Family of fallen EMT to hold mental health awareness festival in her memory
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Jessica Wright loved her job as an EMT. She loved serving people, according to her mother Cathy Wright.
But while Jessica was an amazing woman and a pillar of strength for others, she did struggle with sadness and the impacts of a traumatic event that happened to her that she never addressed, her mother said.
MassLive published a profile of Jessica as part of its “In the shadow of the frontline” series at the end of 2020.
Four months later, on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021, Jessica took her own life at the age of 41.
“We were devastated, it was a huge loss for us,” Wright told MassLive, “And you know you walk away with that feeling like, I could’ve helped, why didn’t she ask? Why didn’t she call?”
Now Jessica’s family is hoping to offer that help to others. They are holding the Jessica Wright Memorial Festival in Blunt Park in Springfield on April 23 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Local organizations with mental health resources are going to have booths and speakers at the event, including American Medical Response — the organization Jessica worked for.
Behavioral Health Network and Men of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA) will also be participating.
“My brother is a part of (MOCHA) he’s asked them to come and set out a table so that men that have stressors … they can talk about some of the things they’re going through,” Wright said.
One of the topics speakers will touch on is how people that didn’t have diagnosed mental health issues prior to the pandemic felt depression and anxiety for the first time during the shutdowns.
“I want people to come out and know that it’s OK, we’re all feeling kind off-kilter, off-centered,” Wright said of the event. “Those villages that we had … have gone away. We need to reconnect and refresh and just revitalize one another and I want there to be resources.”
The event is being hosted by Wright’s daughter Irene Mendez’ business, Baked Beauty Bar in Springfield.
Mendez has also created the organization Standing in Solidarity Towards Emotional Resilience (SISTER), Wright said.
“Her organization is for women to be able to reconnect and rebuild those villages … just letting women get back together and be women and reconnect and have a support network,” she said.
SISTER has a group for women who have lost children, along with other support services for women.
Wright said one of the reasons she wanted to hold the memorial festival was because at Jessica’s memorial last year quite a few first responders came up to meet and talk to her and her family and said they’ve been right where Jessica was.
Some of them even told Wright that Jessica talked them off the ledge.
First responders, like EMTs, may be at elevated risk for suicide because of the environments in which they work, their culture, and stress, both occupational and personal, according to the CDC.
At the time MassLive wrote about Jessica she had been an EMT for over nine years and was working at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield administering COVID-19 tests. She told MassLive she was considering going back to school to study to be a licensed practical nurse.
She said she was not afraid of the coronavirus.
“You know, to me, it’s just life. It’s just every day. This is what we do. I mean, if somebody’s sick from COVID versus being, you know, sick from something else. It’s still the same thing,” Jessica told MassLive at the time. “It’s not like I can differentiate between the two types of calls. It is what it is and it’s what we do.”
The pandemic increased first responders’ workloads, and Jessica pointed to her colleagues as a way to help deal with the stresses of the job.
“We have each other’s back all the way,” Jessica told MassLive. “This [work] can be pretty hard on your back and knees and feet and everything else like that. Everybody jumps [to help] when we need a break. Everybody has each other’s back and that just helps tremendously. [Work] doesn’t feel overwhelming.”
Working at the COVID testing site made Jessica feel valued, her mother said.
“You know, they gave her a lot of responsibility, and she handled it well,” Wright said. “And they gave her more responsibility, and she loved it. She loved that they depended on her and that people would say, ‘hey things run smoother when you’re here.’”
She would be the last one to leave the site at night, to make sure all the samples that were collected were picked up by the lab, according to Wright.
Jessica did struggle with the job taking her away from her four children.
“She understood that we were in the middle of a pandemic and I think she just felt like a superhero because she was in the midst of it and she was helping, you know, but she got tired and it was hard work,” Wright said.
The first sign that something was going on with Jessica was when she quit her job. Wright and Jessica’s sister tried calling her to talk about it, but Jessica wouldn’t answer either.
“She took the kids and we didn’t realize this at the time, but she was taking them to make memories with them,” Wright said. “She took them I think up to New Hampshire and they went boating and fishing and hiking and she just spent time with them.”
In a note, Jessica asked her family not to ask why because there was no answer but said she loved them, according to Wright.
She also instructed whoever found her to look for paperwork under the front seat of the car, Wright said.
The paperwork showed that Jessica had paid to be cremated.
Jessica’s death has been extremely hard on her children, so Wright said she moved up from Texas so she could be closer to them.
Wright said she makes sure to talk about Jessica with her children and share pictures and funny anecdotes about her.
“We’re planning this festival because we want this to be a family event, and we want to remember all the wonderful things. I don’t want them every year to just be sad and burdened you know,” Wright said.
Wright called Jessica a “character.”
“She had a great sense of humor. She loved, loved scaring people,” Wright said.
Jessica would put on scary masks and turn off the lights when she was watching the kids.
“She’d have them screaming and running, she loved that kind of stuff,” Wright said.
Jessica also loved helping people. She first realized when she took a home health aide course, Wright said, which eventually led to becoming an EMT.
“Every patient she had at a hospital or nursing home. She fell in love with everybody, and she didn’t just look at them like clients or patients,” Wright said, “She cared about them as people and she always wanted to do things that made them happy, or made them feel whole, or made them fell you know, just good about themselves.”
Wright called Jessica a wonderful person with a beautiful spirit.
“I miss her terribly,” Wright said.
The festival will also be a way for the family to talk about the pathology of depression and sadness and how to process and be aware of their own feelings, she said.
“If we bring one person out of the darkness and help them connect with some resources or let them know that we’re a village, here’s a hug, then we can keep going,” Wright said.
In addition to mental health resources, Saturday’s memorial will have live music, face painting, a food truck and an ice cream truck. The live music will include Wright’s band Cat and the Junkyard Dogs, which will play some blues and rock music.
“I just want people outdoors, just having a good time in the fresh air, connecting, talking, you know, that’s my hope,” Wright said.
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