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Just My Thoughts – Out of the Darkness

Kerrie Kleppin-Winn
September 22 2021

I had plenty of things to do last Saturday – projects, laundry, you know the normal weekend stuff. Instead, I put on my sneakers and drove across town and joined several thousand others at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village.

First, let me just say that this crowd of people is, by far, the largest I’ve been a part of in at least 18 months. Let me also follow up by saying, it made me uncomfortable. It made me anxious. It legitimately made me a little tachycardic.

I had purposely arrived early. So while I struggled with my own comfort and safety levels, they irony of my own angst was not lost on me as the crowd continued to grow. The friend I was meeting reminded me, “Breathe.  Just breathe.”

Then I saw the giant sign on the lawn across the way: It Is OK To Not Be OK.

The group gathered to walk the streets of mid-town Omaha, walking in solidarity to shed light – literally – on the darkness of the topic we all easily avoid: Mental Health, and more specifically, Suicide. Omaha’s 2021 Out of the Darkness Walk to End Suicide was eye opening and overwhelming all at the same time. Let me try to break this down for you. . .

For a minute, I’m taking my own pandemic-anxiety out of this conversation. It’s important, and I’ll come back to it, but for now, let me just paint you a picture of Saturday. There was abundant sunshine, and a beautiful breeze cascading over this sea of humans, many of whom were assembled in groups which were obvious because of their matching t-shirts. Honestly, it was a stunning patchwork of glorious color.

But amid that colorful quilt of humans were hundreds of messages of loss. And sadness. These color-coded groups were all assembled because their lives have been impacted by suicide.  Friends, relatives, spouses, children, co-workers…the words on the team shirts memorialized their personal losses.

And there were SO MANY of them.

I know for a fact, that not all of the losses were memorialized in writing on Saturday.  Because my little “team” didn’t have fancy shirts. We didn’t have photos on poster boards. We were just three women standing together to support a greater cause fueled by one who was brave and courageous enough to say, “My life is different because of Suicide and I’m going to be strong enough this year to acknowledge that.”

See, that’s the thing. There’s a lot, and I mean A LOT of stigma – and shame and fear and guilt and embarrassment and, and, and – wrapped around the mere word “suicide.”  It’s almost always a mental health-fueled issue and, Lord have mercy upon us, we cannot possibly talk about THAT either. It takes an insurmountable amount of courage for someone affected by suicide to talk about it. The rest of us, well, it’s just easier not to.  And so, we don’t. And so, no one does.

That’s where the trouble festers and boils.

Suicide prevention/intervention events are often tagged with the “out of the darkness” phrase quite simply because being in a place of contemplating ending your own life is a dark, dark place. Living life after someone you love has ended their own life also leaves you in an equally dark place as well.

I cannot pretend to know or understand what it feels like to lose someone I love in this tragic way. Any more than I can pretend to understand how mental health issues drive someone to the point of taking their own life. I suppose that makes me lucky.

But I can tell you that I have stood by not one, but two of my besties as they’ve walked that journey. You don’t wish that on anyone. I can also tell you that my own pandemic-related anxiety issues (circling back to them) give me only a TINY taste of what living with mental health issues must be like. And that is all the perspective I need.

The darkness doesn’t have to stay dark.  Not for anyone – on either side of the issue. There is always light on the way.  But not if we all aren’t brave enough to offer it.

My new on-screen hero, Ted Lasso, seems like a bumbling idiot to most of his peers. In fact, most of his current peers are around him simply because someone saw him as the ultimate bumbling idiot. (For now, that’s really all you need to know, but also, I cannot encourage you enough to seek out this show called ‘Ted Lasso’, for it will be a boost to your own mental well-being. But I digress…) This fellow Ted, however, is a pretty smart cookie and was quoted in one of the early episodes as such: “Be curious, not judgmental.” While judgment walls you off from others, he says, curiosity opens you up to them.

There is a huge lesson right there. One that I could prattle on about – on a myriad of levels – for days.

For today, though, I stress this: the stigma that surrounds suicide will never be gone until we are all courageous enough to address it. Be curious, and compassionate, and just ask the hard questions without judging. Be brave enough to find someone – anyone – and say, “I think I might not be ok right now,” knowing that the right person is going to help you shine some daylight into your darkest place.

It is OK to not be OK.

It is OK to be compassionately curious.

It is CERTAINLY OK to not understand, but also not be judgmental.

As a WISE (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, Engaged) congregation, it is what we are called to do.

September is Suicide Awareness Prevention Month.  If you, or someone you love, is living in darkness, please call 800-273-8255 at anytime to reach someone who can help. If you are interested in expanding your curiosity about how life after suicide impacts your life, I encourage you to read this blog post from my friend Nancy Bachmann.