Franklin James Cook

Archive for the ‘Grief’ Category

Personal Grief Coaching Helps Bereaved People by Phone

In Announcements, Grief, Postvention on January 26, 2014 at 10:01 am


In 2013, Suicide Prevention News & Comment editor and publisher Franklin Cook earned his Certified Professional Coach credentials and combined the principles and practices of Life Coaching with those of peer help for traumatic loss survivors to create an innovative telephone support service called Personal Grief Coaching. Here is what it’s all about:

Franklin Cook mug

Helping people cope with grief after a loved one’s traumatic death is Franklin Cook’s mission in life. His own father died traumatically in 1978, and two decades later, he began working with bereaved people as a newfound vocation. After 15 years as a peer helper, he became a Certified Professional Coach and developed this model for one-on-one telephone support, called Personal Grief Coaching. Franklin believes that each person’s unique experience of loss should be honored and respected, and his coaching sessions provide a safe space for grieving people to tell their story as they wish to tell it.

The guiding principles of Personal Grief Coaching:

  • Grief is a natural human response to a loved one’s death.
  • Each bereaved person’s needs are unique, and people benefit from individualized assistance.
  • Peer support from a person who has recovered from a traumatic death can be very helpful to a bereaved person.
  • Grief involves making meaning from things about life that are confusing and painful (which is also called “relearning the world“).
  • Compassionate dialogue with a peer coach can create a place from where bereaved people can find their own way to healing.

Links to Suicide Grief Stories: March 8, 2010

In Grief, Grief Stories Series on March 8, 2010 at 2:48 pm
Marcia Epstein with pic of Mom

Marcia Epstein lost her mother, Abba Howell (pictured on the right in the snapshot Marcia is holding), to suicide in 2003. (Thad Allender, Lawrence Journal-World)

[Editor’s note:Links to Suicide Grief Stories …” is a SPNAC series featuring stories of survivors of suicide loss — about the effect their loved one’s suicide has had on them and how they are coping with their grief. FJC]

In “Crisis Counselor Shares Survivors’ Grief, reporter Chad Lawhorn writes about Marcia Epstein, whose mother died by suicide in 2003. Epstein has been the director of the Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, Kansas, since 1979.

“When I think about suicide, what I think about is the sadness that this person thought there was no other choice … Every day we get the kinds of calls that are so intense that we know the person on the other end of the line could die this day,” Epstein said.

“The call may start off where the person is 95 percent sure that they’re going to kill themselves. But you have to remember that there’s a little bit of hope there because they called. Our job is to ratchet up that hope.”

And to talk. Epstein’s perpetual message is that there’s always help available, always someone ready to listen. (Lawrence Journal-World)

The article is accompanied by a companion story, Call of Duty.

Samuel Johnson

From left, Justin Rosniak, Samuel Johson, and Simon Lyndon star in Brendan Cowell's hit play "Men." (Melbourne Herald Sun)

In “No Longer a Man in a Hurry,Senior Arts Writer Robin Usher reviews the play Men, which stars Samuel Johnson, whose girlfriend died by suicide in 2006.

“I was born to play this role,” [said Johnson.] “It’s a very personal thing for me, but I’m finding it cathartic to channel my own situation into something else.”

[After his girlfriend died,] Johnson stopped working as an actor to avoid the media spotlight and sought counselling over his drug and alcohol abuse. “I came out of it with a bunch of ways to combat my addictive nature. I didn’t realise the extent of my problems until everything fell to pieces. I was an addict before Lainie [Woodlands] died but that gave me an excuse to go harder.” (The Age [Australia])

In ““J. Kyle Braid Ranch Teaches Leadership Skills to Teenagers, reporter Kevin Hoffman writes about Ken and Colleen Braid, whose son Kyle died by suicide in 1994 when he was 17 years old. The Braids founded the ranch “to perfect leadership skills found in responsible, dedicated teenagers.”

Teens between their sophomore and junior years of high school come from throughout the United States to the leadership camp after selection by teachers and peers. The Braids acknowledge peer groups have the greatest influence on teens and can make a positive impact by creating responsible leaders.

“It taught me how to really work with people and it changes your life,” [said one former student]. (The Mountain Mail [Salida, Colo.])

In “Riding for Life,reporter Brad Meyer writes about David Alexander, whose daughter died by suicide

Biker and his bike

David Alexander (Houston Community Newspapers)

in 2008 when she was 17 years old. The Michigan man is bicycling across the country “‘to talk to people about Angela, her life and her suicide. It [is] an opportunity to tell people how important it is to communicate with people in their lives.’”

In May 2009, Alexander set off on a road bike with a small trailer holding minimal supplies to tell his story to local newspapers, TV stations, and individuals wherever he goes. He carries with him several volumes of newspaper clippings and journals he has kept throughout his trip. He asks every person he encounters to write a brief comment in his journals as a means of including them in his effort. (The Courier [Houston, Texas])

In “Smiling While Singing the ‘Blues,'”features reporter Kerstin Gupilan writes about Stacy

Stacy Merlos

Stacy Merlos

Merlos, who joined the CSUN Blues Project after a close friend and fellow student, Dylan Miles, died by suicide. The project “spread[s] awareness about depression and suicide as well as inform[s] students of the counseling services CSUN offers.”

“[Blues] helped me to deal with what I was feeling. I closed myself off,” she said. “[My friend who died by suicide]He [Miles] is such a big part of my presentation, the video really hits home.”

Before his death, Merlos remembers seeing signs of depression in Miles and even joking with him about his psychological state of mind. During that time Merlos had no real direction in how to handle Miles’ depression. Now, aspiring to become a marriage and family counselor, Merlos hopes to one day help those experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. (Daily Sundial [California State University Northridge])

In “My Best Friend Ended Her Life at 37,Lea Lane writes about her loss, focusing on her understanding of depression as an illness.

About a year before she died, Delia became gaunt, her eyes haunted. She was seeing a psychiatrist, and on meds, but appeared lost and frightened. She told me she felt like she was in “a dark hole.” She said there was nothing I could do. She doubted everything she did.

[After she killed herself,] I called her friends, who didn’t believe me. “She had everything,” they said. “Why would she take her life?”

They were trying to find a reason. But depression can be a terminal disease. There is no “reason,” any more than getting a heart attack or cancer has a reason. (Huffington Post)

[The abridged URL for this post is .]

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Military Widow: After Suicide, “The family is chastised, too”

In Grief on March 3, 2010 at 6:49 pm
Daughter at gravestone

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Wimmer's daughter Alex holds her sister, Mi-Na, at his grave. (McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)

In “Military Suicides Are Causing Civilian Casualties, Too,” McClatchy Newspapers Regional Correspondent Halimah Abdullah writes that, when it comes to suicide in the military, “the numbers don’t tell the whole story.”

Long after the flag-draped coffins are lowered into the ground, families … are left to measure their grief in a seemingly endless stretch of days marked by missed birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and babies’ first steps.

“I think we need to realize that we have families that are under such great stress,” Deborah Mullen, the wife of Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told more than 1,000 military and federal health care workers at a suicide prevention conference in January. “This stress is only going to continue. We need to be able to give tools to family members who are left behind.”

The McClatchy story focuses on the family of Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Wimmer, who died last summer at Fort Benning, Ga., after a long, downward spiral into depression.

“From the moment I met him, I knew he suffered from issues of depression,” [said his widow, Jennifer Wimmer]. “When I told him that he needed to get some help, he said, ‘I can’t do that. It will damage my career.'”

Jennifer did everything she could to help her husband, and eventually his depression and suicidal behavior came to the Army’s attention, and Sgt. Wimmer was hospitalized at one point and was later encouraged to take an extended leave of absence to get additional help. But in the end,

Daniel Wimmer’s suicide ripped a hole in the gossamer fabric of his family’s life. His wife used to sit in his truck for hours, inhaling his fresh-out-of-the-shower scent, which still lingered on the seats. She finally sold the truck, no longer able to bear the reminder of how it often spirited him away from her.

