By Mollie Rushmeyer
On April 28, 2010, Kathy and Curt Robbins of Cold Spring experienced one of the deepest heartaches a parent ever could — their 22-year-old son, Jonathan, had taken his own life.
Kathy Robbins knew that she could do one of two things: focus on the negative of the situation and the manner of his death, or look at the light and beauty his life brought to the world and try to help others struggling with mental illness like Jonathan had.
Robbins chose the latter, even though she said some days it’s hard, and created the Let the Sun Shine, a 2.2 mile walk/run for mental illness. This year it takes place at St. Boniface Parish Center in Cold Spring on April 22, registration starts at 7:30 a.m. and the walk/run starting at 9:00 a.m. Pre-registration is appreciated online at www.letthesunshinerun.com.
Now in its seventh year, the event gathers a mix of those who have lost someone to suicide or affected by mental illness, and supportive individuals and businesses who want to see a better future for mental illness research and treatment, as well as for those who live with it.
“By the time we found out he (Jonathan) needed help,” Robbins said, “it was too late.”
She hopes that through support, awareness, and better treatments, they can prevent this tragedy from occurring in other families.
All proceeds benefit the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. The foundation is the world-leader in mental health research and developer of better treatments, and has provided more than $261 million to research grants since 1987. Let the Sun Shine walk/run is doing their part by donating $147,327 to the foundation since its inception in 2011.
For both the person experiencing mental health issues, and to the family watching, mental illness can take them by surprise, as in Jonathan’s case.
Up until Jonathan’s freshman year of college, he was an active young man who loved spending time with friends and family. He enjoyed sports throughout high school, like wrestling, football, and running.
Robbins said she’ll always have fond memories of doing marathons with Jonathan because it was an activity they could do together. Even though they didn’t always go the same speed, just being together was time well spent, which is part of the reason she chose a walk/run to memorialize him.
After that freshman year, Robbins said he became withdrawn and didn’t want to be around anyone.
“We would ask him how he was doing and if he was okay,” Robbins said. “He would just say I’m fine.”
But when he didn’t come home for Christmas one year, the Robbins family became increasingly concerned. During that time, he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression and placed on medication. Even though the medication made the voices Jonathan was hearing subside, Robbins said he didn’t give it the full six weeks most psychiatric medication needs to fully work.
In fact, the day after his birthday and the day he was released from his second stint in the hospital for suicidal thoughts, was the same day he took his life.
“We had a great day,” Robbins said. “We watched movies, he was laughing.”
Then Curt and Kathy had to take their daughter, Arianna, 15 at the time, and other son, Jordan, 13 at the time, to Arianna’s confirmation class at church. Kathy made sure Jonathan had a phone by him and had him promise he’d call her if he had any negative thoughts. She even made sure he stated out loud that he wasn’t suicidal.
But when they returned to the house later, he had hung himself in the garage.
“Looking back, I think he knew what to say in order to leave (the hospital),” Robbins said.
Now they find comfort and light where they can despite the dark circumstances.
“From the very beginning, I always told myself it’s not about me and my pain,” Robbins said. “It’s about Jonathan being free from his.”
She was determined that her other children not “lose” their parents just because they lost their brother. It was important that they stick together, that she and her husband be there for their other two children, and to remind them it’s okay to laugh, to have fun, and to live their lives. It’s what Jonathan would’ve wanted, ever the loving big brother, Robbins said.
As Robbins supports other families who have walked this same sad, harrowing journey in the wake of suicide, she finds her own healing.
Last year 1,000 people participated in the event, where there’s both an adult course and a child course. The adult course is 2.2 miles a distance both significant because Jonathan died at the age of 22 and because Robbins said it’s a distance that is doable for many and not as intimidating as some of the other races out there.
Some days are good, some days she feels not so strong, Robbins said. And sometimes the best advice she can give people going through this is to just breathe.
“Be kind to yourself,” Robbins said. “It takes a lot of effort to not beat yourself up on a daily basis. But it’s not their fault or yours.”
As for his legacy, she said Jonathan is still alive in so many ways, especially when she sees everyone come together for the walk/run.
“This (the walk/run) is a memorial for him, but also about so much more than just Jonathan,” said Robbins. “I think what he leaves behind, is hope.”