Maryland Memory Tree memorializes suicide victims
Germantown mother leads effort in state

Dec. 17, 2003 — by Ellen Shiau Staff Writer/The Gazette

April Cline of Germantown lost her 19-year-old son, Daniel, to suicide in 2000. Cline hopes to help others cope with loss through the Maryland Memory Tree.
A little white Christmas tree twinkles on Perrone Drive in Germantown among the other festive decorations that line the quiet neighborhood street.
A closer look, however, reveals the bittersweet nature of the tree that’s both uplifting and heart wrenching to some.
Each of the shiny globes dangling from the limbs represents a life lost by suicide and someone who cares about that life.
For the first year, a Maryland Memory Tree has been established to memorialize loved ones lost to suicide during the holiday season, which can be an especially difficult time for friends and family, said state coordinator April Cline of Germantown.
Family and friends across Maryland have been submitting the names of loved ones to Cline, who then hangs an ornament on the tree bearing the loved one’s name.
“They call it the worst loss, and that's an understatement,” said Cline, whose 19-year-old son, Daniel Reynolds Page, committed suicide in August 2000 after a 10-year battle with depression.
However, Cline now hopes to help ease the pain and the pain of others with the Memory Tree. “You pretty much grab at anything you can to continue to live and make a difference in other people’s lives,” she said. “You try to find the good in the situation as best you can because it’s a very difficult thing to live with.”
Cline said through support groups, she met Colorado resident Brenda Flowers, who organized a Colorado Memory Tree in honor of her daughter in 1998. The movement spread with Memory Trees now in more than 40 states.
“Brenda started this Memory Tree to help with her own grief and help others with their grief at the holidays, when it’s particularly heartbreaking that your child isn’t here,” Cline said. “Basically, this year, several people sent me e-mails saying, ‘Gosh, too bad they don’t have anything in Maryland.’”
Cline hopes to continue the tradition annually in Maryland. This year, the tree stands in her front yard. But she envisions finding a living tree that can be lit in a community-centered location and hopes that community members will come forward to help sponsor the event.
The small gesture of having a tree may seem insignificant—but not for those who have lost a loved one, Cline said. The ornaments, with names of people ranging from teenagers to 60-year-olds, provide tangible evidence that the person who died is loved by someone, she said.
“The holidays have for so many the aura of happiness surrounding them,” said Sharon Friedman, executive director of the Mental Health Association. “For people who have lost loved ones, it can be very difficult.”
The feeling of loss comes, for example, when a parent no longer has to buy gifts for a child or when a family member is missing at a gathering, Cline said.
For the last three years, the Maryland chapter of the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program has held its own tree and candle lighting ceremony for loved ones lost to suicide. The fourth annual event will occur tonight at 7 at North Bethesda United Methodist Church.
“Most everyone that has come has been so grateful for a place to come to where their loved one is remembered and thought about,“ said chapter president Mary McCausland of Kensington, who lost her nephew, Daniel Collins, in 1999.
But in addition to helping friends and family cope, the trees also raise awareness and educate people about suicide, which has become an epidemic in the United States, she said.
“It’s time that we do talk about this issue and erase the stigma that’s attached not only to the victim but to the survivors,” McCausland said.
Nearly 30,000 people—1.7 times more than the number of homicide victims—took their lives in 2000, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the nation and the third leading cause of death for people 15 to 24 years old, according to the center.
People need to know the warning signs of suicide and that resources exist to help, McCausland said.
The holiday season can be difficult in general for people regardless of whether they’ve lost a loved one, Cline said. The Kodak- and Hallmark-type moments might not be the reality for many families, she said.
“You’re feeling even more isolated because you see all these other people getting together with friends and family, and you ask, ‘Why can’t I be doing that?’” Cline said. “People don’t realize depression can be fatal.”
The Mental Health Association, which serves Montgomery County residents, generally receives more calls from people seeking referrals and more calls to its 24-hour hotline during the holidays, Friedman said.
The cold winter weather and fewer daylight hours also may depress people with seasonal affective disorder, she said. And the pressure of pulling off that perfect holiday gathering or finding the right gift may add undue anxiety, Friedman said.
It may be normal for people to feel down for a variety of reasons, she said.
Friedman encouraged people to stick to their routines, such as exercising if they do; forget about pursuing perfection; and consider giving to those less fortunate.
However, if that feeling remains for an extended period, people should seek help from a trusted mental health professional or a physician, Friedman said.
“People should not feel afraid to reach out for help both to family and friends, and professionals,” she said.
Names of loved ones lost to suicide can be submitted to April Cline at MemoryTreeMD@aol.com for the Maryland Memory Tree located at 18906 Perrone Drive in Germantown. For information, visit hometown.aol.com/memorytreemd/myhomepage/index.html.
The Maryland chapter of the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program also will hold a tree and candle lighting service tonight at 7 at North Bethesda United Methodist Church, 10100 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda. For information, visit www.yellowribbonmaryland.org.
Residents in need of counseling can call the 24-hour hotlines of the Mental Health Association at 301-738-CALL, the Montgomery County Crisis Center at 240-777-4000 or the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE.
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