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October 2009


by Linda Vigil

Surviving a loved one's suicide brings up many hours of searching your soul for answers. We all endure many losses through our lives. All kinds of losses, whether it be parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, spouses, grandparents, friends, and even our dear pets.

The word 'Acceptance' or 'Accept,' has continually come to me, causing me to spend many hours searching my soul for the meaning, regarding my daughter —Mia's suicide.

The definition of the words being —to take what is offered or given, to receive willingly, to believe in, to understand, —as having a certain meaning.

I have listened so carefully to the special people who have shared their pain in losing a loved one to suicide. Trying to hear how each and everyone of them learn to accept, are forced to accept, the tragic act of suicide thrust upon them.

Some of us are of the belief, when losing someone to suicide, "It was meant to be." Some believe, "God gives life, God taketh away." "Some believe each of us has a destiny." Others believe "Suicide is a tragic, senseless death." Each of us take out of our own loss, meaning any loss in death or family alienation, hopefully some meaning, some gift for us to not only survive but help others to share and heal.

A survivor shared, "We are all survivors of a loved ones suicide, or any personal loss, by death or alienation —that we have in common, but we are also like the snow flakes, all so unique and different even in our own beliefs."

We do learn to laugh again, plan for our future, re-enter our social circles or develop new friends, become more active in our communities. We learn there is little room for anger, and antagonistic behavior!

But the scar left within each of us is a reminder. That is what makes Sharing & Healing possible......

We Are Forever Changed .....

First Christmas In Heaven
(Thinking of Stephen Chumley - 2008) Submitted by his father Sy

I see the countless Christmas trees
Around the world below
With tiny lights like heaven's stars
Reflecting on the snow.

The sight is so spectacular
Please wipe away that tear
For I am spending Christmas
With Jesus Christ this year.

I hear the many Christmas songs
That people hold so dear,
But the sounds of music can't compare
With the Christmas choir up here.

I have no words to tell you
The joy their voices bring
For it is beyond description
To hear the angels sing

I know how much you miss me
I see the pain within your heart,
But I am not so far away-
We really aren't apart.

So be happy for me, dear ones,
You know I hold you dear,
And be glad I'm spending Christmas
In a grander place this year.

I send you each a special gift
From my heavenly home above.
I send you each a memory
Of my undying love.

So have a Merry Christmas
And wipe away that tear,
For I am spending Christmas
With Jesus Christ this year


Handling the Holidays

Do what will be comfortable for you.Remember, you can always choose to do things differently next time.

* Think about family holiday traditions. Consider whether you want to continue or create some new ones.

* Remember that family members may feel differently about continuing to do things the way they've been done in the past. Try to talk openly with each other about your expectations.

* Consider whether you want to be with your family and friends for the holiday, or whether it would be more healing for you to be by yourself or go away this year.

* Keep in mind that sometimes the anticipation of an event can be more difficult than the event itself.

* If you find it comforting to talk about your loved one, let your family and friends know that. Tell them not to be afraid to mention your loved one's name.

* Some survivors find it comforting to acknowledge the birthday of their loved ones by gathering with his/her friends and family; others prefer to spend it privately.

* Some survivors have found the following ritual helpful for a variety of occasions:

Light two candles, and then blow one out. Explain that the extinguished candle represents those we've lost, while the one that continues to burn represents those of us who go on despite our loss and pain. Simply leave the one candle burning (you can put it off to one side) for the duration of the holiday meal or event. The glowing flame acts as a quiet reminder of those who are missing.

* Above all, bear in mind that there is no "right" way to handle holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays. You and your family may decide to try several different approaches before finding one that feels best for you.

Excerpted from an article by : American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

SO WHY ASK WHY By : Tim Jackson

Survivors can't stop asking why-at least for a while. Margaret Atwood describes a survivor's incessant search for answers:

Curiosity is not our only motive: Love or grief or despair or hatred is what drives us on. We'll spy relentlessly on the dead. We'll open their letters. We'll read their journals. We'll go through their trash, hoping for a hint, a final word, and explanation, for those who have deserted us -who've left us holding the bag, which is often a good deal emptier than we'd supposed. The search for clues to help them understand propels survivors to ask, "What could they possibly have been feeling or thinking that made dying seem like the only opinion they had left?"

