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Nine months ago, Anika Alexander, an Atlanta-based Global Ticketing Support agent, lost her oldest son Shun to suicide. He was just 22.

Alexander was left with an unimaginable loss, grief and anguish, with seemingly nowhere to turn. Through this tragedy, she was introduced to Wrenched Hearts, Delta’s employee peer support group for parents who have lost children.

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The grieving process left Anika with a new perspective on life and a new purpose – educating others on suicide prevention. As part of this process, she began planning “A Walk with Shun” – a symbolic journey to the top of Stone Mountain, near Atlanta, sponsored by Wrenched Hearts. Every year, Shun would try to get his mom to walk to the top of the mountain with him, but every year Alexander would make it halfway and tell him to go ahead without her.

On Saturday, Alexander and her colleagues, along with Rob Kight, Senior Vice President – Global HR Services and Labor Relations and Executive Sponsor of Wrenched Hearts; Roger Harvey, Director–Reservations Customer Engagement Center-Atlanta; Glynda Pace, Customer Engagement Director –Atlanta, and Jenni Hawkins, Customer Engagement Director –Atlanta, made the journey up Stone Mountain despite steady rain in memory of her son.

Delta News Hub interviewed Alexander (pictured in blue top) after her “Walk with Shun” to discuss her personal journey, the importance of education and the support from her Delta colleagues.

Delta News Hub: Can you describe your feelings as you reached the top of Stone Mountain?

Alexander: I felt exposed and vulnerable in the most amazing way. Here I am walking side-by-side with some of the most compassionate and loyal people that I have ever met – and they get me. That day stripped me of my poker face, and instilled in me an unwarranted display of strength. Making it to the top of Stone Mountain felt like freedom.

DNH: How do you think a “Walk with Shun” has influenced your life moving forward?

AA: This walk has inspired me to live through the past nine months. The ability to bring about an awareness of suicide in our community is very empowering, personally. If I can assist in the prevention of one person taking their life, Shun's life will not be in vain.

DNH: Why do you feel it’s important to share your story with others?

AA: My story is not uncommon, just untold. Often suicide survivors are ashamed to share their story. I am not ashamed. I often think about the way things could have went, if I had been informed, if a colleague had shared his/her difficult story with me. I feel that it is important to share my story because someone's loved one is contemplating suicide right now and they don't know the signs to look for, the verbiage to listen for. I now listen with a different ear and observe with an even sharper eye.

Suicide is very real in all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. We must continue to self-educate ourselves on suicide prevention and awareness strategies to improve outcomes for our families and communities. Suicide is the second leading killer in men ages 10 to 34 years old. This is an alarming percentage and we must fight lower these numbers.

DNH: Why did you decide to become a member of Wrenched Hearts?

AA: Traditional therapy just did not work for me. I felt I was wasting my money and my time. As a member of Wrenched Hearts, you are able to share your grief, not conceal it. You can talk openly and get helpful, heartfelt feedback from your group, instead of someone's unwanted perspective of what they think they should say. 

DNH: How has Wrenched Hearts helped you cope with the loss of Shun?

AA: When you experience trauma of that magnitude, you're fragile – too fragile to be in the wrong company, too fragile to tell others what they want to hear, too fragile to share your feelings with someone that could not begin to understand the depth of your pain. I needed comfort, and I needed a place to unload and release without judgment. Wrenched Hearts granted me all of these things that I needed and more. Wrenched Hearts talked to me, they cried with me, they laughed with me and now they will walk with me. 

DNH: The Reservation Sales team has rallied behind you in a variety of ways. What does it mean to you to see your colleagues' support?

AA: This has been such an amazing journey. My Res team has been outstanding. We kicked this journey off in July with a "Three-Day Journey." This journey consisted of handing out suicide prevention stats, making available ribbons, bracelets and hugs-o-grams for donations, and we also offered hope through an outstanding motivational speaker. I also had the opportunity to work with Letty Ashworth and her amazing team in bringing the CDC in to speak on Suicide Prevention at Delta's General Offices. My Res team, the Delta family and my exceptional leadership team makes me proud to say that I am a Delta Air Lines employee.

DNH: What advice would you give to someone struggling with a similar loss?

AA: My advice would be to grieve in your own way, but more importantly, grieve. You must allow yourself to go through these emotions. Find a support group that works for you. If you are a Delta employee, join Wrenched Hearts as soon as possible.