His oldest daughter Sara, 15, puts on a brave front and tries to help her mother with the younger children. His middle daughter, 8-year-old Alexandra, is angry and often sleeps with his shirt at night to console herself and writes poetry and songs about her dad.

“As long as a soldier does his job, everything is good, then when something like this happens the family is chastised, too, and it’s like, ‘Well, what did she do? How could she have prevented this? Spouses are looked at very harshly,” Jennifer Wimmer said.

“It hurts me more because I was so proud to be married to my husband, and he was such a dedicated, decorated soldier. I still believe in our Army, our military. But it hurts.”

[The abridged URL for this post is .]

Related SPNAC posts:

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Pre-Olympics Death of Native Artist Draws Sharp Contrast

In Grief on February 28, 2010 at 9:11 pm
Peters views Edmonds photo

Tekekekuithia Peters looks at photos in her home of Bruce Edmonds and other members of the Mount Currie community. (Andrew Medichini, The Associated Press)

In “A Suicide Reveals Despair in the Olympic Shadow,” Associated Press National Writer Joji Sakurai tells the story of native artist Bruce Edmonds, who was “commissioned to carve the pale-gold cedar doors for the athletes’ lodge at Olympic Park in Whistler.” But Edmonds “would never get to see the visitors from around the world marveling at his handiwork, or witness how they interpreted a symbol of his Lil’wat heritage,” for Edmonds died by suicide “on a cloudy afternoon three days before the opening ceremony.”

As the world prepares to say goodbye to Vancouver, Edmonds’ story thrusts into harsh relief the struggles of this community, just a half-hour away from glamorous Whistler, the resort where Olympic Alpine and other events were based. Unemployment here runs at more than 80 percent. Drug and alcohol abuse are rampant and open. The darkened windows of flimsy shacks and trailers show electricity to be a precious commodity. And many here bitterly complain that the Olympics — which highlighted western Canada’s aboriginal culture in their opening ceremony — are being held on land stolen from them. Edmonds’ life and death illustrate how difficult it is for even one of the most promising members of the community to break free from the problems that have long troubled it.

The story covers Edmonds’ death through candid interviews with everyday people in the Mount Currie community who knew him well, drawing a picture of a troubled person whose passing is presented as a symbol of the troubling realities of colonization’s aftermath.

Senior provincial officials acknowledge deep problems in aboriginal communities, laying blame largely on a history of taking away native land and state-sponsored disenfranchisement. But some say progress was being made, with Olympic showcasing of aboriginal traditions playing a strong role in the healing process.

“We see wide and unacceptable gaps,” said George Abbott, British Columbia’s minister for aboriginal relations. He cited high levels of illiteracy, catastrophic rates of diabetes, chronic unemployment, drug abuse and criminality.

The squalor of the Mount Currie community is overwhelming: Backyards are turned into graveyards for mattresses spouting rusty springs and burnt-out trailers. Homes are built of flimsy plywood that still bear the manufacturer’s mark.

Still, even with progress, those gaps are unlikely to be erased soon. When the Olympics pack up and leave, it will be for the Lil’wat community almost as if they had never taken place.

[The abridged URL for this post is .]

Related SPNAC post: “Youth Suicide among Native Americans Linked to Colonialism,” Feb. 9, 2009, at

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Fellow Olympian, a Suicide Survivor, Offers Skater Comfort

In Grief on February 23, 2010 at 7:03 am
Sylvie Frechette

Sylvie Frechette

Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Sylvie Frechette — whose fiancee died by suicide just days before she traveled to the 1992 Barcelona Games — is among those playing a central role in supporting Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette as Joannie prepares to compete tonight in Vancouver in spite of her mother’s heart attack and death on Sunday. Sylvie is serving as a mentor to the Canadian Olympic team, so her experience with grief has drawn the two women together as Joannie grapples with the news of her mother’s loss yet carries on with her determined preparations to skate in the Olympics.

In “Frechette Aches for Rochette” in the Toronto Sun, QMI Agency reporter Steve Simmons tells the story:

[Frechette said,] “When I heard about what happened, it brought back so many emotions for me this morning. It’s hard to explain. I saw her. I held her in my arms and I whispered ‘If you need anything, just let me know. I’m here.’”

It is 18 years later, and her voice still cracks as she speaks of the pain, the emotional confusion, and the competitive instinct that’s inside all world-class athletes. Rochette, through the Canadian Olympic team, has indicated she will not go home. She will compete here.

“You have to understand what this is like,” said Frechette. “You are [at] the athletic peak of your career. This is the biggest event of your life. And personally, you are having the worst day of your life.”

“I want to tell her that whatever decision she takes, there is no wrong here. She has to do what is right for herself. It can’t come from her coach, her friends, her teammates. She has to put herself where she needs to be. I can tell her that from experience. I don’t want her to think about what others say. You can’t get caught up in all that.”

For more on the story, see “Rochette in Mourning” by Dan Barnes in yesterday’s Montreal Gazzette.

[The abridged URL for this post is .]

[Update: Here’s a story about Joannie’s performance on Tuesday night. And reporter Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News completes the coverage with “Bronze Winner Joannie Rochette a Remarkable Story in Figure Skating.”]

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Links to Suicide Grief Stories: February 21, 2010

In Grief, Grief Stories Series on February 21, 2010 at 8:51 pm
Cangemi Family

Missy Cangemi, holding a picture of her son Storm, poses with her husband, Paul, and their two children, Katie and Cole, inside the aviary Storm built. (Hannah Reel, Natchez Democrat)

[Editor’s note:Links to Suicide Grief Stories …” is a SPNAC series featuring stories of survivors of suicide loss — about the effect their loved one’s suicide has had on them and how they are coping with their grief. FJC]

In “A Future Lost: Vidalia [Mississippi] Teen ‘Born Good,’ Dies Too Early,” reporter Vershal Hogan writes about the family of Storm Cangemi, a 16-year-old boy who died by suicide in December.

After any death, fragments of the person who is gone linger — old photographs, trinkets they collected, unfolded laundry — all reminders that in the spaces between the fragments is a loss-sized hole. The [Cangemi] family has a table of photographs in the living room, can still access his MySpace page and can even see his features in the faces of their two other children, but the biggest physical reminder Storm left was his aviary.

Mixing a bucket of seed and other birdfeed, Paul said the first time he ever fed the birds was after Storm died: “At first, I was so angry about having to do this,” Paul said. “I would fuss and rage and say, ‘This was Storm’s thing, not mine.’ But now it’s something I can do to remember him.” [His mother said,] “We put a bench out here [in the aviary) and would watch Storm while he fed them, and now keeping them is a way to be close to him.” (Natchez [Mississippi] Democrat)

Janiva Magness

Janiva Magness

In “Blues Blowout Benefits Iowa Public Radio,” reporter Mary Stegmeir covers a benefit appearance by award-winning blues singer Janiva Magness, who lost both of her parents to suicide by the time she was 16 years old.

At Saturday’s Blues Blowout the 53-year-old proved it’s her unbridled joy for the genre — not her painful past — that truly sets her apart from the rest. As Magness sang hits from her 2008 album “What Love Will Do,” a twinkle lit up her eyes. “You know, I love my job,” the headliner told the Electric Park Ballroom crowd. “I feel like I’m a very, very lucky woman.” (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)

There is an in-depth profile of Magness on the Foster Care Month website, in which she says,

“I have a life today I could never have imagined. You know, your fate does not have to be your destiny. Fate is what you are handed. Destiny is about what you could be. I’m living proof. The tragedies of my life no longer define me.”

Mom with daughters picture

Janice Doherty shares a photo of her daughter Rachael. (Derry Journal)

In “Mum Tells Town Councillors of Daughter’s Suicide,” the Derry Journal reports on suicide survivor Janice Doherty’s appearance before the Buncrana, Ireland, Town Council to promote the launch of the initiative Buncrana Community Combating Suicide.

