LIHUE — Sheila Garcia-Louis lost her grandson, Akone Maghanoy, to suicide when he was only 21.
“It’s still fresh,” said Garcia-Louis, who is a nurse retired from Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital.
It’s not easy for her to talk about, but she is one of a handful of brave individuals who have taken something terrible and proactively turned it into something good.
She’s the chair of this year’s Walk to Fight Suicide Community Event, “Out of the Darkness,” that happens from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the Waimea Athletic Field. The community walk is hosted by the Hawaii Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, to help raise awareness about the issue.
Besides the main activity, which will be a walk around the park at 9 a.m., there will be musical entertainment and a resource fair with organizations, such as Hale ‘Opio. It will be a safe space for survivors of suicide, and friends and family members who have suffered the loss of loved ones, to connect to one another, Garcia-Louis said.
Her personal tragedy happened about five years ago, but every time Garcia-Louis sees Maghanoy’s picture or thinks about him, she said she feels heartache.
Even more heartbreaking is that Garcia-Louis has had other family members, including her cousin, 17-year-old Keli‘i Shigematsu of Kekaha, who have taken their own lives, or attempted to.
“Westside kids are tough, but they’ll come down to a point where they break,” she said about Shigematsu.
That’s why she said it’s imperative for friends and family to be there to listen to the struggles of loved ones. What might not seem like a big deal could mean the world to them, she said.
“Listen to the child’s problems even if you think it’s not important. It’s important to them,” she said.
There are other signs to look for, including withdrawal, mood changes and any indication that they are going against their normal routine, she said.
The loss of a relationship, job or death of a family member can cause intense grief and thoughts of suicide, but the underlying factor almost always is depression, and the events can spark the mental illness, according to AFSP. Often drugs and alcohol go hand-in-hand with depression, which can also escalate suicidal thoughts, according to the organization.
Those who miss these signs will undoubtedly feel guilty, but it’s not their fault, Garcia-Louis said.
“We tried to do all that we can do,” she said in regards to her grandson, who moved with his immediate family to the mainland in hopes that he would be dissuaded from engaging with the “wrong crowd.”
For those who are considering suicide, Garcia-Louis has words of comfort, and encourages them to find someone who can listen and help.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2017, more than 47,000 people in the nation died by suicide, and there were about 1.4 million attempts. Men died by suicide about 3.5 times more often than women in 2017, according to statistics from the AFSP.
Garcia-Louis said she has noticed an uptick in incidences, and she’s been instrumental in helping people understand that suicide is never the answer.
“It’s not a way to go,” she said.
There’s always someone who cares, Garcia-Louis said.
“Just talk to someone,” she said.
And remember that there are people who are left behind who hurt, she said.
“Suicide is the easy way out. The ones that you leave behind, that’s who suffers,” she said. “There’s a greater life in this world to think about.”
If she sees a child exhibiting unusual behaviors, Garcia-Louis said she always takes the time to talk to them to find out how she can help.
“You sit there and you just listen,” she said.
Garcia-Louis also wants people to know that there are always options, and to never feel shame about reaching out for help. The 24/7 number to call for help is 800-273-TALK (8255).
Visit afsp.org/hawaii to register for the walk and gathering.
Coco Zickos, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.