Chris Walker represents just one of the thousands of people who die by suicide each year in the U.S. In 2010, he hanged himself just days before his 38th birthday. It's a pain his parents, a couple from Denton County, say they will never get over. But they decided to turn their agony into comfort for others.
“Depression and mental illness is a disease that you can die from,” said Larry Walker, Chris’s father. “Without care and help you can die from it. And it's called suicide."
It’s a heartbreak Larry and wife Carol knew nothing about until eight years ago. Their son, Chris, was the middle child of three. He struggled, but according to his parents, didn’t let on.
“Chris hid a lot of his pain and suffering,” said Carol Walker. “And they do have pain and suffering."
In January of 2010, Chris took his own life.
“We didn’t know,” said Larry of his son’s deep pain. “We were ignorant of the fact of suicide and depression, and we didn't know of the extent that he suffered until it overwhelmed him."
Chris had attempted suicide before, but assured his mom he was okay.
“They leave you with the ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ syndrome,” she said. “You beat yourself up, because, why didn't I realize?"
The Walkers still proudly display photographs of their son, and his brothers in their Robson Ranch home. And they’ve turned their personal loss into something positive -- facilitating a monthly meeting of suicide survivors -- at their church in Argyle. The Group is called Touched by Suicide – Denton. They also volunteer with the Denton County LOSS team, which comforts others affected by suicide.
“Over time you learn to manage it,” said Larry. “Some people say it gets better. I don’t like to say it gets better. It does get more manageable.”
“And it's something that never goes away."
The Walkers urge families and friends worried to look for signs that they just didn't see – withdrawal, threats of self-harm – or, as in Chris's case, giving away personal belongings.
“Just watch,” said Larry. Anything out of the ordinary. Just know what's going on in your loved one's life."
Eight years have not erased the pain of suicide. The walkers hope by talking about it, they can erase the stigma.
“They are not weak,” said Carol. “They are strong, and Chris was our hero. We didn't know how much he suffered every day of his life."