One Thousand People

Some hold signs. Some carry photographs of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, best friends, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, students. 

Pensacola—I’m looking at one thousand people wearing running shoes and Spandex leggings. There are people laughing, smiling, stretching hamstrings.

A large man in a Roll Tide hat shakes my hand. He has a long gray beard. On his T-shirt: the image of a teenage boy.

“This was my son,” he says. “His girlfriend broke up with him, he shut himself in our garage and kept his Jeep running until he…” He pauses.

“I ain’t never felt so alone until he died.”

Alone. As it happens, I know that particular emotion.

I meet a twelve-year-old girl with red hair. She also feels alone. She’s bone-skinny, wearing braces. She has so many freckles on her snow-white skin she looks half-orange.

“My mom was real depressed,” she says. “She overdosed, my sister and I found her not breathing in her chair.”

Grandma hugs them both.

I meet a thirty-two-year-old girl with the personality of cane sugar. She seems happy. She starts talking about her late father.

She shows me a photo. He’s a nice-looking man, holding a baby. He could be anyone’s daddy.

Speaking of daddies. I’m here today because of mine. I’m here because of the way he died.

I was twelve. I was redheaded. Freckled.

Music plays over loud speakers. The historic downtown is catching the first bit of early sun. The Pensacola Bay sits behind us.

For most of my life, Pensacola has been my closest biggest city. It’s where I used to take dates for dinner. It’s sort of where I grew up. Today it’s a place of pilgrimage.

The herd of survivors starts walking. They aren’t solemn—like you might think. In fact, they look empowered. Joyful even. Maybe it’s all the Spandex.

I’m walking with them—or are we marching? Whatever you call it, we are from all styles of life. Rural communities. Suburbs. City-dwellers. Out-of-towners.

We are here for loved ones, friends, relatives. We’re here to remember.

Some hold signs. Some carry photographs of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, best friends, husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, students.

We honor the depressed, the lonely, the rejected, the outsiders, the bullied, the alcoholics, the addicts, the mentally ill.

And I’m honoring the man who raised me to adolescence. The tall, slender man who crawled on steel beams for a living. A man who had so many freckles, his skin looked half-orange.

A man who taught me to throw a baseball. Who taught me to open doors for females of any age, creed, or denomination. Who taught me to recite the Lord’s Prayer while floating the river in a boat.

A man who left this world by way of hunting rifle. I miss him today, even though he’s the reason I’m here at this event. Even though he is why I’ve felt alone for most of my life. Totally, completely, and wholly alone.

But then, the people walking here have all felt alone, too. In fact, it’s been our common characteristic. It’s become who we are. It’s our idea of ordinary, you could say.

And today, I’m wandering the streets of Pensacola with one thousand of them. One thousand souls who were all once convinced that we were by ourselves in this world. All alone.


We were wrong.

We were so, so wrong.


  1. Jan - October 15, 2017 2:01 pm


  2. kitsambler - October 15, 2017 2:04 pm


  3. Sandra Marrar - October 15, 2017 2:04 pm

    God bless you. No, you aren’t alone.

  4. Margaret Holmberg - October 15, 2017 2:04 pm

    Aloneness feels like abandonment when it’s new.

  5. Pamela McEachern - October 15, 2017 2:13 pm

    I am holding ya’ll up in prayer today, healing prayers for the loss of your loved ones. I truly understand the journey and the sincere feelings others offer. God Bless everyone of you, and I love you. Peace and Love from Birmingham

  6. Stanley Dennon Tomlin - October 15, 2017 2:22 pm

    Thanks Sean ! Reading your stories has become as necessary as that first cup of coffee in the morning ! Love your work .

  7. Jack Quanstrum - October 15, 2017 2:27 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story and there’s! Peace be with you Sean and all those that feel alone. Shalom!

  8. Toni Tucker Locke - October 15, 2017 2:28 pm

    Too many of our loved ones opt for suicide. Thank you for reminding your readers that they are not alone–especially those who have seriously considered suicide a viable option of total release from whatever weighs on them. Life is too short to make it shorter!

  9. muthahun - October 15, 2017 2:58 pm

    “Maybe it’s all the Spandex.” Um… more likely the freckles and red hair, hon. BTW, is this your artwork we’re seeing most days? It’s lovely. Elegant lines.

  10. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - October 15, 2017 3:31 pm

    I’m sure your daddy is with you and watching over you. You’re not alone.

  11. Steve Welch - October 15, 2017 3:35 pm

    Sometimes I think you are part writer, part universalist Unitarian minister. Either way, thanks again for making my day better.

  12. Barbara J Schweck - October 15, 2017 3:41 pm

    My prayers are with all 1000 of you. So glad that you have each other. No one can possibly understand how hard the lose is of someone taken by suicide, unless you have experienced it. I am also praying for all of those who are in such deep despair that they feel that suicide is their only answer. Also, for those who have loved ones who have submitted and they have not found your parade! God Bless you all

  13. teachenglish67 - October 15, 2017 3:49 pm

    I’m so sorry you had to live through the taking of life by one of the most important people in your young life. I’m sorry there are many of all ages and walks of life who don’t believe deeply enough that there is always someone who will listen to your anguish. I am sorry those who have to find, live through the horror of it or learning that someone they cared for took their life. I had a teaching colleague take his young life. I couldn’t understand why because he had so much to offer his present and future students; he left young children and a former wife. No one knew what demons took over him. To this day I still wonder, “Why would you want to do that?”
    Blessings to you, Sean, and peace.

  14. Melodie - October 15, 2017 3:59 pm

    My heart aches for you and the others. I know someone who was very, very close, but didn’t really ‘know’ him, because I was only two years old. Just recently, a friend of mine lost her first son to suicide. One rarely knows when, or why. Thank you for putting this out there, and hopefully, raising awareness.

