This Sunday, Sarah Kirk will spend her first Mother’s Day without her daughter.
Yet Kirk, 58, of Great Falls is coping with her own grief by turning it into action for other families who have suffered similar losses.
Becky Love died by suicide last August at age 32. In her daughter’s honor, Kirk, with the help of her husband and six sons, has started the Becky Love Foundation and is organizing the Mother’s Day for Mental Health at the Turner Farm park in Great Falls.
“Losing a child - it’s not supposed to happen that way,” Kirk said. “You’re supposed to outlive your children for sure. So with this, we want to acknowledge how hard it is to lose a child, but also how much love and support we have for each other as a community.”
Sunday’s event will raise money to support grieving families and promote suicide prevention. People can participate in a 5K race or 1K fun run, which will kick off the day at 8 a.m., or even bring their horses and ponies to ride a 5K on horseback at 10 a.m.
The races will be followed by a full slate of family activities through 3:30 p.m., including a moon bounce, a climbing wall, face painting, pony rides and equestrian riding events.
The first seeds for the event started to grow in Kirk’s mind months ago, just two weeks after her daughter’s suicide.
Love shot and killed herself at a gun range in Ashburn on Aug. 30, while Kirk, her husband Glenn Zoski and her youngest son were on a cruise.
Love had a history of mental health and substance abuse issues, and last April had sparked a nationwide search for her son Cameron when she took him son to Las Vegas in violation of a custody agreement with her ex-husband. Still, while Kirk knew her daughter had been struggling, she was shocked by her daughter’s death.
“The last text I got from her was, ‘I’m so glad you’re having a great time. See you soon!’” Kirk said. “So we really - I didn’t know.”
Kirk, who had not suffered the loss of a close family member since her grandparents died in her 20s, found herself struggling to process her grief.
“I spent a week straight just crying and gardening and trying to figure out what was going on,” Kirk said. “And I think through that cleansing period I realized that something needs to be done.”
It is not in Kirk’s nature to be quiet or still. She is an outgoing member of her local community, as the owner of the equestrian and gift store The Saddlery in downtown Great Falls and an active parishioner at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Vienna.
But she found that grief in general, and suicide in particular, remained largely taboo topics.
“I’ve had so many people say to me, ‘I’m so glad you’re not embarrassed,’” Kirk said. “So now I feel a sense of mission to reach out to other families, because there are so many people who are embarrassed or overwhelmed by their grief, so they can’t really move forward.”
With this purpose in mind, Kirk started planning the Becky Love Foundation, in mid-September, two weeks after her daughter’s death.
Within months, Kirk targeted two nonprofits as partners for her fundraising efforts: Comfort Zone Camp, which runs a bereavement camp for children who have lost a parent, guardian or sibling, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She also plans to offer grants to pay for counseling or higher education for those who have suffered the sudden loss of a family member.
“We need education,” Kirk said. “We need to support people who are struggling, but we also need to teach people about how to help those who are dealing with these sudden losses. We need to open up this conversation in our society.”
Those interested can register online or on site the day of the event for the races. The 5K run costs $30 to register online or $35 on-site; the 1K Fun Run costs $10 online or $15 on on-site; and the 5K on horseback costs $45 online or $50 on-site.