At a time when many who have lost loved ones are reflecting on who is missing from the holiday table, one suicide prevention group is bringing suicide survivors together.
Through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) 14th Annual International Survivors of Suicide Day, survivors of suicide loss gathered in groups across the world this past Saturday.
They gathered physically, in faith communities, hospices, colleges and universities, mental health centers, hotel conference rooms, and more. And they gathered virtually, connecting to a broadcast organized by AFSP each year at this time.
The broadcast features a panel of those bereaved by suicide loss talking about their experiences, their loved ones, and how they coped with loss.
I watched the broadcast several years ago after the initial airing, which you can do, too, through this link. As a survivor of my father’s suicide, I had never before intentionally gathered - in real life or virtually - with other people who had lost loved ones to suicide.
As I watched the broadcast, I heard people sharing feelings I had felt for years, but hadn’t been able to articulate. The ambivalence I had felt about my identity as a “survivor” didn’t go away. But, I gained new vocabulary for talking about myself, my father, the way that my family and community dealt with his death, and the meaning I had made of it many years later.
The idea behind such events is that individual people who share a common experience can learn from each other, feel less isolated in their experiences, and make personal and perhaps even greater meaning out of a tragedy. Bringing together people who have shared experiences also builds and organizes a community, rather than keeping individual people at a distance from each other. Connection can lead to growth, both personal and on the communal level.
My graduate school alma mater, Boston University (BU), organized an event that crossed the entire university community. Bringing together BU staff and students and organized by the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, the event was a way for the campus to recognize the relevance of suicide prevention - and loss - to the community as a whole.
It’s been my experience that suicide loss truly bridges divides that might not otherwise be crossed. As I have been more open in my different communities - my faith community, my professional/collegial community, and my social communities - about my loss and my family’s experience, I’ve connected with and heard from people who I might not have anything else in common with - except for the shared experience of losing a loved one to suicide.
If you have lost a loved one to suicide, consider viewing this year’s broadcast. If you watched this year or another year - or if you attended an in-person gathering, feel free to share your thoughts. Most importantly, if you are missing a loved one in this holiday season, find some way to connect with others for support.
Copyright 2012 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved