On the sidewalk path looping around Loose Park on Sunday morning, every family had a story.
They had lost a loved one — child, sister, mother or brother — too early. Most to suicide.
Some wore shirts with the person’s face on it or carried a picture. Others shared stories during this ninth annual Remembrance Walk, created for those who have lost someone to a traumatic death such as suicide, homicide, fire or accident.
The whole idea of this walk is to give families support, to remind them they are not alone and, where suicide is concerned, to let the public know it can happen in any family.
“I’m here for my mother and brother,” said Heather Ballard, 36, of Overland Park, as she led the group of hundreds around the park.
As she talked, she held tight the hand of her boyfriend, Brian Butler.
Ballard’s mother, Margo, died by suicide when Heather and her twin sister were 10. Her brother, Jason, took his own life three years ago.
As a girl, her mother’s death wasn’t talked about. Her pictures were put away. The subject was taboo back then, with suicide often carrying a stigma. She never even said that word until she was in college.
But today she knows so much more. A woman with a degree in psychology, she understands depression.
And she knew when her older brother was suffering that she needed to be there for him and his two daughters, who at the time were 9 and 7. Once a month, she would fly to Utah to be with him and his girls, taking them to get their nails done or just hanging out at home. It was about having fun and being happy.
“I knew he wouldn’t be here forever, so I wanted them to have positive memories of their father,” Ballard said.
She didn’t want them to see the depressed side of their father, like she did of her mother.
“I wanted them to have happy times.”
As Ballard talked, Juanita, the woman walking behind her, was thinking of Shawn.
“My son was 32 when he passed away, or when he committed suicide,” said Juanita O’Banion, 55, of Independence. “It’s hard for me to say that.”
To her, Shawn was a happy guy, the one pictured on her T-shirt, fingers on both hands forming peace signs. He was the clown of the family get-togethers.
“You just don’t see it,” O’Banion said of her son Shawn’s deep depression, which led him to take his own life in 2008. “I just didn’t see it coming.”
Sunday was her third Remembrance Walk. As she wound her way around the park, she thought of her boy.
“I’m thinking maybe he’s happy now.”
The walk was sponsored by Suicide Awareness Survivor Support. Mickey and Bonnie Swade formed the group after they lost their 31-year-old son, Brett, in December 2004.
After each walk, Bonnie hears from families who appreciate the time to reflect and be with other people who can relate to what they have gone through.
“A lot of people have walked every year,” she said.
Members of Jake Bolt’s family already plan to have more relatives join them next year. Sunday was their first walk.
Just the day before, on Sept. 8, the family released balloons into the air to mark what had been exactly a year since Jake died of suicide.
Other families in four other states did the same thing, at the same time.
“We said, ‘This is for you Jake,’ and away they went,” said Jeanie Bolt, Jake’s grandma.
The walk was just one more way to honor the young man with a dry wit, whose jokes family members say they may not have gotten until he was already out of the room.
Jake last called family members on a Tuesday, said his aunt Karyn Scarborough. Talking to everyone, making them laugh.
On Thursday, he was gone.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it,” said Ed Bolt, 45, Jake’s dad.
He thinks of his son, the one who as a kid fishing would pass up the lake and just lower his pole into the minnow bucket. As a grown man, he would show up at his dad’s house and head straight to the refrigerator.
The family laughed at that memory and many others during Sunday’s walk, which they said will become a tradition for Jake.
It’s comforting, said his older sister Kenzi Marlow.
“You feel like you’re not the only one.”