Art installation raises awareness of suicide prevention
By Bridgette M. Redman
Bridget McCarthy is convinced that if she knew then what she knows now, she would have been able to prevent her son Riley from dying of suicide 13 days after his 16th birthday.
It’s why she is now dedicated to making sure that other parents have the information that she once needed, whether through organizing fundraising walks or helping to paint the background of the enormous wings that her neighbor put up on her fence to honor Riley and raise awareness of his loss.
McCarthy said that Riley had been suffering from depression and issues that had to do with gender dysphoria — he was a transgendered youth. He’d been speaking to a therapist and multiple doctors.
“No one had said, ‘You need to be aware of these things,’” McCarthy said, adding that while she knows there is a privacy act, there were still some things she needed to know. “I was the kind of mom that if they had said, ‘Do this because your kid is at risk,’ I would have done that. I would have judged those final moments differently with a different awareness. Within that moment, with the knowledge I have now, it would have been a different result.”
That has become her mission, because while she said therapists are legally bound to behave in a certain way, she is not. After spending 90 minutes online, she was in tears because what she needed to do was so simple and she could have had the information. She now wants to make sure that those parents who are open and willing have the information and awareness that she did not.
On October 23, McCarthy organized a walk called “Out of the Darkness Greater Los Angeles Santa Monica Walk” along 3rd Street Promenade to raise money for suicide awareness. She’s been helped along by her neighbor, Susan Klos, and local artist, Lalo Marquez.
During Pride month, Marquez made rainbow wings for an installation. After the event, he put them up on the Facebook page, “Buy Nothing Mar Vista.”
“That’s where I came across his ‘give’ and adopted his wings for my front fence,” Klos said.
Klos met McCarthy when she was posting on the Next Door app asking for donations for her team that would be walking for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention held last May. She signed up for the team and the two became friends.
After Klos and Marquez posted the wings on her fence, Klos thought it would be a fitting tribute to dedicate the wings to Riley as he was transgendered.
“Bridget and I painted the background together in NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) green and she added the finishing touches — her dedication to Riley,” Klos said. “Since it’s been up, people have stopped to admire the wings, taken pictures in front of them, and one of Riley’s junior high teachers rang my doorbell to ask about the mural and reminisce about Riley.”
McCarthy described Klos as one of the most wonderful, generous and warm people she’s ever met.
“She’s continuing to promote Ry’s website and the awareness and everything with me,” McCarthy said. “She has the history in mental health, being involved in NAMI and having a couple kids who struggle with their own issues. The wings came about after Pride. I’d wanted to do something with Pride, but it was difficult with things shut down. The wings are iconic to gay pride. I have a picture of Ry in front of wings at age 12 or 13. Ry loved wings. He had multiple sets for the costuming and dress-up that he did. It was perfect.”
Klos made the wings on her fence an art installation that was a memorial to Riley. People can come there and find the website and put candles, balloons and other things. Many of his friends, McCarthy said, have made pilgrimages to see them.
“Susan put those wings on her fence out of her own generosity,” McCarthy said. “It is extraordinary, really.”
It is an installation that McCarthy said has continued to spread awareness and gather donations for the American Society for Suicide Prevention. She chose that organization because 87% of the money raised goes directly into programs — such as training new people to answer the hotlines after there was a surge in their use at the end of 2020.
“The hotlines went up 800% during COVID,” McCarthy said. “While the numbers are preliminary, it looks like the suicide rate may have gone down a bit or held steady, which may be attributed to the hotlines catching people. With the increase so great in the hotlines there should have been a correlation in attempts and death and there wasn’t. So that money goes directly to a fund that is actually stopping people from dying and keeping the rate from skyrocketing. It is vital to keep doing that.”
McCarthy pointed out that it is a new world for parents of this generation in part because of the internet and phones. Websites exist, she said, that encourage teens to commit suicide —telling them how to do it and how to avoid their parents. There is an effort to get those sites banned.
Suicide is the number two cause of death among 14 to 19 year olds. Among young people in the LGBTQ+ community, it is much higher. It’s why McCarthy said it is so important to build connection in the community.
“That’s what the wings represent,” McCarthy said. “It’s a physical place people go to and Susan has a little library.”
Meanwhile, she continues to try to get as much awareness as she can to parents who are struggling, to connect them with the assistance that they need so they don’t have to go through what she has.
“Your world literally turns upside down,” McCarthy said of losing a child. “That’s the only way to describe it. It’s a daily thing. Things come from nowhere and out of the blue.”