A Necklace For Everything
Content warning: suicide-adjacent events. Does not discuss specific suicidal attempts or ideation.
I recently participated in an “Out of the Darkness” walk, which is a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. A sister in my ward introduced me to this event, and she was the only person there that I recognized. It happened in a local city park, and unlike many fundraising walks or runs, the purpose of this was neither speed nor distance. It wasn’t a race. It was a gathering of people whose lives had been touched by suicide in some way.
Upon arriving at the registration tables, I saw piles of color-sorted Mardi Gras beads – the cheap plastic kind available for most holidays. I learned that all participants were invited to choose as many colors as represented their relationship to the cause. Everyone there wore blue, which represents Supporting Suicide Prevention. The other colors signified a specific connection to suicide.
White: Loss of a child
Red: Loss of a spouse or partner
Gold: Loss of a parent
Purple: Loss of a relative or friend
Silver: Loss of a first responder/military
Green: A personal struggle or attempt
Rainbow: Honoring the LGBTQ community
My son and I chose our relevant colors. We walked from booth to booth, learning more about strategies for suicide prevention, local organizations that support families confronting this issue, and putting together little self-care kids for when things felt really dark. There was a board covered with sticky notes people had written of reasons to keep living and keep trying, that anyone could keep.
Prior to the walk there was a honor ceremony. The emcee invited crowd members to hold up a particular color of bead, and read aloud the significance of the color. Looking around you could see all the parents grieving a loss of a child, all the spouses who had lost their other half, all the children missing a parent. And you could see how many people had themselves struggled with suicidal ideation or attempts. Most people had many beads around their necks. Then we started a leisurely, beautiful walk along a river path I have traveled hundreds of times. My son and I talked along the way, and I pointed out the colors of beads I saw on people who passed.
It was clear that suicide is no respecter of class, wealth, gender, sexuality, age, or any other marker. The people who were grieving loss were not limited to a particular group. Even though I didn’t know any of the people there, I found myself being shocked that that person had had suicidal ideation – she looks so sharp! So wealthy! How could that person have attempted suicide, he’s so young! Intellectually I know these are stupid reactions. Rich people have depression. Young people are often at particular risk. But it was a really striking and moving experience to be able to glance around me and see, without saying a word, what kind of grief and struggle they carried every day. It was meaningful too to see how unifying this experience was across otherwise divisive issues – different political taglines on shirts, different styles of dress, different indicators of wealth – but it made no difference to who was wearing what color around their necks.
Since that time I have found myself earnestly wishing for a necklace system in other realms of life. I wish we had necklaces for school pickup. If your kid keeps getting in trouble, wear a pink necklace. If you have cried over your child’s health in the last month, wear teal necklace. If you have already lost two “take home/return to school” folders one month into school, wear an orange necklace. If your child constantly struggles to complete or turn in homework wear a purple necklace. If you have yelled at your kids and then felt terrible about it, wear a gold necklace. If you secretly feel inadequate in comparison to other parents at pick-up, wear a bronze necklace. If you’re angry that every week there is a new school fundraiser, while the Defense Department has more money than Midas, wear a green necklace.
I wish that at Church there were a wordless way to signal our spiritual struggles. If you’ve had a hard time with a testimony of the Restoration, wear a green necklace. If the Church’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues is a source of grief and anger, wear a red necklace. If you aren’t sure God is real or hears your prayers, wear a white necklace. If polygamy is confounding and painful, wear a black necklace. If you feel shame about your body or sex because of things you learned in Church, wear a lavender necklace. If you see most scripture as metaphorical rather than a literal historical account, wear a navy necklace. If General Conference has been painful for you in the past, wear a maroon necklace. If someone in a position of power at Church has abused that authority over you, wear a brown necklace.
I don’t want the necklace system in order to sow divisiveness and feed doubt and disaffection. The purpose of the suicide prevention necklaces is not to engender a desire to acquire more of them, or to express pride in wearing any of them. The purpose is to provide a way to look around and feel less alone, and to see that in fact you are not at all alone. Other people have walked your road. Other people are walking it right now. Someday you may find yourself on a new road of sorrow, and realize you already know half a dozen people you can talk to. So many faith struggles are worsened by a sense of isolation. Often struggling Saints encounter gaslighting and a perception that no one else has ever seen things that way, or experienced what you have, so it must not be real.
We can safely assume that everyone is among the walking wounded. Everyone is toting a weary load of grief and anxiety. Everyone has suffered losses that still weigh on them. But I still wish there were an easy, silent way to signal a specific kinship of struggle and suffering that would allow us to reach out and see one another more authentically.