What Caused Them To Choose suicide?

No one knows with certainty the final feelings or thoughts that push a person to suicide. But the brutal honesty of those who hurt so bad that they want to die provides insight into the overwhelming desperation and distorted determination that seems to best describe the turmoil churning within.

Overwhelming Desperation

T.S. Eliot wrote, "Man cannot bear much reality." Reality in a fallen world will eventually either drive us to God or to despair.

The desperate reality for those who take their own life often includes but is not limited to what seems like unbearable pain, intolerable isolation, and debilitating hopelessness. Unbearable pain is much more than chronic physical pain. Internal anguish is the basic ingredient of a suicide. Acting on a death wish is the ultimate form of flight from the pain of unmet longings and seemingly insurmountable losses.

Two thousand years before Christ, a man by the name of Job suffered such despair of heart that he cried out :

Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul,
to those who long for death that does not come,
who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave ?

A suicidal struggle is almost always a battle with ambivalence, but at some point death becomes more attractive. While most don't necessarily want to die, they simply don't want to continue to live with the pain that has become unbearable for them. Intolerable isolation compounds despair. Much of what we long for is related to meaningful relationships within a family or community. Suicidal people often feel alone and confined to the darkness of their pain. They feel abandoned by God and by those they looked to for the loved they craved. It's difficult enough to endure pain with the help and support of others. But when a suicidal person is abandoned and alone, hope evaporates.

Debilitating hopelessness sets in when the pains and losses of life seem intolerable, when shameful consequences are unavoidable, and when a person feels his world is spinning out of control. He feels powerless and worthless. A suicidal person often feels, "No matter how hard I try, I can't change what really matters to me. I'm such a loser. I don't deserve to live." With the illusion of control stripped away, the suicidal person, rather than openly facing what he's powerless to handle on his own, hides under a blanket of self-contempt and yearns to disappear. Self-destruction becomes the only hope of escape from the pain and isolation.

People seem to be able to bear or tolerate depression as long as there is the belief that things will improve. If that belief cracks or disappears, suicide becomes the option of choice.

Persistent, unfulfilled longings lead to a condition of hopelessness that infects the mind and distorts determination to live.

Distorted Determination

Self preservation is normal. Self-sacrifice is learned. But the determination to self-destruct is the result of a darkened state of mind that has been altered by despair and blinded by anger. The demand for relief from the painful torment of living is the most obvious form of suicidal determination. As one suicide note read, "Of course, I do not want to die, but it is suffering to live."

Rather than battle through despair and cry out for help, the suicidal person loses all hope of ever being rescued -so he gives up. The demand for immediate relief from vulnerability is, in the end, an angry refusal to suffer while waiting for God to rescue -both now and in the hereafter. An even darker side of suicidal determination can sometimes include the demand for revenge. Most of us want to believe that people commit suicide to end their pain, not to create pain for others. But that's not always the case.

Suicide can be the ultimate door-slamming exit that ensures nothing will ever be resolved. From this vantage point, suicide is an act of immense cruelty and disdain for others. As one survivor wrote, "Even as we begin to understand that our loved one killed (himself) in a desperate attempt to end (his) pain, we often feel that (his) anguish has not been extinguished but simply passed on to us."

The torment passed on is sometimes more intentional than incidental. The location, timing and violent method of a suicide can be choreographed to send a message. Survivors feel stained with indelible marks they can never wash off. They feel that the loved one who committed suicide was saying: "I'd rather die than live the rest of my life with you." "You didn't do enough for me." "How could you hurt me so bad?"

