Remembering Darren Wallace: A story of loss and perseverance

Local News

Last year we brought you the story of a mother grieving the loss of her 17-year-old son.

Darren Wallace died by suicide in May of 2018.

Wednesday, on the final day of Suicide Prevention Month, we sat back down with his mother to discuss how losing someone you love this way never truly stops hurting.

Darren’s mom, Shannon Avard, tells us it’s about continuing to live her life with her nine kids, including Darren, by keeping his memory alive in conversation and family gatherings for the rest of her days.

“It’s not something that you really get over, or– I don’t know if you really can learn to manage it. It just becomes part of your life,” she shared.

On May 17, 2018, Avard’s life as she knew it, would never be the same. Her son died by suicide at 17.

It’s a story we hear far too often — a child gone too soon.

“Some days I still cry,” Avard told us.

“Other days, you know, I get through the day and he makes me smile for remembering him, or other days I remember him and I cry.”

Darren was the second oldest of nine kids.

“When I talk about Darren, when I talk about my children, Darren is always part of that. And even though he’s not here anymore, he will always be part of that,” Avard explained.

By all accounts, he as a regular kid. He loved the outdoors and playing sports. He was a football player for Mandan High School.

Although there is no one to blame for what happened to Darren leading up to his death, Avard told us last year, it could’ve been avoided and Darren’s life saved.

But, she’s finding ways to move forward.

“I mean there’s nothing left to do,” she said.

“We can sit in grief and let grief consume us, or we can take that grief and try to do something good with it. Maybe what I’ve learned, or you know, how I’ve dealt with it, what I’ve run across since it happened, can help other people.”

Just six months after losing Darren, Shannon started a nonprofit: DJW Life Project.

Grant Semchenko is one of the partners.

The Board Member shared, “Maybe people like me wouldn’t have waited so long to talk about it, and maybe some of the people that I care about would still be alive today if they had felt comfortable and open and it wasn’t such a taboo subject.”

Things at the Life Project have been a little more stalled lately due to the ongoing pandemic.

But, that too, brought a silver lining.

Avard explained, “I think when I first started the nonprofit, a lot of people told me, ‘Shannon, I just hope you’re not doing it as a way to not deal with Darren, the loss of Darren’. Looking back now, maybe that was a part of me not dealing with it. So since coronavirus, we’ve kind of taken a break. I’ve had more time to deal with it.”

She has also reached out to other mothers dealing with the same tragedy to help heal together.

DJW Life Project is holding a fundraiser at the end of the month. It’s a costume contest to support suicide prevention awareness.

Semchenko joined the project to conduct prevention and intervention trainings.

He says it’s all about talking about suicide openly in order to normalize it. After all, it’s the ninth leading cause of death in North Dakota.

The nonprofit, with Grant’s lead, has conducted training at a couple of schools, teaching kids the ACE model.

ASK directly about suicide,

CARE for the person, and then,

ESCORT them to safety.

“What surprised me with people as young as eighth-graders, when you ask who has known someone who has died by suicide, I would say approximately 80 percent have known somebody. So even at that age, that have experience with it,” Semchenko shared.

He also offers ASIST training for first responders, teachers and anyone else who is likely to deal directly with suicide on the job.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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