Sister 2 Sister Conference Presentation, Ithaca, New York

On Saturday, March 28th, 2009 over 70 girls (12-17) and 40 mentors (college students), leaders and program coordinators came together in a day-long conference for girls in Ithaca, New York titled, “Seeking Our Dreams”  – To support young women in reaching for their dreams in life (s2sithaca.org ).  I joined them as well with my own purpose.  I was there as a survivor of a loved one’s suicide hoping to educate and raise awareness about depression and suicide.

I am not a professional.  I am simply a 49 year old survivor of a loved-one’s suicide.  As part of my healing experience I have educated myself about suicide issues, received support group facilitator training and joined an Internet network of survivors who tirelessly support, educate and encourage each other and their communities.  Some of these amazing people and organizations who helped me pull my presentation together included:   

Ann and James Ganley and family ( Ganleyfoundation.com ) provided me with support, encouragement and the wonderful awareness wristbands I distributed – over 100 of them! 

Carol and Dick Loehr and family ( thegiftofkeith.org ) who have inspired and encouraged me and who provided valuable contacts and connections as well as Carol’s children’s book, My Uncle Keith Died, which I was proud to promote.

The Jason Foundation ( thejasonfoundation.org ) who provided materials for mental health petitions and promise cards specially designed for teen audiences.

Debra Graham, Chapter Chair for The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention (A.F.S.P.) Central New York Chapter
( afsp.org/centralny ) who graciously over-nighted brochures and information and encouraged me with her infectious enthusiasm.

And last but not least… All my CyberFriends Network (thegiftofkeith.org) friends and my non-affiliated friends and loved-ones who support and inspire me every day. 

I prepared a bright, colorful display complete with information and handouts.  My display attracted the Ithaca college press crew and I was invited to be interviewed for their video webpage.  I felt like I was off to a great start until I looked around the room.  Then I wondered how I was going to compete with the presentations of yoga, massage, belly dancing, fashion, and Girl Scouts?  Why would pre-teens, tweens, and young adults who were attending such an exciting, energizing and uplifting event even want to hear what I had to say?

But they did listen, they signed promise cards and petitions and they asked questions too, questions like:

Is depression really a disease?
Is suicide really the third largest killer of teens?
What are the signs someone is in trouble?
What do we do if we think someone is in trouble?
How do I get involved?  Can I volunteer?

In a defining moment, one young woman waited till the crowd cleared to approach me.  She thanked me for coming and assured me my being there mattered.  She shared her testimony of her several year battle and eventual triumph over depression.  When I asked her age my heart melted to hear she was just now 16.  She was glad I was there to provide information to other teens.  She felt maybe there was someone in the crowd like her who would be reached with my words and resource information.   

I feel all of us survivors were there that day.  I was the smile and the handshake but I wouldn’t have made it there without all the wonderful, caring people I am connected to.  I hope I represented all of us well.  We survivors are everyday people who can do small things that can be measured in big results.  I am sharing what I accomplished on this day to let others know they make a difference in all they do and to encourage them in whatever way their heart is moved.  If we reach one person or plant one seed of knowledge it’s a win and when we reach no one it’s still a win because we were willing.  Ann Ganley uses a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that is appropriate: “Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about the things that matter.”  

So in the big ways and the small ways… let’s not be silent.

Best Regards,
Kathy Redman
Kevin’s Sister