Two weeks ago my 14 year-old daughter, Lauren, and I participated in The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Overnight walk in San Francisco. This is an 18 mile walk that begins at dusk and goes into the dawn. The significance of the time represents the darkness one feels after a loss to being able to see some light of hope.
Lauren approached me about participating in the walk months ago and like any good parent who has no reason to say no but isn’t really wanting to say yes, I said, “maybe.” It’s important to note that the walk also has a minimum fund raising goal that must be met. I could see her saying she would do the fund raising work and I, in all actuality, would be the one doing the work.
But, then I asked her why she wanted to do the work and she gave the most honest answer:
“Even though I have not been directly affected by suicide so many in my life have. Aunt Jennifer, completed suicide when I was 8 months old. By doing this walk I will be more connected with Jennifer and the side of my mom that I don’t get to see. Everyone in my life has been affected by her death, in one way or another I feel that by walking I am showing support for those struggling that they have support and not to give up.”
So, of course, I agreed. How could I not after that answer?
Lauren far exceeds my fund raising expectations- she held several bake sales, baking 100s of cookies, dozens of cupcakes and 22 homemade pies. She embraced this cause and I was so proud and impressed.
But, this is not about what a great kid I have, it’s about something more important. It’s about a lesson that I learned the night of the walk about how to be a better parent.
The night of the walk was full of excitement, apprehension of preparing to walk 18 miles and sadness. There were 2000 walkers whose lives were impacted by suicide. The opening ceremony brought us all together and reminded us why we were there.
We set off as the sun was setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge, where so many lives have been lost to suicide. People were coming out of their homes to cheer for us, cars honked. There were a sea of shirts with pictures and names of loved ones lost written on the back.
Lauren was sad but full of adrenaline, taking the whole experience in and feeling a sense of solidarity with the other walkers. We walked 11 miles. Some of those miles were quiet, some talking with other walkers, there was a quick stop at Starbucks for caffeine and some warmth and even joking with two walkers that stopped for a pizza to bring on the walk.
At mile 11 though things changed. Lauren said she was tired. It was midnight and her feet hurt. Badly. She didn’t want to stop because she felt they would hurt even more. I gave her my extra socks, walked slower, suggested we listen to our iPods as a distraction. Anything to take her mind off of her pain and to take my mind off her pain. It was becoming horrible for her and me.
It became clear with each mile she was in more and more pain. She stopped talking and each step was becoming more painful for her. At mile 15, I told her I was getting help, that I was calling the van to come get us and take us to the finish line. I couldn’t endure her pain. She looked and me and begged me not to call the van. “I have to finish this mom.” I suggested it several more times and was greeted with the same response each time.
At mile 16 I stopped asking and started praying that she receive strength and that her pain was lessened. I also realized that she did need to complete this walk. This was her goal. This was what she worked so hard for and I needed to allow her to finish.
I think as parents we forget that our babies are born strong. They are born to survive and they are able to endure so much more then we believe they can. We want to protect them and make life as easy as possible, forgetting that so much in life is a struggle and that through the struggle we learn so much and gain so much. We can’t and shouldn’t always protect them from struggle and pain. Being parents sometimes mean we support them through it because we know that they can do it, but it will be hard. We understand that this is going to make them stronger in the end and create in them a sense of true pride.
She finished the walk. Walking through over 2000 luminaries all with names and pictures of those that have been lost. She stood on the hill overlooking it all and cried. I stood there and watched her knowing that she gained so much, that she was changed because she endured a struggle and got through the struggle.
And that morning in the hotel as she lay in bed she looked at me and with this great smile said, “I did it” and fell asleep. It was the accomplish of fighting through the pain, of doing something so hard and painful that she was proud of. She did it.
PS- I took her to the medical tent 1 minute after finishing the walk. She had swollen toes–just needed a little icy-hot and she was on her way.