Franklin James Cook

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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.

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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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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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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.

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Catholic “Day for Life” in U.K. Will Focus on Suicide

In Grief, Prevention, Stigma on July 9, 2009 at 7:40 am

UPDATE 07/10/2009: A London Telegraph story today features an interview with the Rt Rev Bernard Longley, who explains that “church teaching on suicide had not changed but its understanding of mental health had altered.”

“Suicide is a grave sin, but an individual must be mentally healthy to be fully aware that what they are doing is a sin. When a person commits suicide, they are generally so clouded by confusion and despair as to be no longer in full control of their mental faculties. God does not condemn anyone not fully aware of what they are doing: His mercy is without end.”

Bishop Longley said the families and friends of people who committed suicide suffered “acutely” and suicide should never be romanticised or encouraged.

But he said attempting suicide was “typically” the act of a desperate person and it should be greeted with compassion rather than with blame.

Original Post 07/09/2009: The Bishops’ Conferences of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Scotland, England  and Wales are working together this year during the annual “Day for Life” observance to take an in-depth look at the church’s point of view about suicide. According to a press release,

Day for Life — the day in the Church’s year dedicated to celebrating the dignity of life from conception to natural death — will this year focus on the theme of suicide. The main emphasis of Day for Life in 2009 will be on the pastoral dimensions of this difficult and sensitive subject.
It will highlight why the Church believes that every life is worth living and look at the reasons why people contemplate suicide, including acute mental illness and the possible spiritual factors involved. It will also point towards the support that the professional services can bring and hopefully help to reduce the stigma too often associated with mental illness and depression.

The online coverage of the topic includes  a blog section featuring posts from “people whose lives have been touched by suicide and mental illness.”

[Editor’s note: Does anyone know if a similar observance is happening (or has happened) in North America? Please comment below.]
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Canada’s Prime Minister Eulogizes MP Lost to Suicide

In Grief, Mental Illness, Stigma on July 6, 2009 at 9:10 am

A momentous occasion unfolded on Saturday when a head of state spoke both insightfully and eloquently about depression and suicide. The occasion, sadly, was the funeral of Dave Batters, a Member of Parliament who died by suicide the end of June, and the speaker the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, who told Batters’ family and the other mourners gathered in Regina, Saskatchewan,

We need to know that mental illness like Dave’s is shockingly common in our society. It affects the great and the small alike despite the stigma that still too often surrounds it.

Other politicians have carried the same burden. In fact, perhaps the two greatest English-speaking politicians in history, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, struggled with depression.

Harper also spoke of Batters with an emphasis on how he lived not just on how he died, a point many survivors of suicide suicide feel is missed by society as they grieve the loss of their loved ones.

This we know: in his struggle, Dave achieved a life worth living, a simple but profound truth, a goal we all aspire to, and he reached it. Dave’s family can take great pride in this.

For Dave made a significant contribution to the lives of others. Another great goal in life, and one he achieved so ably.

When he ran for public office, Dave did not do so for selfish reasons. He responded to the tragedy of another, the murder of his friend Michelle. He heard, and answered a call to service and he did so with conviction, distinction and success.

Depression didn’t stop that. It was his decency that drove him forward, that defined him in life, that will define him in death.

The Prime Minister also reached out to everyone who suffers from depression or who has been touched by suicide, declaring that “Dave is not alone” and recognizing the thousands of others who die by suicide every year.

The science has progressed, but we still don’t know enough about depression, and less about suicide.

But we know this much: depression can strike the sturdiest of souls. It cares not how much you have achieved nor how much you have to live for …

Unlike its myth, depression is not a function of character except that to fight it summons a strength of character, and a great strength of character like Dave’s to fight it as long as he did. Dave dealt with his illness head-on. That takes courage.

To Dave’s family, we mourn and share your loss. But so too do we share your pride in Dave’s life and in the greater good he served through elected office and through his public battle with depression from which we can all learn.

