Let’s have a laugh — for suicide?

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First Posted: 11/12/2014

“One of my closest friends blew his head off with a shotgun.”

Those are words Alexis Johnson of Archbald grudgingly reminds herself every single day.

“Timothy always made me laugh. He had a big personality and a bigger heart. He had a beautiful wife and two amazing little daughters,” said Johnson of the friend she lost to suicide earlier this year.

Determined to make a difference, Johnson began organizing an unconventional fundraiser — a comedy roast. She will be joined by wounded veteran Earl Granville of Scott Township — who lost his twin brother to suicide — on Friday, Nov. 28 at “Roastin’ For A Cause” inside the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel in Scranton for a classic-style comedy roast aimed at raising money for suicide awareness.

The loss of Johnson’s friend, Timothy, this past Valentine’s Day, was especially impactful for Johnson since it was the second friend she lost to suicide. Left feeling pissed off at the world, her anger was detained by empathy.

“I am a recovering addict. I have been clean for more than two years now. When I was using drugs, I wanted to die every single day. I understand that feeling of wanting to end it all. I also understand that people are too afraid to get help because of the stigma attached to depression, mental illness and even addiction,” Johnson said.

Unwilling to lose another friend to suicide, Johnson felt compelled to take action.

“I knew I had to do something. I just didn’t know what I could do. Then Robin Williams took his own life. It took someone who makes people laugh, who everyone adores, to be affected by suicide to get people talking about it. Suicide is a problem that affects everyday people with everyday problems. Suicide can affect your close friend. It can affect that guy in the movies that made you laugh your entire life,” Johnson said.

Following the death of Williams in August, and the dialogue that the Oscar winner’s suicide started concerning the shamed topic, Johnson felt inspired to create a fundraiser combining suicide with comedy.

“Too often, people think the best way to cope with things is to take a drug or a pill. While medicine is important and serves its purposes, I thought it was time to do something that comes naturally. I thought it was time to laugh,” Johnson said.

Right now you might be questioning the suitability of holding an event that will be making fun of people and convincing them not to not want to kill themselves. As eccentric as the idea may seem, it’s actually more natural than you may think according to the roast’s organizer.

“People love to laugh at other people’s expense. It’s the nature of humanity. The roast, in no way, shape or form will be making light of the situation, but instead express that through hard times, laughter is the best way to pull through,” Johnson said, asserting that everyone copes with the loss of a loved one from suicide differently. For twin sisters Teressa Stan and Karla Farina, both originally from Eynon, handling the loss of their brother to suicide was a chance for them to be the change they wanted to see in the world.

In 2011, Stan and Farina lost their younger brother when he ended his life by committing suicide following a battle with depression. In the aftermath of their brother’s suicide, the crestfallen sisters realized they overlooked warning signs throughout the years. They felt they may have been able to help had they been provided the knowledge of warning signs at a younger age, a thought that inspired them to begin the Lou Ruspi, Jr. Foundation to implant suicide prevention and mental health awareness to students.

A former professional cheerleader for the Philadelphia Eagles, Stan now travels throughout Pennsylvania with her sister to students in grades seventh through 12th, targetting issues in an hour long educational session on various issues including depression, bipolar, anxiety, self-esteem, eating disorders, bullying and cutting.

“You need the foundation from a young age. The education will just build and grow and could potentially help people recognize warning signs and put a name to feelings that young people may be faced with, but not understand. This could prevent so many suicides,” Stan said.

One-third of the proceeds raised at “Roastin’ For A Cause” will be donated to help fund the program. The rest of the money will be split among the two young daughters of Timothy, the close friend of Alexis Johnson who took his own life earlier this year.

Though the proceeds for the benefit will be spread between an organization educating children, and the children who lost their father to suicide, “Roastin’ For A Cause” is not a family friendly event.

“Most fundraisers are too serious,” Johnson said.

Roastin’ For A Cause is meant to be a fun night out for adults while tackling an issue and raising awareness for a heavy subject in a comfortable environment.