“It only takes a moment to change your life forever: Mine changed 15 months ago when my daughter Rachael took her own life … For me, now my days are just about being here: I have struggled this past 15 months, not an hour going by that I am not thinking about my beautiful daughter … But I have to look to the future, I have to move on and I have to live. It is terrible upsetting that I cannot reach out and touch Rachael anymore.

“Part of me died that day too. But I have to get on with my own life in order to face the future.” (Derry Journal)

In “Mental Illness Still Can Come with Stigma,” Judy Gillentine writes about how her mother’s death by suicide in 1992 led her to become a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

As so often times happens with death, we divide our life with before and after; before my mother died and after my mother died. It was 1992, the year my mother killed herself and the year I first became acquainted with NAMI … Wrestling with guilt and questions that can only come from being raised by a clinically depressed mother, I sought out this organization for support. At that time, they were filling slots for a class taught by survivors called The Journal of Hope. Correctly titled, this educational class would become my beacon. And with it a seed began to grow that would make me the advocate for the mentally ill that I am today. (Longview [Texas] News-Journal)

In “Suicide Leaves Big Sister Puzzled,” reporter John Grant Emeigh writes about Rena Puccinelli, whose brother Reno died by suicide five years ago when he was 41 years old.

“We were all blindsided by it,” Rena said. “Nothing made any sense. We were trying to put things together, but nothing made any sense,”

He showed no signs of being upset or depressed. He said nothing about feeling suicidal. He left no note. Family members were stunned after his death was ruled a suicide. Rena said they went over every possible reason but came up with no conclusion. For several months, Rena rarely left home, ashamed to show her face. Her father refused to speak about it.

A year after his death, she concentrated on work. “I tried to stay busy so I didn’t have to think about it,” she said. It didn’t work. She said she thought of her little brother every day. (Billings Gazette)

In “Suicide at Bobst,” Esmeralda Williamson-Noble, whose 20-year-old son, Andrew, died by suicide only three months ago, writes about her struggle to understand what happened at the college where he died.

My son’s death was a bolt out of the blue for my family. And all of us, privately and with each other, go over and over what happened. We go over and over what we know of Andrew; we ask ourselves what, if anything, we may have missed. What set of circumstances, people, instances, had they been different, would have prevented, foiled, stopped, that fateful night’s events from coming together and ending in my son’s death? (Huffington Post)

[Editor’s note: By way of a personal update on the final item, above, Esmeralda was among a small group of suicide prevention advocates at the AFSP/SPAN Legislative Institute in Washington, D.C. on Monday-Tuesday, Mar. 8-9, where I spoke on a panel and the lot of us visited our congressional representatives on Capitol Hill to promote suicide prevention. She blogs at “Forever Invictus,” where she has shared about her loss ever since a post the day of her son’s death on Nov. 3, 2009.

[The abridged URL for this post is .]

One Man’s Death Offers Insight into Humanity and Suicide

In Grief, Intervention, Opinion, Prevention on February 19, 2010 at 12:38 pm
Powell and Market Feb 16 2010 Man who jumped

For information about this photo, please see the note below.

By Franklin Cook, SPNAC Editor

The circumstances surrounding a suicide earlier this week in San Francisco — a man jumped to his death from a building on a busy street corner as a large crowd watched — are so disturbing that I am reluctant to write about it, but I hope to extract something helpful out of the situation.

Let me begin by saying that my own description, calling it “a sucide earlier this week” and “the situation” obscures the most centrally important, viscerally real fact about it, which is that a living, breathing human being died — that a life as unique and special as your life or my life are to us right now was irrevocably extinguished. In the blink of an eye, an actual person was tranformed from an “is” into a “was,” into a man who now can be referred to only in the past tense.

But, for those closest to him, their love for him is not in the past tense.

Here is an audio recording of a news interview I did with Don Grant of KOTA Radio in January 2008 after a teenage boy died by suicide in my hometown in a scene that was very public. In the interview, I say,

When something makes front page news … when the public is very aware of a suicide death, it turns a private matter into a public matter. So I think the first thing I would say to the community is, please remember that this is a very private matter … In many ways, it is a death like any other death, and we don’t want to bring attention to a family’s private suffering … The first thing I would like the community to understand is that this suicide affected a very precious human being … He has a family and friends and loved ones who deserve our respect and our compassion and our understanding and our support. We really need to … understand that, in our hearts, the most important people in this moment are those who have lost their dear loved one. That young man just a few days ago was a very vibrant human being: We should not make judgments about him. He had the same things to be happy over or to be sad over that we have. Suicide sometimes strikes a family, and we should be very understanding of that.

Another thing about last week’s tragedy in San Francisco that merits comment is the crowd’s reaction to — or perhaps I should say participation in — the suicide. Some news coverage (and lots of social network communication) depicted people who urged the man to jump or who laughed about his death. Besides the numerous seemingly obvious and perhaps futile comments that one might make (that such behavior is barbaric, that the media-entertainment machinery has so desensitized us that we are numb to each other’s pain, etc.), I would like to assert this: It might have gone differently, had those near at hand at the time he died acted differently.

This is not merely wishful thinking on my part nor simply my desire to blame someone for something that is terribly upsetting to me. Rather, I am claiming that a very straightforward, common-sense, practical behavior might have saved a man’s life.

What if one inspired, compassionate person in the crowd had yelled — not at the man threatening to jump but at the rest of the crowd — “Chant with me! Please don’t jump. Please don’t jump. Please don’t jump”? I can imagine something like that happening: “Chant with me! Everyone chant with me! Please don’t jump. Please don’t jump.” I can imagine a few dozen people taking up the chant in unison, “Please don’t jump! Please don’t jump! Please don’t jump!” Then a few hundred people joining in, “Please don’t jump! Please don’t jump! Please don’t jump!”

Can’t you, too, imagine that happening, ? If you were there, wouldn’t you have joined in the chanting? “Please don’t jump!”

There is no way to know whether that would have prevented the man from jumping, but, as the photographer says in the quote below, “he stood [on the ledge] for 50 minutes or so,” and, according to other news coverage, “witnesses reported seeing the man start to jump twice and then stop himself at the last second, before he finally made the jump.” So there were unquestionably real moments when his ambivalence between wanting to die and wanting to live might have allowed him to step back from the abyss.

The noisy scene at Powell and Market on Tuesday suggests that ideas such as these — that people facing a suicide crisis ought to be compassionately cared for as unique human beings and that there are effective ways we can intervene to help save a life during a suicide crisis — are so fundamental that perhaps we’ve taken them for granted.

[Editor’s note: There is an inherent contradiction in my words “this is a very private matter” and in my decision to publish the photo that accompanies this post. In addition, publishing the photo is arguably an infraction of the suicide prevention field’s media guidelines, which advise against sensationalizing suicide. My decision to publish the photograph was not made lightly nor without considering those matters, but the point that the man who died was “a living, breathing human being” possessing “a life as unique and special as your life or my life are to us right now” is brought home more powerfully than it could be in any other way by including the picture with the story. The photographer who posted the photo online said of the man pictured that he wanted “to show him alive [while] he is standing there … He stood for 50 minutes or so, and I watched him look around as if he was waiting for some positive message for help … So by remembering this image, next time you see someone … thinking about taking their own life, then please talk to them. Let them know you are [there] for them and ask them what do they need. Show them love even if it is a stranger.” FJC]

[The abridged URL for this post is .]

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EMS Articles on Suicide Grief Good for All Caregivers

In Grief on February 18, 2010 at 5:08 pm

[Editor’s note: The February 2010 issue of EMS Magazine has a wealth of practical information that would be very useful not only for first responders but also for any caregiver. SPNAC highly recommends it to anyone who would like to be truly helpful to a survivor of suicide loss.]

