It wasn’t long ago that I was like most people affected by suicide. I felt completely isolated. I longed for a community. I wanted to know if there were others out there in the world who understood the complexities of my loss; the anger, abandonment and betrayal I felt after my mother’s suicide combined with a deep sorrow that the woman who raised me was gone forever.
Within the first few months after my mother’s death I began a quest to find a community. I joined a support group and I signed up to participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. The Overnight Walk is an 18 mile walk which takes place in a different city every year. The participants walk all night to light up the city and spread awareness. After a little encouragement, my brother, Andrew, decided to sign up as well. Like most people who register for the Walk we created a team made up of the two of us and called ourselves Team Yellow Rose out of respect to our mom’s favorite flower.
It felt good to register for the Overnight Walk. It gave me purpose. I had a minimum fundraising requirement to meet, I had a reason to get up in the morning and exercise because I knew I needed to train for the 18 mile walk. Although I was looking forward to the event, it was still months away and I didn’t feel like my community had expanded just by signing up. It was during a conversation about this that Andrew and I realized what we both wanted most out of the Overnight Walk was to connect with others who understood our unique loss. We wanted to meet other people who had lost their moms to suicide. It was this desire that lead to the beginnings of Mom Squad and put us on the path of helping others find the community we all needed.
Mom Squad began one night when we realized we could search through the database of Overnight Walkers and find anyone walking in memory of a mom. Whenever we found someone whose donation page mentioned their mom we donated five dollars to them and asked them to find our page on facebook which we named “Mom Squad.”
The next morning we woke up and found 10 people had “liked” our page. A year and a half later that same page has over 600 “likes” and continues to go up every day.
Sofia Hernandez, who walked with us in 2012 and 2013 describes the moment when she saw the donation come in from two people she had never met,
“I’ll never forget when I received a donation on my fundraising page from a complete stranger! Myself and my husband was eating lunch in San Francisco. As we were waiting for our food, I checked my email and saw a $5 donation from an ‘Andrew.’ Andrew? Who is that? As I read on, he said he and his sister also lost their mom to suicide and started a team called Mom Squad and asked me to check out the Facebook page. I went to the page and the rest is history! I’ve meet other people just like me! Not just people who lost someone to suicide, but who have lost a mother.”
In June of 2012 Andrew and I traveled to San Francisco to participate in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk. We met up with other “Mom Squaders” and formed friendships. As I left San Francisco I began thinking of how Mom Squad could help more people connect and heal.
I created the Mom Squad Out of the Darkness Overnight team as soon as they announced that the 2013 Overnight Walk would take place in Washington D.C.. I launched a campaign through social media to connect with others who lost their moms and were looking for a community. Soon we were a team of 16. Slowly, our fundraising numbers began to climb and before I knew it we had raised over 27,000 dollars. We were even able to raise enough money to help supplement the travel expenses for a few of our team members.
A few hours before the Overnight Walk I hosted a pizza party in my hotel room. I thought it would be nice to meet up with everyone before we walked 18 miles together; to share a meal together and customize our t-shirts. Looking back on those first moments together I smile thinking of the awkward introductions, the hesitant movements across the room to decorate their t-shirts with fabric markers, the hushed tones as they began to learn each other’s stories of losing their moms. Not even 24 hours later a smaller group made up of those who were not too exhausted or already on their way to their homes met up again for another meal. We had finished our 18 mile walk around 4 am, rested for a few hours and then journeyed out to find some well-deserved comfort food. We sat at a long table in a burger joint. As I looked around I could hardly contain all the different emotions running through my heart. This group of people was very different from the quiet nervous group at the pizza party. They were a community, brought together by loss, but bonded by hope. They spoke about their mothers, how difficult the loss was, but they also spoke about their children, their spouses and their jobs. As a group we moved seamlessly between somber moments of heavy emotions, tears and side splitting laughter.
One of the most rewarding moments of my life was when one of the women told me she no longer felt alone on this journey simply because she had been united with other people who, as she said, “get it.”
In the two years since my mom died by suicide I have had to reconfigure almost every single aspect of my life. There are still many things that are out of focus. I don’t know why there has to be so much heartache and sadness in this world. I don’t know why suicide is the only cause of death in the top ten that is on the rise. I don’t and never will know why my mom chose to leave this world empty of her spirit and joy.. What I do know is that when death or tragedy enter your life you need people who understand your perspective. I know that on the mornings when I wake up and the heaviness of grief is pressing down on my chest it helps to know there are people in the world who understand me and are also negotiating their way through this journey. I also know that building Mom Squad took a lot of work, but not that much. What it really took was courage. It took me making the choice to raise my hand and my voice in a world where people still don’t want to hear the word suicide. Then all I had to do was look around and see the other hands raised, the other voices looking for a platform and introduce them to each other.