Walking out of the darkness

Local family establishes suicide awareness event in NB

Jorge Sanchez, age 21, committed suicide on March 12, 2014. “It was totally unexpected. We saw the signs but really didn’t think it would lead to that,” said his sister, Jeannette. The tragedy was compounded when one of Jorge’s friends came to the wake and later that same night shot himself in front of Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen. The friend was taken to the OR but didn’t survive.
In the wake of these horrific events, the Sanchez family sought help and solace, or as Jeannette put it, “Resources to help us cope, that could put us in communication with people like us that had suffered the loss of someone through suicide. Someone for my 10-year-old brother at the time to talk to. We were simply looking for a sign of hope.”
What they found was the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which provided the support and grounding they sought. The family traveled to Manasquan, N.J. in 2015 to participate in an Out of the Darkness Walk, an event that helps fund-raise for AFSP to help them provide essential resources for those suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.
“My family and I finally found a purpose in all of this pain and suffering,” said Jeannette. “We want to save a life and guide people out of the darkness that at times can completely consume an individual.”
After attending the walk they reached out to the AFSP to try and bring an Out of the Darkness Walk to North Bergen. Through the efforts of the Sanchez family, the first walk in what will hopefully be an annual event will take place in Braddock Park on September 13 at 9 a.m.

“We want to save a life and guide people out of the darkness that at times can completely consume an individual.” –Jeannette Sanchez
The intent is to raise $10,000 for AFSP. So far the Sanchez family has signed up 95 attendees, engaged about a dozen sponsors, and made it halfway to their goal.
Everyone is invited to participate in the walk. There is no monetary commitment, no registration fee, or mandatory donations. Participants are asked to simply give what they can.
“The most precious contribution is your time,” said Jeannette.

An equal opportunity killer

It has been nearly 13 months since the world was shaken by the suicide of Robin Williams, with many struggling to understand how a hugely successful, popular, and beloved Hollywood star could elect to take his own life. But suicide is an equal-opportunity killer. It strikes across all demographics, paying little heed to ethnicity, gender, age, or sexual orientation.
Williams’ death was only one of more than 100 suicides on that same date. More than 41,000 suicides were reported in 2013, the most recent year for which full data is available. That makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, someone in the country died by suicide every 12.8 minutes in 2013.
“We’re Spanish, and especially within the Spanish community it’s not really something you talk about,” said Jeannette. “You’re supposed to pick yourself up by your bootstraps. One of the main messages [of the AFSP] it’s that okay to reach out when you feel you’re in a dark place. Ask for help. Suicide is not the answer.”
The walk is designed to raise funds for the AFSP to help with their programs, including educational initiatives, public advocacy, and research on suicide and depression.
“A lot of research is going on at the moment,” said Jeannette. “They’re trying to find the trigger and ways to help avoid suicide. They have a hotline and they also have support groups.”
Equally important, the walk is designed to raise awareness of the issue locally.
Participants will meet at the small parking lot in Bruins Stadium, near the preschool trailers. Registration begins at 9 a.m. with the walk at 10 a.m. Participants will proceed around the lake, back to the starting point.

Support from the wider community

Guidance and assistance in setting up North Bergen’s first Out of the Darkness Walk was provided by AFSP. In addition, individuals from the neighboring towns of Jersey City and Secaucus who had organized or joined walks in their communities pitched in with help and advice.
“We didn’t know how people feel about suicide,” said Jeannette. “To have everyone be nonjudgmental and willing and an able to help is amazing.”
The Town of North Bergen itself has supported the event from inception. “Honestly we’ve gotten more help than we could have ever imagined from the town,” said Jeannette. “They’re providing us with chairs and a stage. We’re eternally grateful.”
The stage will hold the opening ceremony for the event. There will also be a registration table and activities. Anyone can register on the spot to participate.
Some participants are walking individually while others have joined teams. The Sanchez family will be selling t-shirts for their team as an additional fundraiser.
“My mother works for Ernst & Young in Secaucus and they’re having a lunch and learn event and donating money,” said Jeannette. Main sponsors for the event are Park Avenue Wine & Spirits, Good Eats Charcoal Grill, Retro Lounge, and Gonzalez – Farmers Insurance.
Additional “Adopt a Mile” sponsors include the Chopper 2002 Foundation, Estrella Salon, GIO 62 Foundation, Glamour Unisex Salon, Kiwanis Club of Secaucus, and a donation in memory of Darlene Pinto.
Anyone who is feeling suicidal is urged to talk to someone. Some of the available resources are the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860, or the Trevor Project at (866) 488-7386. Other options include Crisis Text Line at crisistextline.org or Lifeline Crisis Chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx.

Art Schwartz may be reached at arts@hudsonreporter.com.

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