Janeen Wardie’s Story and Her Advocacy in Honor of Her Son, Zechariah
by Pamela McCormick
Janeen Wardie’s life is forever changed.
She believes the “Out of Darkness Walk” on September 14, 2019 may help others, before it’s too late.
On September 29, 2015, Zechariah (Zech) her 25 year old son, died by suicide. Zech had a loving, outgoing personality, and was a friend to everyone. He was strong physically and a powerlifter in high school. Football was his passion, and he played for Grant High School. When he would walk into a room, everyone in it would light up. However, though he was strong physically, he struggled mentally. Janeen believed he was hard-wired for depression because she is as well.
Depression has been a struggle for Janeen her entire life. She remembers as a young child fighting feelings of darkness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts. She grew up in an environment where depression was evident but never talked about. She had two sons, Joshua and Zech. Following each birth she suffered severe postpartum depression, but no one talked about it then, so she did not realize the postpartum was exacerbating her severe depression. As she looks back on her son’s very early years and trying to be a Mom with severe depression , she wonders how her illness didn’t take her life at that time.
Janeen grew up in Grant, Michigan, where she met her husband, Ron. They spent time together, fell in love and were married in a simple ceremony. She had a big life change in 2001 and moved to the East side of the state. She worked as a teacher’s assistant for autistic students. Shortly after moving, her emotions took a turn for the worse. Janeen ended up in a very dark place. She and Ron were living in Detroit at that time. On one of the darkest days of her journey with depression she decided to head out on the streets of Detroit. Janeen prayed God would send someone to take her away. She wanted her life to be over. She had been dealing with a lot of emotional upheaval. She was away from her sons and her relationship with them was suffering. This compounded her emotional upheaval. A car pulled up, a man opened up his door and asked her if she wanted a ride. She was just about to step into the car when she heard God say, “Run!” She ran and felt God’s spirit come over her and felt all would be okay. She looked up and saw Ron sitting on a bench in front of a church. He had been walking around looking for her, and he stopped in front of the church she ran to. For the first time in her life, Janeen admitted she needed help. She became involved in an amazing women’s bible study and went to a medical doctor and began counseling. She was prescribed her first anti-depressant. She received the right medication at the right time, and it is still a blessing to her. They moved to Northern Michigan after Ron’s retirement as an elementary principal of Grosse Pointe Schools.
During her own struggles, she lost touch with her sons. Zech was not in their life for five years before he passed. She had no idea that Zechariah was suffering with the darkness of severe depression. Janeen does not know if Zech ever reached out to anyone with his thoughts or if he suffered in silence. That is the hardest part for her. “Knowing that your son is in such a dark place and feeling completely hopeless and not feeling like he can even reach out to the person that brought him into this world, that person being me, is tough to deal with.” She wonders if he felt the stigma of not thinking his feelings were valid or he didn’t want to be told to “just be tough”. She has since learned that 80% of people who are suicidal reach out in some way, but loved ones miss or ignore the clues.
Change the Conversation
From the moment Zech died by suicide, she decided to help herself and others so no one need suffer in silence. Janeen, Ron, and a committee of caring, loving people who all lost loved ones to suicide started the Traverse City-based, Out of the Darkness Walk in honor of her son and anyone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Janeen is passionate about changing the verbiage from ‘committed suicide’ to ‘died by suicide’. She stated, “Zechariah died because of an illness; do we say someone ‘committed cancer’ or any other illness or disease? No. So why should we say that someone dies because of their mental illness?”
“People who die by suicide don’t really want to die; they feel they are a burden. They feel hopeless, they want their pain to end,” Janeen stated. “Suicide is not selfish; it absolutely is not. It is in no way a selfish act. Those who are suicidal feel terribly hopeless; they are in a deep dark hole out of which they do not see a way. They experience indescribable pain and simply want it to end.”
Sharing Grief. Talking.
The Grief Share program from New Hope Community Church gave her the tools to cope with her life after the loss. One session dealt with loss to suicide and the incredible amount of guilt and unanswered questions involved; it is a loss like no other. Participants realized that if they had their “whys” and “what if’s” answered, it still would not bring their loved ones back. They were encouraged to ask “What?” This led them to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or AFSP. They became field advocates and attended walks in Grand Rapids and Lansing. Ron and Janeen found people who have been there before; people with lived experience. They felt understood and no longer felt alone in their thoughts and on their grief journey.
September 10th, 2019 is Suicide Prevention Day. According to AFSP’s website, the core purpose of the Out of the Darkness Community Walks is to create a movement. Walks are organized and held in hundreds of cities across the country in addition to Traverse City. They help give people the courage to open up about their own struggle or loss, and provide a platform to change the culture and approaches to mental health.
Janeen and Ron began the Traverse walk last year advocating for Zech, and it had tangible and personal results. After the walk last year, a family who brought their son to it said he finally admitted he had an issue. Through counseling he is coping and doing better. “If we can touch one person by being Zechariah’s voice, then we have done our job.” says Janeen.
“Last year, in our inaugural walk, we expected 200-300 people and over 1500 showed up,” Janeen said. “Our goal was to raise $30K and we raised $90K. Traverse City’s was named the top inaugural walk IN THE NATION! The incredible participation proves the need is huge in our community.”
The money raised from the walks helps provide training programs to schools, businesses, organizations, veterans, seniors, first responders, fire and police officials and many more. The goal is to educate those attending to recognize the signs of someone in crisis and help that person to reach out for the help they desperately need. These programs try to open the eyes of the community to see that we need to normalize the conversation around mental illness and do more to prevent suicide.
If you are someone who has missed the signs and lost someone, Bridgett and Adrian Silva started a group at New Hope specifically for people who lost loved ones to death by suicide. It is so important you are surrounded by people who have suffered and are suffering the same experience and understand. Everyone’s grief journey is different, but loss by suicide is like NO other.
The lies the loved ones believe are so strong. If you are suspicious that someone is suicidal, you need to ask them if they are and then if they say yes, ask “How can I help you get help?” If you feel they are ready to take their life, you need to call 911 or get them to a trusted family member to watch them.
“Seize the awkward.” The AFSP says, “Do not tippy toe around it. Suicide rates are going up. AFSP’s mission is to lower the suicide rate by 25% by 2025 and to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.” They are hoping to do that through education, public advocacy to change public policies, research and support.
Janeen knows that her son, Zech, has a voice now to help others struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
NO ONE needs to live in the dark alone anymore.
The Traverse City Out of Darkness Walk is Saturday September 14th, 2019 at the Open Space.
Walk Date: 09/14/2019
Walk Location: The Open Space Park – Traverse City, MI
Check-in/Registration Time: 9:00 am
Walk Begins: 11:00 am
Walk Ends: 2:00 pm
For more information, please contact:
Contact Name: Janeen M. Wardie
Contact Phone: 231-414-4424
Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
2019 Traverse City OOTD Walk Sponsors
9 & 10/The Four
Addiction Treatment Services
Big Country 102.9
Centennial Wealth Advisors
Elk River Marina
FUEL FM 95.9
Grand Traverse Woman
GTR Heating, Cooling & Refrigeration
KLT The Rock Station
M88 Morning Grind
MAC Custom Homes
Moon Electric LLC
NADA’s Mediterranean Gourmet Deli
Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services
Short’s Brewing Co.
SunSpace of West Michigan
Today’s Golden Fowler Home Furnishings
Turtle Creek Casino and Hotel
Wells Fargo Financial Advisors
Williams & Bay