  • In “Help Those Left Behind,” EMS Magazine’s editorial director, Nancy Perry, sets the stage for the magazine’s feature treatment of survivor grief with these insightful words: “There’s no question that those left behind in the wake of a suicide are as much the victims of the event as the person who has chosen to end his or her life.”
  • In the cover story, “Life After Suicide,” Tony Salvatore — who is coordinator of suicide prevention services for Montgomery County Emergency Service in Norristown, Penn., and a survivor of his son’s suicide — spells out expertly, comprehensively, and in detail how caregivers can be “‘respectful and sensitive to the needs of survivors'” and lead the way in meeting the “‘unique need of suicide survivors'” (he takes those mandates from the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention).
  • In “Suicide Survivors,” Chris Caulkins, a paramedic-firefighter in Woodbury, Minn., and a survivor of two suicides in his family, places helpfulness both for those at risk for suicide and for suicide survivors in the context of understanding mental illness and “taking away the stigma.”

The article by Salvatore is aptly subtitled “How emergency responders can help those left behind,” for it is nothing less than an authoritative and complete primer on the topic, covering the definition of postvention and the nature of suicide as a traumatic event, then explaining how to be most helpful to survivors. He outlines, for instance, the steps to “Postvention First Aid” and gives guidance for accomplishing each step:

  • Establish rapport with survivors.
  • Initiate grief normalization.
  • Let them discuss their feelings and concerns.
  • Facilitate understanding of critical incident processing.
  • Assist in mobilizing the support system.
  • Share information on community services.
  • Encourage follow-through.

His concluding paragraph alludes to a number of the ideas that are vital to helping survivors:

Suicide loss is a severe emotional trauma that no one is prepared for. Suicide loss has features that make it uniquely painful. Emergency responders are in a position to immediately help by being sensitive, by listening, and by sharing some simple information. Such basic caring may have a significant effect on how a family eventually recovers from its loss. It may help lessen their risk of grief complications and even additional suicides. Lastly, keep in mind that the suicide victim’s death did not end the suicide emergency. It just changed in nature and impacted others, who need your help.

The power of Caulkin’s article lies in his first-person account of the loss of his wife and then later of his brother to suicide. He takes that a step further by arguing against stigma among emergency responders by again telling his story in his own words:

How many times have you been dispatched to a “psych call” and heard your partner pine for a “real” call or complain about having to go on a “BS” run? I am embarrassed to admit that I have both heard it and said it many times. I had to learn the hard way by having this happen to people I love. No longer is it just another psych call when a person in my care has the same scared look and mannerisms my wife displayed.

[The abridged URL for this post is .]

Family’s Journey Emblematic of Military Suicide Survivors

In Grief on February 16, 2010 at 8:53 am

Ruocco Family

Kim Ruocco, at left, is pictured in November 2004 on the day her husband, Marine Maj. John Ruocco, returned from Iraq. Their sons are, from left, Billy and Joey.

In “Survivors Struggle after Military Suicides” in the North Country Times, freelance journalist Brigid Brett tells the story of Kim Ruocco as she looks back over the five years since her husband, Marine Corps Maj. John Ruocco, died by suicide at age 40.

Mrs. Ruocco told Brett how her husband “when he got back from Iraq … became increasingly anxious, depressed and withdrawn, had difficulty eating and sleeping, and didn’t know how to get help without letting everybody down.”

“They’ll do whatever they can do to push those feelings down so they can still function as perceived warriors. That’s how my husband dealt with things. He was always up for the job, he gave it 100 percent. He thought he’d be letting all his younger pilots down and all his Marines down if he went to get help, because they wouldn’t deploy him. He was very good at taking care of his Marines … but not himself,” she said.

Even though Ruocco is a licensed social worker and tried to have her husband seek help, ultimately there was nothing she could do … At the scene of her husband’s death, being questioned by a detective and told by a Catholic priest that her husband was “a sinner,” Ruocco had one overriding thought: “How do you tell two young boys that their dad made it back safely from Iraq after flying all these missions and then took his own life?”

Mrs. Ruocco and her two sons turned for help to a nonprofit organization, TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), which “provides ongoing emotional support to all who are grieving the death of those who served in the Armed Forces, regardless of the relationship to the deceased or the circumstance of the death.” Years later, she is now director of Suicide Education and Support for TAPS.

There are approximately 900 survivors of suicide in [TAPS’s] database. When [Ruocco] joined the organization, there were only two others. Bonnie Carroll, TAPS’ founder, notes that the true number of families turning to the organization for help because of suicide is probably higher. Many families opt to tell others it was a “death due to non-hostile action.”

“Many of these families, unfairly, feel shame,” said Carroll. “Their loved one served our country with honor, but sustained deep wounds that could not be physically seen. It is a horrific burden that these families carry.”

The North Country Times article tells about Mrs. Ruocco and her sons recently encountering a memorial in their husband’s name near Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, where the family was once stationed.

“My son said to me, ‘They’re appreciating how he lived. Someone’s remembering how he lived.’ Because he lived his life sacrificing for everybody. Sometimes when they die by suicide, it wipes all that out. For families who have had this wonderful person who has given so much, and to have it wiped out just by the way they die, is really painful. And so having that memorial fixed that a little bit for us.”

Mrs. Ruocco’s story was also covered in an October 2009 story by ABC News reporter Josh Allen.

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Links to Suicide Grief Stories: February 11, 2010

In Grief, Grief Stories Series on February 11, 2010 at 8:28 am

David Alexander and daughter

[Editor’s note:Links to Suicide Grief Stories …” is a SPNAC series featuring stories of survivors of suicide loss — about the effect their loved one’s suicide has had on them and how they are coping with their grief. FJC]

In “Pedaling for Preventionin the Charleton County [Georgia] Herald, we learn about David Alexander, whose 17-year-old daughter Angela died by suicide in 2007. He has “logged 6,457 miles on his bicycle” since May 7 of last year because, he says, “‘I wanted to do something to give her life meaning. I didn’t want another child to die the way she had.’”

During his journey, Alexander … has carried journals in which some of the countless people he has met … have expressed their innermost thoughts after hearing his story and others have praised him for his courage in the face of his own pain.

“David, I think you must be an angel,” reads one entry written by a mother of a young daughter.

In another, a 16-year-old girl in California writes that she had planned to kill herself the night she met Alexander. Instead, he gave her the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and waited with her until social workers arrived. (Charleton County Herald)

In “Suicide’s Aftermath: Families Turn to Support Groups,” reporter John Grant Emeigh writes about Charlotte Macdonald, whose son Scott ended his life more than 20 years ago when he was 22 years old. Afterward, Charlotte found healing in an informal support group where people who had lost a loved one to suicide could be together and help one another.

In 1984, a friend … introduced MacDonald to other women who lost family members to suicide … The relief she experienced at these meetings was like a giant weight lifted from her shoulders.

“It was a safe place to unload your feelings and thoughts,” she said.

MacDonald’s suicide support group met for seven years.

“By the time it was over, I had a sense of peace and that I had come to terms with my son’s suicide,” she said. (The Montana Standard)

[Editor’s note: Anyone interested in attending a suicide survivor support group can find one in an online directory maintained by Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE).]

Read more here …

Read the rest of this entry »

National Healing After Suicide Event Is Coming to Orlando

In Announcements, Grief on February 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Here is the information for this year’s Healing After Suicide Conference, an annual event that is co-sponsored by the American Association of Suicidology and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention/Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN USA).

This year’s conference — on Sat., April 24, in Orlando, Fla. — will feature keynote speaker Donna Schuurman, executive director of the Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Ore. The luncheon speaker is Thomas Joiner, Bright-Burton Professor of Psychology at Florida State University and a survivor of his father’s suicide.

This year’s theme is “Families, Community Systems, and Suicide: Focusing on Survivor Grief, Healing, and Action.” Designed for survivors of suicide loss, support group facilitators, mental health professionals, and interested others, the purpose of the conference is to:

  • Provide assistance to facilitators of survivor support groups.
  • Provide survivors with educational tools and resources to help with their individual journey of healing and transform their experience into action.
  • Assist mental health professionals and other caregivers in understanding the needs of survivors.

The Healing After Suicide Conference features a number of concurrent workshops in the afternoon, including

  • “The 5 Tasks of Grief”
  • “Survivors Working in Suicide Prevention: A Dialogue”
  • “After a Suicide: Helping the Children Heal”
  • “Suicide Loss and the Military” (Panel)
  • “Men’s Grief” (Panel)
  • “Survivors in Action: Finding Your Role in Suicide Prevention and Advocacy”

The all-day conference closes with a healing ceremony, which will be led by Iris Bolton, author of the classic My Son, My Son.

