It's been more than three years since Nancy von Euler lost her 17-year-old daughter, Emma, to suicide.
Emma's gone, but she's not forgotten.
"It's the greatest heartbreak imaginable and while I can't get my own child back, I am determined to do whatever I can to be sure that others don't have to suffer this tragedy," von Euler told Patch. "My daughter's life mattered, and I owe it to her to work for a cure."
On Saturday, Oct. 27, von Euler, a Farifield resident, along with hundreds of others, will gather at Sherwood Island in Westport for the eighth annual Out of the Darkness suicide-awareness walk. According to Diane Saslow, the outreach coordinator for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's southwestern Connecticut chapter, about 500 people will walk a 3.5-mile loop through the park.
"It was started by four people touched by suicide in their lives: a father whose ex-wife died by suicide, a mother whose daughter died by suicide, another mother whose daughter attempted suicide and luckily survived and a young woman who herself had attempted suicide and survived," Saslow said. "Over the years the walk has grown from about 35 people to the 500 people who walked last year."
Von Euler said she hopes more people turn out this year, not because of the loss of more lives too soon, but because support for the cause has increased.
"It is usually people with a personal connection to suicide, but hopefully, more and more, it will also be people who understand the devastation of suicide and want to do something about it," von Euler said. "Our team, Team Emma, was started by one of Emma's friends who found out about [the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention] and the walk just a month or so after she died and wanted to respond to the tragedy of her death by doing something positive. Our team was almost all kids that year, but it has changed from year to year. Many of the people on our team now never even knew Emma, but they know how the tragedy of her death changed our lives and they want to help us make a difference."
Suicide, von Euler said, "claims nearly as many lives as breast cancer and more than twice as many as HIV/AIDS." It's at a 15-year high in the United States, and a 20-year high in Connecticut.
"Despite those frightening statistics, we are doing very little to prevent this disease and save lives," von Euler said. "I'm outspoken because I think that needs to change."
Suicide has been an issue that people have not been able to talk about, von Euler said.
"The stigma and silence that has surrounded suicide has made it difficult for those who suffer to seek help, has kept important information about suicide risk and intervention out of the hands of people who are best positioned to help people who are suicidal, and has deepened the pain and isolation of those who have lost a loved one to suicide," she said. "These events, in addition to raising funds, seek to shine a light on the issue of suicide to reduce the stigma of suicide and increase knowledge and access to resources to prevent suicide and support survivors."
The organizers for the walk are seeking to raise $70,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
"Net proceeds from the Out of the Darkness community walks benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention," Saslow said. "AFSP funds research aimed at improving our understanding of suicide and ways to prevent it, as well as educational programs to increase awareness about prevention, warning signs and the psychiatric illnesses that can lead to suicide. Over 85 cents of every dollar goes directly to AFSP’s programs for research, education, advocacy and survivor resources."
Saslow is also a survivor for suicide loss.
"Seven years ago my daughter Emily at the age of 26 killed herself. She was a charming, intelligent, wonderful young woman," she said. "She had graduated from college and law school and was working as a lawyer in Philadelphia. All her friends were shocked. Her family wasn't. Emily fought valiantly against the disease of depression for most, if not all of her life. She was able to have a very full and interesting life on the outside while struggling against a terrible depression inside. Emily was on antidepressants and had talk therapy for many years. That is scourge of suicide—as a parent you think you are doing everything possible to keep your child alive and sometimes the disease wins."
"I volunteer for AFSP to help so that just maybe I can make a difference so that another family will not have to live as Emily's father and brother and I do."
Those interested in attending the walk should arrive at Sherwood Island at noon on Oct. 27 to register. The walk begins at 1 p.m.