My head was swimming with a million thoughts as I stood on the stage thinking of how the news of a rainstorm would affect the Suicide Prevention & Memorial Walk that was to begin in just minutes. The event was in Fairmont WV on June 13th, 2015 at Palatine Park, presented by Messages For Hope. The photographer, Hallie Kittle of HDK Photography, came to me with the weather report, “there is a storm approaching and it is going to be severe and last about 15 to 20 minutes”. I grabbed the microphone as quickly as possible to deliver the impending news to every one when the sky opened up and a torrential downpour came…we were suddenly drenched.
Gazing out from the stage you could see the attendees scramble to find a place to hide. I wondered about Chuck and the girls, Faye and Mary, at the registration area and how in the world they would cover up everything. Oh, yes, and the Raffle Tables. Sandy Rose had done a beautiful job in setting them up and I knew they were not covered…they would be soaked with rain. Working the balloon area was Team G-Man; Maria Solway, JoEllen Bishop, Toni Copp, Carly Marsiglio, and Cindy Swisher…oh thank goodness, they were under a canopy! Then my mind went to Team Two Feathers, as I remembered they didn’t have a canopy, but I see someone had already stepped up to help them.
As I continued to scan the park, I looked down at the Memorial Table sitting in front of the stage, where we each keep our valuable mementos of our loved ones during the event each year. Several people came forward quickly and put the pictures down as we lifted the tables to the stage…they were soaked.
I remember in the loudest voice possible, to try to top the noise of the storm, to tell everyone to come up onto the stage, thinking it might be a better place to keep dry. Many came, and they began getting behind the curtains of the backdrop. I remember seeing the stroller with Riley and his mom, Laura Weeks and a friend carrying an umbrella. Then I heard someone say something about the sound system. Glenn Naylor was there quickly, followed by others from behind the curtains to pull the speakers down and gather the remainder of the sound equipment. Glenn’s keyboard was soaked! One of the guys on the stage went to their car and brought back a couple of jackets to cover the equipment.
Oh no, the food table...I knew it was a disaster before I looked. There was a canopy laying in the grass and immediately people were dragging it across the park. We had it up quickly, although I do not remember who helped. I recall Dara’s voice, as she was hollering for Glenn to help with something not working properly. The reality of the situation was setting in and I was hoping that when 20 minutes had come and gone that it would all suddenly be over and we would go back to normal, pretending this had never happened.
I made my way to the back of the park where our registration was set up to check in on Chuck and the girls. I saw the registration area was soaking wet, as were they, but they looked at me with a smile. Behind me I saw all the beautiful balloons blown up with helium and laying on the ground, weighted down by water. I saw mud gaining ground on Team Pappy’s Angels across the park and I went to them to suggest moving their canopy close to the stage.
There was a young man and a boy running and playing in the rain and jumping in puddles…I thought how nice that they had found fun out of this situation, while my mind was in the middle of a million thoughts.
All these people still here in the rain, just soaked through and through. I thought of my dry socks waiting for me in my purse on the stage (I was thinking ahead, ha, ha). I went back to the staging area thinking I should find my purse, realizing I had not seen it in some time. I found it setting in a puddle of water and as I picked it up the water poured from it...there was to be nothing dry today...just so much rain.
While my head was still swimming in thoughts I turned to see Jordan Murphy looking at a picture on the Memorial Table. It had standing water on the back of it and I just knew the picture had been ruined. Her delicate fingers trying to pry open the back of the frame to retrieve her brothers graduation picture, but her hands were wet…I had one towel hid away and we dried our hands in hope of saving the picture...but it was too late. She was so disappointed as she shared with me that the picture was an original. My heart skipped a beat, because I knew what that meant…there are never any “new” pictures, so we cherish the ones we have…Of course I told her I was sorry, but I am sure it fell on deaf ears as she began getting her pictures from the table…I understood completely. I took the hand towel and began to dry all the pictures and I saw the ink had run on almost all of them. I was reminded of why we were there while looking at all the beautiful faces in the photographs.
The rain had lightened up a little, but after 20 minutes I knew some decisions needed to be made quickly, and then, a crack of thunder and the sky opened in another downpour that put everyone behind the curtain again.
My phone rang and it was our escort for the walk wanting to confirm the time and I told him I would call him back when I was sure. Another call came in from Pastor Matthew Holbert from Grace Lutheran Church, who was doing our opening prayer and bringing the Cub Scouts Pack 24 for our ceremony. I told them we would have a ceremony. Even as I said the words hiding behind the curtains of the backdrop, I did not know how yet.
