester County Walk in 2016, and $6,000 through a dance-a-thon. My classmates and the school administration were ready and eager to help me.

I now run the social media account for AFSP’s Westchester chapter. I fundraise throughout the year, and spread awareness about suicide in my group of friends, my school, and the community as a whole. In total, I have raised $41,000 since April of 2016.

I feel like my efforts have honored Owen in a very great way. Suicide is preventable, treatable, and swept under the rug in America. I will not allow my friend Owen to be swept under the rug.

A lot of my friends were very close with Owen. We all struggled with his death in different ways. Coming together to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention has helped us all put our own pieces back together, with the hopes that what happened to Owen will never have to happen to anyone else.

For more information on Jane’s fundraising efforts, click here.


Like what you're reading? Go to our Sharing Your Story page, where you'll find resources for sharing your own story, including story ideas, blog submission guidelines, tips for sharing your story safely and creative exercises to help you get started, and assignments for upcoming topics.

Write a blog post for AFSP! Click here for our Submission Guidelines.