When Angel and Tony Blackmon hear that someone has lost their life to suicide, they leap into action.
They reach out to the victim’s family, offering support and condolences. They search the Internet for signs and signals that may serve as comfort for the grieving. And they wage war against those who post slanderous misinformation about the victim or family, begging site administrators to remove posts that could cause more pain for the suffering.
“We ask them, ‘hasn’t the family been through enough already?”, says Angel.
It is a feeling that they know first-hand—the pain that is left behind when someone commits suicide.
After all, the headquarters for their suicide awareness organization, By Chaney’s Hands, is located in the bedroom that was once occupied by their teenage daughter, Chaney, before she was lost to suicide in September 2015. Her things are still scattered amongst the computers and technology that the pair use to connect them to their network on a daily basis.
Unsurprisingly, the parents gush about their daughter, saying that she was smart, goofy, fun to be around, caring, a model student, a member of the Marshall County High School Band even though she was only a middle schooler, and a “princess” in their home of sons.
As they dealt with Chaney’s suicide, even in its initial stages, Tony was activating his social network, one that would eventually become the backbone of By Chaney’s Hands. On Facebook, he posted the following:
Today started out like any other day… but very quickly we were hit hard and now I am sitting here shaking, and have no idea which way to even turn.
I do not ever ask for anything related to religion, or hope, or even well-wishes… but I am asking for it right now.
Please send everything you have that is positive to my daughter. Send anything you have left to my family.
To say that Chaney’s death left a hole in their family, for Angel and Tony, is woefully inadequate.
“We’re a whole new family,” says Angel.
“Everything has changed.”
“The one thing that I learned after we lost Chaney was that we did not just lose Chaney,” adds Tony.
“We lost our entire family. No one in our home is the same person that they were before. We have to literally learn to live with the new people that everyone has become.”
“It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you come in, we look the same, but we are not,” Tony concludes.
They share their stories of dealing with their grief openly and honestly, in hopes that they will somehow be of comfort to others.
“After Chaney passed away, we had quite a few people come to us over the course of several months and say that the things we wrote about and talked about changed their lives, and caused them to either get the help they needed or reconsider their plans for their lives,” Tony posted on the group’s Facebook page, which has nearly 2,000 followers.
Angel has recently begun writing pieces about her grief and her own struggles with mental illness on a website called The Mighty, which seeks to build a community of people who are struggling with disability, disease and mental illness. Her first piece was titled “The 5 Stones I Carry After My Daughter Died by Suicide.”
And while it is true that the Blackmon’s are concerned about those who are grieving and use their outreach as platform to deal with their own, their primary goal is one of prevention—to find a path where no family must suffer as they have.
To them, it is everything.
“We don’t want to stop,” says Tony. “We never want to stop.”
By Chaney’s Hands officially began on December 1, 2015, three months after Chaney’s death. Since then, the couple has worked tirelessly to build a network that raises awareness of suicide. When pressed, both Tony and Angel profess to spending more than half of each day working the mission of their organization—the belief that the best way to combat suicide is through education, understanding and compassion.
“We’re very proud that, since January 1st, we’ve personally dealt with 30 interventions in our region,” says Angel. Tony adds that through their online connections, they’ve also been able to intervene in cases in Australia and the Philippines as well.
The Blackmon’s are hoping to add to the number of professionals in our region who are trained in suicide interventions. They have built a coalition of local officials, and that group plans to become educated through ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training), which, according to the couple, is the preeminent suicide intervention training. This coalition includes themselves, one paramedic, one elementary school teacher, a registered nurse, a middle school special education teacher, a social worker, two 911 dispatchers and a church youth group leader.
For Tony, the purpose of the ASIST training for this coalition is twofold—first that it puts more people in the community immediately that can properly deal with a suicidal crisis and second, that it allows the network further reach with these trainers capable of passing that knowledge to others in their fields.
The pair is raising funds to pay for the ASIST training as well as to reach their other goals.
SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)
Meagan Pickett agrees that the key to suicide prevention is education and, like the Blackmon’s, was spurred to action by the loss of someone close to her.
She recalls her friend, who died from suicide when they were in college–“one of the biggest parts of him that I try to keep around is the fact that he would never let anyone that he cared about feel alone.”
“So, I don’t want anyone else to feel alone. I want people to know that they have somewhere to turn and that there’s an answer.”
“He was one of those people who you assume is going to be a part of your life for the rest of your life and then all of a sudden, they are gone. I spent months saying that I was sorry to someone who wasn’t there anymore, and then finally it hit me, going through the different stages of grief, that maybe there was something I could do about it.”
After much research, Meagan landed on SAVE and hosted the first 5k Emotions in Motion Race in 2014. In 2016 she was given the opportunity to form her own charter for Western Kentucky.
“I was afraid that I would be the only one passionate about it, but the second it was put in the paper, people emailed, people called and we’ve really had people step up in the most phenomenal way,” says Meagan of the community’s embrace of her organization, which has hosted two 5k races to build awareness and funds and has met as a group twice.
“We’re really starting to figure out what the needs in our community are and what programs we can host or have that help meet those needs,” she says of the fledgling charter.
For Meagan, the road ahead for her organization is uphill, but it is a mountain she is willing to trek.
“Based on the most current data, our region has the highest rate of suicide in the state. Suicide is the second leading cause of death of people in ages ranges 15-34. “Over three times as many Kentuckians die by suicide than by homicide each year,” she says.
“It’s mind-boggling to think that we are losing so many youths to something that’s preventable.”
“It seems like there’s a lot we can do. It gets me fired up, but at the same time, it seems sad when you think that we have a long way to go.”
“But we are getting there.”
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