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Out of the Darkness Walk aims to put funding toward education, advocacy, research and support

September 07, 2013|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alnotarianni@aol.com
  • Participants in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk leave City Park Saturday morning. The walk was part of suicide prevention month.
By Joe Crocetta / Staff Photographer

Heather Elliott said her late husband had struggled with depression.

Over the years, she said, in his darkest times, he had spoken of suicide. She listened to him, tried to support him, encouraged him to get professional help. Still, not yet two weeks ago, on Aug. 27, her worst nightmare became a reality when he took his own life.

Soon after, Elliott, 25, of Hagerstown saw an ad in the newspaper for the Out of the Darkness Community Walk. Hosted by the Maryland chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the event aimed to raise awareness of suicide, help prevent it and provide support for survivors — meaning family members who have lost loved ones to it.

Elliott and her two young sons participated in the event Saturday morning at City Park in Hagerstown.

“It was perfect timing,” she said. “I didn’t know how to get help for someone who wouldn’t. Now, I have a 9-year-old and a 5-year-old with no daddy.”

Elliott said she found resources to help with practical and emotional issues at the event. Hospice of Washington County offers a support group for individuals who have lost a spouse to suicide. Counselors were on hand to assist people struggling with depression and mental illness, as well as survivors.

Volunteers handed out necklaces referred to as “honor beads” in various colors, based on relationship to the person who had been lost. Heather Elliott wore red, indicating she had lost a spouse. Her sons wore gold, meaning they had lost their father.

One of her boys asked to speak with walk Chairwoman Julie Matheny, as she had the same color beads he did and he thought she might understand what he was going through.

That was exactly the idea behind the beads, Matheny said. She lost her father to suicide 27 years ago when she was 18.

“This gives people a place where they can feel comfortable, where they can communicate and identify with other people who are going through the same things they are going through,” she said.

Matheny, of Williamsport, had attended walks in other cities before she and other area survivors began to organize a local walk. As of Friday evening, almost 400 people had registered online for the first-time event, Matheny said, and others continued to line up to register Saturday morning.

The group met at the park and walked about 3 1/2 miles through downtown Hagerstown, raising more then $29,000, mainly through sponsorships, to be split between the national and local chapters, Matheny said. It was scheduled in correspondence with National Suicide Prevention Week.

“I like the group’s mission to put funding toward education, advocacy, research and support for survivors of suicide,” she said. “I think there is a stigma that is around it. There tends to be a lot of shame and guilt around the issue.”

Lisa Norgard of Hagerstown addressed the crowd. Her late husband, the Rev. Eric Norgard, who was a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, committed suicide in November 2011.

“It is still something so hard to talk about and even to the word. ‘Suicide,’” Lisa Norgard said with resolve through tears.

She encouraged participants to share their stories to foster understanding and enlightenment.

“I consider each of us to be little lights,” she said. “Together, we can shine bright enough to bring suicide, mental illness and depression out of the darkness.”

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