Crystal Graham: How the Goo Goo Dolls changed my life

There’s a moment you’ve been waiting all your live for
When you feel you’ve found a meaning you could die for
And it happens when you seem to least expect it
All at once you come alive and feel connected …”

– “If The World Turned Upside Down” by the Goo Goo Dolls

goo goo dollsThree years ago, I went to a concert that in many ways changed my life. It wasn’t about our brush with fame, a single song, our second row seats, or even the guitar picks that I caught in the moment, but it was the start of something that feeds my soul. And the concert, no, maybe the connection, ignited something embedded deep within me on a steamy August night in Harrisonburg.

This journey started innocently enough. American Idol star Chris Daughtry was coming to the local fair, and as huge fans, my husband and I got tickets to the show from his fan club. He was performing with the Goo Goo Dolls.

The venue organizer heard I was a fan and greeted me at the fair on his go-cart with backstage passes – but not to meet Daughtry. Instead, our passes were to meet the Goo Goo Dolls. For anyone who has ever taken part in a meet and greet, you know it’s pretty rushed and there’s no real opportunity to meet the stars, but we stood in line, got our photos and then found our seats and settled in for a night of great music.

While my reason for going to the concert was all about Daughtry and he did not disappoint, the Goo Goo Dolls found a forever fan in me.

 

Turns out, I knew a lot more of their songs than I thought, and I found myself falling in love with their live performance. “Broadway” and “Iris” remain two of my favorite songs.

As someone who probably posts a little too much on Facebook, I, of course, came home and followed my new music idols.

Shortly after their concert, I heard on social media that guitarist John Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls was taking part in a walk to stop suicide.

 

And that’s where life took a major turn for me. It was the day a couple of musicians connected me with an organization that plays a major role in every day of my life now.

A walk to fight suicide? How had I not heard of this before? My identical twin sister died by suicide when I was 15. For years, I had been trying to find my voice and find a place where I could somehow help save lives. I couldn’t save Tina, but I thought for sure there might be a way to help others who were struggling. And so I turned to Google to connect me with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and an Out of the Darkness Walk.

It turns out, I wasn’t the only one in my community looking to speak out and do something to prevent suicide. Stuarts Draft resident Kim Sours’ daughter, Keri, had also died by suicide. And Kim had just signed up to lead an Out of the Darkness Walk in Staunton, only about 15 miles from where I lived. And so, I jumped in and never looked back.

I helped in areas I know best – marketing and PR – after all, I had run a local PR firm for more than a decade. And together, we surpassed a $25,000 goal and raised nearly $40,000 for our first walk. My “Remembering Tina” team had 60 walkers and raised more than $7,500 for AFSP. As I walked with hundreds of other loss survivors, including dozens of Tina’s high-school friends, I realized that I had found my place – a place where loss survivors could come together and make change – a place where I was not alone. I was no longer the girl that other teens whispered about in the hallway and ran to hide and cry. I was no longer the girl who thought I was the only one who had lost a loved one to suicide. Instead, I was helping lead a walk to fight suicide, standing strong, and proving that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about mental health and depression. The hiding was over. I had found my voice. It was time to prove that talk saves lives.

We were determined to invest the dollars raised at the walk in the local community. So we dug in, organizing ASIST intervention trainings, partnering with others who worked in prevention, making presentations to local schools, getting proclamations for city councils and boards of supervisors, starting a suicide-prevention round table, advocating for more funding for suicide-prevention research, and eventually I was asked to join the State Chapter Board for AFSP.

This became my “second full-time job,” as my husband called it.

Last year, we organized our second walk. Our team, again, was the top fundraising group, and led our local walk. And later, my husband ran in the New York City Marathon, also to benefit AFSP. We were doing our little part to create a culture that is smart about mental health and to find a way to honor Tina’s memory and raise funds for a cause that is 100 percent preventable.

Later, I took part in training to lead a support group for loss survivors and helped plan a Survivor Day event in Staunton. My husband and I also joined a group of local loss survivors and walked 16+ miles in The Overnight this summer in Washington, D.C.

I’m not sure I can adequately thank the Goo Goo Dolls for introducing me to AFSP. But I’ll try. My husband and I are going to their upcoming concert in Virginia Beach. No second row seats or backstage passes this time, but we’ll be there showing support for the group that truly led me down a path that has changed my life, first as a volunteer and now as a full-time job.

I dedicated myself for almost three years as a volunteer to a cause that means the world to me and never expected anything more. A little over four months ago, AFSP asked me to join them again – this time as the Area Director for Virginia – putting my putting my 15+ years of fundraising, marketing and PR expertise into a career dedicated to saving lives. I accepted.

We are now gearing up for our third walk in Staunton on October 21, but I’m also helping lead 11 additional walks throughout the state helping loss survivors make the same connections I did in my first Out of the Darkness Walk.

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Somehow, that concert three years ago had less to do with listening to good music and drinking a Bold Rock or two and a lot more to do with my finding my fire, my purpose, my way of doing something positive to remember Tina. Every day, I wake up and dedicate myself to a mission – to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. And it all started three years ago. And it was thanks to the Goo Goo Dolls. So, thank you, John and Robby. And we’ll see you August 25.

And it gets lonely when you live out loud,
When the truth that you seek isn’t in this crowd.
You better find your voice, better make it loud.
We’ve gotta burn that fire or we’ll just burn out.

– “Rebel Beat” by the Goo Goo Dolls

  • Column by Crystal Abbe Graham
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