Walking a mile (or 6) in her shoes

Seeing Danielle Marshman Williamson walking in and around Oxford has become a regular occurrence for members of the community where the Hoppie’s owner grew up. Those frequent walks – which have been steadily increasing in length over the last few months – aren’t part of some new workout routine, however. No, Danielle’s goal is a little loftier than just getting in shape. Each step she takes is aimed at raising awareness – and money – for suicide prevention.

You see, two months from now, Danielle will be participating in an 18-mile fundraising walk in Boston called the Out of the Darkness Overnight. The event, which is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will raise money for suicide prevention and to provide services and support for survivors of suicide loss.

“Survivors of suicide loss” is the term used to describe people who have lost a loved one to suicide.

I think you’ll agree that 18 miles isn’t exactly a walk in the park. So Danielle has been steadily building up her endurance. When she first went into training, she said two miles was a stretch for her. Now, that’s nothing. Last weekend she did her longest walk to date: a whopping eight miles from her Village of Oxford Ice Cream Parlor down East River Road (past the farm she grew up on) to around the Oxford Bridge Road and back.

Danielle has been a friend for more years than I can count. She’s a couple of years younger than me, sure, but you know how it is growing up in a small town. She and I were in a host of activities together through the years, and weathered our share of high school drama. My parents were in Lions with her parents, her mom was my favorite Primary School teacher – you get the picture. So when she asked me if I would be interested in doing an article about her upcoming adventure, naturally I agreed.

Accompanying her on one of her training jaunts was my idea. I figured we’d get the work done early on and then just enjoy the beautiful day. Besides, she told me that we’d go three miles, four tops.

It turned into six before I’d even laced myself into my hiking shoes on Tuesday. But I didn’t back out. And not because the sun was bright in a nearly cloudless blue sky. (Although that didn’t hurt.) No, I felt it was the least I could do to show my support for a friend who has been through so much and has taken up the torch for a cause so near and dear to her heart.

You see, Danielle is herself a survivor of suicide loss. Her dad, Dan Marshman, took his own life in 2001. If she were the one telling this story, she’d be more blatant about it. She isn’t afraid to tell people that her dad hung himself. In fact, she says being able to talk openly about it was an important part of healing for her.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Danielle after her Dad died. But I never truly understood what she went through until shortly after I started working for The Evening Sun. She had asked me to do an article about a monthly suicide support group she was starting. I couldn’t refuse, of course. And I dutifully turned out to Hoppie’s one day for what was without a doubt one of the most difficult interviews I’ve ever done.

As I sat perched on one of the retro stools at the counter, Danielle explained to me how the healing process is a long and difficult one for someone who has lost someone by their own hand. Not only do they suffer the grief associated with losing a loved one, she told me, but they must also face the stigma attached to suicide. Because it’s such a taboo topic, those who are suffering don’t always reach out for help. For the first three years after her father died, Danielle struggled with her grief. But then she attended an AFSP conference, and finally began to heal.

It is because of the organization’s own impact on her life that she is so passionate about this cause and willing to go to such lengths to support it. She doesn’t want others to experience the pain and loss she has endured.

Our six mile route on Tuesday took us to Marshman Farms and back, and along the way we talked about any number of things. The walk, of course, and all the current happenings in our lives. But as we neared the farm itself, our conversation turned to Danielle’s dad.

It was the first time she really opened up to me about the disease he suffered from. Most people knew him as the life of the party, a dairyman who was a leader in both the local business and agricultural communities. They weren’t aware of the depression he kept hidden from all but a few of his closest friends and family members.

Our steps in sync, she shared with me her memories of the weeks preceding his death, and the last day they spent together before he took his own life.

It broke my heart all over again. But by the time we were once again within the village limits, I could recognize and fully appreciate how much Danielle has been able to heal over the last few years, to be able to talk so openly about her dad and his death – and to turn her own experience into this commitment to help others.

I wasn’t so wrapped up in that reflection to let her sneak in an extra mile, however. Despite her best efforts.

Danielle said she’s had plenty of people volunteer to accompany her on her training walks, but I’m the only one who has actually put my track shoes where my mouth was. Normally she walks to the beat of the iPod her employees at Hoppie’s had chipped in to buy her when she first decided to do the walk. They knew how important it was to her, she told me.

I told her I’d be more than willing to accompany her again, with the caveat that there was some free ice cream in it for me.

Danielle will have a partner in Boston on June 26-27 – her friend Helena Bucca, who she knows from her post-college years in Massachusetts. The two of them have committed to raising at least $1,000 each for the cause. Thanks to the support of so many of her friends, family members and Hoppie’s customers, Danielle says they are well on their way to reaching that goal.

Anyone wishing to support Danielle and Helena’s walk in memory of Dan Marshman can do via the event’s website, www.theovernight.org.

Donations can also be made at Hoppie’s, on Lafayette Park in Oxford. For more information, call 843-2663.

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