From the main road, you could watch sailboats gently cut through the water. Fit people gliding on rollerblades on the path surrounding the lake. They weaved their way past the chubby walkers who aspired to their fitness. And people walking a fine collection of dogs, sniffing madly at the cornucopia of scents found in a community park.
It began as a cool cloudy morning; it ended up being a beautiful afternoon. It was one of many contradictions of this day.
Balloons and bright signs guided you where you needed to go. Bright colored tents and booths dotted the park space with Creve Coeur (French, for the broken heart) lake in the background. To the passerby it may have resembled a company or union picnic. Instead it was an annual fundraiser and Kids Walking for Kids event, supporting Chads Coalition a local outreach organization funding research and help to fight teen depression and suicide.
I was happy to be there, but detested the reason why. Unless one has lost a child, no amount of writing or talking can adequately explain the hollow shell of a parent left behind. I know the feeling, and I saw the look on the faces of many assembled that day. I see the look when I gaze in a mirror each day. The culmination of the many things a parent knows they cannot make better now, and the memories we will no longer make with our children. With a side of guilt for the countless little things we feel we could have, or should have, done. No amount of good intentions or consolation from friends and loved ones stops these thoughts or feelings from overtaking a day, a week, a month, or a lifetime. We carry it longer than a good set of luggage may last. But this is a story of acceptance and hope. It was a day that people from all walks of life came together, straight, gay, black, white, red, it didn’t matter. All in search of understanding, and hope.
It was a Saturday in the park; it was the day before Mother’s day. Face painting booths sat next to informative tables set up to educate and inform on teen depression and suicide. Arts and crafts tables shared space with the make your own luminary to honor the teens lost to suicide.
Chubby children with chocolate on their faces and skinny kids with scraped knees ate things Mom & Dad wouldn’t allow tomorrow. We ate Gourmet Sausage’s from a mobile truck.
Lorri shared her favorite memories of her son Drew, who we were there to honor. I had never met the young man, but feel a connection nonetheless.
“We went water skiing; I drove the boat,” she explained. Apparently not fast enough for Drew to get up or stay aloft on the ski’s or water floatation device. Infuriated, he called out to her…”You Suck!”
Another memory was of Drew playing the violin. I picture a skinny kid butchering the violin, and I smile. Lorri corrected me to understand that he played the hell out of the instrument, and the satisfaction on his face was priceless. I notice she smiles when telling the stories. I’m glad.
Our other team members, people who worked so hard, not just for the walk, but every fundraiser Chads holds we’re unable to attend. I hope Aunt Cara, Sister Jamie, and Brother-in-law Brian, and Brother Kyle and his Dad Dave, and of course Steve Morris have heard these memories and witnessed this smile.
We sat in folding lawn chairs, sometimes in awkward silence, watching toddlers eat gravel. Wondering about questionable decisions, a young man who obstructed our view of the stage despite having 3,643 acres of park space available had St. L and the area code 314 tattooed to the back calves of his legs. Babies bounced beach balls around us.
Very talented cover bands took the stage. They played very inappropriate songs, Lynard Skynards “Saturday Night Special”, while speaking of gun control, it likely stung for parents at a suicide prevention gathering. Later Joe Dirt and the Dirty Boy’s rocked the house with disparaging tunes about women the night before Mother’s Day. A lovely young lady followed it with sweet songs of love and hope.
The keynote speaker spoke of Tourette’s syndrome and acceptance.
I was moderately confused by it all.
A power outage interrupted the final set from the cover band, Fred Bird a Mascot for our Cardinal baseball team pinch hit, while well-orchestrated flash mobs of young people with energy and teen spirit danced in front of the stage.
The wind changed, and a cool breeze came in off the lake. The founder of Chads announced they had met the fundraising goal. The celebrity Disc Jockey/ announcer for the event held the countdown to a beautiful fireworks display. The event was called to a conclusion. I gave Lorri a hug and we walked to our respective cars in the pitch black night.
As I sat waiting for traffic to exit the park, I tried to make sense of the day, a day filled with contradictions. It dawned on me; this was the same puzzling feeling we all have when trying to make sense of why a young person feels so desperate or hopeless, that they take their own life.
Exiting the park from the back entrance; my car climbed a tree lined road in the pitch black of the night. As I reached the crest of the hill, a star shined brightly in the dark sky.
I hope Lorri and every parent saw it. I also hope no other parent joins the walk next year. And I hope I can participate again.
Drew, you are loved. Your friends and family remember you on this day and every other. I hope you know that. I am humbled and honored to have participated. What a great organization and event. I hope the founders and those who work so hard know that. And, mostly, I hope and pray someday the event is unneccessary.
To learn more about teen depression and suicide, and how you can help:
In the St Louis area : www.chadscoalition.org
Nationally : www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen.html