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Links to Suicide Grief Stories: June 3, 2009

In Grief Stories Series on June 2, 2009 at 11:06 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]

In “Glitterati help erase mental illness stigma,” Society Editor Frank Brown interviews Sam Bloom, a long-time suicide prevention advocate in California, who reflects on recipients of the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center’s “Erasing the Stigma” leadership award. Bloom and his wife, Lois, lost their son Sammy to suicide in 1982.

“Stigma prevents people from seeking help,” said Sam Bloom … “The way we reduce stigma is to make the public aware that mental illness is a brain disease much like cancer is a cellular disease or diabetes a disease of the blood.” (Palos Verdes Peninsula News)

In “One person can help prevent suicide, forum hears,” writer Julie Slack reports on a forum held in Peel, Ontario, Canada, where David Harris, a survivor of his son’s suicide in 2005, told the assembled crowd about CameronHelps, the teen suicide awareness organization he launched.

In an emotional presentation, Harris said he turned to friends who are there to guide him through his grief. He made a pact to run 19 consecutive Mississauga Marathons, one for each year of Cameron’s life. After last Sunday’s race, he has 14 more to go. Harris also decided to hold what he hopes will become an annual five-kilometre run/walk in Port Credit, as part of the Mississauga Waterfront Festival. Called “Find a Way,” the first run is slated for June 21. (The Missauga News)

In “Amid grief, love blossoms,” reporter Claire Martin recounts how an Aspen, Colo., couple were brought together by their grief over the deaths of family members. Art Daily’s wife and two children died in an accident in 1995, and upon hearing of the tragedy, Allison Snyder, who had lost her brother to suicide, sent a gift to Daily. The two corresponded, and …

After a courtship that swung between caution and impetuousness–what about their 25-year age difference, would Allison always dwell in the shadow of Art’s grief?–they married, roughly 15 months after the Glenwood Canyon accident.

Now, more than a dozen years later, Daily and Snyder have written a book, Out of the Canyon, which “is devoted to the singular story of how Art and Allison met” and includes “an afterword, ‘Grief Has No Rules,’ sharing their thoughts on mourning and on the best ways to comfort someone in the wake of a death.”  (The Denver Post)

In “Friends honor Seibert, raise awareness about teen suicide,” Gracie Bonds Staples reports on how a half a dozen of a young suicide victim’s friends launched The Seibert Foundation in his memory.

More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined. For Kyle Murphy and six of Ben [Seibert]’s other friends, those statistics translate into human lives.

“Suicide is not inevitable, and the only thing you can do wrong is nothing,” Murphy said. “Everybody can do something to participate.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In “Parents reach out through their grief,” reporter Cathy Dyson covers the journey of Todd and Michelle Brown, whose daughter, Carol Anne, died by suicide in April.

Carol Anne’s obituary spoke of her many attributes–her smile and her ability to accept people for who they were. It hailed her as an accomplished equestrian, lacrosse player and actress, a young woman who accumulated 300 hours of community service with groups that help animals and handicapped children, and whose organs were donated after her death.

Then the obituary mentioned something not found in most death notices–that “Carol Anne suffered from the destructive illness of depression and bipolarism.” The Browns encouraged others to seek medical attention for loved ones who suffer from “this dreaded illness, especially teenagers during these most fragile years.”

Dyson’s report is accompanied by a video by Rebecca Sell, “Reaching out for Carol Anne,” in which the Browns talk about their daughter’s struggles in the last three years of her life. In the end, says Todd Brown,

“This can happen to any family, and we have to just be more diligent in looking for it.” (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

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TAPS Reaches Out To Military Families Grieving after Suicide

In Grief on May 25, 2009 at 10:55 pm
Connie Scott displays a picture her son, Brian Williams, who died by suicide when he was 20 years old. (Sarah L. Voisin, The Washington Post)

Connie Scott displays a picture of her son, Brian Williams, who died by suicide when he was 20 years old. (Sarah L. Voisin, The Washington Post)

By Franklin Cook, SPNAC Editor

Never before has suicide by U.S. military personnel and veterans caught the nation’s attention as it has since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Thankfully, the plight of the families left behind after a loss by suicide is also getting some much-needed attention, as was evidenced during the Memorial Day weekend at the National Military Survivor Seminar put on by TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The seminar was covered for the Washington Post by reporter Steve Vogel.

