The 2011 Sunshine Sunday Candlelight Vigil, hosted by the Ashe Suicide/Depression Awareness and Prevention (A.S.A.P) Task Force, drew family and friends of suicide victims to celebrate the lives and memories of those lost. In the cool twilight and the glow of flickering candles, a few tears, and a few smiles, were shared as the names of those lost to suicide were read aloud on the courthouse porch.
“We’re here to help you celebrate the lives of loved ones lost, acknowledge the deep wounds left by suicide, and help the healing occur,” said Bobby Jones, who gave the gathering’s opening invocation.
Sunshine Sunday, along with September’s “Walk Out of Darkness,” are held to honor and remember suicide victims, and raise awareness of depression. The group also aims to stamp out the stigma associated with depression; “Fight the Stigma of mental illness! It is okay to ask for help!” read a small A.S.A.P. pamplet at Sunday’s vigil.
Before the candlight ceremony, the gathered survivors met inside the courthouse to share the anguish and guilt felt when a loved one is lost to suicide.
“Survivors deal with the guilt,” said Sherri Goodman, who lost her 17-year-old son Brandon Rinehart in March 2008.
Goodman said Rinehart was tough on the outside, and loved the collisions on the football field, “but he was sensitive on the inside.”
“He fought that…and we didn’t know,” said Goodman.
“It’s…a constant onslaught in your mind. Maybe I could have helped, or done something different? But…we come through it in our own time.”
Goodman said the healing process takes time, and that there are always rough moments.
“You might think you’re doing you’re doing well, but sometimes, it’s the little things that creep up and get you,” said Goodman. “But, there’s no judgment in this room. All of us did the best we could with what we knew at the time.”
Judy Cereghino shared her own battles with depression that stemmed from tragedy in her life.
“Two and half years ago, I was going to go home and kill myself,” said Cereghino. “Thankfully, I called my neighbor, and she took me in.”
Even after that day, Cereghino battled low self-esteem, personal turmoil, and depression.
“I remembered going home and mowing the yard, while I was crying,” said Cereghino, “because I was worried about losing my house.”
Cereghino said her battle culminated in a trip to the store, where she purchased soft drinks, meat, and .22 bullets, “So they wouldn’t think I was just there for bulllets,” said Cereghino, who shot herself and woke up later in the hospital.
In the aftermath, and after receiving treatment, Cereghino said she’s learned how to re-define herself. “Every inch of this ground is holy ground,” said Cereghino. “My mission now…is to help people.”
According to A.S.A.P., Ashe County had the highest suicide rate in North Carolina in 2010; over 90 percent of those suicide deaths were due to clinical depression.
Bobby Jones, who lost an adolescent friend to suicide and battled his own teenage depression, said the stigma surrounding depression is real.
“I’m not picking on churches,” said Jones, who pastors an area church, “but there is this very real stigma in some churches that, if you suffer from depression, you’re suffering from a lack of faith. Folks, that’s just not the case. Depression is a sickness like heart disease or cancer.”
Adult symptoms of clinical depression include persistent bad or “empty” mood, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, pessimism or worthlessness, substance abuse, and fatigue or loss of interest in ordinary activities, including sex.
“We need to bring awareness and raise the red flags,” said Jones.
“Brandon was my son, my baby boy, and life will never be exactly the same without him,” said Goodman. “My goal is that this not happen to any other family, to anybody else.”
If you or someone you know is battling depression or thoughts of suicide, the Ashe County Crisis Line is available at 336-246-HEAL (4345).
Jones, talking about what a great resource the crisis line is said, “There is someone on the other end of the line that will help you. Use it.”
Smoky Mountain Center, the Local Managment Entity that oversees mental health service delivery in Ashe County, can be reached at 1-800-849-6127.
The National Hopeline Network is available at 1-800-SUICIDE; A.S.A.P. can be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ASAPteam.