Sui­cide pre­ven­tion walk sched­uled for Oct. 1

Cecil Whig - - & - By JANE BELLMYER

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— Mary Ellen Cleve­land is one of 36 peo­ple who will walk in mem­ory of her son, John Bradley Jr., in the “Out of the Dark­ness” com­mu­nity out­reach walk to be held Oct. 1 at the Ce­cil County Fair­grounds.

John took his own life a year ago after a life­long strug­gle with health is­sues. Deal­ing with the symp­toms of Cush­ing’s dis­ease and di­a­betes, the 38-year-old Elk­ton man did his best to hide how mis­er­able he was from those clos­est to him.

“He did not show his ill­ness to his nieces and neph­ews. To them he was so strong,” Cleve­land said. “He would al­ways try to help ev­ery­one, to have a pur­pose in his life. His nieces and his neph­ews were his chil­dren. They had him up on this pedestal.”

The sec­ond “Out of the Dark­ness” Com­mu­nity 5K walk be­gins at 1:30 p.m. Check-ins and reg­is­tra­tions start at 11 a.m. Ev Mueller, or­ga­nizer of the lo­cal Amer­i­can Foun­da­tion for Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion event said 519 peo­ple walked last year. So far, nearly 250 peo­ple have pre-reg­is­tered but Mueller said the num­bers swell as the date gets closer.

“This is the norm,” she said. “Peo­ple usu­ally wait un­til the week prior to reg­is­ter.”

To reg­is­ter on­line, go to www.afsp.org/walk.

Mueller ex­pects the walk to be both ther­a­peu­tic and com­pelling.

“We walk to spread aware­ness, and to let oth­ers know that men­tal health needs to be a pri­or­ity in this county and coun­try. We walk to let oth­ers know that our loved ones will never be for­got­ten. It’s an emo­tional event, but an up­lift­ing and very in­spir­ing one,” Mueller said Tues­day. “If through our ef­forts, we can save one soul who finds them­selves in to­tal dark­ness, we can hon­estly say that we are ab­so­lutely mak­ing a dif­fer­ence through our work. This too is in­spir­ing!”

In spite of his ill­ness John

ELK­TON

worked full-time from his teenage years un­til his health got worse, Cleve­land said. That in­cluded vol­un­teer­ing with Singerly Fire Com­pany. Cleve­land said even his com­rades at the fire com­pany were shocked at the news of John’s sui­cide.

While Cleve­land did worry about John at times, she never thought he would ac­tu­ally do some­thing, she said, re­call­ing how the word spread on Sept. 15, 2015.

The inau­gu­ral walk raised $36,000 to aid both the na­tional and Mary­land AFSP. The state chap­ter makes funds avail­able to Ce­cil County for pro­grams in­clud­ing a sem­i­nar that helped Cleve­land.

Cleve­land said she and John’s wife, Dotsy, im­me­di­ately sought help in deal­ing with the grief unique to sui­cide sur­vivors.

“We went to the (sui­cide sur­vivors sem­i­nar) in North East. That was the first sign of hope I had,” Cleve­land said.

In recog­ni­tion of In­ter­na­tional Sur­vivors of Sui­cide Loss Day, Bo­hdi Coun­sel­ing and the Amer­i­can Foun­da­tion for Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion hosted the day­long sem­i­nar at Ce­cil Col­lege.

“That was prob­a­bly the turn­ing point for me and my grief,” she said, adding that she and her daugh­ter-in-law also joined the Sun­rise sup­port group run by Becky Mur­ray and Shirley Mur­rayBailiff at Shelemiah United Methodist Church near North East.

Now the fam­ily’s goal is aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion. Mueller said that in­cludes get­ting the “More Than Sad” pro­gram into Ce­cil County Pub­lic Schools.

“We need to get this pro­gram to our high school stu­dents, as they are in the high­est risk group for sui­cide,” Mueller said. “Get­ting into the school sys­tem has proven a real chal­lenge across the state, but we are mak­ing head­way in some other coun­ties, and plan on be­ing dili­gent right here at home.”

Cleve­land said every age group has its risk fac­tors.

“The world is a scary, miser- able place right now,” Cleve­land said. “You have adults who can’t han­dle it. That’s why I am do­ing this walk. We can’t be ashamed. It’s a sick­ness. Your brain can be just as sick as your heart. A lot of the medicines can de­press you.”

Along with the sem­i­nar the walk has also sup­ported be­reave­ment sup­port groups, which meet the sec­ond and fourth Wed­nes­day of each month at Elk­ton United Methodist Church from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. It has also funded train­ing pro­grams for peer coun­sel­ing and be­reave­ment home vis­its.

Cleve­land said in con­ver­sa­tions with her son over the years he would talk about sui­cide and dis­miss the con­cept.

“He al­ways said sui­cide was a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion to a tem­po­rary prob­lem,” she said.

She wishes John would have con­sid­ered how his death would af­fect his fam­ily and friends.

“It’s a trickle-down ef­fect ... not just im­me­di­ate fam­ily,” she said, not­ing that even his friends at Singerly say they had no idea John was that des­per­ate.

Since his death, Cleve­land has heard from folks who re­gret not see­ing the signs.

“I look at how many peo­ple felt he slipped through their fin­gers,” she said.

With the walk and the in­for­ma­tion she has re­ceived since, Cleve­land feels em­pow­ered.

“It’s very heal­ing to know his death is not in vain if you can keep some­one else from do­ing it,” she said.

Mueller agreed that the walk serves a big­ger pur­pose.

“For us, its more than a 5K walk. It’s an op­por­tu­nity for those newly be­reaved and oth­ers as well, to take part in an event that brings to­gether those af­fected by a very unique type of loss,” she said. “There is heal­ing in be­ing sur­rounded by oth­ers who have ex­pe­ri­enced a sui­cide loss. There is un­der­stand­ing, com­pas­sion, sup­port for one an­other and zero judg­ment. It is an un­spo­ken bond that unites all our sur­vivors.”

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