SHREVEPORT, LA. (KTAL/KMSS) — Christie Waldrop lost her brother to suicide and the following year, her friend and registered nurse died by suicide which prompted her to join the Northwest Louisiana Out of the Darkness (OOTD) walk.
“Steven was 26 years old, he was a nursing student at BPCC. He had siblings, my parents, he’s an uncle, a dog dad. Just was really great and everyone loved him,” says Waldrop, “So, unfortunately, he was struggling inside himself and hiding a lot of it, and it was very surprising when we lost him.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) hosts annual OOTD walks in multiple different cities nationwide for those affected by suicide, and raises awareness and funds with one message, “You are not alone.”
OOTD’s walk to prevent suicide gives people a supportive space to remember their loved ones who lost their lives to suicide or lived through a suicide attempt.
Waldrop says she would never forget that day her brother lost his life to suicide.
“I just wish, had he known how much we would struggle after because he wanted the pain to stop but he didn’t want to die. And so he felt like he was a burden. I wish we could of just- I wish we could go back and tell him that he wasn’t and that it was so much better with him here.”
Waldrop says, in that moment his brain was lying to him.
Steven was the youngest of four siblings and was following his mother’s footsteps to become a nurse. He was attending Bossier Parish Community College nursing school program at the time of his death.
She retells the day before Steve’s life was tragically taken by suicide, he was studying in the kitchen and had made plans with a friend for later in the week.
“The last day we spent together – the week before he died. We just went to my apartment, had spaghetti and were silly and listened to music and danced, and had a really great final hug. So, I hold on to those memories,” reminisces Waldrop.
She says Steven was transparent when it came to his mental health.
“Steven was open about dealing with depression and anxiety over the last several years of his life. But he had taken control of it. He was very open about it on social media. He loved life. He loved to laugh and he loved living.”
Waldrop’s brother, Steven Harville, was “a walking sunshine” as described by his coworkers at BestBuy, “always positive and always the one to reach out and check on others.”
She says his death was unnecessary and doesn’t want families to go through the same thing.
Waldrop says her family donated a bench, tree, and plaque along the walking trail at Betty Virginia Park in memory of her brother.
His last words, “Stay up, stay positive, and keep moving forward” are written on his bench and plaque.
The following year, in September, her good friend, Melissa Garcia, died by suicide. Garcia was a nurse, a wife, and a mother of two children.
“She was a beautiful singer in a band called Magnolia Mae with her husband John. She had two kids and was just a great friend, so funny and a beautiful smile. She was well-known within the community and she also dealt with not feeling good enough.”
She said Garcia’s death was a massive shock to the community and she was well-acquainted with the AFSP NWLA.
Waldrop says friends and family come together on their birthdays instead of the day they lost their lives to suicide.
“And so today, this week, and this month is a time of remembering. And then on Melissa and Steven’s birthdays, we try to get together or celebrate or make a wish or just talk to them.”
For people grieving, Waldrop says, “You’re not alone. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through and most likely the hardest thing you’ll ever go through.”
“Talk about it. Talk about them, don’t forget about them and one day you’ll smile again.”
When is the walk?
This year the walk will occur on Saturday, October 28 at 9 a.m. at Betty Virginia Park.
“The walk is a great atmosphere because everyone is kind of in the same mindset,” says Waldrop, “They’ve either lost someone to suicide or have dealt with it themselves.”
She says AFSP NWLA is a family-friendly event with a DJ and snacks to commemoration and support each other.