The happy notes of “Here Comes the Sun” floated through the park as balloons swayed in the wind. Bubbles glinted in the light of the pure blue sky, delighting children decorated in multi-colored beads.
By all appearances, Lindenwood Park in Fargo was full of celebratory energy on Sept. 23. One thing that was not obvious, though, was that this energy was created from the ashes of tragedy.
The 7th annual Fargo-Moorhead Out of the Darkness Community Walk began with registration at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The walk raised a total of approximately $60,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
AFSP uses the money raised by over 200 annual community walks for research and education programs to prevent suicide. According to their webpage, the organization works to increase national awareness, advocate for mental health issues and assist survivors of suicide loss.
In Lindenwood Park on Sept. 23, advocates and survivors were given the opportunity to pick a strand of colored beads corresponding to their level of loss: white for the loss of a child, red for the loss of a spouse or partner, gold for the loss of a parent, orange for the loss of a sister or brother, purple for the loss of a relative or friend, silver for the loss of a first responder/military personnel, green if they struggled personally or blue if they support the cause.
A group of middle-aged women stood on one end of the park with red beads around their necks. A man, wearing white beads around his neck, pushed his 4-year-old daughter in a stroller. The child was playing with the orange beads around her neck.
Event coordinator Brenda Weiler participated in her first Out of the Darkness walk in 2006, one year after her sister’s death.
“It was very emotional and a lot of work, but we felt so much support and love from our community and friends,” she said. “It was worth all the time and energy that we put into it, and that’s how it feels every year.”
Since that first walk, Brenda and her mother Mary have helped organize every subsequent Fargo-Moorhead event. Both women have also served on the board for the North Dakota Chapter of AFSP since Mary formed the chapter six years ago.
In addition to creating a welcoming web of love and support, the Out of the Darkness walks serve a greater purpose: to educate the community about suicide.
“I think education is key,” Weiler said. “Learning about the issue – the warning signs, the risk factors, etc. can help to build stronger communities where we know how to help one another and how to get treatment for those who are suffering.”
Through events such as the Out of the Darkness Walks, lives can be saved. Maybe, at next year’s walk, there won’t be any 4-year-olds wearing orange beads.
For more information about suicide prevention or about the AFSP’s efforts to further research, please visit www.afsp.org. The Fargo-Moorhead community fund will remain open until December if you would like to donate (please visit www.outofthedarkness.org for more information).