A year ago, I took a walk that changed my life. It was a picture perfect spring day. The sunny, blue-skied kind of afternoon that makes you want to play hooky. I wasn’t playing hooky, though. I was working. In fact, I was doing an interview. Agreeing to go on that siz-mile walk was the only way I could get Hoppie’s owner Danielle Marshman Williamson to fit me in.
For Danielle, six miles was nothing. She was working up to 18 – because in two months time she’d be walking that distance in a fundraising walk in Boston called the Out of the Darkness Overnight. Sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the dusk ‘til dawn walk raises 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.
In other words, people like Danielle.
In 2001, her dad, Dan Marshman, took his own life. In the years following his death, she struggled to come to terms with his suicide. It was only after attending an AFSP conference in 2004, that she finally began to heal. The organization – and this cause – is very near and dear to her heart.
I’ve known Danielle my whole life, but it wasn’t until 2 1/2 years ago that we truly talked about this painful topic. At the time, she was in the process of starting a monthly support group to help others who had also lost loved ones by their own hand. She talked openly about her dad’s death, and explained to me how the stigma of suicide makes the grieving – and ultimately, healing – process that much more difficult.
As we walked – from downtown Oxford to Marshman Farms and back – Danielle opened up even more to me. It was the first time we talked about the disease he suffered from. Most people knew her dad as a dairyman who was a leader in both the local business and agricultural communities. He was fun-loving and always the life of the party. But he also suffered from depression, something he hid from all but his closest friends and family.
She shared with me, too, her memories of the weeks preceding his death, and the last day they spent together before he took his own life.
Listening to her talk so openly and honestly about her dad and his death, I could more fully appreciate how much she has been able to heal. It is why, too, she is willing to go to such lengths to support the AFSP’s efforts. She doesn’t want others to experience the pain and loss she has endured.
I find it awe inspiring, really. How many of us would have the strength of conviction to be able to turn such an experience into a commitment to help others?..