Twenty minutes had long passed and my mind was on the Raffle Tables again…I went to Sandy and we agreed to move the tables across the park to the Messages For Hope canopy where Dara was sitting out the rain. I saw another canopy in the grass and we jumped off the stage and put up the canopy while Dara began to clear off her tables and drag them out into the rain. Several people jumped in to help carry the raffle tables across the park and finally they were covered. Sandy said to give her five minutes and she would be back in business and…another problem solved!
I went back to Chuck and Glenn to discuss the sound system to determine if it was unusable. The answer I was getting was not what I wanted to hear...I still needed convincing. I looked up to see Tara Matthews with her beautiful smile looking fresh as a daisy, along with her husband Rodney, and their children just arriving. Many of their family followed making up Team Papa’s Angels and I was both shocked and delighted that they still had attended…even in this rain.
Glenn and I returned to the stage where he showed me water running from the sound board...well, I needed no more convincing. WOW, everything was soaked except Papa’s Angels! Thank goodness they were ok! We had lost our music, pa system, and I still knew we were going to have that ceremony!
I watched Team Eston taking care of the Food table, and Curtis from Team Matt Murphy out in the rain helping to move things around. People were not leaving…I was amazed! I went back off the stage and worked my way back to the registration area again, seeing Team Zack, Team Vanessa, Silent Hero’s, and Our Fallen Hero’s team of Ryan and Rochelle Satterfield, both with smiles on their face while holding their cute little dog Penny.
My thoughts were leaning towards finding a way to get everyone closer to the stage so we could have that ceremony without the equipment! Papa’s Angels, when asked to move, gladly did and I headed back to stage with determination. I then saw John Provins, the Park Director, and explained to him about our sound problem and he said “I can help you with that”…Within 10 minutes the rain had stopped and we had sound.
We dragged the balloons to the stage in hope that they would take flight and up they went! We cleaned up as best we could on stage and I saw that people were walking about and Chuck had the registration up and going again. I had no idea how in the world everyone had managed to do all that they did and most of all that they were still there! Amazing, these people! Amazing. The more I thought about what I was seeing the more emotional I became…and determined. We were behind schedule by a couple of hours now and I realized that we were not going to be able to do the actual walk, because of time restraints, but also because of the rain. The escort was cancelled and Dara and I gathered on the stage to begin.
The first thing we had planned was a “Recognition Ceremony of the Teams”. Boy, did they deserve it! We awarded some very damp, but heartfelt Certificates from Messages For Hope to eighteen teams.
For your dedicated and passionate efforts to create a
positive change in our community, by showing
courage in raising awareness of mental health
conditions and suicide, to save lives.
Thank you for becoming our Prevention Partner,
and in joining together to honor the many we
have lost to suicide, while always supporting
those who find themselves on a similar journey.
“Showing Honor Through Prevention”
The ceremony continued as planned. The prayer, the cute Cub Scouts Pack 24, and Gina Baker from Papa’s Angels with a beautiful poem she had written in honor of two brother in laws.
There were incentive prizes given to Team Zach, Dee Brown, and Team Micah for the Best Team Tees. Special gifts were given to Sandy Rose and Dara Naylor, for their dedication to the prevention of suicide and to their passion in helping those left behind.
A beautiful song from Curtis Taylor, wearing his Team Matt Murphy tee, that had many of us in tears.
Rhonda Starn shared her story of loss, love, and hope. She was the perfect speaker for the day and she touched everyone with her words. She read a poem, We Walk,by author Randy Stepp, it was the perfect poem for the day.
Of course there was much more as we gathered to raise awareness, erase stigmas, share our tragedies, honor our loved ones, reach out to others…
And then the balloon release…no matter how many times we do this it tugs at your heart. Those balloons with all those sweet messages of love and longing being carried away till we can see them no longer, while we listened to a recorded version of Brad Paisley's "When I Get Where I'm Going".
I walked back to the microphone in closing and looked out at the beautiful faces with all their emotion and I felt so blessed to be their with each of them. As I led them in prayer, I was reminded of their fragile hearts, their grief, and why Messages For Hope was there. After the prayer, I wanted to thank them for coming, and the words would not come…my eyes were filled with tears and I was too emotional to speak another word...there were no words that I could say at that moment to express the amazement and love I was feeling from this group of people who had weathered another storm…it wasn’t about the rain at all.
The rain could never compare to that tragic day we each held in our hearts…there was no comparison. Most of us feel that we have already experienced the worst possible thing that could ever happen. A little rain couldn't compare to what we experienced this day as we gathered in love and support...It Was Never About The Rain.
- Helen Keller