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Breaking the stigma

Upcoming Out of Darkness event in Bridesburg will offer resources to families and raise awareness about suicide.

A safe space: Families and friends impacted by suicide participate in last year’s Out of the Darkness Walk. SUPPLIED PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

Mary Ann Murtha lost her son, Dominic Del Rosario, 20, to suicide in 2010 and it’s an experience she hopes to eventually eradicate for any other family.

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“My goal is to never have another family ever go through what my family has gone through,” said the Havertown resident. “No one should ever feel like my son did.”

Sticking to her goal, Murtha is bringing “Coming Out of the Darkness,” an event dedicated to supporting those impacted by suicide and raising awareness, to Bridesburg. Her mission began in 2011, when Murtha and her family participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk in Philadelphia.

Del Rosario was enamored with wolves and had 32 wolf-print tattoos representing his family. To honor his memory, his family named its team “Dom’s Wolf Pack” and has walked every year since 2011.

AFSP is a national organization that conducts research and provides resources related to suicide through chapters all over the country.

The Greater Philadelphia chapter hosts the walk the first weekend in October every year. Families and friends form teams to walk in memory of their loved ones lost, with funds raised going to the foundation. One of its long-term goals is to reduce suicide by 20 percent, by 2025, according to Murtha.

Wanting to impact families beyond the walk, Murtha became the marketing coordinator of the Greater Philadelphia chapter and co-chair for the annual Philadelphia walk.

“I’m not sure a lot of people know this organization exists,” Murtha said. “My goal is break through the stigma and the silence. We really want to come out of the darkness about mental health.”

Murtha brainstormed hosting an event to raise awareness about the chapter for years, and after sharing her vision with her friend and owner of The Bridgeview Cafe, Mary Scheetz Hird, the two decided holding such an event in Bridesburg was a no-brainer.

“A lot of Bridesburg has been affected by suicide,” Scheetz Hird said. “Bridgeview and Fran Lee want to better understand the needs of the community. And, we hope there is a greater awareness and opportunity from this event for residents to seek people or find information when they have a loved one in need or has a loved one who dies by suicide. Any way we can support the community, I’m all for it.”

Supporting the community is one of the main objectives of the event.

“This is about raising awareness in a community that has had a lot of loss,” Murtha said. “I’ve always had a dream to have this awareness-raiser to let people know we’re here. Bridesburg has had loss. I want people to know they are not alone. It’s really about the community coming together and breaking through the stigma.”

Breaking the stigma includes “to change the language” associated with suicide, meaning rather than “committed suicide,” the goal is for the public to use “died by suicide,” because “my son didn’t commit a crime, he died from mental health issues,” Murtha said.

Murtha described losing a loved one to suicide as “isolating.”

One Bridesburg native, who asked to remain anonymous out of respect to her other family members, experienced that isolation first-hand when she lost her brother to suicide in the early 2000s

“My family has totally changed,” she said. “Some Christmases are good, some are not. We never talk about it as a family. If my brother was still around, we’d be closer as a family. It doesn’t matter if it’s been 10 years. It still hits you like it was yesterday.”

The Bridesburg native participated in the Out of the Darkness walk last year in honor of her brother and her friends who have been impacted by suicide.

“Unfortunately, there are too many people in Bridesburg this has happened to,” she said. “I know six to 10 people this has happened to in the neighborhood. It just seems like a common thing and it’s something you shouldn’t ever hear about.”

She received complimentary tickets to the upcoming event and plans to bring members of other families affected by suicide.

“I don’t think there could be a more perfect place to have it because it is so common in our neighborhood,” she said. “People need to look at it as a sickness. It’s another issue that needs to be brought to light. People talk about it in secret because they are ashamed and they shouldn’t be. If this event saves some lives, then it’s worth it.” ••

If you go…

The Bridgeview Cafe and Fran Lee Caterers will host Coming Out of the Darkness, an evening dedicated to supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Greater Philadelphia Chapter on Thursday, Sept. 20, from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at Fran Lee Caterers, 4554 Almond St. Single tickets cost $45 ($55 with a T-shirt included) or $80 for two tickets ($100 with two T-shirts included). Sponsorships and tables available for purchase. Tickets can be purchased at the Bridgeview Cafe every day, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. or at http://bit.ly/DomsWolfpack. For more details, contact Mary Ann Murtha at 610–605–7389 or djdmam@yahoo.com.

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