‘Something good must come out of this…’
Donna Berry took a deep breath before she began talking about something she hopes no other parent will ever have to experience. Yet, with every breath she has, she knows she must tell it. “You can be bitter, or you can be better. I choose to be better. Something good must come out of this,” she said with absoluteness in her voice. Donna’s son Dylan committed suicide on Aug.19, 2012, the evening he was to leave for Willmar’s Ridgewater College to begin classes for a career in farm management and agriculture. Dylan loved the farm, working with his dad and grandpa, doing chores before and after school. He grew up on a tractor. Donna explained, “Dylan had a passion for the farm, for working outside. He knew what he could learn, what he could do, and where he wanted to be, working outside. Dylan had a huge heart and always put others first (even in death he gave to others as an organ donor). He was very gentle, shy and very quiet. He had a sense of humor, yet he was a young man who kept everything inside and to himself.” Following Dylan’s death, the funeral, the days and weeks after, Donna found herself in a blur. She knew she must get out of bed, go on with life. Family members, including two daughters, Megan and Mariah, needed her. She was overwhelmed by helplessness. What could she do with the pain of losing a child? Her son is buried at Clotho Cemetery, located 12 miles from Long Prairie, only a stones-throw away from the Berry Family Farm. As Donna sat at Dylan’s grave, or tossed and turned through the darkness of night, she knew she had to do something with her pain, a “mother’s pain.” She asked through her tears, “God and Dyl, what should I do with this pain?” While Donna found herself deep in grieving she wondered about other parents and friends who have gone through this same experience, “This is happening too often. What could I do to make something good come out of this?” The answer came on yet another sleepless night. Dylan loved the farm and worked hard every day. Like any child, he absolutely loved getting brand new gloves for work and play. The inspiration for Dylan’s Gloves of Love suddenly sprouted a life of its own. In the midst of it all Donna also found that suicide creates an instant bond with others who have experienced the same kind of horrific loss. People began to step forward, to let Donna know there was support in her grieving. Angie Berkness, one of Dylan’s teachers at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Long Prairie, shared her story. Berkness told Donna that while in high school her boyfriend committed suicide. Angie and Donna set out to work together. Donna also found love and support at her workplace, Windmill Ponds, where she is employed as a resident assistant. The mission of Dylan’s Gloves of Love is to collect and donate gloves and mittens for area schools and charitable organizations in Dylan’s name. Donna explained, “We saw that St. Mary’s School had a box of extra mittens. Children were able to use from that box but more were needed. On more than one occasion, I saw selfless teachers take off their own gloves and give them to a child with cold hands. We could donate gloves and mittens! ” Dylan’s Gloves of Love is all about increasing teen suicide awareness and to keep Dylan’s passion for working and playing outdoors alive. Teen suicide information and Dylan’s story will be included in the glove/mitten packets. To date more than 300 pairs of gloves have been collected for donation. Pain and tears have turned into a mission of “paying it forward.” Donna is reflective as she explained, “I think about Dylan every day. I think about how his life and his death have affected me, how it’s affected his dad, his sisters, our family. I think about how suicide has impacted others, elderly people who have lost children through suicide. There are other mothers who have lost a child through suicide. You think about that child every day. It doesn’t go away.” Donna’s mission to make suicide awareness available because of her own son’s death keeps her strong. “I take one day at a time. I may be sad for a day and then I look up at the stars and see Dylan and know there is still hope. I think about how he would see all of this.” She adds, “Hug your child every day. Skip a cup of coffee and get a pair of mittens for a child instead. Pay it forward.” Dylan’s Gloves of Love is a non-profit organization. For more information contact Donna at 320-808-3052. Donations will be given to schools, shelters and other places in need. The logo for the organization was created by Donna’s nephew, Jeremy Casper, with the yellow teen suicide prevention ribbon in the center of a heart with orange gloves (the color of Dylan’s pick-up truck).