So often, when cancer or some rare disease claims a life, survivors become crusaders.
They become public figures who raise awareness and money for the cause. They do this because they want to cure whatever took their loved one from them, and to stop it from taking someone else, too. They dedicate their time and efforts so other families someday wont endure what they endured.
They do this because helping others helps them deal with their own grief.
For the longest time, though, one group remained in the shadows: The loved ones of people who committed suicide. Theyve suffered in silence, some living each day with guilt, humiliation, denial and heartbreak.
That is beginning to change here in the Valley, led by two mothers who share stories and, now, missions.
We need to break the stigma, said Modesto resident Alice Quayle, whose son, Dustin Boardrow, killed himself four years ago Tuesday.
She brought the first Out of the Darkness community walk to Modesto in 2010, raising money for suicide prevention and education. The fourth walk will commence at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Graceada Park. Quayle expects about 800 people to participate, generating roughly $40,000 for suicide prevention, awareness and education.
Melinda Shaw of Ripon couldnt let the lasting memory of her daughter, Marissa McLeod, be solely about the day the 17-year-old committed suicide in December 2009. Shaw knew she had to finish what Marissa had started as a project. Shaw opened Marissas Closet in 2010. Since then, shes distributed more than 12,000 dresses to high school girls in the valley, about half of them from Stanislaus County, and across the country.
Raising money and relying strictly on volunteers Shaw among them shes been able to mortgage a building in downtown Ripon and pay the utility bills. At 10 a.m. Saturday, shell unveil a new dimension: The Marissa Alexandria Guidance Center in the rear portion of the dress shop at 104 W. Main St. Beginning Tuesday, certificated facilitator Lyn Price will provide coaching and guidance from the back portion of the building, with a suicide hotline in the pipeline. Price, too, will volunteer her time.
Shaw stages a fundraiser dinner and dance each spring to help support Marissas Closet, and solicits corporate support along with donations of dresses, many of them brand new. A motorcycle ride Saturday and a golf tournament Sept.30 will help fund the guidance center.
The dresses were Marissas thing, Shaw said. The guidance center is mine. If I can help even one parent from having to go through what Ive gone through, then Ive done a good service.
That these events are on the same day is coincidental, though barely. September is National Suicide Prevention Month. They are happening because these two moms put themselves out there, in public, to grieve and achieve.
If you would have told me four years ago Id be doing this, I would have told you I never could have been that person, said Shaw, who runs Marissas Closet while also working full-time at Santa Clara Countys health department.
Shaws crusade began with a tremendous cost her daughters death. But while she experiences joy each time a girl leaves the shop with a dress, the personal price continues to climb.
Doing this cost me my marriage, she said. (Her former husband and Marissas stepfather) couldnt deal with the program Id started. He thought Id just get over it. You never get over it.
Quayle, meanwhile, never shied away from talking about her sons suicide.
I dont know why, she said. I was always very open about it. I never hesitated to tell people about how he died.
Quayle is in the process of establishing a Modesto chapter of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, meaning that the majority of the funds raised here will stay here. She is aligned with the organizations Sacramento chapter but has used money generated from previous walks to purchase, among other things, DVDs for local high schools and colleges. More Than Sad addresses high school students. The Truth About Suicide is more college-age appropriate, she said.
These women stay busy with their respective organizations. But they hurt, and always will. No one ever believes their loved ones would do something so final to themselves and so permanent to those they leave behind.
I knew Dustin had a chemical imbalance, Quayle said. He was sick. But even if he would have shared (his feelings) with me, I dont think Id have taken him seriously. Looking back now, at old photographs, he was always smiling and happy. I could see the joy in his face. But in the pictures taken in the months before he died, you can see it in his eyes. I didnt see it until it was too late, but its so obvious to me now.
Shaw cant comprehend why her daughter did what she did, either.
When you love a child, the pain never stops, Shaw said. Youve got to figure it out. You have to deal with it day to day.
Some completely in private, others now more publicly.