SPNAC readers may download the registration brochure. Registration is also available online.

The Healing After Suicide Conference is held in conjunction with the American Association of Sucidology’s 43rd Annual Conference, Apr. 21-24 in Orlando.

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Could Policeman’s Suicide Have Been in the Line of Duty?

In Grief, Policy, Stigma on January 29, 2010 at 4:34 am

Paul and Janice McCarthy pose with their children for a family portrait.

In “The Police Suicide Problem” in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, freelance reporter Julia Dahl probes the connection between trauma on the job and suicide by telling the story of Janice McCarthy’s crusade to have her husband’s suicide classified as a death suffered “in the line of duty.”

Janice took her case to the state retirement board, and in June 2007 her husband’s death was ruled “accidental.” The decision meant she would collect 72 percent of his pension (an “in the line of duty” death would have meant 100 percent and an additional one-time payment of nearly $100,000), but more important, it drew a line connecting his on-the-job injuries to his suicide, opening the door for what Janice McCarthy really wants — her husband’s death to be ruled “line of duty” and his name added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The issue is both complex and emotional on all sides, for in police culture giving one’s life “in the line of duty” is the highest sacrifice an officer can make.

Most of the police mental health workers [the reporter] spoke with thought the idea of a “line-of-duty suicide” was intriguing, but they weren’t exactly ready to sign on to a new classification. [Kevin Gilmartin, a retired police officer and clinical psychologist in Portland, Oregon], says he think it could create a victim mentality, and Dr. Audrey Honig, who is a former chair of the international chiefs’ association’s Psychological Services Section, says she thinks the better tack would be to lobby for recognition of some suicides within existing line-of-duty classifications …

Almost no one seems to think that there is much chance of getting the federal government to alter line-of-duty qualification rules any time soon. Partly, it’s a financial issue; more line-of-duty deaths would mean bigger payouts to surviving families. And then there’s the stigma of suicide.

[John Violanti, a former New York trooper who is now a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo], says that in police culture it’s considered a “coward’s way out,” and line-of-duty benefits are reserved for “heroic” deaths.

Janice McCarthy, though, sees a clear connection between on-the-job injuries her husband suffered when a stolen bus was driven into his cruiser years ago, the post traumatic stress from that incident, and the emotional and mental downward spiral that ended in Captain Paul McCarthy’s suicide.

“The line-of-duty designation should be sacred,” she [says]. “For an officer to give his life is the ultimate sacrifice, but for a suicide to be categorically eliminated from consideration is unjust. Paul’s legs healed, but his brain did not. Instead, he suffered for 13 more years. His memory deserves to be honored for that struggle, and his children deserve to see their father’s name in its rightful place on that wall.”

Captain McCarthy is survived by three children, ages 12, 17 and 19.

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Dylan Klebold’s Mom Is a Survivor of Suicide Loss

In Grief on November 29, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Dylan Klebold and his mother when he was five years old

By Franklin Cook, SPNAC Editor

The November issue of O, The Oprah Magazine features an essay by Susan Klebold about her journey of healing after her son’s involvement in the Columbine shootings, in which 13 people were murdered and which ended in her son, Dylan, and his partner, Eric Harris, killing themselves. Klebold’s essay is a study in understatement, which obscures the fact that the voice behind the writing is that of an extraordinarily courageous and insightful woman, and I fear that the most important things she writes about will be lost beneath the nightmarish reality of what happened at Columbine on April 20, 1999.

One of the contributions she makes in her essay — a contribution that I think merits careful attention — is highlighting a very common experience of survivors of suicide loss:

While I perceived myself to be a victim of the tragedy, I didn’t have the comfort of being perceived that way by most of the community. I was widely viewed as a perpetrator or at least an accomplice since I was the person who had raised a “monster.”

That sentence, with a few changes in wording, could have been written by countless suicide survivors whose loved ones have been seen by others as weak or misfits or tainted or crazy or “monstrous” in some other way, survivors who themselves have been treated as complicit or blameworthy in their loved ones’ deaths.

This notion — that each of us who grieves over a death by suicide is “a victim of a tragedy” — is central to my own view* of one of the complications of suicide grief; and the value of Klebold’s observations about that phenomenon stems from the horrific nature of the shootings (there were 37 victims, 13 murder fatalities and 24 people wounded in the shootings), which accentuated her treatment as a “perpetrator.” If she has healed as a survivor of suicide in the face of the truly awful and starkly wrong-minded judgments leveled against her — in the most public of forums, the American mainstream media — then her healing journey likely holds lessons for the rest of us.

My interest in Klebold’s story is also based on the two times that I’ve met her.

The first was in April 2005, at the Healing After Suicide Conference of the American Association of Suicidology, which was held in a Denver suburb that year. She and I were among the 25 or so people in attendance at a conference session that closed with time for the audience to ask questions or make comments (I did not know she was in the audience, nor would I have known her if I saw her). In the middle of the Q-and-A, she stood and introduced herself, “My name is Susan Klebold …”

I cannot recount precisely what she said, but I remember a few things very clearly: She said that she had not viewed herself as a suicide survivor for a long time after her son died by suicide because of the circumstances surrounding his death, and she expressed gratitude over discovering that point of view because of how healing it had been for her. She spoke for no more than a moment, and I don’t recall her specifically mentioning Dylan or Columbine or murder, so, in fact, I was not certain who she was or what circumstances she was talking about, except that her name sounded very familiar to me. I was struck by how poignant what she said was, as is often the case when I hear a survivor of suicide loss first share publicly about his or her experience–and it seemed to me that this was the first time she had shared her story publicly as a survivor (although I didn’t know that for a fact).

As she finished speaking and the Q-and-A continued, I turned to a colleague next to me and said, “Susan Kelbold?” And my colleague replied simply, “Dylan Klebold’s mother,” and instantly I knew why the things she had said had struck me as being so powerful.

At the close of the session, a handful of people, myself included, went up and, one-by-one, introduced ourselves briefly. I simply welcomed her and thanked her for being there and for sharing what she had shared. I walked away thinking, “What a courageous woman.”

After that quite ephemeral encounter with Klebold, I had no contact with her until this February, when I had an extraordinary talk with her. I was planning to travel to Denver to deliver a suicide survivor support group facilitator training, and the colleague with whom I would be delivering the training called to ask if I would like to go to dinner with her and Susan Klebold, who had been in contact with the organization that sponsored the training. Because the conversation the three of us had that winter evening was private, I will not share the details of it, but I believe it is appropriate to share a few things in general about the context of the meeting:

  • The purpose of the meeting, from Klebold’s point of view, was to explore how she might be helpful to people who are at risk of suicide and people who have lost a loved one to suicide.
  • My colleague and I thought she might be tremendously helpful and were very encouraging and affirming about her possible role as an advocate for suicide prevention and suicide grief support.
  • None among the three of us had a specific idea about how it might be best to explore her being helpful to the field.

In addition, I will share some of the conclusions I made from the content of the meeting:

  • Susan Klebold’s personal journey after the most unimaginably hellish experience of suicide loss possible is one of the most extraordinary and inspiring stories of healing that I have ever heard.
  • She left me with a profound sense of her courage, her humility, her strength, her wisdom, and her sincere desire only to be helpful to others.
  • She has great insight into the nature of suicidal behavior and the role that mental illness plays in suicide.
  • She is a survivor of suicide loss like any other survivor of suicide loss.
  • She is also a survivor of a particular type of loss, murder-suicide, that deserves more — and more-compassionate — attention not only from society as a whole but also from the community of suicide survivors and suicide prevention workers and advocates.

