Allysa D. | Posted on June 18, 2012
Last Sunday morning, I watched the sun rise over the city of San Francisco. Tired and sore, I realized that I hadn’t stayed up all night in such a long time. In fact, it was exactly ten months ago when I last stayed up all night. That night was the night of my mom’s death. In the past several months, many people have asked me, “What made you decide to do the Overnight?” I tell them about mom and how I felt that it would be a great experience for myself and my family, meeting others who have gone through similar losses and struggles as well as making a difference with the funds that we have raised. In other words, this walk would help us heal some more. But I never told anyone my other reason why I walk for mom. I was at Johns Hopkins taking classes in summer 2011. I hadn’t seen my mom in months. On the day I finished summer classes and drove back home with my dad, my world turned upside down.
Throughout your life, you often always think that such tragedies would never happen to you. But they can. On that night, I saw things that I would never wish upon another soul. The events still play through my mind almost every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. You think what you see on CSI wouldn’t happen to you – after all, that’s just TV. But it can. Never in my life had I seen so many police cars and ambulances. The worst part was when they took pictures of the house inside and out, the yard, the patio. It was as if our life was on display. And then they wheeled out the gurney.
I will never know the reason why it had to happen that day. That specific day out of all days. I will never know if it had to do with me coming home. No clues, no note. Nothing. I could blame myself (and I did, for a long time) and feel guilty. But instead, I feel so much pain for her. Maybe she was in so much pain that she couldn’t bear to be strong in front of me again. Maybe it was an anxiety attack. Or…maybe it had nothing to do with me. I don’t tell others this specific part of the story because I often hear hypotheses, words of comfort, and most times, silence. Because what do you say to such a thing? What are the right words? Even my family doesn’t know what to say.
When the police and medics finally left – I still remember the slow procession of cars leaving the house, one by one over the bridge – it started to rain. I remember watching my dad sitting outside by himself in the rain, shoulders slumped. That’s when I really realized – life is going to be different now. I stayed up all night at my aunt’s. I laid in bed with my best friend holding me. As the time crept into the late hours of the night, I still was wide awake. I couldn’t sleep. I thought about how everything in my life had changed in literally a split second. I remember the first thing that came to mind – I never got to say goodbye.
Even the last time I saw her, I was in a rush and stressed out with school. It wasn’t one of our good times together. Then I thought about my college graduation. My wedding. My kids. My whole life. No goodbyes and so many unanswered questions. Then the sun started to rise. A new day, a new life.
I still think about those things today and I will for the rest of my life. But I was so lucky to have her as a mom, to know her for the nineteen years I knew her. And they were truly the best years of my life. She taught me so many pieces of wisdom and advice, that today, I will do something and I realize, this is because of my mother. I can cook a mean meal, I can bake like no other, I can paint my nails with such perfection. I am passionate, I am stubborn, I am caring, all because of my mother. I am a reflection of my mother. And I am grateful that I am a reflection of her.
And that brings me to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Overnight. The eighteen mile walk from dusk to dawn allows me to keep my mother’s memory alive. It lets me pay back to her for being such a beautiful and loving woman, the woman who raised me to be the person I am today. With the Overnight, funds are raised for research, advocacy, and prevention; stopping such a tragedy from happening again and having another family go through what we have gone through. The pain, the grief, and most of all, confusion and unanswered questions that I felt that night and still feel today.
The meet-up location for the walk was at Fort Mason, a beautiful place with a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, the AFSP Executive Director pointed out something – the amount of people that showed up for the walk (thousands) is about the same amount of those who have taken their lives at the bridge. A thousand may not seem much compared to the overall population, but it is. To see an enormous crowd of special individuals gone. How many people – family, friends, colleagues – would be impacted by each individual’s death.
Once we registered and settled in, Mandy came right up to me. Funny enough, we both recognized each other at a distance. We met through this incredible support group for those who have lost their mothers called Mom Squad. It was started by a brother and sister who lost their mom this past year as well. And the brother happened to go to grad school at, yep, you guessed it, Johns Hopkins. In fact, I also initially found out about the Overnight from a Johns Hopkins alum too. Anyway, it was just so incredible to meet others like Mandy (she lost her mom two months before me and she’s also in college), Jenny, and Andrew because we already had this unspoken bond. We knew what each other have gone through and still go through. Here, hellos were received with hugs. Here, we were an unique community that understood each other’s grief, confusion, and pain.
My dad took part in the opening ceremony with the beads. Various color honor beads were distributed to the walkers, acknowledging one’s personal connection to the cause. My dad represented the red beads – the loss of a spouse/partner. In the ceremony, he placed his beads around my mom’s luminary. White beads represented the loss of a child, gold – a parent, orange – a sibling, purple – a relative/friend, silver – a soldier, green – struggled personally, and blue – a supporter of the cause. That was one of my favorite parts about the walk. When I saw others wearing gold beads, I felt an instant connection with them.
Together, we walked eighteen miles throughout the night. We passed by the Palace of Fine Arts, the gorgeous Pacific Heights neighborhood, Cottage Row, Chinatown, AT&T park (home of the Giants), Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. It was a grueling walk with the hills and concrete; by the time we were done, our feet were about to fall off! Before we hit the 18 mile mark, the luminaries were set up, forming a path. It was absolutely breathtaking – thousands of bags flickering in the pitch black darkness. The memories of our loved ones always shining in our hearts and minds – they are gone, but never forgotten. A new day, a new life, and finally, a new hope.
Together, we raised over 2.3 million dollars (and donations continue to come in). Together, we will change the statistics. But we wouldn’t have done all of this without YOU.
We (myself, my dad, my aunt, and my uncle) raised a total of $16,622.42 with your support and donations. We also raised one thousand from the beautiful concert back home that took place while we did the walk so mom’s friends and family could honor her on the east coast. And so we thank you, for helping us remember and love Diane on both sides of the country. The support we received was incredible that we still can’t believe it. I received support from friends at Johns Hopkins, my Alpha Phi sorority, and my job in Admissions. We also received support from where my mom volunteered and worked, including Stuart Country Day and Chapin School. People ask us, “how did you raise so much?” It was because our friends and family remember the wonderful person my mom was and how she impacted so many lives.
And so I end with this blog with a huge thank you. Thank you for helping us, whether it be providing emotional support, donating, spreading the word about the walk as well as suicide awareness, or simply being there for us, thank you.