Mirroring a rise in suicides in the military, many of those participating in the 15th annual TAPS seminar are families of service members who took their own lives.

“A third of the calls we’re getting now are from families with suicides,” said Bonnie Carroll, executive director of TAPS.

Suicides in the Army, already at a record rate in 2008, surpassed the number of combat deaths for the month of January. As of the end of April, the Army had lost 64 active-duty soldiers to likely suicides.

Several survivors at the seminar were struggling–even as they view their loved ones as having died in the service of their country–with the stigma related to a death by suicide.

Mary Clare Lindberg’s son, Army Sgt. Benjamin Jon Miller, was home in Minnesota on leave from Iraq in June when he shot and killed himself. In March, Lindberg made a pilgrimage to Fort Campbell, Ky., to visit the post where her son served with the 101st Airborne Division. While it was comforting to meet with the soldiers with whom her son had served, Lindberg was upset when she saw the unit memorial. The names of two soldiers from her son’s brigade who were killed in combat were on the memorial, but Ben Miller’s name was not.

“Because my son was a suicide home on leave, his name was not on the memorial wall at Fort Campbell, and that’s just not right,” said Lindberg, who said her son was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences in Iraq.

Crying as she spoke Friday, Lindberg was comforted by several other women who had lost sons or husbands in the military to suicide.

“Our loved ones are casualties of the war, but they are not remembered,” said Connie Scott, whose son, Pvt. 1st Class Brian M. Williams, also killed himself while home on leave from Iraq.

In an Army Times article earlier this year, staff writer Karen Jowers reported on how TAPS is reaching out to suicide survivors, using the approaches it has always used with families who lose a loved one in war.

“TAPS has seen a tragic increase in families whose loved ones lost their very personal battles,” said Bonnie Carroll, the group’s founder … “We embrace these families with a wide array of programs offering comfort and care …”

TAPS offers peer-based support, crisis care, casualty casework assistance, and grief and trauma resources, all free. Unlike most programs offered through the military, TAPS provides ongoing help to anyone grieving the death of a loved one in the military, regardless of the relationship to the deceased, where they live, or the circumstances of the death.

TAPS can also help connect service members, families and others to free, confidential … counseling through partnerships with the Veterans Affairs Department’s Vet Centers, Give An Hour, and the Association of Death Education and Counseling.

During the past 40 years, peer-led support groups across America have become a mainstay of the grief services available to people who have lost a loved one to suicide. The experience of those groups shows that, for many, there is no better help available than spending time with others who have also suffered the death of a loved one by suicide. In a similar fashion, it looks as if TAPS is using its experience with peer outreach to help military families who are bereaved by suicide.

“It’s brought me back to square one,” said [Kim] Ruocco, whose husband, Marine Corps Reserve Maj. John Ruocco, killed himself in a hotel room near Camp Pendleton, Calif., three months after returning from Iraq. “I’m exhausted with the subject of suicide, but I can’t rest because there’s too much to be done.”

Ruocco and another widow of a Marine suicide, Carla Stumpf-Patton, have begun coordinating TAPS’ nationwide peer support group program specifically for survivors of suicide.

The TAPS 24-hour crisis line is 800-959-TAPS (8277).

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Links to Suicide Grief Stories: May 4, 2009

In Grief Stories Series on May 4, 2009 at 12:11 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]

Dying To Change” by Scott MacDonald of the University of Idaho’s Argonaut begins and ends with the story of freshman Amitti Mackey’s loss of her father to suicide and also informs students about the problem of suicide in Idaho and on campus.

