Suicide prevention walk scheduled for Oct. 1
— 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
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.”