They walk to remember loved ones
October 20, 2023
Saturday was the first time Isabelle and Josh Hamsmith participated in the Suicide Awareness Memorial Walk, but it won't be the last, said Isabelle.
She and her father carried a sign to remember her mother, Autumn Rae Beck, who died by suicide in 2017.
"I think just making the sign last night was kind of fun," said Josh. "It helped."
They were with people who understood Saturday, because most of the nearly 200 attendees have been touched by suicide. They remembered friends, coworkers, children, parents and other loved ones.
Jo Angell walked for the 15th time in memory of her son. Deb Croft walked in memory of her nephew. Jake Kachinske and his sister, Brittany Steeg, walked in memory of their sister. Both of them spoke after the walk about losing Kaylee - Brittany's twin - on a day when many shared their own stories with others.
That is part of the vision statement of the task force: "Reaching out our hands and hearts to bring suicide awareness, education toward prevention, and support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide, as we unite together with understanding and hope."
After the walk, people gathered inside Carlton High School. Tables along one side of the cafeteria were stacked with resources - numbers to call, options for help, a pile of bracelets with the 988 number to call or text for help. Minnesotans facing mental health crises can dial or text 988 to connect to Lifeline support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
During the walk, Angell talked about her son, Doug, and the importance of seeking help.
"If you're struggling, tell someone," she said. "If you see someone struggling, ask them. It's awkward, but you could save a life..."
Inside the school, Kachinske spoke of the shock when he got the call about Kaylee, who was 15 years younger and still in high school when she died. She and Brittany were the "maids of honor" at his wedding when they were 9, and a fun addition to the family. He recalled, however, learning that Kaylee began self harming when she was 14 or 15, which led to hospital visits and a stay at Miller Dwan in Duluth. He visited, and said he felt a wall between them for the first time.
"But she did a good job of hiding what was behind the surface, a surface no one could ever crack," he said. "I hoped she would get some help and beat this thing that was bothering her, whatever it was."
He got the call that changed their lives forever the night of March 22.
"Our family [is] not quite as whole - that's the truth," he said. "Get-togethers are a little emptier. ... But I've seen so many positives come out of my family's negative."
After her death, Kaylee's Moose Lake classmates and school started a suicide awareness grassroots effort they called LIFE (Life is For Everyone).
The power of awareness cannot be overstated, Steeg told the crowd. She and her classmates raised money for counseling at school, speakers at school, got more resources. They created a text line "so you didn't have to talk to grownups [on a phone line]," she said.
"Sometimes talking to someone else besides a family member or a friend who knows who you are, helps a lot more, lets you open up more," she said. "The texting provides a space where you can say what you're feeling, you don't have to worry about being judged. You can also confide in a friend."
Steeg described her twin, her wild clothes and bright colors and love of chocolate sundaes. She encouraged others to talk about their loved ones, and make others aware of help.
"Let's continue to provide awareness in the future so we can help prevent others from experiencing the same pain that my family has endured," she said. "Together we can strive to make a world where mental health is embraced."
Editor's note: The attendance number was revised from around 300 to nearly 200 after print publication to better reflect the number of people counted by organizers.