One of the reasons for this post today is to state that, now, I do have a specific idea about how she might be most helpful to survivors, to which I’ve alluded, above: She could communicate the story of how she healed. What did she do to rise above the judgments of others? How did she first affirm herself as a victim of a tragedy and then move from there to being the survivor a tragedy? I want to know from her the same thing I cherish knowing from any survivor of suicide: Not just the story of her loss and of where she wound up after her long and painful journey, but also what happened along the path she has traveled between April 20, 1999, and today: What specifically helped her to survive?

*[Editor’s note: This recording, of a talk I gave in November 2008, has one statement in it that I would change — or at least that I would further explain — if I had been speaking from prepared remarks, which I wasn’t. I said that survivors should consider themselves not responsible, in an absolute sense, for their loved one’s suicide. I hope it’s not confusing to say that, on the one hand, no survivor should take it upon himself to consider that the death is his fault, yet on the other hand, every survivor must struggle in his own way with his own judgments about the role he played in the other’s life and death: That is a natural — and often very complicated and even tormenting — aspect of many survivors’ journeys. FJC]

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Beliefnet Blogger’s Mission Is Healing Depression

In Grief, Mental Illness, Stigma on November 13, 2009 at 5:54 am

Borchard-BookTherese J. Borchard, founder of the blog “Beyond Blue” offers an explanation in Huffington Post for why she is on a personal mission to help people who have depression.

After trying 23 medication combinations, working with 7 psychiatrists, participating in two inpatient hospital psychiatric programs, and attempting every alternative therapy out there, I made a bargain with God.

“I will dedicate the rest of my life to helping people who suffer from mood disorders,” I promised, “if I ever wake up and want to be alive.”

Miraculously that day did come … the morning I woke up and thought about coffee.

So here I am. With my mission: to educate folks about mental illness and to offer support to those who, like myself, suffer from mood disorders.

Borchard is the survivor of her aunt’s suicide and a tireless crusader for better treatment and understanding for people with mood disorders and for the cause of suicide prevention. She has a book coming out in January, Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes, which she says was written

So that others might find a seed of hope in my story, and be able to hang on for one day longer. So that anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression–even in the slightest way–might find a companion in me, some consolation in the incredibly personal details of my story, and a bit of hope to lighten an often dark and lonely place.

It’s about my end of the bargain.

[Editor’s note: I can’t recommend the book without having read it, but over the past year I have read her blog and do recommend it, especially but not exclusively for people who are religious, which is the point of view from which she writes. FJC]

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Links to Suicide Grief Stories: November 3, 2009

In Grief, Grief Stories Series on November 3, 2009 at 8:53 am

[Editor’s note: “Links to Suicide Grief Stories …” is a SPNAC series featuring stories of survivors of suicide loss — about the effect their loved one’s suicide has had on them and how they are coping with their grief. FJC]

In “Lidia’s Story” on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s (800-273-TALK/8255) YouTube Channel, Lidia Bernik talks about losing her sister to suicide and how that has shaped her life and her work.

“I say that my family died with my sister because the way that my family was will never be again … Suddenly she was gone, and that is so painful.”

[Lidia is Director of Network Development for the Lifeline. Before that, she worked for the Suicide Prevention Action Network, the role she had just taken on when I first encountered her, at a meeting in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2004. SPAN was at a crossroads in leadership then, and she made a real difference by speaking passionately (in the way people do when they speak truth to power) about the common ground shared by all survivors of suicide loss. FJC]


Ben Verboom (Melissa Lampman/Kamloops This Week)

In an “Everyday Hero” segment broadcast on Global National, Ben Verboom tells how his father’s suicide led him to start the “Cycle to Help” campaign, a cross-Canadian trek he embarked upon last summer. In a newspaper article published part way through his journey, Ben explained the goals of the ride.

“My main focus is to start a dialogue about the issues — one that’s compassionate and comfortable,” he said. “Suicide is an issue we need to bring to the forefront.”

Although Ben is on a solo physical journey, his dad’s memory is close at hand: Ben is riding his dad’s bike.

“I’m fulfilling that dream, but I’m also coping with his death. It’s been a healing process and I’m feeling really good about it” (Kamloops This Week).


Jan Andersen

In “Mum Hopes Book Will Help To Ease Pain of Suicide,” Jan Andersen recounts how she came to write Chasing Death after her 20-year-old son’s suicide.

“In my frenetic search for understanding and support, I had difficulty finding any resources that truly connected with my raw grief. Most suicide books appear to be remote and academic and focus on suicide rather than relating to the shattered world of those left behind” (This Is Wiltshire).

In “Suicide: Coming into the Light,” reporter Faye Whitbeck of the Daily Journal (International Falls, Minn.) interviews three of Erik Rasmussen’s family members 18 years after he died by suicide. The article closes with a selection of poems by Erik’s brother Matt, who recently received a Bush Artist Fellowship. Here is one of them, titled “Outgoing”:

Our answering machine still played your message / and on the day you died Dad asked me to replace it. / I was chosen to save us the shame of dead you / answering calls. Hello, I have just shot myself. / To leave a message for me, call hell. The clear cassette / lay inside the white machine like a tiny patient / being monitored or a miniature glass briefcase / protecting the scroll of lost voices. Everything barely / mattered and then no longer did. I touched record /and laid my voice over yours, muting it forever / and even now. I’m sorry we are not here, I began.

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Links to Suicide Grief Stories: August 7, 2009

In Grief, Grief Stories Series on August 7, 2009 at 3:14 pm

[Editor’s note:Links to Suicide Grief Stories …” is a SPNAC series featuring stories of survivors of suicide loss — about the effect their loved one’s suicide has had on them and how they are coping with their grief. FJC]


Jack Clarke, Peter Johnston and Matt Gardner, 22, began their walk from Sydney to Brisbane on July 4.

In “Trio Walk from Sydney to Brisbane To Tackle Depression,” reporter Daniel Hurst bids farewell to Peter Johnston and two of his friends as they embark on a 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) journey.

The 22-year-old video producer, whose mother killed herself after a 10-year battle with depression, joined his friends Matt Gardner and Jack Clarke at the Sydney Opera House early this morning [July 4] to set off on the 23-day trek.

Mr. Johnston grew up with his mum after his parents separated, but she felt isolated as a deaf woman and had attempted suicide several times … [He] said the group started planning the “Steps 4 Survival” walk three months ago as a way to tackle depression among young people.

“I had a few breakdowns this year, and to make myself feel better I decided I had to do something for myself and to help others,” he said. “I’m looking for healing and this is definitely going to do that” (Brisbane Times).

SPNAC readers may visit the three young men’s Facebook page. [I couldn’t find news about the completion of the walk, so hopefully someone will comment with an update. FJC]


Cheryl Softich views a photo of her son, Noah Pierce, during the “Always Lost: A Meditation on War” exhibit. (Cathleen Allison, Nevada Appeal)

In “A Personal War: Mother Hopes Soldier Son’s Poetry Keeps Others from Suicide,” reporter Teri Vance goes with the mother of an Iraq war veteran who died by suicide to a multimedia exhibit that features the young man’s poetry.

On Thursday, Softich wept as she read the poems hanging in the hallway of the Bristlecone Building. She kissed her fingertips and touched them to the glass of her son’s portrait.

“I promised Noah when he was alive that I would get his work published and out there,” she said. “In death, his words are reaching out and trying to help others not to do what he did” (Carson City Nevada Appeal).


At Camp Stepping Stones, a large heart-shaped puzzle is among the activities that await children.

In “Stepping Stones Brings Grieving Families Together,” reporter Max Bowen interviews Melanie Lausier, a survivor of her husband’s suicide, about grief services that have been helpful to her children, Kami, 8, and Darren, 10.

The family has been to different counselors and bereavement services and found that with Camp Stepping Stones … the loss has become easier to talk about.

“You don’t have to hide anything from anybody,” Melanie said. “It doesn’t make anybody feel uncomfortable, because you’re all in the same boat.”

[The] … summer program has helped families form relationships with others who can relate to what they have experienced, said Pediatric Palliative Care Coordinator Maureen Forbes. The process is especially helpful for the children, who can find it difficult to talk about such losses with their friends.