Nothing trumps suicide as the ultimate in -your face form of rejection that leaves both an internal scar and external stigma. The tandem demands for relief and revenge betray the heart of the suicidal person —the angry refusal to trust anyone ever agin. Suicide in such instances is the last desperate act of final rebellion against a hostile world and an uncooperative God, neither of which provided what was expected or wanted.

The HOLIDAYS - SUICIDE MYTH By: Dan Romer (Dec. 2008)

One of the more persistent myths about the end-of-year holidays is that suicides rise during this period. According to a recently completed analysis of news reporting during last year's holiday period, there was renewed repetition of this myth in the newspaper reporting. Despite the sizeable drop that occurred during the preceding holiday period in 2006, newspapers displayed a surge in both the number and proportion of stories that supported the myth.

The analysis today by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) shows that about half of the articles written during last year's holiday season that made a direct connection to the season perpetuated the myth. That represents a statistically significant increase from previous holiday period when less than 10 percent supported the myth.

The fact is that the rate of suicide in the U.S. is lowest in December and peaks in the spring and fall. Data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics show the pattern has held steady through 2005, the most recent year for which national data are available.

As part of it's efforts to improve the coverage of suicide in the press, APPC has been tracking holiday suicide reporting since 2000, when it released its first press alert on newspaper coverage of the myth.

"Although there has been a drop in press support of the myth since 1999," it is disappointing to see that so many stories continue to reinforce the myth, said Dan Romer, the director of Annenberg's Adolescent Risk Communication Institute, which conducted the study. "Reporters who make the link should realize that they are making a connection that just doesn't exist."

The percentage of stories debunking the holiday-suicide myth has increased since APPC began releasing its annual analysis. In 1999-2000 holiday period, only about 23 percent of the stories that made a link between the holidays and suicide debunked the myth. In the years since APPC's alerts, the percentage of stories discrediting the link has increased. Unfortunately, the peak that was observed in the 2006-2007 holiday (91%) was largely reversed during last year's season.

"We are disappointed to see the press reverting to its old ways as it reports this story," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

We already see signs of a renewed focus on the myth during the holiday season. In an interview with Matt Lauer on "The Today Show" December 3, the Reverend Rick Warren stated that suicides rise during the holidays. And on "Saturday Night Live" December 6, actor John Malkovich repeated the myth in a comedy sketch.

"An opportunity exists for the press to correct this common misperception," added Jamieson. "Perpetuating the myth not only misinforms the public, but it also misses an opportunity to educate the public about the most important risk factors for suicide, namely mental disorders." Persons suffering from major depression and other treatable mental conditions are at increased risk of suicide. Getting help from an appropriate health professional can reduce symptoms and prevent suicide. The media can play a role in encouraging those suffering from these conditions to seek help.

Another concern regarding press reporting suicide is the presence of contagion effects. A news story that makes suicide look like a acceptable solution to a person's life situation can give those vulnerable to the act permission to attempt it. Suicides rise after news stories that sensationalize a recent suicide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide ranks as the 11th leading cause of death among adults. Among adolescents, it is the third leading cause.

Youth Suicide

Suicide is a serious public health problem that affects young people. For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. It results in approximately 4500 lives lost each year. The top three methods used in suicides of young people include firearm (46%), suffocation (39%), and poisoning (8%).

Deaths from youth suicide are only part of the problem. More young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9-12 in public and private schools in the United States found that 15% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 11% reported creating a plan, and 7% reporting trying to take their own life in the 12 months preceding the survey. Each year, approximately 149,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at emergency departments across the U.S.

Suicide affects all youth, but some groups are at higher risk than others. Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide. Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 83% of the deaths were males and 17% were females. Girls, however, are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys. Cultural variations in suicide rates also exist, with Native American/Alaskan Native and Hispanic youth having the highest rates of suicide-related fatalities. A nationwide survey of youth in grades 9-12 in public and private schools in the U.S. found Hispanic youth were more likely to report attempting suicide than their black and white, non-Hispanic peers.

Several factors can put a young person at risk for suicide. However, having these risk factors does not always mean that suicide will occur.

