Walking for Joey

Rocky Dunham, a simple man, full of integrity, pride and pain. Life for Rocky took an unexpected turn in May when he received a phone call from the police. Joey, his youngest son had taken his own life, leaving behind a wife, daughter and parents. As time slowly passes, Dunham seeks answers and closure.

“It was totally devastating. For the longest time my wife, Linda, and I didn’t know where to go or what to do,” Dunham says, “With suicide there is that numbing question of why? I know now that my son suffered from depression, and we didn’t recognize the signs.”

In September the couple took part in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walk at the Oklahoma City Zoo. The walk is designed to raise awareness and money to benefit research. It also brings together survivors of suicide.

For grieving parents, the walk proved beneficial. For Rocky, it gave him the ability to answer a higher calling.
“One day it just hit me, I knew I needed to walk to Tulsa and raise as much awareness as possible,” Dunham says. “I want people to recognize the signs of depression. They are not as prominent as the signs of a heart attack, but are just as deadly.”

So he planned his route from Fink Park, across from UCO, to Veterans Park in Tulsa. He contacted pastors at the First Baptist Churches in Wellston, Stroud, and Kellyville to set up a different place to sleep each night. Then on a Wednesday, at 7:15 in the morning, Dunham began his 102 mile journey.

Following Route 66 and carrying a banner with his son’s picture, he attracted a lot of attention. He stopped and spoke with anyone who was interested, for as long as needed. He also carried a ring of cards with the names he collected along the way of those who died by suicide.

He walked 25-35 miles per day. During the three day journey he stopped at a different church each night, where they would feed him and give him a place to sleep. He carried small rations of dried fruits and trail mix for during the day, but mostly he carried heavy emotions.

“During the days, I had a lot of time to think,” he says. “Everything from the call from the police officer that broke the news that my son is dead. To why didn’t I see it? To why didn’t God help him? Time to think about picking up his truck from the impound, the one he was found dead in. To when he was a baby. I had time to remember a lot of the good times.”

He spoke to youth groups at the churches, and anyone else who wanted to learn more about the signs of depression. He explains that every 16 minutes, someone in this country takes their life by suicide. He pleads with those listening to watch for the signs of depression. Signs like violent mood swings, complete withdrawal from most activities and signs that the person suffering feels helpless and hopeless. Most importantly, he stresses the need for talking about depression.

“People don’t want to talk about mental illness and depression,” he says. “We’re trying to bring that kind of thinking out of the dark ages. Depression is an illness, and it needs attention.”

Which is why he concluded his mission in Tulsa, at Veterans Park. After walking 102 miles to reach the park, his trip ended by taking part in the Out Of Darkness Suicide Awareness Walk, designed to teach as many as possible that it’s natural to discuss the thoughts, feelings and anxieties associated with depression.

In a small library, Dunham tells the Edmond Outlook his story. At the conclusion of the interview this man of integrity begins to tremble with the pain associated with the loss of his son. Watery eyes look away for a moment as he says, “It took 102 miles to say goodbye to my son.” After regaining his composure he pleads, “Slow down and look at your loved ones and know them better. It only takes a second and you can lose them for life.”

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