The 11th annual Festival of Trees in Defiance, presented by Premier Bank, has taken on a different feel this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event kicked off Tuesday evening with its tree-lighting ceremony streamed via Facebook, while Wednesday afternoon’s Keith Hubbard Business Luncheon, featuring guest speaker Sherri Hammersmith of the One Step at a Time 5K Run/Walk, was held via a Zoom meeting.
Hammersmith shared a message of H.O.P.E. beginning at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, during the Keith Hubbard Business Luncheon, which was sponsored by The Hubbard Company and Mercy Health Defiance. Hammersmith, who started the One Step at a Time 5K Run/Walk to raise money for mental health awareness, shared her story of losing her 16-year-old son, Scott, to suicide on April 6, 2006.
“In 2006 my family endured the most painful event of our lives, death, the death of a son, a brother, a friend, a grandson ... on April 6, 2006, my son Scott committed ... completed suicide,” said Hammersmith through tears. “He was an honor-roll student, active in baseball and basketball, and just an all-around great kid, a kid that any parent would have loved to have.
“But he had a secret, it taunted him daily, it told him he wasn’t trying hard enough, it told him he was broken and unfixable, it told him lies and told him there was no hope,” continued Hammersmith. “I’m sure many of you listening today have that secret too. Depression likes to isolate us, much like we have been this past year, but the thing about depression is that it is treatable.”
Hammersmith went on to explain that the days following her son’s death were a blur, that she could barely function, she felt there was no reason to go on, and that she had no hope. Family therapy began the same week of her son’s death, and it was through therapy she realized there indeed was hope.
“I learned that there was hope for life, that it would go on, although it would look different,” Hammersmith said. “We learned that Scott’s choice didn’t dictate our lives, and that we could find happiness again. Today marks 14 1/2 years of hope, but it wasn’t always, and still isn’t easy, and I didn’t get here alone.”
The definition of hope was read by Hammersmith, who then shared that through therapy, she found the belief that her family would overcome the tragedy of losing her son. She went on to share what H.O.P.E. means to her, by breaking down each letter in the word.
“’H’ is for healing,” began Hammersmith, “I found healing through counseling and the support of others. I carried shame and guilt, wondering what I could have done ... those emotions still come in waves, but they don’t stay and control my life. I knew I had to turn this negative into something that would help and encourage others, and to possibly prevent another family from experiencing the same kind of loss.
“’O’ is for the One Step at a Time 5K Run/Walk, which was launched in 2009,” continued Hammersmith. “I wanted to raise awareness that this disease (depression) can affect anyone at anytime. Proceeds from this annual race have gone to mental health training, sponsorships of youth activities, and we have partnered with the United Way of Defiance County to bring suicide prevention programming to our local schools.
“’P’ is for prayer and purpose,” continued Hammersmith. “I spent many nights asking God to welcome Scott with open arms, and I prayed for my other children, and I prayed for my marriage. I prayed for understanding for why this was happening to us, and I prayed to God to help me navigate this life. I had a husband, a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old, who still needed their wife and mom. I prayed that God would give me strength, and here I am today.
“’E’ is for encouragement,” continued Hammersmith. “Without the encouragement of friends and loved ones, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So many days were dark and hopeless, I felt like everybody judged us, and I felt like a failure. But, there were people who were always there, who were encouraging and for that I am thankful. Again, it hasn’t always been easy, but here I am today, and through encouragement, I’ve learned a lot the past 14 1/2 years.”
Hammersmith finished her speech by asking everyone to be encouraging.
“I am passionate about spreading hope and encouragement to others, because a positive word, a kind note, a gentle pat on the back can oftentimes seem so small, but they are so big,” said Hammersmith. “Each time you give encouragement, it gets bigger and bigger. Hope is an appropriate theme as we close out 2020, let’s move on to 2021 with hope and desire for a positive change in our world. I am charging you to find the positive in every situation.”
Today’s Senior Luncheon, sponsored by Premier Bank was a pick-up, drop-off event, with lunch served by Chef Chuck of The Laurels of Defiance. In addition, delivery service was available for assisted living and nursing care facilities.
For more information about the Festival of Trees, go to defianceymcafestivaloftrees.org.
On the front page, Rich Seward, executive director of the Defiance Area YMCA, poses with some of the decorated trees for this year’s Festival of Trees at Defiance Eagles Aerie 372 in Defiance. This year’s festivities have gone virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.