By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
There are few things more jarring and life-changing than the death of a loved one. It’s even more jarring when that death comes prematurely, and at the hands of the loved one themselves.
It’s something that, sadly, too many friends and family members of the lost have had to deal with. And it’s one that those who have experienced it, or worked such tragedies, want to make sure no one else ever has to endure.
It was that empathy and compassion – both for those contemplating suicide and those left behind to deal with the fallout – that inspired the formation of Carter County Be Here Now.
The organization will hold their sixth annual suicide prevention walk this coming Sunday, September 10, at Carter Caves State Resort Park. But the roots of the event stretch back to 2015.
That was when Carter County Sheriff Jeff May and organizer Jill York had a conversation that would grow into the group and event we know today.
“This actually came out of… a conversation with Jeff May,” explained York. “He had gone out to work the eighth suicide of the year.”
York said they were discussing how that number was high for a county with Carter County’s population, but that it probably didn’t account for all the suicides in the county, as folks are often reluctant to report or even discuss suicide. Discussion, however, was necessary they decided. No matter how uncomfortable the subject was.
York talked to a clinical psychologist and friend, and she and May decided to begin educating the community on things like recognizing the signs of suicidal ideation, and addressing those signs and feelings in friends and family.
Even though it isn’t an easy thing to consider, and an even harder topic to broach with those contemplating it, York and May felt like it was something that the community needed encouragement to address.
“You can’t tiptoe around it and give them an out,” York explained during a conversation at a previous event. “If you are concerned you have to show it. You have to ask, ‘Are you having suicidal thoughts?’”
York and other volunteers then carried this message out into the community, beginning with talks and training at area churches. What she found was that those who had been touched by suicide wanted desperately to save other families from experiencing that same heart ache.
The suicide survivors, she said, and the family left behind were “the fiercest advocates” she noted.
“They want to grab everybody, and shake them, and wake them up,” York explained.
And while it’s hard to accept that a friend or family member may want to take their own life, doing so is a key part of preventing the tragedy.
“This (suicide) is a possibility, and we need to give people better choices. More hope,” she said.
It was from these training sessions, and conversations with survivors, that Carter County Be Here Now was formed. It’s a way, she said, for survivors to connect and comfort one another. But, more importantly, a way to remove the stigma of discussing suicide and to save the lives of those considering it.
This year’s event, like those in the past, will feature speakers and outreach, opportunities for support and connection, and a memorial balloon launch, along with the walk and “honor beads.”
Those beads, worn by walkers and survivors, indicate their connection to the event.
White beads are worn for the loss of a child, purple for a friend or relative, and red for a spouse or partner. Silver beads are worn to signify the loss of a veteran or first responder – individuals who have borne witness to immeasurable amounts of pain and trauma that often wears on them.
Though it isn’t required to participate, walkers who wear those beads do so to signal their connection to other survivors and to pay tribute to the loved ones they have lost.
Those who wish to participate, or simply to witness the event, are welcome to pre-register, or you can simply choose to show up on the day of the event.
You can find more information on their Facebook page @CCbeheretomorrow, including registration links. Or, you can register online be going directly to https://forms.gle/j87Ts4XH4nDa4n4SA. You can register as an individual or a team. Registration for the event is free.
The Carter County Suicide Awareness and Prevention Walk begins at 3 p.m. at the Fraley Amphitheater near Caveland Lodge.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org