SPAN Suicide Awareness Walk, Lauren

This story discusses suicide, loss and support. Lifeline is always there if anyone needs to talk 13 11 14. Sending lots of love to everyone who has suffered loss. Lauren and Kevin Arkinstall will walk in  Geelong SPAN’s 10th Suicide Awareness Walk on Sunday, to acknowledge the life of their daughter Holly, who died by suicide in February 2017.

SPAN 19 Deborah (2)

Just six weeks after Holly took her own life, Lauren said they took part in the walk on the suggestion of a grief counsellor from Jesuit Social Services Hope Bereavement Care. SPAN’s aim has been to combat the stigma and shame that can accompany suicide and the annual walk is a means of bringing people together to raise awareness of suicide.

“Our first walk was an opportunity to do something in the face of feeling helpless, feeling shame and guilt, having so many questions and the soul-destroying grief,” Lauren said.

The number of people at the walk was a surprise to Lauren. “At that first walk Holly’s name was announced as one of the many on the list from Geelong who had died. I had no idea so many people have been bereaved through suicide.”

Lauren and Kevin walked with Holly’s friends and family, including her13 year old niece Jade. Lauren carried a loved old handbag of Holly’s, her name written on it in her favourite colour pink by Jade. It was the family’s concern that Jade be given the opportunity to ask questions and express her feelings if she wished, that led them to Hope Bereavement Care initially.

The walk allows everyone directly or indirectly affected by suicide to receive and offer support. Lauren said that responses to suicide and reasons to attend the walk may differ, “but we all share enormous grief”.

“With this in mind, we can unite and  support each other. It’s important to have a connection to others and if there was shame and guilt we can bear that too.”

Remembering her first walk she added: “We linked arms to show we are proud of our loved ones and their qualities and the love they gave – not that they died, but that they were truly here in a living presence. When they released the doves after the walk, we were able to express our grief in the beauty of it.”

Lauren’s faith, friends and Hope Bereavement have supported her through the impacts of suicide bereavement, and she has become an advocate for promoting mental health awareness. This week Lauren starts as a Support After Suicide volunteer at Kitchener House and has now organised a garage sale of items from Holly’s house, which will raise funds for RUOK?

She supports SPAN’s advocacy to reduce the number of lives lost to suicide by challenging the silence, the fear and the myths around suicide through available evidence-based and reliable information and access to support for people at risk.

“We need more education and resources to support our GPs and for all of us to be willing to do something when they recognise a person is not OK; give them some time, understanding or suggesting they go and see someone,” Lauren says.

Lauren said in suicide “we look at the perfect storm”.

“It is generally not just one factor. Nobody gives up the will to live easily; it is chipped away over time.”

Since the founding members organised the SPAN walk in 2010, it has evolved as a positive, active community event where people unite, pay tribute and ultimately embrace the gift of life, according to organisers.

This will be the third year Lauren and Kevin have walked: “As a memorial to Holly, to recognise that her life was important.” Last year they thought they would miss the walk while away on a cruise. “But Kevin and I walked around the ship on that day.”

This year they will be at Johnstone Park on September 8, and Lauren encourages anyone affected by suicide to join the walk. “The walk is about being able to do something as a memorial to our loved ones passed. They fought their own internal war and tragically lost. The walk acknowledges their battle and our grief and loss. We have forgiven them, and they us.”

Suicide Awareness Walk Geelong

Where:  Rotunda at Johnstone Park, Gheringhap Street, Geelong,

When: Registration at 8.30am to 9.30am followed by a short Memorial Service. The Walk begins at 10.15am followed by music and a free barbecue with refreshments.

Click here to register for the Suicide Awareness Walk.
A $10 registration fee is required, all children under 15 are free.

Story: Deb Howcroft

Photo supplied:  Lauren Arkinstall with her daughter Holly’s dog Norman. Lauren and husband Kevin will join the Suicide Awareness Walk at Johnstone Park on Sunday September 8, as a memorial to Holly who died by suicide in February 2017.