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August 22, 2013

Family is raising money for 'Colin's Smile'

Loss of son has brought grief and inspiration to couple

Cooperstown Crier

---- — It has been only eight months since they lost their son to a suicide, but the Heckmann family has been healing.

“You don’t get over it,” said Lisa Heckmann.

“No, you never do,” Lisa’s husband, Dirk Heckmann, said.

“You learn to live with it,” they both say, nearly simultaneously. 

Colin, a 17-year-old junior at Richfield Springs, took his own life on New Year’s Eve 2012. Colin was popular, played sports, had a lot of friends of different ages.

“I’m not sure if the signs were there with him,” Dirk said. “That’s the thing. But if we can help someone where the signs are there, then that is doing something important.”

Suicide — It is the word, most people will not say to them. The word they feel the schools went quiet toward them after hearing. The word that causes a discussion in newspaper offices about how and how often to use the word. Although it is uncomfortable to talk about, it is worse not talking about it, the Heckmanns say, and they have learned to say it.

“It is something you can see they don’t want to talk about,” Dirk said. “But everything we have gone through in counseling is that you should talk about it.”

They are doing something about it too, promoting a charity and pushing for a speaker to visit the area. Both the speaker and the charity have touched them, giving a purpose and bond to a long difficult year of grieving.

The Heckmann house in Exeter has become a refuge for Colin’s friends and neighborhood kids. Far from shy about the subject, his parents have grown used to ministering to the grief from others who loved Colin. 

“It’s bittersweet, for sure,” Lisa said. “It is my pain to hear it, but I know I am doing something to help them. If we can help others, that makes a difference for us.”

Colin’s Smile is their walk team’s name. They are raising money for the Out of Darkness Community Walk on Sept. 7 in Utica/Rome. They will also hold a Chinese auction and bake sale from noon to 6 p.m. on Aug. 24 at the Richfield Springs Community Center. Proceeds from both events will go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The Heckmanns have two other children, Monique and Derek, who both graduated from RSCS in 2008. Monique, 22, has been organizing the fundraiser. They tout a speaker who’s words have helped them named Jeff Yaldon. Yaldon has posted a tribute video on YouTube called “We Miss U Colin Richfield Springs.”

In the comment section on YouTube, Yaldon said he appreciated the family’s willingness to help others.

“I am saddened but comforted in knowing that although Colin’s family is strong and going through the grieving process, they want to give back. I’m glad I was able to share some words of inspiration,” he said.

The family would love to have Yaldon speak in the community. Although they have some hard feelings toward the school for getting quiet on them, and for a difficult sports banquet, they have high praise for the community support they have received. Although Dirk is from Germany and Lisa is from Michigan, they have lived in the area since the 1990’s and Dirk has worked in Cooperstown most of that time, originally with the Busch family.

“Both Cooperstown and our community have been great to us,” he said.

With school starting, it is hard for many not to think about what would have been Colin’s senior year and the Richfield Springs class of 2014 which will miss his presence at graduation. The anniversary will be here soon, and that will bring its own grief and memories. The Heckmanns say they want to raise $1,000 for each charity event, and that they are nearing their goals already.

“The community has been wonderful, friends, family, everybody,” Lisa said. “We have almost reached our goals.”