Risk factors:
History of previous suicide attempts
Family history of suicide
History of depression or other mental illness
Alcohol or drug abuse
Stressful life event or loss
Easy access to lethal methods
Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others

Most people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. Too often, victims are blamed, and their families and friends are left stigmatized. As a result, people do not communicate openly about suicide. Thus an important public health problem is left shrouded in secrecy, which limits the amount of information available to those working to prevent suicide.

The good news is that research over the last several decades has uncovered a wealth of information on the causes of suicide and on prevention strategies. Additionally, CDC is working to monitor the problem and develop programs to prevent youth suicide.

School District Responds to Suicides
- Officials Asking Parents to Watch for Signs of Depression By Kathleen Moore

For three months, Schenectady High School officials kept quiet the suicide deaths of two students and attempted suicides by two others. But when a third killed herself and another tried but was saved —the school said silence had become more dangerous than publicity.

Just days after telling a reporter that any discussion of the recent suicides would lead to more children killing themselves, the school district suddenly reversed itself Tuesday and sent home a letter to parents, baring all.

In it, they implored parents to watch for signs of depression in their teenagers and seek help immediately if any symptoms of depression surfaced.

"We're trying to get the information out there to get these kids help," Superintendent Eric Ely said. "It's a scary proposition. You don't want to publicize these things because they can and do lead to copycats and clusters. In a school district neighboring my own in my past, I've seen eight successful suicides in one year. I've seen large clusters."

He said the school first tried to head off suicides by offering grief counselors after the first girl killed herself on Nov. 25.

Since then, five of her friends have tried to kill themselves too, and two have succeeded. After the third girl died, Ely set up a suicide prevention task force and restarted the 'Wave-riders Grief/Bereavement Group'.

The mother of one suicide victim also called a community meeting at her church, where mental health professionals said Tuesday they had been long trying to persuade the high school to let them openly publicize their services to the students. Generally outside counselors are invited into the school immediately after a tragedy, such as the recent deaths, but do not run programs for the entire student body.

Dr. Kevin Karpowicz, leading pediatrician at the Ellis Pediatric Health Center, also weighed in, saying the city schools and local pediatricians must screen all children for depression.
"We need a major screening effort. I consider two suicides an epidemic," he said, and that it must be coupled by an increase in mental health services in Schenectady. "There's very few child psychologists available," he added. He joined Ely in saying the silence over suicide must end.

"We need to increase awareness," he said. "Many kids have depression. There's an increase in depression during adolescence. It is not always noticed and treated."

Karpowicz agreed that even discussing suicide will encourage more children to try it, but said that in this case, local teens already know all about the recent suicides. "More people think about it the more it happens. Suicides beget suicides," he said. "That's why this must become public." He added, "We need a coordinated response."

Judy Atchinson, who runs a local arts program for children and knew the first victim, also called for public discussion. "It's time. We need to get it out of the closet," she said.

But Lynn Rafalik, city schools director of pupil personnel services, said publicity would just make things worse. She urged parents to watch their children for any signs of suicidal thoughts, particularly any grief for the teens who died. Parents can receive free counseling at the high school as well as advice on how to get their children to talk.

"Families need to talk, talk, talk," Rafalik said. "It's really tough work to uncover a teenager's feelings. You just have to continually check in. You really have to constantly work at it. Kids do eventually reach out."
In the recent suicides, victims did make their feelings public, but not to adults. Instead, they posted their deep grief over earlier victims on the Web site MySpace. One victim also left a suicide note there. The messages are deeply disturbing, revealing a seemingly insurmountable level of grief. One girl wrote that three months after her friend's death, she cried for three hours after hearing a song that her friend enjoyed. Another wrote that "no one" knew what to do with their lives now that three of their friends were gone.

A girl who killed herself wrote three days before her death that she had been trying to smoke and drink to assuage her pain but nothing helped. She ended one e-mail post to a dead friend with the foreboding words, "I'll c u soooon."


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