With two sons suffering from varying degrees of mental illness, Ginger, our Director of Telehealth Accounts, has spent years navigating mental health care. In 2017, Ginger’s oldest son Austin, age 19, lost his battle with depression and anxiety to suicide. After his tragic death, she understood that her purpose in life is to use her skill set to advocate and work to shine a light on mental health by changing the landscape and accessibility of quality mental healthcare. This past weekend, Ginger participated in the Out the Darkness Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
During the Bead Ceremony prior to each walk, a parent that has lost a child is chosen to share his/her story. Ginger’s story was shared this year. The following is the script of her story:
As I often do, I jumped at the opportunity to use my voice and offered to share my story today. As the days went by I had not even begun to write this and Markita even let me know that I didn’t have to if it was too difficult right now. And as I often do, I dismissed it as not having time and I would get right to it. So now it is Friday morning and the walk is tomorrow. But it is early and dark outside. It feels like there is no one else in the world but me and him. To write this, it’s not about time, it’s about being willing to go to the place that I reserve for just the two of us. It hurts, it’s a sadness that can’t be described but every survivor knows it. I work hard to control when I will enter this space.
It has been 18 months since I lost my son Austin and since my son Colton, lost his brother.
I walk because the world I live in now has no order yet. I still don’t know what any day may hold no matter how I plan. This walk provides some peace, some direction and some purpose for me.
All of these things have been incredibly difficult to come by over the last 18 months. I am 43 years old. I can’t begin to imagine how my living, 19 year old son is able to make any sense of the world. He is here today not only to honor his brother, but to also honor his friend, Alex, who we lost to suicide on October 16th, just 2 and a half weeks ago. He was also 19. He was a freshman at the same college as my son, Austin.
I did my first walk in Newport News, VA in September last year, just about 4 and a half months after Austin passed. There, I was able to do it with his friends and brothers from college. A group of 19 and 20 year olds with more heart and caring for others than most of society likes to give them credit for. In each one of them, I see parts of my son. I watch them grow and mature knowing what they meant to my son’s life and what he meant to them.
Like this walk, in a world that felt so chaotic for my son, taking care of his friends, his mom and his brother, gave my son some peace, some direction and some purpose.
In his reality, my son could find no peace from what was going on in his sick brain. I remember as clear as if it were yesterday, a conversation with Austin in my kitchen. Not only could he not understand why there was a stigma around suffering from a mental illness, it really angered him that it seemed as though no one was supposed to talk about it. The tone of the conversation was as much about his concern for everyone else as it was for himself. When Austin could not help himself, he worked hard to help others.
That is why I walk. I cannot bring Austin back to this Earth. I cannot change what I, Colton or the world has lost.
So I work hard to help others.
I refuse to recognize stigma.
I refuse to accept that in Virginia, we lose a life to suicide every 8 hours.
I use my voice and my presence as loudly as I can. And I use Austin’s voice.
There is a song by The Band Perry, If I Die Young, that reminds me of this purpose. The lyrics say “A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell ‘em for a dollar. They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner”. And close with “Funny when you’re dead how people start listening”.
I will continue to share Austin’s story, I will ask for every penny that I can from anyone who is listening. Research, Prevention & Education, Advocacy & Public Policy, and Support. That is what the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention invests that money in and that is how we will save lives. Thank you to all of you who have worked so hard to put this day together.
There are truly not the right or enough words to express my deep gratitude. You help me find peace and purpose.
For anyone who may be as fresh to loss as I was the first time that I walked, you are not alone. I am still here. My son, Colton, is still here. We still laugh, we still smile. This is not the end of all happiness, this is a permanently altered perspective that will shift and change.
Smile, love and share your heart. This is what we are here to do and that is how we will make the change that we all know is so desperately needed.
Ginger recognizes that technology has the ability to create instant community and support for those seeking mental health care and to open doors that were previously closed. As such, she has joined our team to advocate and lead the sales of of our mental health application, Uni Wellness Care.
Uni Wellness Care builds a virtual bridge that maintains critical connectedness between therapist and patient for those leaving home to go to and succeed while in college.
Contact us to learn more about Uni Wellness Care.