Signs of hope were displayed by a group that came together to mark suicide prevention awareness week with a special walk.
“Today we are going to have the Gift of Life and Walk of Hope in support of suicide awareness week,” said Stephanie Nelson, Coordinator of North Island Building Blocks and organizer of the Walk for Hope, which took place on Sept. 11, beginning at the Port Hardy Civic Centre and concluding at Port Hardy Secondary School, where suicide survivor Alex Nelson gave a speech.
“I feel really passionate about coming together and hosting an event like this, we need to bring awareness because we’ve lost some beautiful youth to suicide so it’s important that we do come together in a healthy way,” said Nelson.
More than 60 people gathered at the Port Hardy Civic Centre to make signs and mingle before the walk and a few participants spoke to the crowd about how suicide has affected their lives.
Maggie Sedgemore spoke about losing members of her family, including her 21-year-old daughter who died from suicide. “It still hurts – the pain never goes away, but you learn to live without them. I live in their memory and honour their memory.”
Sedgemore finished with a message of encouragement. “Finding positive things can be hard when you are down and sad and lonely, but remember, when you are walking down the street and you see someone that’s feeling very sad, give them a smile and just say ‘hi how are you?’”
The crowd, led by Kwakwaka’wakw singers and drums, slowly walked up Columbia St. and Highway 19 towards the high school holding signs with messages like “you matter”, “share your gift”, and “suicide is not the answer”.
Alex Nelson, who began hosting suicide prevention “circle talks” in his home and communities around Victora after losing his 20-year-old son to suicide in 1989, then gave a speech to the crowd that assembled in front of PHSS.
“Today we gather to remind our hearts about learning to live and we know that we have loved ones that have passed on and it has posed a lot of questions in our hearts,” he said, adding “I turned the page to say what can we now do, what can we do to learn how to live – we need to learn how to talk – and break what they call the conspiracy of silence.”
The event continued with the participants returning to the Civic Centre to hear resource employees introduce themselves and speak about their roles and services.
“Our culture is alive and well – in our big houses we are taught how to love and care,” said Alex Nelson, adding “now we want to bring that into our communities, and today is a classic example of it.”
A youth cultural group also performed a dance, and then a traditional Kwakwaka’wakw cleansing ceremony took place which was followed by a catered dinner.
“We have come to be with one another to acknowledge we are hurting and we are holding each other up – we can do it, we will do it, and we will do it together,” said Alex Nelson.
Those who are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide should contact the North Island Crisis and Counseling Society for help at 250-949-8333.