A family raises awareness about mental health through unspeakable tragedy

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) – There’s a story behind every line. Such is the case for Cedar Rapids Gazette sportswriter Jeff Johnson.

“It was a gift. It might even have been a birthday present,” Johnson said.

On Saturday night, Johnson parted ways with his beloved Vladimir Tarasenko St. Louis Blues Jersey. He put it up for auction for Saturday’s silent auction at the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders game.

“He’s just been my favorite player over the years because he’s been so dynamic as a goalscorer,” Johnson added.

All proceeds will go to the Abbe Center, a non-profit dedicated to providing mental health services, in honor of his two nephews, Cameron and Alex. Stacy Johnson and Wendy Bunch, Jeff’s sisters, lost their sons just months apart.

“Unfortunately, I know what she’s going through and she knows what I’m going through,” Wendy said. “So I know how she felt when my son took his own life because she went through the same thing with my nephew.”

Alex was adopted as a Johnson, the eldest of four.

“He was a great blessing,” Wendy said. “He would have been a great father.”

Cam was the middle child of three.

“He was the type of kid I could see would go anywhere,” Bunch said.

Despite going through tragedy, they made it their mission to share their experiences in hopes of helping someone else.

“If only we can help one person realize that mental health doesn’t have a stigma,” Johnson said.

“That’s real,” Stacy said. “It’s not something to shove under the rug or pretend it’s not around us, it’s all around us.”

They believe that mental illness does not discriminate and that it is important for those struggling to know that it is okay to talk about it. It’s also okay to seek help.

“We wish the boys had known,” Stacy said.

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