'Glow the only way you know': How the GLOW Movement came to be

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
The GLOW Movement has its annual walk in honor of Michael Flinn coming up. It's scheduled for Oct. 9 at the Riverfront Park in Ravenswood.

RAVENSWOOD  Tracy Hall has had a small, dark cloud following her for five years. It's brought waves of dread ever since her son died. 

A Ravenswood native, Hall has dedicated her life to raising awareness of suicide prevention since her son, Michael Flinn, died by suicide in 2016. When his family was going through his belongings, they found something written in a notebook that stood out. 

"Glow the only way you know," he wrote. 

That's how the GLOW Movement was born. The organization hosts events in Ravenswood in honor of Michael and in hopes of letting those who struggle with suicidal thoughts know they aren't alone. 

Remembering Michael

One day, Tracy and Michael were in the car. They were on the interstate leaving Ripley and heading toward Ravenswood. Michael was in the passenger seat when he saw a car veer off the road and swipe the guard rail. 

"Pull over, pull over," he shouted at his mom. 

She hit the breaks and pulled over, but she wasn't able to come to a full stop before he slid out the door to check on the person. 

That's how Tracy likes to remember her son. He was the person who would drop everything to make sure others were OK. 

It's been five years since he died. He was 25. He struggled with mental illnesses, his mom said.

But he had a big heart. 

"We went from a family, you know, that had all of its parts to a missing piece," Tracy said. 

Michael would play basketball with his younger brother, Matthew. He loved skateboarding.

Tracy, and her three children, pose with Michael's skateboard.

Right after Michael died, she sat in her church and gazed up at the stained glass at the front of the chapel. Tracy stared at the purple cross and promised God she wouldn't get mad at him. If she was mad at God, that meant she was losing hope, she said. 

"Even at the darkest times I've just held on," Tracy said. 

There's still a little cloud that follows the family. Some days feel better than others.

His sister LeighAnn Flinn's 2-year-old son is a spitting image of Michael. When she talks about how much her son resembles his uncle she can't help but smile. She has Michael's ukulele hanging on a wall in her home. He always wants to play with it. Whenever a Beatles song comes on, he wiggles and dances. Michael loved the Beatles. 

Raising awareness 

The GLOW Movement hosts events like pool parties, dances and its annual walk to connect people in the community. Tracy wants people to realize they are never alone there is hope. 

GLOW is Tracy's baby, but the whole family is involved. For them, the GLOW Movement is how they feel connected to Micheal. 

Last year's annual walk was canceled because of COVID. The family is determined to hold the walk on his birthday Oct. 9 at the Riverfront Park in Ravenswood from 7 to 10 p.m.

Tracy said she is worried because of the county's high COVID case numbers, but she believes the walk will help people. 

"I feel that our walk, being the type of walk that it is, is very much needed," Tracy said. "People need hope right now more than ever."

Suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34 in 2019, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Centers for Disease Control reported that from February to March 2021 suspected suicide attempts increased in girls ages 12 to 17 by 50% and for boys the same age by almost 4% compared to 2019 numbers. 

The organization takes the money it raises and invests in the community. Since starting in 2017, GLOW has paid for a table in honor of Michael and a swing for children with disabilities at the Riverfront Park. 

At all GLOW Movement events, there are glow sticks and lights. They symbolize finding light in dark situations.

During the Christmas season, Tracy's husband turns into Santa Glow. Every Easter they accept donations to egg people's houses with glow eggs. 

The family grabs every chance they can to tell Michael's story. They all share a passion for mental health. 

Michael's sister, Emily Hall, is going to college for social work. She hopes to eventually focus on the mental health side of the system to help others going through hardship. 

Thank you for being a reader! It's your support that makes stories like this possible.

Emily said focusing on mental health and raising suicide prevention awareness has taken a toll. Sometimes talking about her brother's story makes her relive the worst day of her life.

It's all worth it when someone tells her that they started going to therapy or started attending addiction recovery meetings after learning about Michael. 

Those are the moments that keep her and the family going. 

For more information on the GLOW Movement, call 304-531-3544. 

More:Couple surrenders addiction in exchange for religious peace, family

More:Pushing through: Veteran group revs up temporary housing fundraiser efforts

— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.