Out of the Darkness Community Walk raises awareness

September 16, 2013

Click here to see images of the Community Walk

Click here to listen to the Keynote presentation by Rev. Diane McClanahan

The 2013 Central Iowa “Out of the Darkness” Community Walk took place on Sunday, September 15, 2013.    The event, held to raise awareness and prevent suicide, was held on the Ankeny Campus of the Des Moines Area Community College.

According to organizing committee member Dale Chell, the Walk “began eight years ago with about 100 people participating up in Ames.  It’s been held here at DMACC for the last six years.”

“It started as a grass roots effort,” Chell recalled, “with a number of survivors who came together to support groups and had gone on the national walk, which is an overnight walk, and that’s why the name is ‘out of the darkness.’” That original group “decided that they should have something here in Des Moines.  Some people started getting together and having meetings.”

Several groups of people at the 2013 Walk wore unique tee shirts.  “People are encouraged to come as a team,” Chell noted, “People often gather together having lost loved ones and create their own shirts in that person’s memory.”

Stef McAdam, another member of the organizing committee, said, “There are over 700 people here; that’s how many we can say checked in, but I’m sure there are many more.”  She described the Community Walk as being “a day to raise awareness and to remember and to not make the death of our loved ones something bad.  We want to remember all of the good times.” 

McAdam was one of the original planers.  She remembered, “There was a group of five or six of us.  We were all survivors.  We had about 100 people up in Ankeny for the first walk.  The second year we were at Gray’s Lake and we had two or three hundred people.  We’ve been here at DMACC ever since.” 

The Walk is designed to be a “family friendly day,” she said.  “The kids are affected by it (the death of a loved one by suicide) too.  We try to make this be a happy day.”

Walkers received flowers, which they were invited to toss into the lake in memory of their loved ones. In addition, people were given a piece of chalk.  “They can write their loved one’s name on the walkway around the lake as they walk…those names are our there for a long time; people who walk around will get to see that.”

Keynote remarks and stories from two survivors shared their stories prior to the start of the walk.  Rev. Diane McClanahan, Director of the Institute for the Practice of Ministry at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, was the keynote speaker.  “Our stories are all different,” she said, “and yet, as survivors of suicide loss we share common experiences…we carry extra heavy burdens of responsibility and guilt that stretch beyond rational understanding.”  Noting that there are six stories of suicide in the Bible she observed that the Bible “never says God’s forgiveness isn’t available for those who die that way…I take comfort in the Apostle Paul’s words from the Book of Romans: ‘nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.’”

She invited the crowd of walkers to make a commitment to each other.  She asked each person present to turn to someone nearby and promise, “I’ll be the light for you!  I’ll be the light for you! I’ll be the light for you!”

Survivors placed photos, stories, and messages on  a Memory Board to tell the stories of their loved ones.

In addition to raising awareness the Walk raised approximate $40,000 help with the effort of suicide prevention and care for surviving family and friends.