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Mom of musician memorializes son, reaches out to help others

Akron Beacon Journal - 2/5/2020

Losing a close loved one is heartbreaking.

Losing a child is devastating, and losing them to suicide adds another layer of painful questions, doubts and perhaps guilt. It's the kind of all-encompassing pain that can engulf those left behind if they aren't able or willing to seek help.

Angela Finn's son Gabriel Nicholas Lopez, a local musician, died by suicide in October 2018, just a few days after his 29 birthday. The loss left Finn without her firstborn and and her son Parry Lopez, 28, and daughter Keeleigh, 16, without their big brother.

Lopez's death has left a gaping wound in their hearts that will never fully heal and made the trio members of the "club no one wants to belong to." But Finn, with the help of friends, family, area grief counselors and a supportive Kent music community, is taking the permanent pain of her loss and directing it toward helping others who have suffered similar circumstances and anyone who needs.

Finn has found her voice through her late son's favorite form of communication -- music.

Finn, a teacher at Crestwood High School, decided to put on a show to celebrate and memorialize her son and to help others.

On Saturday, the GNL Benefit Concert for Suicide Awareness, Education and Prevention will take place 4 p.m. to midnight at the Kent Stage.

Performers include Americana and folk ambassadors Hey Mavis, the Dave Smeltz Trio, power poppers Librarians with Hickeys, acoustic troubadours Guy Pernetti and Jim Zeller, Cleveland garage punks The Tufted Puffins, and a reunion of Lopez's band Mount Ratz, featuring his bandmates Corey Haren, Melanie Gilliland, Eric Vaught and brother Parry.

In addition to the eight hours of music, there will be educational and speakers and representatives from local grief counseling and suicide education organizations, as well as poetry and other speakers.

"It just seemed like a natural project to start since we know so many people. I've been in Kent since '84, my sons are both into music and it just seemed like if there was one common thing that everyone had -- it was music and musicians," Finn said. "If I was going to do some sort of project to benefit other people that would be it."

Proceeds from the concert will go to local suicide education and counseling agencies, including Kelly's Grief Center, which Finn said has been huge in helping her and her daughter cope and continue.

Unfortunately, it's not Finn's first time needing grief counseling. After her father unexpectedly passed a few years ago two days after visiting the family, she sought grief counseling.

"He came to visit us in Kent on a Wednesday and died Friday and we were really close. So that was really hard for me and it took me years to process, but it's still a very, very different feeling from losing a child. And to suicide at that," she said.

When Gabriel died, Finn immediately wanted to get her youngest into counseling even before attempting to deal with her own chasm of grief.

"She sees that she's getting something out of it. She doesn't want to go every single week but when she does, she comes out and she's excited to tell me what she learned and whatever activity they did and share it with me," Finn said. "So she sees the value and I see a HUGE benefit."

For Finn, organizing and planning the GNL Benefit with her son Parry, local musician Mike Booker of Librarians with Hickeys, longtime Kent scene veteran Mary Mosher and Gabe's old band mate Corey Haren has helped her keep moving. She said no one she's contacted has told her no and all the bands have donated their music and time and some merch. Tom Burford donated the Kent Stage for the concert.

"It's good to know that it doesn't seem like anybody is second guessing the cause," Parry Lopez said recently, sitting next to his mother on the couch in his music room.

"Every step of the way, it seems like the process is going in more and more the right direction I think that it tragically resonates with a lot of people right now," he said.

Despite the tragic origins of the concert and the importance of raising awareness, neither Finn nor Lopez want the event to be a sad, mournful affair. With eight hours of acts and speakers scheduled, they're hoping that folks will come at some point during the show and enjoy some music and perhaps learn something that will help now or in the future.

"The music community, the Kent community, just people in general coming together is really the focus as opposed to what the cause and what the benefit is and all of that. I definitely want that to be the reason why people are coming," Lopez said.

For Lopez, reuniting with his old bandmates in the heavy, instrumental prog-fusion band Mount Ratz and playing the bass lines his brother wrote has been cathartic for him.

"It's been an awesome experience getting back together for this," Lopez said.

"I was actually the last person in the group who said `Yeah, let's do this,' because I didn't think it was going to happen. I didn't think we were actually going to get together and practice. I thought it was like a pipe dream and then taking a break between songs and just remembering rehearsals back then..and just reminisce about that time," Lopez said

Organizing the GNL Benefit has been therapeutic for Finn, giving her something tangible to focus her time and energy that involves her son. The planning has allowed her to hear his name and to have people talk about him.

It also helps Finn fill some of the time and energy she use to spend helping Gabriel through years of addiction and struggles with anxiety and depression.

"There have been people who have said there's no way, I can't believe believe you are doing that I couldn't have done that, " Finn said.

"And it's like, why not? What else am I going to do with that energy and that time? I could go to my room and cry. I could grow crazy. I could wear on him," she said, nudging Parry next to her on the couch.

"This is more productive and hopefully going to help other people not end up in our shoes. So it's the only thing that I can think of that could only benefit and not cause pain for me or others."

With the first concert only a few days away, Finn has already thought about bands and organizations she and Parry would like to contact for the next year's concert. She would like to make it an annual event and help other area organizations, such as veterans and others struggling with depression suicide ideation and other issues.

"Maybe give back to when Gabe was still around, the different places that helped him get through some of his hardest times. We can take it a lot of different directions and I'm pretty excited to see where that can go," Lopez said.

For Finn, driving through downtown Kent recently and seeing the concert advertised on the marquee at the Kent Stage was a very emotional moment.

"It says 'GNL Benefit concert.' It was just... I just started crying. To see my son's initials up there and I know all the immense love that has gone behind this thing," she said.

"And he's not here to see and understand and he never did get to understand or he would be here. He just didn't get it ...that's hard."

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