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Fundraiser lights path out of darkness

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Family members of Mike Nicholas struggle to understand the grief that was so unbearable for him that his mother and eight brothers and sisters could not help ease the pain.

When Nicholas killed himself in October 2010, the family pulled together, but each handled the tragedy in a different way. Many struggled with guilt, thinking there must have been something else they could have done.

Pamela Nicholas of North Vernon said she and her siblings still are working through the pain and trying to come to grips with the loss of their 47-year-old brother.

The family, including mother Darlene Nicholas of Columbus, plans to come together April 20 in another step in the healing process during the third annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk. The event will start at noon at Hamilton Center in Columbus.

The walk is part of a nationwide effort with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that includes similar events in other communities and on college campuses.

The nonprofit organization is dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide through research, education and advocacy.

Mike Nicholas’ siblings, ages 37 to 58, said life will never be the same without their brother around.

“Something is missing without him,” said another sister, Suzy Milhoan of Edinburgh. “We were all very close.”

Milhoan said taking part in the walk is a way for her family to move forward and help others with the money they raise. As of Thursday, the family had collected $545.

In the past two years, the local walk has raised $32,000, and 376 walkers have participated, according to organizer Kisha Allman of Columbus.

The Nicholas family will wear gray T-shirts with Mike Nicholas’ image and the phrase, “We will never forget.”

Milhoan believes her brother’s story can help other families. She doesn’t want people to feel ashamed if they have had a suicide in the family, and she wants them to seek counseling if they need help coping.

Milhoan also wants families to take the time to remember the good times, not just the tragic ending.

Mike Nicholas had his troubles, but he also served in the Navy, ran a painting business for many years, loved his family and had a big heart, Milhoan said.

During a recent family get-together, they talked about how they knew he was sinking into depression, not taking medication for his bipolar disorder and not going to counseling.

But they also took time to laugh and tell heart-warming stories about their brother.

“He was the life of the party,” Teresa Nicholas of Columbus said, recalling how Mike would tell jokes in different accents or do his “crab man” walk and talk.

The siblings also remember their brother as someone always willing to help anyone — even if it meant giving away his last dollar or the shirt off his back.

He also loved to sing and play his guitar, they said. He often belted out tunes from popular groups such as 3 Doors Down, Nickelback and Green Day.

Kathy Nicholas of Scipio said she experienced one positive thing from her brother’s death: She became closer to Jesus.

Helping others

Allman knows all too well the pain the Nicholas family is feeling. Her father killed himself in 2008.

A mother of boys ages 14 and 3, Allman also assumed custody of a brother, now 15, when her father died.

Allman organized the first local Out of the Darkness Community Walk in 2011 because she wanted to be part of an effort to prevent suicide. She did not want others to experience what she had been through.

Since the first walk two years ago, Allman has traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in an advocacy forum and went to Denver in March to receive training from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She has learned intervention techniques and strategies and is trained to help others.

Allman encourages people to always take the threat of suicide seriously, whether it appears to be an off-handed comment or something said in anger or despair.

“If there is even a thought, you need to take it seriously,” Allman said. “Look at if they have a plan, if they have the resources or a history.”

Allman said people from a range of backgrounds and ages decide to take their life, from teenagers being bullied to married adults in professional careers.

Those left behind often do not understand the reasons behind the suicide, Allman said.

“They love their family,” Allman said, “but their pain is so intense.”

Allman encourages everyone who has been impacted by suicide in some way to attend the walk and to not think it will be a depressing event.

“It’s really very uplifting,” Allman said. “You are surrounded by people who understand your loss. And at the end of the day, we have a balloon release. It lets go the heaviness of the day, and everyone leaves smiling.”

Money raised from the walk with go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Allman wants to use a portion of the money locally to offer suicide prevention programs here, including ones for teens.

Also planned is a silent auction from 6 to 9 p.m. today at 4th Street Bar & Grill, with music to follow from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Those attending must be at least 21.

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