Some walked for their children, others their spouses, cousins, parents or first responders. Several came out just to support the cause, while others walked for themselves. But together, about 200 people lapped the Lorain County Community College campus to raise awareness for suicide prevention.
At the third annual Out of the Darkness campus walk at LCCC, friends and family came together to remember loved ones who had died by suicide or struggled with ideation of it. The event raised money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which raises awareness and funds scientific research and aid to reduce the number of suicides in the U.S.
The campus walk was organized by Debra DiCillo, who lost her younger sister in 2008 and her daughter in 2009 to suicide. She became involved with the foundation after attending her first Out of the Darkness walk following her daughter’s death.
“I remember when I went to my first Out of the Darkness Walk,” DiCillo said. “I was overwhelmed when I saw how many people were there. People like me and my family, people who had lost loved ones to suicide. People who were struggling, people who had made attempts. When I went to my first walk, I was pretty broken. I was guilty, I felt like I failed as a mother, then I met other mothers — good mothers, good husbands, good friends, good partners — people who were suffering just as I was, and I realized I wasn’t alone.”
The theme of not being alone was key in other speeches. Joshua Ruminski, 18, of Happy Thoughts Candle Co., spoke as a survivor — having made suicide attempts at 12 and 16 years old. He suffers from anxiety, depression, ADHD and an eating disorder, but said he found hope through learning other people’s stories.
“What hope is, hope is self-love and self-care. Because hope is real and hope is alive,” he said. “… I found hope again by learning other people’s stories, about their past and their experiences and how it shapes who they are and their decisions. We all have a story, and when we learn those stories we begin to know how their decisions are made.”
Ruminski’s candle company had a table alongside ones for the Nord Center, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Advocacy 4 All, Mental Health Network of Lorain County and the Lorain County Board of Mental Health, all offering information to attendees on mental health and suicide prevention.
Kionna McIntosh-Pharms, of LCCC, and Kathleen Kern, executive director of the Lorain County Board of Mental Health, both shared their personal and professional connections with suicide.
McIntosh-Pharms said her son attempted suicide, her best friend’s father killed himself when she was 15 and one of her friends killed themselves while they were both students at LCCC.
“Everybody who is created in this universe has a gift, and there is something about you that we need here,” she said. “It takes a village, and we need each and every one of your gifts to succeed as a society.”
Kern said the board is devoted to reducing suicide in the community, and one of the key ways to do that is for people to attend events like the Out of the Darkness walk. She also personally lost a loved one to suicide.
“I understand that when people die by suicide, they feel an unbelievable pain and they’re just looking for that pain to end,” Kern said. “And cognitively I do understand that. But as someone who loves someone who died by suicide, I also understand that their pain doesn’t end, it’s just transferred to those of us who are left behind.”
Koreen Brattoli, of Amherst, and Cindy Pendergrass, of Elyria, understand that pain. Both women were part of a group of about 20 people walking for Jenni Shough, who killed herself in November. This was their first time attending a suicide prevention walk, and their group was doing something special in memory of Shough.
“Kind of a cute thing with our story is Jenni was big into style and fashion and shoes, so a lot of our team members are actually wearing shoes that Jenni had left and that we had kind of taken on,” Pendergrass said.
“So we’re like walking this walk in Jenni’s shoes in memory of her,” Brattoli added.
Walking in memory of her cousin, Joshua Kubiak, and for herself, Jessica Zisko, 19, of Cleveland, has been to four Out of the Darkness walks and several other suicide prevention walks for other organizations. She said going to her first walk after her cousin’s death in 2016 is what motivated her to get help, and she strongly encourages everyone to try going to an event.
“When my cousin committed suicide, it gave me the strength and faith to come out about it and seek help,” Zisko said. “Things like this, it might seem to some people that it’s stupid or it’s not going to help, but it helped me a lot because after my cousin, I started coming to these and I realized I’m not alone. There’s a lot of people who are secretly struggling, kind of like me, and it made me feel comfortable coming out about it, knowing that I’m not alone.”
Zisko said she was admitted to the hospital twice this year for the first time, and also was walking for her unit, Sunrise, at Highland Springs.
“… I met a bunch of great people who also struggle with suicide, so I’m walking for them, too,” she said. “They’re still here, but I’m still walking for them because I have faith in them that we can all overcome this and I want to keep faith open to everything.”
No matter the reason attendees were walking, all of them were there to support the foundation’s goal of reducing suicide by 20 percent by 2025.
“By standing here today you are telling the world you are not alone, you are showing each other, one step at a time, we can create a world without suicide,” Ruminski said.