A New Day, a New Life

Posted by 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.

The bridge in the background on the first mile

Mandy and I

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.

Dad in the opening ceremony

Halfway there!

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.

The last mile lit by the luminaries

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.

With an original goal of $2,000, our team finished in the top 15 out of 450 teams

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.


18 Responses to “ A New Day, a New Life ”

  1. Dave says:

    I know the time for commenting must have expired, but this is still one of the most moving things I’ve ever read. You are young and resilient and as you said, passionate. The pain will fade but the poignancy won’t, nor will the 19 years of inseparability. I hope those final images, no doubt even more vivid in a silent world, are over-written by new scenes from the wonderful life Mary was sure you were destined for…

  2. Sally Branon says:


    I have so many memories of you and your family, and what a privilege it is to be part of your life. Your courage and plans for the future make all of us proud. Love, Sally Branon

  3. Joan Webb says:

    Lissie, What a beautiful tribute to your mom. I worked at the Dittmar Agency from 1963 to July 2011. I had the pleasure of working with Diane for many years and treasured my friendship with all the Dittmars – they made me feel like family. God bless the family and keep the faith. Joan Webb

  4. pam says:

    you show amazing strength! Ters roll down my face as I read every heartfelt word. I was at the walk as well. It was amazing once again (did NY’s 2007 also) My son of only 16yrs took his life.I will never get it, andsometimes I totally get it- all this pain, but I heal slowly. My 18 year old brother also took his life35 years ago – it still confuses me. you are very strong

  5. Lisa Johnson says:

    I’m crying this is so beautifully written. I went to the walk to support a friend who lost her father to suicide but also because my children have lost 2 friends in the past 1 1/2 to suicide and the most recent one hit them very hard.

    I’ve participated in the Avon Walk for 4 years in memory of my Mom but this walk was so different the event had such an impact on me and I felt so connected – mostly because as soon as people started talking they were talking about me – I’ve fought depression my whole life and my son is bipolar. I take medicine and I do pretty good but I always worry about my son. I pray that I never get the call that he has committed suicide.

    I think I will stay involved in this organization because I just loved it. And as I told my friend and I can tell you. I’ve done 4 Avon Walks in San Francisco in July and the weather is cold and windy but that night it was beautiful and warm and as I told my friends it was because there were Angels everywhere :)

    Your Mother is looking down on you and she is so proud!

  6. Tom Portante says:

    Memories of your mother – and all of us – have been graced by your words. Your mother had a remarkable daughter.

  7. Bill Blanchard says:

    You have a beautiful spirit and you write so well. keep it up it is a gift you have been given. I loved our walk through SF and know your mother was in our presence. She was a truly unique woman with an ability to light up a room and you possess those qualities as well.
    Love you, Uncle Bill

  8. BA Cagney says:

    Allysa, thank you for your courage and hope. You continue to make the best of the gifts from your parents. I think of you, your dad and your mom as I drive through Cream Ridge to the beach. Prayers for your dreams and strength to continue to help so many people.

  9. Dominique says:

    This is one of the most inspirational things I have ever seen. I admire your strength and your action to raise awareness for this…I wish nothing but the best for you and your family; you all have beautiful hearts.

  10. Sarah G says:

    Allysa, what an amazing peice of writing. Your story is one of strength and hope that will inspire many. Thank you for sharing your experience at the Overnight with us. xoxo

  11. Kathy says:

    Hi Allysa,
    You don’t know me but I’m a close friend of your Anut Sue’s. Because of my relationship with Sue I had the joy of spending time with your mom when she would come out at summertime. I count it a huge gift to have had Di and Denise come to my home for lunch when she was last here. Your mom and I always easily connected, liking many of the same things and laughing easily together. We also share the same birthday. She will forever be beautifully etched in my memory with her amazing smile and her gentle character.
    I’ve read many of your blogs and they have always deeply moved me. Thank you for being so transparent and brave. You are a beautiful combination of all that was good in your mom. Thank you also for bringing to light something that is so difficult it often remains hidden.
    My son has lost three friends, my friend lost his sister and my girlfriend lost her husband. I am going to tell all of them about Overnight and what it has done for you. You are gifted writer. Please continue. And thank you for sharing your gift so generously.

  12. Sue Blanchard says:

    That was an evening I will never forget, and I was honored to do it with you and your dad. I know it will make a difference in someones life as it did mine. I could feel my sister walking with us Lissy, holding our hand. I love you.
    Aunt Sue

  13. Dottie Woodbury says:

    Allysa, your words painted a vivid picture of a wonderful tribute to your mom. Thank you for raising our awareness for the need for suicide prevention. You are a remarkable young woman, and I know your mom had a lot to do with that!! Loads of love to you and your family,

  14. Karen De Naples says:

    Thanks for the beautiful blog. I’ve watched you grow from a cute little girl/playmate of Gina’s to a beautiful young lady. You are a reflection of your Mom.

    Love you and very proud of you!

  15. Tess T. says:

    Allysa – this blog is so beautiful. I am so happy and honored to call you my sister, my co-worker, my friend. Love you always.

  16. Ruthie C. says:

    i’m actually crying this is so beautiful. i miss you and can’t wait to see you in the fall. aoe <3

  17. Nancy says:

    Thanks so much for sharing all of your posts. With your articulate and heartfelt words, you have helped so many of us who miss your Mom. Through your walk and fund-raising you have helped more people than you will ever know! Love to you!

  18. Kim says:

    Beautifully written Liss. So proud of you.