By John-Brian Paprock for Capital Newspapers
Life and Legacy - Capital Newspapers
Sunday, October 26, 2008
The loss of a loved one is a common experience of humanity. That does not make it any easier to live with. Even when death is anticipated, it can cause an emotional rollercoaster. The natural bereavement process can be difficult and long for some. It can be particularly difficult when the death is self-inflicted.
Along with few certainties in this world, death is inevitable. The moment of death is outside of individual control, with two exceptions: murder and suicide. Both are willful actions. Murder is the act of will upon another. Suicide is the act of will upon oneself. This makes suicide one of the most preventable causes of death.
Three groups have the highest rates of suicide: teens, elders and soldiers. Older adults have the highest suicide rate of any age group – more than 50% higher than young people or the nation as a whole, according to recent studies. “Soldier suicides this year could surpass the record rate of last year,” said the ominous prediction of US Army official, Colonel Eddies Stephens, deputy director of human resources policy at a September news conference.
Youth ages 10 to 19 years old had been showing an upward trend of suicide until recently. This past month, the Journal of AMA reported that the rate of teen suicides slowed (declining less than half of a percent), but still with higher numbers than expected.
Suicide is almost always a tragedy, even when cloaked in the difficulties at the end of life. It should be distinguished from allowing the natural course of a terminal condition and dying with dignity, such as when one uses hospice services. Open discussion about death and individual preferences may lead to better living for everyone.
Suicide will impact the lives of families and friends, the “survivors” of suicide, in more profound ways that other deaths. Suicide also has an impact on more casual acquaintances as well. Someone always discovers the suicide. Questions linger. Doubts linger. Religious complications can arise.
More than a more typical loss, it is always a relationship interrupted. Even with a note or other final communication (or lack of one) that vindicates everyone, survivors often blame themselves. Almost no one is prepared to cope with such a loss, especially alone. Specialized debriefing is used for communities and families impacted by suicide. Support groups are among the most helpful for daily coping and long-term reconciliation.
Jeanne Moren, a survivor and support group leader describes the indelible moment between the life before and the life after someone’s suicide. “For me, and for many other survivors, the sudden shock of a suicide becomes the dividing line of our lives,” she says.
It took Moren years to begin the process of coping with both sides of that line. She shares her experiences in her book “The Dividing Line,” a collection articles that appeared the Survivors Of Suicide (S.O.S.) support group newsletter.
“I didn’t realize the value of other survivors’ support until six years after my husband’s suicide when I attended my first meeting,” Jeanne Moren recalls. “The SOS support group became a part of my life. Listening to the experiences of others allowed me to get a perspective on how these losses could be tolerated and managed. It felt like crawling, but I was moving in the right direction.”
The Survivors of Suicide (S.O.S.) support group is open to all family members, friends, and acquaintances of persons who have died by suicide. Adults of all ages, races, occupations, religious affiliations are welcome. Some people attend individually and others attend with their families or friends. There is no fee for participation.
HOPES (Helping Others Prevent and Educate about Suicide) is another local resource. It was founded by three survivors of suicide around a kitchen table that wanted to make a difference for people in Wisconsin. Among HOPES’ resources and activities is a free Survivor Guide (online or by request) that is a collection of information gathered by survivors to help on the journey of grief. “We believe that grief shared is grief diminished.”
HOPES offers support and opportunities for survivors to participate in outreach programs to other survivors, prevention programs for those at risk, and honoring activities of those that have died.
To honor, they sponsor the "Many Faces of Suicide" quilt for Wisconsin. Squares serve as memorials for loved ones lost to suicide. The squares created by survivors demonstrate the profound impact of suicide on those left behind. The quilt is being exhibited both locally and nationwide. HOPES has also started an online Memory Book and an annual Walk for Awareness to honor loved ones.
“How lucky I am to have learned from the stories and experiences of other survivors,” Moren says in her book. “I am fortunate to have been guided and encouraged many times by the love and support of others. How lucky I am to know that it is possible to survive and also thrive.”
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Wisconsin: 24/7 CRISIS LINE: 608-280-2600
HOPES - Helping Others Prevent and Educate about Suicide
1902 Tarragon Drive, Madison, WI. 53716
608-274-9686 ~ email@example.com
SURVIVORS OF SUICIDE SERVICES
Mental Health Center of Dane County, Inc.
“Help After Suicide” is an excellent brochure available on request.
625 W. Washington Avenue, Madison, WI 53703
SOS SUPPORT GROUP
Support for individuals/families who are grieving the loss of someone who has died by suicide. The group meets the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Mental Health Center of Dane County, 625 W. Washington Avenue in Madison. Please use the main entrance on West Washington.
THE DIVIDING LINE by Jeanne Moren (Adams)
Copies are available at no charge for survivors and those who care about them.
Requests for copies can be made by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copies can also be picked up at the Mental Health Center of Dane County, 625 W. Washington Avenue in Madison. Pickup times are limited - 8:00 am to 7:30 pm, Monday through Thursday and 8:00 am to 4:30 pm, Fridays. Go to 1st floor Main Reception.