Thinking about the future can be difficult, [Mackey] said. “I don’t get to have my dad walk me down the aisle, or have that first dance.”

“You move forward … It’s not going to be normal like you knew. Just talking about it helps. You can’t keep it all bottled up and compartmentalize it. You won’t get rid of it.”

In a first-person essay, “Suicide: A New Beginning for Those Left Behind,” Michele Cole of Colorado looks back 20 years after her older brother, David, died by suicide and shares how his loss has affected her spiritual growth.

While being ‘left behind’ is never easy, it is a dramatic beginning to what can be a larger than life opportunity to grow in spirit … To learn how to fully grieve without giving into depression and to learn how to honor a life regardless of the mental and emotional anguish they have laid at your feet. The lessons of those left behind from suicide are like no other, and as with every experience in my life, I honor it … David provided many lessons that have helped me find my path–the path that has lead me to being the woman I am today.

Suicide Prevention: One Family’s Story,” by reporter Sarah Barwacz of WMBD TV in Peoria, Ill., is an interview with Sara Davis and Rachael Myers, who are preparing for Chicago’s Out of the Darkness Walk this summer in memory of Jason Hooker. Rachael, who is Jason’s sister, says in the interview that suicide “changes everything. Your life is never the same.”

[Jason’s girlfriend Sara says,] “If we can touch one person’s life and save them from having to go through the tragedy that our families have been through, then it makes it all worthwhile.”

Those Grieving after a Suicide Forever Wonder What They Could Have Done To Save a Life,” by reporter Tim Chitwood of the Ledger-Inquirer of Columbus, Ga., tells the story of a woman who lost both her husband and oldest son to suicide.

“The effect is would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, I think, which is a normal reaction in probably every death, but especially suicide, because in most cases, the writing’s not on the wall, and you don’t really think that could ever happen to you or your family — even when you’re going through treatment for depression and doing all that you can do to help the individual,” said Debi Dinwiddie-Johnson of the local support group Survivors of Suicide.

Suicide Creates Lifetime of Hurt for Loved Ones” by reporter Megan Loiselle of the Wausau Daily Herald covers the efforts of survivors in Merrill, Wis., to promote prevention through a billboard campaign that focuses on the aftermath of suicide.

Katarina Miller, 16, of Merrill said a lot of people knew about her father committing suicide in 2007. When she showed up at school the next day, many of her friends gave her hugs.

“People (who take their own lives) think they’re taking the problem away, but they don’t know how many people it affects,” Miller said.

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“Good Grief” Worker Preparing for National Survivors Day

In Grief, Grief Stories Series on November 14, 2008 at 4:52 pm

Margie Jones

Margie Jones

ORIGINAL STORY — Today’s Wenatchee World shares the story of Margie Jones, president of the Good Grief Center in Wenatchee, Wash., who is among the thousands of survivors of suicide loss who will be taking part in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s National Survivors of Suicide Day on Saturday, Nov. 22.

Margie’s son Steve died by suicide in 1996 and, as with so many people who have experienced such a tragedy, she has gone on to help others who are grieving after a suicide.

Whenever asked, Jones says, she shares how she started the healing process by setting up a computer science scholarship in her son’s name at Eastern Washington University, Steve’s alma mater. She continues healing by volunteering at the Good Grief Center. She also shares how healing happens, slowly and over time. And how she’s come to understand suicide’s root causes, such as excruciating emotional pain, sometimes accompanied by mental illness.

Joanne Harpel of AFSP explains in a recent interview that one of the purposes for National Survivors of Suicide Day is to counter the stigma that often accompanies a death by suicide.

There is nothing shameful in having a suicide in your family. There’s no reason for you to feel isolated or that you somehow did something wrong.

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Editor’s note: Each year in conjunction with National Survivors of Suicide Day, articles are published across the country about people who have lost a loved one to suicide. Several of this year’s stories are linked to below in the “Comments” section of this post.