“Some of these feelings they have never experienced before,” said Forbes. “We try and make it a safe and comfortable place where they feel secure enough” (Billerica Minuteman).

SPNAC readers may view a photo gallery from the 2008 Camp Stepping Stones program.


Kim and Robert Cutts

In “The Trauma of Husband’s Suicide Lingers,” columnist Kristi O’Harran covers one woman’s acount of the aftermath of her husband’s suicide, particularly problems with how she was treated by the medical examiner’s office.

Her husband … left a lengthy suicide letter saying he loved his wife very much, had lost his faith in God and felt the “weight of the world” on his shoulders. Life doesn’t get any worse than that, but for Kim Cutts, it was not the bottom of the pit. She said she was treated callously by workers at the office of the county medical examiner and at the evidence room. Routine procedures were devastating, she said.

Cutts said she was given back a bloody gun, provided explicit paperwork she didn’t want to read and shown little courtesy when she retrieved her husband’s personal effects.

“I was widowed by my husband,” Cutts said, “And lost by the system.”

O’Harran interviewed a Snohomish County official, who said that employees “prepare the family for what they might see, which was done in this case” (Everett Daily Herald).


Within hours after her death in a murder-suicide, a candlelight vigil brought friends of 18-year-old Ashley DeWitte together near her home in Mesa, Ariz. (Ralph Freso, East Valley Tribune)

In “Friends Remember Victim in Murder-Suicide,” reporter Mike Sakal captures the scene at a candlelight vigil for “an 18-year-old Mesa[, Ariz.,] woman [who] was shot and killed in her front yard by an ex-boyfriend who then turned the gun on himself.”

Many of Ashley DeWitte’s friends shared memories near her home … late Wednesday [June 24]. The friends, led by DeWitte’s close friend Heather Harris, told stories about DeWitte, whom they described as “the girl with the bleached blond hair who could say something positive after everything.”

“Ashley was an awesome person,” Harris said. “Even knowing this girl the slightest bit lightened your world. I’ve got many memories of Ashley, and I’ll always carry them in my heart” (East Valley Tribune).

[“Links to Suicide Grief Stories …” includes articles about all “kinds” of survivors who are affected by suicide — including those left behind in a murder-suicide, both the survivors of the person who died by murder and the survivors of the person who died by suicide — because we share a common bond in our grief. FJC]

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Parents’ Haunting Film about Son’s Suicide Is Also Healing

In Grief, Media on August 1, 2009 at 9:29 am

Evan gives his mom, Dana Perry, a kiss on the cheek, when he was a toddler at the beach.

UPDATED Aug. 4: Boy Interrupted, a documentary film by Dana Perry about the death by suicide of her son, Evan, premiered on HBO on Aug. 3 and will be rebroadcast throughout the month. SPNAC readers may refer to the list of show times from HBO for a viewing time in their locale.

There is a superb review — by Penelope Andrew, Women Film Critics Circle — of Boy Interrupted, which was published yesterday on Huffington Post. Andrew says the film “captures a bit of magic.”

When authenticity, generosity, traumatic memory, recorded history, and creativity collide, an effective documentary such as Boy Interrupted emerges. The musical score strikes notes that enhance the mood of this film that masterfully frames the devastated faces of Evan’s family and friends and makes sure we will not forget him and the health-care enigma and challenge he represents.

POSTED AUG. 3: Perry is a filmmaker, and her husband, Hart, is a cinematographer, so they used the medium they knew to tell the story of Evan’s life, and of their loss and their grief. Dana says, in a Wall Street Journal video interview before the film’s release at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in January,

“I don’t really want to tell this story, but I have to tell this story, and I’ll use the means that I know. I mean, who would film there own son’s funeral? … What normal, sane person would allow this to happen? Not only allow it to happen but make it happpen? And all I can say to that is, ‘Grief deranges one.'”

“The process of this grief is something like taking a teaspoon to an ocean of tears: You can spoon a little, but if you keep going at it, you might actually make a dent in it … I would never say, though, that that process is done or will be done. I don’t think it will.”

A review in Variety after the film debuted at Sundance calls it “beautifully put together”:

Mournful, pained and beautifully put together, “Boy Interrupted” is about a mentally ill 15-year-old who committed suicide, and the [film] could only have been made by his parents. [It] is, in fact, such an immersion in pain that had anyone other than Dana and Hart Perry cut this elegiac little gem, those filmmakers would be accused of grief exploitation. HBO has the film, and that’s probably best: Perhaps families will watch together and share a good cry.

Here is an excerpt from Sundance’s description of the film:

What defines this film as a remarkably unique and truth-telling achievement is the way it explores how filmmaking can create closure for its creators as well as its audience. Dana Perry has gathered home movies, photographs, and a variety of different documents to tell the story of her son, Evan: his bipolar illness, his life, and his death, and their impact on those who loved him the most. She interviews his siblings and friends, his doctors and his teachers, and in the process, she chronicles a harrowing and difficult journey. The camera provides insight and revelation, and yet “Boy Interrupted” is a film that is also full of despair. The film’s saving grace is that it functions, in the final analysis, as therapy for both its viewers and its subjects at a most fundamental level.

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Story Indicts Lack of Help for Co-Occurring Disorders

In Grief, Mental Illness on July 29, 2009 at 9:02 pm

In a remarkable story in the Washington Post, reporter Tom Jackman chronicles the life and death of Danny Watt, who “was a walking symbol of a phenomenon called co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis, which is estimated to affect 7 million adults in the United States.”

These people are both seriously mentally ill and abusing drugs or alcohol. About half of all adults who are seriously mentally ill are also thought to be addicted. The mental health community calls this “self-medication.” The federal government estimates that 90 percent of people with co-occurring disorders do not get the treatment they need.

Danny’s death shows how hard it can be to treat people with co-occurring disorders and why so many die young.

Danny died by suicide in April 2008 when he was 21 years old. Jackman’s in-depth report, which is “gleaned from his mental health records, extensive interviews with his family and Fairfax County mental health officials, and from [Danny’s] own notes,” describes in poignant detail his downward spiral and years and years of decisions that did not take into account the nature of Danny’s illness and of intervention after intervention that were, at best, unhelpful and, at worst, harmful to Danny.

In the end, the article is an unequivocal indictment of the mental health care system’s failure to adequately treat dual diagnosis patients.

E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist with the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington and a prominent critic of the widespread deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients, says forced treatment is essential when people are too mentally ill to realize they need help.

Saying that Danny had responsibility for his care is “fine for someone with substance abuse, but if you’re dealing with psychosis, then there’s no way you’re going to treat someone like that in an unlocked facility,” Torrey said. “What you’re looking at is the system is not set up to treat the difficult patients.”

Danny’s parents came to that belief repeatedly.

“It was always, ‘Get him stable, get him out,'” said Bobby Watt [Danny’s father]. “No long-term plans. . . . We wanted him in a place where he was locked up with proper medical attention until he became stable. I begged them to put him in a mental hospital. I told them, ‘If you put him out on the streets, he’ll be dead in a week.'”

That was April 3, 2008. Eleven days later, Danny was dead.

Jackman’s story is accompanied by an unforgettable video interview with Danny’s parents.

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Links to Suicide Grief Stories: July 28, 2009

In Grief, Grief Stories Series on July 28, 2009 at 5:15 am

[Editor’s note: “Links to Suicide Grief Stories …” is a SPNAC series featuring stories of survivors of suicide loss–about the effect their loved one’s suicide has had on them and how they are coping with their grief. FJC]


Ryan Mattocks earned his high school dipoma from Hope Online Academy in June. (KUSA-TV photo)

In “Student Turns to Online School after Friend’s Suicide,” reporter Nelson Garcia, talks to Thorton, Colo., teen Ryan Mattocks about how the suicide of his friend, Jordan Scull, made him rethink his own life, including enrollment in an innovative online high school called Hope Online.

Mattocks says [he and Scull’s other friends] were all living the party life — drinking more than attending classes at Horizon High School … Mattocks enrolled in the Hope Online Learning Academy Co-op.

