Jamie Harris hugs Evie Swinton at a memorial ceremony held recently for Swinton’s daughter Courtney who committed suicide three years ago. At the ceremony, friends and relatives of Courtney Swinton not only recalled her friendly, peace-loving nature, but how the loss of the teenager had prompted them to re-orient their own lives and reach out to others.
Holding hands, a group of about a dozen people encircled a Japanese Lilac tree planted two years ago to memorialize Courtney Mae Swinton, a local teenager who took her own life in 2010.
The gathering occurred recently on the grounds of Warren County Cornell Cooperative Extension off Schroon River Road.
One by one, the departed girl’s friends spoke of her legacy.
“I thought I didn’t have a reason to live anymore, but after seeing what Courtney’s death did to her friends and family, I know I have a reason to live — to be here and help others,” said a teen through her tears.
Sarah DeSantis, Courtney’s cousin, added her thoughts.
“Sometimes life sucks, like when bad things happen to good people,” she said. “But I think everyone has the power to change and make a difference, and accomplish something they’d like to see in this world.”
Kirstyn Pratt of Queensbury, a friend of Courtney’s since first grade, talked about the Warrensburg girl’s caring character, and how her death impacted her own life, which was once filled with anxiety.
“I used to let things get to me — stressing out and getting overwhelmed — but I don’t let things get to me now,” she said. “Courtney’s passing made me focus on things that really matter in life.”
Margo Macero, a singer-songwriter in her twenties who’s been achieving regional fame, said Courtney’s death was hard to endure. When alive, Courtney had been an inspiration, she said.
“She always encouraged me to pursue my music — she’d say, ‘get out there and do your thing,’” Macero recalled, noting she’s just recently pulled out of her “songwriter’s block” prompted by the suicide. The two had known each other since age 12 or so.
“Memories of Courtney really give me ambition,” she added, noting she wrote the song “Dream on Boulevard” and “Colors in the Sky” in Courtney’s memory.
Ciera Bolton of Warrensburg said Courtney’s death was shocking, and it has prompted her to be more sensitive to others’ emotional needs.
“Courtney’s touched my life so much,” she said. “I’ve learned that emotional problems need to be resolved, and people need to reach out to each other and affirm that life is worth living.”
Youth advocate Irv West of Thurman, who has sponsored the annual memorial ceremony, added his thoughts.
“Courtney was apparently overwhelmed, but we can respect her life and our own lives,” he said. “We need to recognize we’re all one people and we need to reach out and connect with one another, because modern life isolates people. Once we feel connected with others, our lives will be enriched and see purpose.”
Jamie Harris, a friend of Courtney’s mother Evie Swinton, said memories of the girl — a peace-loving soul with an affinity for tie-dyed clothing — have inspired her. Harris has launched a business marketing tie-dyed T-shirts, and she serves as a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“I couldn’t save Courtney, but maybe I can save someone else,” she said.
Swinton, who had for years been plunged into deep grief, closing herself off from others, said she was finally regaining a sense of hope due to family’s and friends’ loving outreach and support — and now she’s reaching out to enrich others’ lives.
“I know I have a reason to live and help others,” she said.