About 75 people gathered at Town Square to light candles and show support for the cause of suicide prevention Friday evening, February 15. Sarah Gunkel organized the event with some of her friends, a group of 10 women who call themselves the Alaska Thick Mamis. They have been doing charitable work to support victims of domestic violence. Gunkel enlisted the group to put on an event that would reach out to people who may be at risk of suicide as well as people who have lost loved ones.
Friday's event combined the somber mood of a candlelight vigil with the uptempo spirit of a flash mob. Speakers discussed their personal experiences, shed tears and shared hugs. Later, dozens danced to choreographed moves and invited the audience to join them.
Gunkel says her message was simple: "There's no shame in reaching out if you need help, and there's no shame in talking about those you've lost." She hopes that by increasing the conversation about suicide, the less shocking those conversations will become. That, she hopes, will make it more likely that people will reach out for the help they need.
It's a cause that's close to her heart. Gunkel planned the event to coincide with eighth anniversary of her father's death by suicide. She's familiar with the devastation that suicide leaves in its wake.
"I'm never ashamed to tell people what happened to my dad," she said.
Gunkel says the event was an attempt to make a difference and that she's thinking about other ways to keep the conversation going. There's already been some evidence that it matters. Gunkel said she received a message from a person who had attempted suicide. That person told Gunkel that she came to the vigil and left with a sense of hope.
"I'm very proud," Gunkel said. "Last night was just the first step."