Morley resident Lonnie Dixon had a lot on his mind as he quietly tossed rose petals into the Bow River Monday morning.
“I had a close friend growing up … he committed suicide. Since then, I was always aware of it,” said Dixon, who also lost his father to illness at a young age. “I was just thinking about my family, my friend.”
Dixon was joined on the banks of the Bow by Stoney Nakoda First Nation high school students, elders and community members for the third annual Walk to Remember, organized by Stoney Health Services’ Turning Point program to commemorate World Suicide Prevention Week.
The sombre event combined blessings and honour songs performed by elders with a group march from the town’s health centre to the river and the flower ceremony.
Organizer A.J. of Morley’s Turning Point mental health program said the rainbow-coloured petals were meant to represent a testimonial to the lives both taken by suicide, as well as those left behind.
“It’s the loss of life, but also the vibrance. It holds different meanings for different people,” she said, adding she hopes residents take from the event the messages of “togetherness, inclusivity and … that they’re not alone.”
“The conversation is still a quiet one,” A.J. said. “It’s OK to talk about it. It’s OK to grieve.”
Dixon, who now works for Nakoda Fire Services, said he understands how anyone can become consumed with thoughts of suicide, since he too experienced dark times growing up.
“I got thinking like that at parts of my life … I was close to doing this,” he remembered, adding writing music and poetry helped to bring him through the most difficult moments.
He said staying “culturally intact” is essential for him and others in his community to keep standing through struggles on their reserve.
Elder Virgil Stevens echoed the sentiment after handing out flower petals to the group gathered at the riverbank.
“I’m glad that you came here and listened,” he said. “This is your community. Each and every one of us has to work together to better our community.”