  15. Carolyn - October 15, 2017 4:03 pm

    Reading this post I am reminded of my memory verse this week (now that’s redundant)…

    Romans 12:5….so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

    That’s powerful stuff! Why am I so forgetful? Thanks for the reminder…

  16. Marion Pitts - October 15, 2017 4:05 pm

    Wonderful that you and others can see and feel other survivors. Peace and love to you and all survivors.

  17. Maria - October 15, 2017 5:06 pm

    Beautifully spoken from the heart.

    So often we are ‘afraid’ to share our story for fear of criticism, being seen as weak or “losing” a friendship.

    I have found talking about the “elephant in the livingroom” is empowering. It’s life and our openness may help others.

  18. Ange Ingram - October 15, 2017 5:20 pm

    My Daddy killed himself by crashing his plane on his parents’ ranch. I am the only one who believes this. The rest of the family thinks of it as an accident. But he was drunk on a .26 level and had never flown before with even a hangover, much less drunk. He had killed a man accidentally by shooting into a bar and the 30.06 hit a bracket on the truss in the roof and struck the man in the back. If they had hoisted him to a sitting position, he would not have drowned in his own blood. That broke my Daddy. Because he was the sort of man who would have killed somebody straight on if they needed killing. That was in 1976. He was not a perfect man or father but I miss him still at 61 years of age. I still believe he could have helped me these past 40 years. I don’t know if children ever get past these things, do you?

  19. Nancy - October 15, 2017 6:29 pm

    Sigh…the way you write makes me feel the way all these hearts ached. Prayers for all of you.

  20. Marty - October 15, 2017 6:32 pm

    Alone. A world of its own. Have you ever thought of being alone even though you haven’t lost your father? Sometimes my son feels alone, or so he says and I believe him. He had a “problem” from about 25 on and sometimes his dad was his best supporter, but most of the time he acts like he is just somebody. Son has brought a lot of it on himself, but he still has feelings. Enough said. It’s like a story with no end.

  21. Sheila Allen - October 15, 2017 8:59 pm

    Sean, I think we are soul siblings. See, my daddy died when I was 12 too. He didn’t take his own life, it wasn’t stolen from him through violence either. The smartest, most intelligent man I have ever known died of a heart defect 1000’s of miles from home on a merchant seaman’s ship, alone in his bed, trying to provide the best life he could for his family with his eight grade education. I hear tell that was to be his last trip, he was coming home because his 4 teen and tween kids needed him more than the money.

    I think we share the all alone feeling too. I don’t think you have to loose someone so dear by mental illness, or violence, depression or tragedy to have that feeling be the one you are left with. I kind of wish I had a group to walk with to feel that not alone feeling. My kids and my husband can’t understand why I can never shake that. Why they aren’t enough to erase that from me. I don’t know either. I just know there is a hole the size of me. Your writing, it helps me not feel that way so much. I even feel understood sometimes and it is a welcome feeling. It feels like locking elbows with a friend right before you think about skipping down the street. Its that space, that moment when for a minute you remember and forget all at once. Its the time when you feel what it felt just before you found out they were gone.

    One of the things I shared with my daddy was one you and I share too. A deep love and relationship with our dogs. My dad trained police dogs and even raised a few puppies. I raise and train assistance dogs. They assist me more than anyone. My baby puppy from the last litter I whelped and raised has a hole in her heart and a mitral valve defect. And, it is bad. She is 8 months old and so far the best service dog candidate I have ever had, except for that hole in her heart. I knew she would leave me someday. I’ve planned it since before she was born, but not like this.

    The vet says we need to spay her now before her heart gets worse. She shouldn’t have puppies and waiting might make the surgery even that much more dangerous for her as her heart continues to fail. This Wednesday, is her surgery. I am terrified she won’t make it thought the surgery. I know she would find the welcoming arms of my daddy but he has already welcomed two of my fur babies this year.

    I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I have family and friends who love me and care about me. But I know you have that too, and yet, that walk among others who walk a similar walk made you feel less alone. I guess in a way I am attempting to join your walk, I have a feeling you understand. And that makes me not feel quite so alone.

    Her name is Pearl

    • mariam Stephens - October 16, 2017 1:44 am

      St Francis is the Patron saint of animals… He will be there for Pearl when her surgery takes place. Peace to you Sheila.

  22. Paul E Click - October 15, 2017 9:52 pm

    Amen, my friend!

  23. Lois M Cockerill - October 16, 2017 12:47 am

    Oh Sean I pray the alone place in all those hearts is smaller than before. I admire the courage of all to go on after blows of the magnitude suffered by each one. Thank you for the light you shed through each of your posts.

  24. Melanie Tighe - October 16, 2017 1:21 am

    don’t even know what to say… except I love you all for what you have been through

  25. Patricia Schmaltz - October 16, 2017 1:31 am

    Love your stories. You really connect on a base level. Thank you so much. YOU are in my prayers!

  26. Anna - November 18, 2017 4:51 pm

    My Mom tried to kill herself in 1990. Shot herself. She meant it. But by the grace of God she lived. She’s still alive today – 81 years old. At the time she was so mad she didn’t succeed. I think she got over that. She has 2 great Grandchildren now. My family spent summers in Pensacola. I love that city and the beaches.

  27. Julia - March 7, 2018 2:49 pm

    The same feelings were experienced in the Bham November walk. My walk, with the other thousand, felt both comforting with purpose, (because you have to go through it to understand) and overwhelming that so many knew the deep pain which leaves you forever without answers. The thousand is one in purpose- If there is anything we can do to prevent more hearts from having to suffer, it will help in the healing. Awareness is critical, and I thank you for sharing, in the perfect way only you can!


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