I write with a mixture of enthusiasm and sadness as I encourage you to participate in the First Annual Rainbow Race this Saturday, May 5 at 9 a.m. at John and Cindy’s Harvest Acre Farm on Route 138 in West Kingston. This measured 10K Race and 5K Walk covers some of the most picturesque rural areas of Washington County.
I first met John and Cindy Duncan at a funeral home in December 2005. Their daughter, Cassie – whom I knew from chaperoning an eighth grade trip to Washington, DC the previous May – had committed suicide. I felt compelled to attend her wake, not just in my capacity as a teacher at the school she had attended, but because I had lost my own daughter, Molly, to suicide four years earlier.
In the six years since that painful Christmas, a wonderful friendship forged by common grief has flourished between the Duncan and Thompson families. Cindy will tell you that I helped her through those early days of numbing horror, but she is the one whose strength and perseverance have guided me and those around her.
As mothers, we have since spent countless hours asking ourselves how two beautiful, highly intelligent girls from loving families could have taken their own lives as teenagers. Through tears and yes, even some laughter, we have analyzed birthday parties, playmates, clothing choices, report cards and what seemed at the time (and still do, by the way) to be normal mood swings.
Mental illness isn’t like other diseases, and don’t we know it. When’s the last time you heard someone say, “Gee, he didn’t seem like the type of person who would have a heart attack.” How about, “Hmm, she had breast cancer. Wonder what was going on in that family?” There are families in which a suicide has occurred in which members take a vow of silence so as not to embarrass or bring perceived shame on themselves.
Cindy and I talk wistfully about the hours we spent fretting over the right preschools, or when to allow pierced ears, worrying about bike helmets and knee pads, seatbelts, hats and mittens. It never occurred to us to worry about this sneaky killer that’s one of the leading causes of death among teens and young adults. We realize now that our girls died because they had an untreated fatal disease.
We look forward to the day when medical treatment for depression and other mental disorders will be widely available to successfully treat all of the Cassies and Mollys who suffer silently.
All proceeds from the Rainbow Race will benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This organization is committed to science-based research that will help to identify and provide proper treatment to all people with mental illness.
The race will begin at 9 a.m. from John and Cindy’s Harvest Acres Farm at 425 Kingstown Road (Route 138) in West Kingston. Pre-registration is available at www.active.com
North Kingstown, RI