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Losing son to suicide sparks family to spread message: It’s ok to not be ok

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 10:08 PM CDT
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CORNING, Kan. (WIBW) - Signs dot the streets of Corning, Kansas and the Nemaha County countryside.

“You’re tough; you’re beautiful,” they proclaim.

Each message is fulfilling a purpose discovered after the death of Damon Quigley at the age of 13.

“He was so full of life. He was the kid who was the daredevil,” his mom Brenda described him. “He loved sports. He wasn’t afraid to try anything new. He reached out to new people, young people.”

His father Ron remembers Damon’s kind heart.

“He was a fixer. He liked to fix people,” Ron said. “He cared about your issues or whatever it was, and he just wanted to help you.”

But Damon wasn’t fixing himself.

The last morning of his life, as Brenda left for work, Damon asked her to bring home his favorite snacks and drinks. If he had to endure another COVID-related quarantine, he told her, he wanted the good stuff.

Their last exchange:

“Bye, I love you. I love you, too, mom,” Brenda recalls. “It was just an ordinary day, as far as we knew.”

January 19, 2021, Damon, home alone, took his own life.

“We actually didn’t know anything was wrong. He must have worked really hard at keeping it from us for whatever reason that we’ll never really know. He just buried it so deep,” Brenda said.

“There weren’t any indicators,” Ron added.

Brenda, Ron and their two older children decided as a family to be open about what happened. The first step was including it in Damon’s obituary.

Despite everything good in his life, Damon must have been smiling through a pain so great that he could not talk about it. He took his own life while home alone.

“Our reasoning was, if we can’t talk about it, then isn’t that perpetuating the idea (that you) just don’t talk about it?” Brenda said.

“And, more too, to break the stigma of it’s a back thing to talk about,” Ron said. “I think that’s the point we want to get across is that you can talk about it, and you need to talk about it.”

They channeled their pain into purpose.

“I feel like every life has a purpose,” Brenda said. “I kept thinking Damon’s life had purpose, but I don’t know what it is yet. Then, one day, I thought it was time to let people see what happened, to let people know it was okay to talk about it. Maybe that’s Damon’s purpose is to save another life, is to save someone who’s having those thoughts and that person thinks, ‘Okay, well I heard it’s okay to talk about it.’ So Damon’s Purpose is to promote mental wellness.”

Brenda started posting to Facebook with the hashtag Damon’s Purpose (#damonspurpose). When they invited people to create signs with positive messages, their home overflowed.

“There were people sitting on the floor, there were people outside,” Brenda said.

They’ve handed out hundreds of wristbands bearing the message, “It’s OK to not be OK.”

Centralia School allowed them to make over a staircase. Each step now contains a message, telling students you are worthy; you are enough; you can rise above whatever demons you face.

“My biggest prayer is that kids are able to verbalize what’s happening,” Brenda said. “Even if they don’t know what to say or how to start the conversation they can at least say, ‘You know, I haven’t been feeling like myself lately.’ And that, as a teacher or adult, should get your attention.”

Related: Mental health providers see surge in referrals as pandemic drags on

Brad Chapin, LCP, clinical services director at Stormont Vail Behavioral Health in Topeka, said creating an environment open for those discussions is vital.

“(It’s) very critical for that first step so that we can step in and be able to support them when they need that support,” he said.

Chapin said many people exhibit warning signs like withdrawing from friends or activities, or personality changes. However, many other people are like Damon, and do not show outward signs of struggle, so people need to know they’re not alone.

See risk factors, warning signs, and resources from Stormont Vail Behavioral Health

“Struggle is a human factor and so getting that message out there - and that there is hope, because not just the fact that there is struggle, but we also have things that work when we feel like we’re struggling,” Chapin said.

Each time someone reaches out, or visits the tree planted in Damon’s memory, the Quigleys see signs the message is taking root.

“You’re so loved and needed right here. You have a purpose right here,” Brenda said.

Damon’s purpose now is to encourage others to speak up - so their silence doesn’t stretch forever.

“We would like people to see it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to suffer in silence,” Brenda said. “You have to reach out.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time, 24/7, at 1-800-273-8255. They also have resources available on their web site, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

In Topeka, Stormont Vail is part of the Shawnee County Suicide Prevention Coalition, along with other area health care providers, schools, and public safety agencies. You can support their work through the annual 5K run/walk. The 2021 event is virtual, with people encouraged to complete their event anytime during Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 5-11. You can register at their web site.

In addition, Spanky’s Bar and Grill in Seneca is holding a fundraiser to support the work of #damonspurpose. It’s 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 19. A portion of sales, plus 100 percent of all bartender and wait staff tips will be donated to the cause.

Other resources:

Valeo Behavioral Health

Stormont Vail Behavioral Health

National Alliance for Mental Illnes (NAMI)

Veterans Crisis Line

Kansas Suicide Prevention Headquarters

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