The feeling of community and togetherness was palpable at State Beach Saturday morning as more than 300 people walked together in memory of loved ones lost to suicide, and in support of those who are having trouble finding hope.
A river of flickering candles could be seen dancing along the roadside away from a pink and blue sunrise.
The second annual Darkness Into Vineyard Light suicide and prevention awareness walk conveyed a powerful message to people who are currently struggling or in a dark place. “There is always hope,” John Murray, co-founder of the Vineyard Light walk, said.
Murray said one of the main goals of the walk is to show people that no matter how isolated or alone someone may feel, there are people who care. “You are never alone,” Murray said. “The walk really speaks for itself — there are always folks who want to help and show their support.”
The event was organized and led by the Darkness Into Vineyard Light Committee, who chose to give all proceeds to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Cape Cod and the Islands (NAMI).
Martha’s Vineyard representative for NAMI Cecilia Brennan said a large part of Vineyard Light is about erasing the stigma surrounding suicide, and beginning a dialogue. “We want to get people talking so that people who are struggling feel comfortable with being open about suicide,” Brennan said. Before the walk started at dawn, Islanders spoke about their own experiences with suicide, whether it be ith their own suicide attempts, a family member, or a close friend.
Gina Williams told the crowd that suicide leaves a void in many people’s hearts that can never be filled, and that she lost her father to suicide 13 years ago. “One of the more painful things is that my daughter is never going to know her grandfather,” Williams said. “You are not a burden, your life matters, you are loved.”
Williams said the symbolism of emerging from the darkness as the sun rises above the shimmering water imparts a powerful message. “When people are in that place, sometimes it feels very dark,” Williams said. “But we want people to come out of that dark place, and if you can manage to do that, you can change the world.”
She also said the walk sheds light on a subject that is highly stigmatized in today’s society. “We are shining light on an issue that no one wants to talk about,” Williams said. “But if nobody talks about it, then people who feel alone will feel like they have no one to turn to.”
Each person walking along the beach has their own sphere of influence, so Williams said taking an opportunity to help someone they know is always beneficial.
Mike Blanchard shared his own story about suicide. He told the crowd he is a photographer on the Island who loves capturing images of the sunrise.
“I am also a person who didn’t follow through,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard pointed out toward the horizon, where the sun and clouds created pastel shades of hazy gray and pink. “I was at a point in life where I was having a really hard time finding a reason to wake up in the morning,” Blanchard said. “Just turn around and look at that sky. That’s the reason I get up in the morning; that’s worth waking up to.”
The rising of the sun signaled the crowd to begin their walk along State Beach, past the Bend in the Road and up toward Big Bridge.
On the walk back, the somber sound of bagpipes could be heard in the distance,
Back at the Bend in the Road, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Minnesingers sang “Esto Les Digo.”
“Having all these high school kids here is really incredible; I am very proud of them,” David Araujo, director of the Island Intervention Center, said.
He explained that the high schoolers on the beach recently experienced the heavy loss of one of their friends and classmates. “We want to make the kids a part of this celebration. They were very strong to come out today,” Araujo said.
MVRHS student and Minnesinger Skylar Hall said singing “Esto Les Digo” alongside his close friends makes him feel happy and hopeful. “I’m out here today because I have lost people to suicide, and I want to pay my respect to them,” Skylar said.
“No matter what, there is someone out there who cares about you,” said Tripp Hopkins, another Minnesinger. “I think the symbolism of this event is very powerful. The sun is always going to come up,” Hopkins said.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
The Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) emergency services team can be accessed all year at 508-693-0032. Information on additional services can be found at the MVCS website.
Updated to clarify who organized the event.