NYAPRS Note: Each year, 43,000 people complete suicide in the United States. That’s why the “Out of Darkness Ovenight Walk” exists in cities across the country, to raise awareness and money for suicide prevention. On June 4, 2016 in NYC, more than 2000 people will take part in this 18 mile journey until sunrise. For more information and to register, visit: http://theovernight.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.event&eventID=515
With Hopes Of Preventing Suicides, Meriden Mother Shares Story Of Loss
By Farrah Duffany My Record Journal April 9, 2016
MERIDEN — Coping with the loss of her son has been devastating and heartbreaking, to say the least, for Daryl Fitzgibbons and her family. Even 18 years later it’s still difficult at times for her to talk about, but Fitzgibbons finds the strength to tell her story in hopes of saving lives.
Eighteen years ago Fitzgibbons’ son, Tommy Fitzgibbons, took his own life after battling mental illness. He was just 21 years old.
“My energy level was just spent. Having that on my plate was about all I could handle,” said Fitzgibbons, a city resident and retired Meriden special education teacher, talking about the time after her son died. “Even the support groups were exhausting. There was always someone else walking through the door.”
For nearly three years before his death Fitzgibbons said she and her family struggled to help her son, who was eventually diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder which is a schizophrenia and mood disorder with symptoms like depression and bipolar.
They sought care, support groups, therapy, medication and he was even hospitalized. The decision was made to pull Tommy Fitzgibbons from his sophomore year of college to cope because his illness made him exhausted and even less interested in family activities, Fitzgibbons explained.
Not even Fitzgibbons’ close friends had a clue that he was sick and after he died Fitzgibbons kept the reason to herself. She said mental illness wasn’t talked about much in 1998.
“I felt I was preserving his dignity,” she said.
Since his death, she has come a long way from keeping her story to herself to sharing it publicly with many others. This change was largely due to help from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit organization devoted to preventing suicide and providing resources necessary to those struggling with suicide.
Fitzgibbons and her family found comfort in the organization after participating in a suicide prevention walk it hosted in West Hartford in 2005. She felt that she could give back by raising money for suicide prevention and sharing her son’s story when she could. It was also a way to connect with other people.
On June 4, Daryl Fitzgibbons will be participating in the “Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk” in New York City, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She, along with more than 2,000 people, will walk 18 miles at night until sunrise to raise awareness and money for suicide prevention.
This will be the 10th year she has participated in the overnight walk, which is held in many cities across the country every year. She’s been to Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, Washington and San Francisco, to name a few.
Every year more than 43,000 people commit suicide nationwide and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is hoping to reverse that trend and reduce it by 20 percent by 2025, said Robert Gebbia, the CEO of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“They sometimes feel it’s their fault… but it’s not their fault,” said Gebbia speaking about families or friends affected by suicide. “It’s a result of a health problem. These conditions that lead to suicide are real.”
The funds raised during the overnight walk are invested back into research and prevention programs in schools, colleges, workplaces, law enforcement, the military and more, explained Gebbia. The foundation also hosts a series of about 350 smaller walks throughout the country but the overnight walk is its biggest fundraiser.
For Fitzgibbons, it’s another year to walk in her son’s honor.
On Thursday afternoon she pulled a blue T-shirt from a plastic bag that she will wear at the walk. On the back is a spot to write for whom you will walk, which she filled in with black marker: “Tommy.”
She also pulled out two photos of him, one from his Platt High School days when he was about 18 and one just three months before he died with his sister Meghen Fitzgibbons.
The photo of Tommy at 18 is the photo she wears on a pin every year she walks. When others walk with her, she gives them one as well.
While she shares her story, she also sheds light on who Tommy Fitzgibbons was as a son, family member, and friend.
“He was a good listener,” Fitzgibbons said. “His goal was to be a social worker. He would have been good at that.”
He also loved to draw, play guitar, and snowboard. His mental illness made him lack the drive or desire to do much of that toward the end of his life, but Fitzgibbons said by sharing her story there is still hope.
“It’s okay to talk about these things,” Gebbia added. “It’s certainly getting a lot more people who have been affected to get involved. It’s changing how we think and how we view suicide as a public health problem…”
The walk on June 4 is just another year of her doing what she can to help others who were in the same boat as her nearly 18 years ago. She believes that when more people come forward and raise awareness about suicide, that more suicides could be prevented.
“I’ve got to believe that,” said Fitzgibbons. “We have to believe.”