“It’s a lot like a second chance,” [he said], “because a lot of kids that are at that school either got kicked out of the traditional high school or were failing at the traditional high school … I think that [Jordan] would be glad that he had that much impact on all of our lives after he passed away. He is a big inspiration to me” (KUSA-TV)


Laurie Miller displays a photograph of her son Ben (Hamilton Spectator photo).

In “The Dark Abyss of Drug Addiction,” columnist Susan Clairmont tells the story of Laurie Miller, whose 29-year-old son Ben died by suicide while struggling with addiction to OxyContin.

Laurie got him a spot at a Toronto-area detox centre. But it would be a month before Ben could start. He wasn’t able to wait that long. On Nov. 30, 2004, Ben killed himself. He was 29. He did not leave a suicide note. Just his OHIP (health insurance) card propped against an illegal bottle of OxyContin.

After Ben’s death, Laurie “began volunteering at the Men’s Withdrawal Management Centre in Hamilton.”

Many of the guys there use Oxy. She tells them Ben’s story. She listens to theirs. Laurie also works weekends at The Living Rock, and says she makes a special point of connecting with street youth who talk about Oxy. She tells them about Ben.

“I’m going to try to help one person if I can,” she says (Hamilton Spectator).


Curt Chisholm is a civil servant turned mental health advocate. (Eliza Wiley, Helena Independent Record )

In “Personal Tragedy Drives One Man’s Crusade,” reporter Eve Byron uncovers the motivation behind a well-known Montana state agency leader’s push “to try to get better help for people and families struggling with mental illness,” including organizing the NAMI walk in Helena for the past five years.

Only a handful of friends know Curt Chisholm as the heartbroken father of a son who committed suicide eight years ago …

Chisholm has returned to his roots with the government … advocating … to anyone willing to listen.

“The state doesn’t understand what it takes to treat mental illness, and how important it is to treat in the community,” Chisholm said … “They need to establish a pattern that’s consistent at the community level and get good, [effective] diagnosis and early intervention at an in-patient level” (Helena Independent Record).

[Editor’s note: Curt Chisholm’s story is part of an in-depth investigative report by the Helena Independent Record on mental health care in Montana.]

In “Springfield Mom Testifies on Bullying,” Boston Globe correspondent Stephanie Vallejo reports on “ordinary working mom” Sirdeaner Walker’s testimony before Congress about her 11-year-old son Carl Walker-Hoover’s suicide.

“What could make a child his age despair so much that he would take his own life?” Walker asked during a panel on “Strengthening School Safety Through Prevention of Bullying.” “I will probably never know the answer. What we do know is that Carl was being bullied relentlessly at school.”

Walker supports a bill that would require states that receive grants for safe and drug-free schools to invest in bullying prevention programs (“Political Intelligence“)

In Ms. Walker’s Congressional testimony,, she says,

“The most important thing I have learned that bullying is not an inevitable part of growing up. It can be prevented, and there is not a moment to lose” (YouTube video).

A BBC report, “Website’s Support after Suicides,” tells the story of the Choose Life page, which was created by teens and is hosted on the Bridgend County Borough Council’s Website. Bridgend, in the U.K., has experienced a cluster of suicides.

One of the youngsters, 17-year-old Rhys, said he and his friends decided to create the website because they did not think there was enough access to information about the effects of suicide.

“Losing someone close to you is indescribable really,” he said.

“The devastating effects it had on myself, my close friends and family, it does bring you to tears just thinking about it.

“I think if this can be prevented, why should someone suffer from it?” (BBC News)

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Links to Suicide Grief Stories: July 12, 2009

In Grief Stories Series on July 12, 2009 at 10:52 am

[Editor’s note: “Links to Suicide Grief Stories …” is a SPNAC series featuring stories of survivors of suicide loss–about the effect their loved one’s suicide has had on them and how they are coping with their grief. FJC]

Ryan as a toddler gets a hug from his mom, abcdefg.

Ryan as a toddler gets a hug from his mom, Joyce Venys. (Family photo)

Parents speak out: ‘Suicide Is a Big, Dark Secret’”; “A Talented Teen Becomes a Suicide Statistic”; and “Deceased Teen’s Art Exhibited” comprise a package of items put together by reporter Mary McCarty about the family, friends, and community of Ryan Venys of Dayton, Ohio, who died by suicide in 2007. The coverage is in-depth and comprehensive, including how Ryan’s death affected his school:

His former girlfriend, Danielle Snyder, is one of many who have undergone counseling to cope with the loss. At first, she blamed herself. “We broke up,” said Danielle, who was 15 at the time. “The last time I saw him at piano, I wasn’t very nice. I wouldn’t talk to him. He looked so sad … I was afraid if I were too nice to him, he would think I wanted to get back together.”

That was the day before his death.

It was a tragic loss for entire student body,” recalled Stivers [School for the Arts] principal Erin Dooley. “A lot of teachers simply adored him. We’re not over it yet. One of the things that makes it so tragic is that everyone was very surprised.”

Only in retrospect did his teachers and friends see signs. Ryan was especially close to Cissy Matthews, the head of the piano department, and often practiced in her studio after school. The day before he died he stopped by to say he couldn’t make it to a performance at the Racquet Club later that week. “I just wanted to say ‘bye,’” he said casually. As he walked from the room he turned around and said, “I really like you, Mrs. Matthews” (Dayton Daily News).

Mariette Hartley

Mariette Hartley

In “Actress Mariette Hartley Counsels Families Torn by Suicide,” West Coast Bureau Chief Mike O’Sullivan tells of Hartley’s response to multiple suicide deaths in her family, her uncle in 1959, her father in 1963, and her cousin a few years ago.

She says she realized that suicide survivors experience similar stresses to combat veterans: “They [suicide survivors] fought in a war that they didn’t ask for necessarily. They saw atrocities that they’ve never been trained to process, and then they come back into society, and nobody wants to talk about it” (Voice of America).

In “After Suicide, Veteran’s Widow Comforts Others,” reporter Ray Collins interviews Carla Patton, whose Marine husband died by suicide 15 years ago and who is now a grief counselor.

“For me, It’s really coming full circle and taking a very tragic circumstance and making something so positive that come out of it for the greater good,” [she said in the video interview as she was headed to Washington, D.C., to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Memorial Day]. “The most sacred place in the United States would be at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day” (Fox 13, Tampa Bay).


Anna and her dad, Charles Dunn. (Family photo)

In “She’s Still Dancing,” reporter Billy Watkins profiles Anna Dunn, 18, of Madison, Miss. On the day the story was written, she was experiencing her second Father’s Day without her dad, Charles, who died by suicide early last year. The dancing reference in the article’s title stems from Anna recently vying for the Top 20 in the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“Last Father’s Day was probably the hardest day yet. But I try to take things a day at a time. And I think it’s important that we view days like this more as a celebration, and not mourn so much. I want to try and remember all the good times and not get stuck on the reality of what happened.”

Says Pat Dunn [Anna’s mother]: “We’re doing good. Some days, certain events, really hit you hard. Graduation, for instance. There is always somebody missing.

“How can a family survive a suicide? Some look at it and say, ‘I probably couldn’t.’ But we have had such great support — from people at church, from friends, from other dance mothers. And, of course, Anna had dance” (Jackson Clarion-Ledger).

In “How Suicide Changed My Life,” Joseph Speranzella, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order who blogs regularly on Catholic topics, writes:

In leaving us this way, what ever pain [my sister] released herself from was only passed on doubly to her loved ones. She left us misery and questions that will never fully be answered. A cloud was cast over our hearts that has since shaded everything. My family feels that as hard as life can get, Mary had no real reason to end her life. The resulting “cloud” has caused me to evaluate my thoughts about life and death — what they are, and what I want out of both …

How suicide changed my life is precisely this: I have consciously and decisively determined that my life will be geared toward its end, not in a morbid sense but in a way that I will master the art of living and of dying … Facing death–rather than forcing death–with grace is the fulfillment of life regardless of what you believe will follow.

[The abridged URL for this post is .]

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