HEALTHY MIND MATTERS

Survivors Of Suicide Loss Still Walking In Honor Of Loved Ones

Sep 11, 2020, 7:33 PM | Updated: Sep 12, 2020, 12:50 pm

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the Intermountain Healthcare’s Emotional Health Relief Hotline (1-833-442-2211) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255))

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Every year more than 10,000 people gather from across Utah to walk in memory of loved ones who died by suicide.

The pandemic has changed what the Out of Darkness Walk will look like this year, but it hasn’t changed the commitment these families feel to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

Although Jane Smith and her partner Zach won’t be walking with thousands of other survivors this weekend due to the pandemic, they are still walking on their own to remember Smith’s mother Francie. (KSL-TV)

Even life’s simplest tasks remind Jane Smith of her dear mother, Francie Vachon.

“You know, she taught me little things like how to cut an onion and do small things like that,” she reflected.

Smith was born and raised in Michigan and said she was blessed to have a stay-at-home mom who made her children her priority.

Jane Smith’s mother, Francie Vachon, died by suicide when she was 42-years-old. Smith was only 18-years-old at the time. (KSL-TV)

“She always had home-cooked meals for dinner every day,” Smith said. “She was the Girl Scout troop leader. She was at every soccer practice, was homeroom mom.”

Although she looks nothing like her, Smith said she shares her outgoing personality with her mom.  “She was bold. She was opinionated. She was just a blast and she was extremely extroverted.”

And yet, Vachon also suffered from Bipolar Disorder and Multiple Sclerosis.

“It was really challenging to navigate as a kid,” Smith said. “I didn’t have a name for what she was going through or what she was experiencing.”

Jane Smith poses with her mom, Francie Vachon, at a horseback riding competition. (KSL-TV)

Smith said she realized something was wrong when she was about 16-years-old. Her mom was more withdrawn, didn’t enjoy participating in activities that she normally did, and her mood changed.

“She definitely wasn’t herself,” Smith said.

Six years ago on Labor Day Weekend, Vachon died by suicide when she was 42 years old. Smith was only 18 years old at the time, and her two siblings were even younger.

Jane Smith’s mother, Francie Vachon, died by suicide when she was 42-years-old. Smith was only 18-years-old at the time. (KSL-TV)

“It was right before all of us started our next chapter. I was starting college, my sister was starting high school,” Smith said.

She added it was overwhelming.

“It really feels like – how am I literally going to make it to tomorrow without my mom, especially with us being kids ” she said.

To this day, it’s difficult to think about the events Vachon will miss out on with her children.

“She’s just never gonna be able to experience your graduations, a future wedding, becoming a grandparent,” Smith said.

She said it’s particularly challenging to lose a parent.

“I miss having her, but I also miss the element of having a mom to lean on,” she said. “It’s like, who do I call if I have a stain on my clothes and I don’t know how to get it out? There’s just there’s a special relationship between kids and a parent.”

It’s a deep loss Smith doesn’t want any other family to experience, which is why she now advocates for suicide prevention. She’s been a member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for years and just joined the Utah chapter after moving here last spring from Michigan.

Each year, Smith walks to remember her mother and raise awareness. Although she won’t be walking with thousands of other survivors this year due to the pandemic, she will still be walking with her partner Zach and dog Arby on Saturday, Sept. 12.

Jane Smith’s dog is sporting his American Foundation for Suicide Prevention bandana and will walk with Smith this weekend. (KSL-TV)

She said they will likely head up the mountains to find a peaceful place to honor her mother. They will also wear gold beads which symbolize the loss of a parent, which are traditionally worn during the Out of Darkness Walk.

This year, AFSP is encouraging families to walk separately to promote safe social distancing and to share their experience on social media to still create a sense of community. People will be walking all over the state. The day will start with opening ceremonies streamed on Facebook and YouTube.

AFSP’s Taryn Hiatt said it can still be a meaningful experience.

“I think that’s what makes it more special this year is they’re really able to dedicate their time and energy to their own personal struggle or journey,” she said.

Hiatt said the pandemic has created unusual and challenging stressors for everyone this year.

“People who’ve never experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety are experiencing those,” she described.

But she said there is still hope.

Hiatt urged people to reach out to those who may be struggling.

“Now more than ever, we need to connect with one another. We’re supposed to be physically distant, but not socially. We can still have that connection,” she said.

It may look different this year, but Smith will continue to further her suicide prevention efforts.

“I want people to know that there is hope and there are people who are out there to support you and there are resources out there,” Smith said.

Smith often wishes she could turn back the clock.

“If I had known what I know today, six years ago, there might be a chance that my mom would still be here,” she said.

This motivates her to continue to raise funds for suicide prevention research and to spread awareness for others.

“We can help people and we can seriously make change in regards to mental health,” she said.

Smith carries on her mother’s legacy in everything she does, including her work in the public health field and with AFSP.

“She’s made me who I am today and I think about her every single day,” she said. “In the last letter, she wrote me that she was beyond proud of me.”

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the Intermountain Healthcare’s Emotional Health Relief Hotline (1-833-442-2211) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255))

Additional Crisis Hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
  • University Of Utah Crisis Interventional Crisis Line: 801-587-300

Online resources

In an emergency

  • Call the police
  • Go to the emergency room
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Survivors Of Suicide Loss Still Walking In Honor Of Loved Ones