In small groups, people wandered around Cofrin Nature Park as they waited for the sun to set. Nick Antonelli was one of those people.
On Saturday evening, Cofrin Nature Park held a vigil for survivors of suicide in their Survivors of Suicide Memory Garden. This was their fourth year hosting the event — an event that Antonelli has been a part of from the beginning.
“I have a friend who committed suicide in 2011,” Antonelli said. “I have had my own struggles with mental health — depression. So I came in memory of those things.”
The vigil is hosted every year on National Survivors of Suicide Day, which is the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Judy Broward, the board member of Friends of the Crisis Center, came up with the idea to host the event after the memory garden had been made.
“I think it’s important for other survivors to have a chance to connect with each other,” Broward said.
Broward said the beads they pass out at the beginning of the event are supposed to help with those connections. Every guest has colored beads to choose from, which represent a different kind of suicide loss.
Some other events at the vigil were ornament decorating, where guests decorated them with the names of their past loved ones, and decorating paper bags, which lit up the walk way of the garden. At sunset, the candlelight ceremony began with remarks from members of the Alachua County Crisis Center and a survivor, Mercedes Machado.
Alachua County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson spoke last at the ceremony and gave inspiration for the people in attendance. As someone who has had a friend commit suicide, he said he understands the need to make improvements in the community to help people with mental illness.
“Tonight I know who I’m lighting a candle for,” Hutchinson said, “but I also hope that part of my flame and yours will be a rededication to change in our world. To make it safer for people who are hurt.”