Walk 18 miles through the night for suicide prevention? Ask my friends and family to make donations to support me? It was all too much and I did what I always do when I feel overwhelmed. I procrastinated. And then I talked with John Fujikawa, a fellow survivor who I met at the taping for this year’s American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Survivor Day panel, about my reluctance and my anxieties. He encouraged me to make the trip to San Francisco and assured me that my friends and family would support me, that they’d be eager to do so.
But still, I procrastinated. Because the embarrassing truth is that I generally don’t like to ask for help and, more to point, I’m embarrassed to acknowledge that even after 41 years I still struggle with the aftermath of my dad’s suicide. I could certainly pretend that I was doing the walk because I’m on the national board of AFSP and it’s good for me to show my support for the organization’s work and to get a close up look at how the national “Out of the Darkness Overnight” walk works. I did that last year in New York and wrote a check for the full $1,000 participants are required to raise (most participants raise that money from family and friends) and walked the first few miles before heading home for a full night’s sleep.
So this year, with John’s encouragement, I registered and made my reservations to travel from New York to San Francisco. And then I put off sending out a fundraising email to friends and family until six days before I was set to leave for California. It was no small challenge to write the letter even though I’ve written fundraising letters for various organizations as part of my freelance writing work. But this was different. There was no way to write the letter without writing about my own experience and explaining why I was walking and why I was asking for moral and financial support from my family and friends.
Here’s the letter I wound up writing:
Dear Family & Friends,
As some of you know, since the 2010 republication of my book Why Suicide? (www.whysuicide.com), I’ve become deeply involved in the work of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org). I’m now on the national board and also head up a committee that advises the organization on its programs concerning suicide survivors (people who have lived through the suicide of a loved one), and we’re in the process of planning the first National Survivors Summit, which we’ve scheduled for 2014. I’ve also made a financial commitment to the organization, including raising money to support AFSP’s funding of research and assistance to suicide survivors.
To that end, and in memory of my father, I’ll be joining more than 2,000 fellow survivors and supporters in San Francisco on June 9 to participate in the annual “Out of the Darkness” 18-mile overnight walk (http://bit.ly/Nj1Og7). For me this is an opportunity to do something positive in memory of my father’s life and to also spend time with fellow survivors, which I find life-affirming.
I know that times are tight and we all have our favorite charities, so I’ll completely understand if the only support you can provide is moral. But if you’re able, I’d also welcome your financial support. To make a contribution, here is a link to my contribution page: http://bit.ly/Nj3g2b
Thanks in advance.
P.S. I’ve set a very ambitious goal of raising $4,400 dollars, which represents $100 for each year of my father’s life. I decided to think about the fundraising in this way because I’d rather celebrate the time my father lived than mark the way in which he died.
In the email’s subject line I wrote: “In Memory of My Father (1926-1970).” Even now it brings tears to my eyes to write that simple line and to note my dad’s birth and death dates.
Within a few minutes of sending out the email to a list of 118 family and friends, I had a half-dozen responses and my first donations. Within 48 hours I’d reached my goal of $4,400. By this morning, the contributions topped $12,000! I have been overwhelmed. Every contribution and every note (and the notes are so lovely and supportive!) moved me to tears. Given the secrecy around my dad’s death, his suicide was perhaps the loneliest experience of my life. The experience of reaching out to family and friends to ask for their support in my work with AFSP has left me feeling quite the opposite.
So by the time I set out on Saturday night for that very long walk with John Fujikawa, I felt the warm embrace of my family and friends. And it didn’t hurt that I was surrounded by 2,200 other people, many of them fellow survivors, including a lovely young couple, Mike and Kathleen, who were walking in memory of Mike’s older brother. The four of us walked together for the first nine miles.
It’s still embarrassing to say that I have any reason to embark a healing journey like the “Overnight.” But I did. And I do. Walking 18 miles through the night, sharing with other survivors along the way, and doing something positive in the aftermath of something so terrible feels good. Thirty-six hours after crossing the finish line at Fort Mason Park, my 53-year-old body still aches, but my heart is on the mend. I’ve still got a long way to go—and there’s still so much to be done to prevent suicide and to help those left behind in the aftermath of a suicide—so maybe I’ll see you at next year’s “Overnight” walk.
About This Blog
Welcome to my blog, which grew out of my experience as a suicide survivor and my experience writing Why Suicide? (see below). On occasion I’ll be posting an essay based on something I’ve read, someone I’ve met, an experience I’ve had, or just a memory of someone in my life who took his or her life. If you have a thought on something I’ve written, I hope you won’t hesitate to join the conversation by leaving a comment.
About Eric Marcus
Eric Marcus is the author of several books, including Why Suicide?, Is It A Choice?, and Making Gay History. He is also co-author of Breaking the Surface, the #1 New York Times bestselling autobiography of Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis. And he currently serves on the national board of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (Photo Credit: Dixie Sheridan.)