A year can make all the difference
By Christina Ryan-Stoltz
If you had asked me last summer what my passions were, I would have told you that I was trying to discover what else they may be, “now that my only child is nearly raised and about to begin his senior year of high school.”
I kept it pretty simple as a mama; raising Isaac was my joy and purpose in life. While I have helped here and there with some community events over the years, I truly lacked the conviction to commit myself to any real level of activism or solidarity, always feeling my time was spoken for. I come from a family of givers/do-ers, and I married into a family of givers/do-ers, but I was quite content to focus the majority of my time and energy on my boy.
A year can make all the difference.
Last October, Isaac took his own life. In a moment, the life I knew and loved was over. The reverberations of his death, his choice, this loss spread out like aftershocks from an earthquake. How did this happen? Why? What did I miss? What on earth do I do now?
In the wake of this horrendous loss, I began to discover staggering statistics on suicide as well as common sense strategies for raising awareness and increasing prevention. I think the most important things I have learned so far are:
- Suicide can happen to anyone; there isn’t a “type” of person that is more susceptible.
- Kids talk to each other about things they would never share with adults.
- Any threat/mention of suicide should be taken seriously.
Armed with an ever-increasing library of information, support, and resources, an idea has begun to take shape as far as where to cultivate my passion and conviction within my community—you don’t always choose your cause, sometimes your cause chooses you.
IJLF Takes Flight
Within hours of Isaac’s death, my family and I had faith that we would eventually find the bearings to begin to identify how we might help others avoid a similar tragedy. As time marched on, shock wore off, and healing began, it became clear that the information we were gathering to place one foot in front of the next could be useful to others.
The impact that Isaac’s death has had on our lives and on the members of our small community necessitates that this is a conversation we must continue to have—with other families, with schools, and with each other. We started asking ourselves questions and, with those answers, we determined a course of action that has begun to lay the groundwork to create a foundation that we hope will, most importantly, help someone else’s Isaac.
Thus began the Isaac Julian Legacy Foundation (IJLF), still very much a fledgling think-tank, as the rawness of our loss still dominates our daily lives. It is our deep desire to explore viable options for creating peer advocate training that embraces a holistic philosophy for the trainees and all those who they may serve and reach.
It is our sincere hope to begin the task of researching and, hopefully, creating training for teens that is sensitive and relevant to Isaac’s age group; training that may help foster ways to identify and connect suicidal teens to the resources needed to help them out of crisis.
After recently attending a workshop through the University of Michigan and the Michigan Public Health Institute, I have met folks who are willing to help us in this endeavor.
Can and How
I have thought considerably about Isaac’s legacy—in life, as well as in death. His was a light that shone brightly all of his days, yet I now understand that anyone can find himself/herself in a situation where hope is lost.
I want to believe that hope can be restored. I want to believe other lives can be saved if others know precisely how to help.
The IJLF’s first benefit will take place on August 14 from 6-10 p.m. at St. Ambrose Cellars. We will be fundraising for this peer advocate training initiative, and the money raised will determine the trajectory of our goals. In other words, the more that we raise, the greater the impact we hope to have. Will we create a weeklong summer camp held on this beautiful western coast of Michigan? Will we create one-day trainings and travel to schools? Will we bring in a panel of experts to meet with our community? Will we give scholarships to students wishing to become suicide prevention specialists?
I don’t yet know all the answers. But what I do know is that I will direct and devote my life force to honoring the legacy that my beautiful boy has left us with, in hopes that it will, indeed, help someone else’s Isaac.
I hope that you will join us for a night of very special music, a silent auction, children’s activities, and a gathering of those who loved Isaac. We will have snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. A couple of food trucks will be available for more hearty appetites, and St. Ambrose Cellars will be selling their delicious products, as well. The silent auction will go from 6-8 p.m. and represents the collective generosity of our amazing community. There will be four musical acts performing that you won’t want to miss, including Michigan’s own Joshua Davis.
The suggested donation for admission is $20, with children under 12 getting in free. (Please bring your own lawn chairs!)
We are deeply grateful for the overwhelming kindness, support, and love that we have received and continue to receive from our community; thank you for letting us continue to talk about our beautiful boy, as well as participate in the important dialogue of suicide awareness and prevention.
St. Ambrose Cellars is located at 841 S. Pioneer Road; the address is technically Beulah, but the location falls somewhere between Beulah and Honor, about three miles from Benzie Central High School. If you are unable to attend but would still like to send support, please mail checks to The Isaac Julian Legacy Foundation, P.O. Box 304, Frankfort, MI, 49635. Please include your name, mailing address, and email address if you would like to join the mailing list for updates. IJLF is in the process of determining the appropriate legal structure for the foundation, in addition to the best way to proceed as an organization; the organization will keep every donor apprised of the progress that is made.
Feature photo: 9/13/14 Isaac Julian Ryan-McKinnon, age 18. Photo by Craig Caugh at NorthLight Studios.