Survivors show strength at Out of the Darkness walk

Walkers honoring Cliff Michel of Stormstown carry a banner with hand-written messages and lead the Out of the Darkness walk on Sunday in State College..
Walkers honoring Cliff Michel of Stormstown carry a banner with hand-written messages and lead the Out of the Darkness walk on Sunday in State College.. CDT photo

Terree Michel prayed for strength Sunday, then found it among hundreds of friends who shared her pain of losing a loved one to suicide.

Cliff Michel, of Stormstown, took his own life on Feb. 3, 2012. Terree honored his memory at Sunday’s Out of the Darkness Walk in downtown State College, while more than 60 supporters wore yellow T-shirts bearing the message, “In memory of Cliff.”

“I have an amazing support team. They all knew Cliff and loved him,” Terree said after telling her story to the many gathered in Sidney Friedman Park before the walk.

Her group was dubbed “Team Binford” — her late husband’s nickname — and joined other teams in a moving rainbow of colored T-shirts, each one with a similar tribute message to someone lost.

“We all really miss him, and we wish he had reached out to us for help,” Terree Michel said. “People need to know that somebody will be there to help you.”

Brenda Fry, an event organizer, said that recognizing signs of depression and helping sufferers get help are core messages for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Fry is co-chairwoman for the foundation’s central Pennsylvania chapter. She said Sunday’s walk raised more than $60,000 for research and suicide prevention programs.

“Most of the folks here have been touched by suicide, or themselves suffer from some type of depression,” said Fry, director of business development at The Meadows Universal Community Behavioral Health.

She said that factors such as economics, bullying, drugs and alcohol have taken their toll on the region. She pointed to several public suicides in the past year.

Terree Michel said her husband’s depression was related to bullying he experienced at work.

“We are seeing an increasing need for our crisis team to be out in the community,” Fry said.

She said 500 participants had pre-registered for the walk, and another 300 or more joined them Sunday to fill the park and then march up Fraser Street.

Kelly Kutz, of Bellefonte, was among them. She said her father took his own life in 2010.

“I came to honor my dad, and also to prove to myself that I could go on and keep functioning,” Kutz said.

“But I also wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to give back, maybe help someone else.”

Michel was one of three speakers. Mike Williamson, of Altoona, had lost a close friend and songwriting partner. Penn State student Nicole Caruso said she has an ankle tattoo to remind her every day of her mother.

“She had the most contagious laugh,” Caruso said, “which is one of the things I miss most about her.”

Terree Michel said she stops often at the cemetery where Cliff is buried.

“It’s OK to miss him,” Michel said. “I miss not being able to tell him about my day.”

She said people sometimes ask if she’s angry at her husband for leaving her.

“How could I be mad at him? I will never know the pain he was dealing with every day,” Michel said. “I could never judge him. He was in a very dark place and couldn’t find his way out.”