Families take solace in Suicide Awareness Memorial WalkUnder gray October skies, about 150 people walked along Carlton streets and a portion of the Munger Trail on Saturday to call attention to the prevalence of suicide in Carlton County and the Northland.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Under gray October skies, about 150 people walked along Carlton streets and a portion of the Munger Trail on Saturday to call attention to the prevalence of suicide in Carlton County and the Northland.
“We have consistently ranked in the top 10 counties (in Minnesota) for the rate of suicide,” said Meghann Condit, Carlton County health educator, who organized the fourth annual Suicide Awareness Memorial Walk. “And usually the top 10 counties are in the northern half of Minnesota.”
That was underscored a few minutes later as Condit read off the names of loved ones who had taken their own lives, and who had been listed by people who were participating in the walk. The crowded fellowship hall of Bethesda Evangelical Lutheran Church was silent as Condit slowly read the 50 names. Shortly after, the group headed down Chestnut Avenue, wearing jackets, hats and gloves to ward off the chilly mist. Underneath the jackets, many were wearing buttons or T-shirts with the pictures and names of the men and women they were remembering.
Three families shared their stories:
Thirty friends and family members wore white T-shirts with Jason Cook’s picture and name on Saturday, a year to the day after the Esko man took his own life at age 22.
“Jason was always the life of the party,” said his aunt, Karen Rogalla of Proctor, whose remembrances brought her to tears. “He loved to make people laugh. He was my little bud, my first nephew.”
Cook’s parents, Greg and Angie Cook of Esko, said their son had battled mental health issues that finally got the best of him. But what they remember about him is his giving nature. “He would give you the shirt off his back,” Angie Cook said.
While Jason was at Minnesota Teen Challenge a few years ago, he asked for a pair of green shoes, his mother said. “I thought that was odd, and he told me the exact size and everything,” she said.
And when Jason graduated, another graduate rose to speak. “He said, ‘Yeah, I really feel blessed and God answers prayers,’ ” Angie Cook said. “He goes, ‘I prayed for these shoes, specifically green shoes, and there they were on my bed.’
“And I went, ‘Oh Jason, you’re a stinker.’ ”
After leaving Teen Challenge, Jason served as a missionary in Guatemala with the family’s church, New Life Community Church, Angie Cook said.
Support of their family, friends and church has helped them get through the past year, she said. It’s the course she recommends.
“Just know that other people are struggling, too,” she said. “Just reach out to somebody.”
Kevin and Wendy Holm of Mahtowa lost their son, Will Holm, to suicide 34 months ago when he was 19, they said.
They hadn’t been able to bring themselves to attend previous suicide awareness walks but found solace in being among so many people who were going through the same thing, they said.
“It’s incredible to see the amount of people who are affected by this,” Wendy Holm said.
Will Holm didn’t have a history of mental health problems, but he had been through a couple of hard years, the couple said. His baby son died 3 months and 2 days after being born prematurely, just before Will graduated from high school. He went through difficult relationships with girlfriends.
But his concern was for other people, not his own problems, his parents said.
“He had a really big heart and was very in tune to people and their feelings,” Wendy Holm said. “When this happened it was like: Wow. Were we in tune to all of his?”
“He would help everybody else,” Kevin Holm added. “But he was closed up about helping himself.”
He particularly doted on his niece, Tessa, who was 4 when he died.
“They were so close,” Kevin Holm said.
The Holms have reached out to family and friends to help cope with the loss, they said, sometimes going out to dinner with Will’s friends and sharing memories.
Tammy Clementson of Lino Lakes, Minn., wore a button saying “In memory of Dad.”
When Kenny Schleret of Mahtowa took his life on July 19, 2011, at age 70, it took his family by surprise.
“All we know is that my mom came home and she found him,” Clementson said. “He didn’t leave us a note or anything. We never thought he would do this. He was so against suicide.”
Clementson came for the walk with Schleret’s sister, Brenda Beck, and her husband, Roy Beck. They live between Cromwell and Wright.
“He was my oldest brother,” Brenda Beck said. “And when my dad died he kind of took over.”
Schleret had done construction work, he had driven a semi and he had worked for Diamond Brands, the Cloquet manufacturer of matches and toothpicks.
“He was always smiling, joking and helping people out,” Clementson said. “He was always lending a helping hand.”
It’s important to talk about what happened, she said.
“I was embarrassed,” Clementson said. “I never thought anybody in my family would do this. But you have to know it’s out there at any age. It can be a medical condition; it can be anything that causes this. It’s helped me to talk about it.”