Six Feet Over is hosting the sixth annual Suck It Suicide Comedy Benefit on April 12 at Small’s in Hamtramck.
By Monica Drake
On the day that Kathy Simpson took her life, she made about 80 phone calls to her family and friends. She caught up with them and told them she loved them — but didn’t tell anyone she was contemplating suicide.
Her daughter, Kate Hardy, says, “It was her way of saying good-bye, but people didn’t know that’s what she was doing. She was just calling to shoot the s*** — that’s what it seemed like to everybody.
“The good parts of her were gone — the woman who took care of me when I was sick, would tell me I was beautiful, and showed me female empowerment. My mom was an incredible, giving human being. It just so happened that her mental illness made her destructive.”
Simpson died in November 2003. Now, about 15 years later, more and more people are talking about mental health. Here in Michigan, Hardy, 35, has made it her mission to change the conversation surrounding suicide and help eliminate the stigma of mental illness.
“My mom was diagnosed with bipolar the year before I was born. But that was never a conversation we had. That’s something I learned after she died,” says Hardy, of Livonia. “She never felt comfortable reaching out, like a lot more people are doing now. … She didn’t have a support system around her. It’s no one’s fault; it’s just how things were. But if we can change that for the future, that’s what I want to focus on.”
And, to help change that, she founded Six Feet Over, a statewide nonprofit that serves the survivors of suicide loss by providing financial assistance and strives to prevent suicide by educating the community and bringing awareness to the issue.
“There was a long stretch of time that I didn’t know it was OK to even say the word ‘suicide,’ and I didn’t know how to have the conversation at all. I didn’t want people to feel awkward,” Hardy says. “But, now, I don’t care. Now I say the word ‘suicide’ all the time. I want people to know it’s OK to talk about it. It’s not an awkward conversation unless you make it that way.”
After her mom’s death, Hardy lost seven more people to suicide. Shortly after her friend Jason Lockwood, a Detroit-based musician, took his life in 2012, Hardy came up with the idea for the nonprofit Six Feet Over.
“I accidentally started this nonprofit,” Hardy says. “I was getting Facebook messages from people, asking me how to raise money for Jason. … And, since I already raised money for a bunch of funerals through shirt sales, tattoo events and shows and knew I was pretty good at it, I decided I might as well keep on doing it.”
She says many life insurance companies have stipulations on the amount of money paid out if the cause of death is suicide. For example, she says when her mom died, the insurance company only paid 10 percent of what would have been paid if she died any other way.
“I get that they’re trying to protect themselves from people taking out life insurance because they are planning to kill themselves. But you’re punishing the family and not them. And that’s not fair,” Hardy says. “So, if someone only has $5,000 worth of insurance — and a lot of people don’t have any insurance — they’ll get $500, which will cover almost nothing for the funeral.”
So, through Six Feet Over, Hardy helps families cover the expenses of things like clean-up services, funerals and memorials. She says, as far as she knows, this nonprofit is the only existing organization that helps survivors of suicide loss with expenses such as these.
“Suicide is a sudden thing. You don’t save up for a loved one’s suicide,” she says.
The outreach and fundraising arm of Six Feet Over is called Suck It Suicide. “I’m actually recognized more for Suck It Suicide than for Six Feet Over. The money raised through Suck It Suicide from donations and merchandise sales goes toward prevention — trying to keep people six feet over — and also taking care of the loved ones who are left six feet over.”
On April 12, Six Feet Over is hosting the sixth annual Suck It Suicide Comedy Benefit at Small’s, 10339 Conant St, Hamtramck. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the show starts at 9:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $10 at the door.
Monica Drake is a suicide awareness activist who talks about mental health on her website meant2live.net.