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Suicide survivor shares Faces of Fortitude

When she didn't know what else to do, she picked up a camera.
Credit: Mariangela Abeo
The Faces of Fortitude photo series features people affected by suicide.

SEATTLE — Faces of survival and perseverance. Faces of pain. I (Jim Dever) never dreamed that the face of a friend would symbolize their struggle.

For me, this story is personal.

I got to know James Duruz as a fellow cast member on the KING 5 kid show, "Watch This!" He was one of the kids. I was one of the big kids. We worked together. We celebrated together. James was prouder than anyone when the program won a couple of regional Emmy awards. He was there at the gala, one of the only teens among a sea of adult professionals. That was James. Fearless. Fierce.

A top student at Issaquah High, James would go on to study at Yale.

"He did so well in everything," his sister, Mariangela Abeo, recalled.

But she saw something in James that I completely missed. A darkness stalking his sensitive, artistic soul.

Mariangela is haunted by a conversation she had with her brother. "He said, 'I just don't know if I'm okay. I don't know.'"

At the age of 26, James took his own life.

I told Mariangela how shocked I had been by the news of her brother's death.

"This teacher called me and said, 'Jim, do you remember James Duruz?'" I recounted the conversation I'd had with a mutual friend. "As soon as I heard his name, I was expecting good news. And then she told me. And I was just..." I couldn't find the words. "It just didn't fit," I said.

After that terrible day, Mariangela struggled to make some sense of the senseless, to pull some warmth and light from out of the void.

"That's where this project was born," she said.

She created a series of online photos and stories she calls "Faces of Fortitude."

"We should have all been talking and we weren't," Mariangela said. "And I think that's such a huge part of this epidemic of mental health in general, is that people aren't talking."

So she started a conversation with her camera. Starting with herself, she began profiling survivors of suicide. Those who nearly jumped, and those left behind by the people who did.

She takes their pictures as they speak their truth. Always truth.

Lara Schneider lost several friends to suicide. Her own pain pushed her toward this project.

"It was just something that I needed to do," Lara said.

Mariangela asked Abigail Lindsay to recall the night she intervened to save her own brother's life.

"I couldn't say no, knowing her story," Abigail recalled. "I couldn't say no, knowing that she lost her brother from this and I didn't."

Once Mariangela began posting the photos and stories on the "Faces of Fortitude" Instagram and Facebook pages, more faces stepped out of the darkness and into her studio.

Mariangela said, "I get, probably, five to ten messages a day from total strangers."

Many, like Lara, say the sessions have helped them heal.

"I feel like that was really cathartic," she said.

They may never find the answers they're looking for.

"It's not over," Mariangela said. "Sadly."

But no one needs to search alone.

"As long as it's a problem," Mariangela vowed, "I'm going to keep doing it."

The brother she couldn't save still drives her to make a difference.

"Me doing this is him saying, 'Yeah, you're doing the right thing.'"

The Faces of Fortitude invitation-only gallery show takes place Saturday, May 5 at Creative Live studios in Seattle.

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