ROCK SPRINGS — Families and friends gathered at the Broadway Theater on Saturday, Nov. 20, for the inaugural Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event.

The event was hosted by the Sweetwater County Prevention Coalition. Those affected by loss had the opportunity to comfort each other, share their experiences and find hope.

“A survivor of suicide loss is a title no one wants to have but it’s real,” Mayor Tim Kaumo said. “We need to help each other understand, care and hope.

“I don’t want to hear another parent losing a child to suicide.”

In a majority of suicides, a mental health condition is present. It could be the cause of self-anguish. Most people are good at hiding it.

Kaumo pointed out that ninety percent of those who died by suicide could have had help with their mental health illnesses and depression.

“Mental illness is not their fault. No one should be ashamed for having a mental health illness.”

Kaumo added, “Those individuals need to know they are all worth it.”

“We need to find peace in the suffering.”

Even when family or friends know their loved one is considering suicide, suicide is still stunning and traumatic news.

“We’re all touched by suicide,” said Kelly Gordon, prevention specialist from Southwest Counseling Services.

“You are not alone. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.”

The audience watched the documentary, “Family Journeys: Healing and Hope After Suicide,” which focused on three families who were still dealing with the deaths of their loved ones.

The documentary revealed that grieving a suicide loss is different from other experiences of loss.

In the documentary, a family member lost his brother to suicide.

Every day his brother tried to remind himself that “you’ve been given this life because you’re strong enough to live it.”

Parents in the documentary agreed that “it’s not a coward’s way out. From their perspective, suicide was the only choice.”

It was their “last measure of control to end their own suffering.”

According to mental health professionals in the documentary, for people with mental health conditions, it can be so severe that every aspect of their lives can be profoundly impacted such as the way they think, cope or perceive. The way they look at themselves and their future can be distorted by their suffering and anguish.

Rock Springs resident and grief supporter April Thompson said, “I am saddened by the circumstances that has brought us here but I’m thankful that we are here for each other.”

Thompson’s son Joshua died by suicide in 2013.

One of the most common ways to honor loved ones is by getting a tattoo.

“Getting my tattoos was part of a healing process,” she revealed.

Families may deal with intense emotions. Those emotions can be intensified by feelings of isolation. Neighbors and community members might not be able to understand.

“There are people I hadn’t spoken to in eight years,” Thompson shared. “They don’t know what to say. They cringe. They don’t even think they should mention his name.

“I want to scream his name from the rooftops!”

Experiencing grief is part of healing. People are impacted in several ways – they’re sad, angry, confused and numb. Even though it’s terribly uncomfortable, it’s important to experience it and not judge it as it’s happening.

“Acknowledge it,” Thompson advised. “Believe it or not, numbness is a feeling.

“Other feelings might come or they might not but it’s your personal journey.”

She added, “There are happy tears and then there are ‘hurt tears.’

“The kind of tears that burn out the toxins from your body.”

There is tremendous stigma surrounding suicide. It comes from a misunderstanding to what drives suicidal thinking, behavior and death by suicide.

“Mental health is not a bad word, neither is suicide,” Thompson pointed out. “We need to talk about it.”

Everyone grieves and copes in different ways. It’s especially an important time to be gentle with oneself and with one another.

“I know some people journal daily and others meditate,” Thompson said. “We need to take care of ourselves as we grieve.

“We grieve because we loved.”

Help is available to those who are struggling by calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website at http://afsp.org/

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