Hallie Twomey wanted to give her departed son one last adventure by asking others to help spread his ashes while on vacation. The response far exceeded anything she could have imagined, and his ashes were scattered across all seven continents and nearly 200 countries by close to a thousand people.
Now a Washington D.C.-based film production company called Spark Media is working on a documentary about the young man’s life and death — and his mother’s memorial.
“Suicide prevention and mental illness should be spoken about. The stigma needs to be removed, and a conversation needs to happen,” Twomey, of Auburn, Maine, told Yahoo News.
At first, she was apprehensive and nervous when the filmmakers approached her about the project, which they pursued after reading about the “Scattering CJ” story over a year ago. But she got onboard after seeing some of their work and hearing that they wanted to focus on suicide prevention and how social media can foster community.
Spark Media launched an Indiegogo page Tuesday afternoon to raise $100,000 for production and post-production costs for the feature documentary.
In November 2014, Twomey started the Scattering CJ Facebook page to see if people could help her son posthumously fulfill his dream of traveling the world. She asked people if they would take his ashes to beautiful places he never got the chance to see, tell him how much his family loves him, and take pictures to chronicle the journey, usually featuring a photo of CJ wearing a Red Sox T-shirt.
The Scattering CJ Facebook page grew into an online community with more than 21,000 members where people discuss suicide and the impact it has on the families people leave behind.
“I’ve actually had people reach out and ask to speak to me and tell me that they’ve changed their minds about taking their lives after watching me sort of share our journey, and that’s amazing,” Twomey said. “Again, I wish CJ wasn’t the person behind that, but I can’t bring him back so I feel at least we are doing some good in his name and adding to his story and his legacy.”
Yael Luttwak, a producer on the documentary, said the Facebook page has demonstrated that if people have a forum — even a virtual forum — to discuss these issues, it can actually prevent people from taking their own lives.
“That’s her story, and it’s totally appropriate for film and filmic language because she has asked people to spread his ashes in places all over the world which are scenic and exotic — and places that tragically he will never visit,” Luttwak told Yahoo News.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, more than 42,000 Americans die by suicide every year, and there are on average 117 suicides per day.
On April 14, 2010, after one year of Air Force training, CJ Twomey took his own life in his driveway at age 20.
Twomey said she cries a little less often now than she did at first, but that she has not stopped beating herself up. At the time of his suicide, they were in the middle of an argument over what he was going to do with his life.
“He said to me, ‘You think I’m a failure don’t you.’ And I clearly remember, I can physically feel rolling my eyes and thinking, ‘Oh God, he’s being dramatic.’ He turned back and said, ‘Failure, I’ll show you failure.’ He ran out in front of our house, jumped into his car and put a gun to his head, as we followed him out there. So I’ve never forgiven myself. I don’t expect to anymore.”
Twomey said she can function at work and tries not to talk about CJ all of the time, but that people don’t know how it feels for her inside. Not a single day or moment, she said, has gone by that he is not on her mind.
The family plans to scatter a little bit of his ash somewhere on July 3, his birthday, to be close with him. They have already taken his ashes to his beloved Fenway Park a few times.
From day one, Twomey feared that CJ would be forgotten. That’s why she started the Facebook group. That’s why she talks to the media. And that’s why she agreed to the documentary.
“Part of the intent of doing this documentary will be to give people a tool and a resource to know that there’s no shame in having issues,” she said. “And hopefully to prevent other people from walking in the same footsteps as CJ, and preventing any other family from having to live in the nightmare we’ve been living for six years.”
“Scattering CJ” will show the family’s story parallel with the volunteers who helped spread his ashes around the globe and the bonds that these strangers formed.
Twomey, who grew up outside of Boston, wants people to know that their family has not made — and does not intend to make — money on any project involving CJ. Any profit, she said, will be donated to either suicide prevention or organ donation agencies.
“We donated CJ’s organs, so that’s sort of my second passion,” she said. “We’ve met some of the people whose lives were saved by CJ.”