Frederick remembers loved ones lost to suicide at annual Out of the Darkness walk

·4 min read

Oct. 17—Julie Robinson kept a 100-year-old poem folded up in her wallet on Saturday morning as she strolled the perimeter of Baker Park.

"Death is nothing at all," it begins. "It doesn't count."

The verse in Robinson's hand had been altered a bit from its original form. Her uncle made the modifications in 2019, after Robinson's brother, Gary, died by suicide.

Gary was an avid hiker, Robinson said, and a lover of all things outdoors. For the reading at his funeral, the family altered a few words of the poem to reflect that.

"Why should we be out of mind because we are out of sight?" the penultimate stanza reads. "We are but waiting for you, just around the next bend in the trail."

It was that final, modified phrase — "just around the next bend in the trail" — that adorned the back of Robinson's bright green t-shirt Saturday. Beneath it was "Love, Gary," printed in her brother's scrawling handwriting.

Robinson, her family and hundreds of others rose early Saturday morning and made their way to Frederick for the annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk. They circled Baker Park — many of them clutching photographs and mementos — remembering loved ones they'd lost to suicide.

This year's event raised about $85,000 for suicide prevention efforts, said coordinator Jill Martin. About 600 walkers registered.

"There is therapy in that, in not being alone," Martin said. "There's healing power in it."

Martin got involved in the annual walk — which is organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and replicated across the country — after losing her son, Taylor, in 2016. He was 25.

When Martin attended her first community walk that year, something clicked. She's been chairperson of the event every year since.

"It was just something that felt right," she said.

According to the AFSP, 130 Americans die by suicide every day. In 2019, according to the CDC, it was the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 44.

The pain of losing someone to suicide is unique, Robinson said. It's harder to recover from a type of loss that people are so hesitant to talk about. And that lack of openness can make it harder to identify loved ones who may need help.

"It's sort of a quiet suffering," Robinson said.

But despite the heaviness in the atmosphere, attendees expressed joy throughout Saturday's event, too. Upbeat music floated across the park from large speakers in the bandshell.

Many walkers brought their dogs along. Megan Kim, who was walking for her childhood best friend, Alexis Hill, had a family member's dog dyed purple. It was Hill's favorite color, and it's a color often used to represent suicide prevention efforts.

"It's not the same without her," said Beth Skelton, another of Hill's close friends. She smiled, recalling Hill's loud and "unapologetic" sense of humor, gazing across the park as the bell tower chimed out 11 a.m. "She was a force to be reckoned with."

Nearby to Skelton and Kim, Lothar Frenz was playing with his 1-year-old son, Maddox.

Frenz's father, who shared the same name, died by suicide in 2018. A large coalition of the family came to Saturday's walk.

Originally from El Salvador, the Frenz family followed Lothar Sr. to the U.S. after he immigrated in the 1980s. He was a father figure not only to his own kids, but to a cohort of nieces, nephews and grandchildren.

"He was like a pillar to our family," said Frenz's nephew, Erich. "We are missing him. We'll miss him forever."

Maddox squealed happily a few feet away, chasing a small ball through the grass. In a few months, he'll turn two.

"It's good to see families together," Erich said. "It gives me hope."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek

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