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Heartbroken But Hopeful

Posted on November 18, 2020 in Patient Stories

Virtual Event Held This Month for Survivors of Suicide Loss

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Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Each year, more than 1 million people in the U.S. at- tempt suicide, leading to approximately 48,000 deaths and over 400,000 emergency room visits due to self-inflicted injuries. In 2014, U.S. suicide deaths reached a re- cord high and have steadily increased each year.

Parkwest Medical Center, Peninsula and the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network are offering a safe place to celebrate those we’ve lost to suicide, and to offer hope and encouragement through this  year’s Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, a virtual event.

I Am a Voice

Eileen Wallach lost her husband, Rick, to suicide in 2011. As a survivor of suicide
loss, Eileen says, “Knowing what I know now, I wish I could go back and help him.”

Eileen is one of many who are left with unanswered questions. “Still bearing the pain of losing the love of my life, I am able to move forward, and I now have the ability to help others. I am a voice for Rick and his struggles. I will carry the pain in the fight to stop the suicide of others, and to help those who lost someone by suicide.”

Eileen launched a non- profit called “Your Heart on Art” which encourages survivors of
suicide loss to express through art what words cannot say. “I see this artwork as a way to honor
Rick,” she says. “And a way to help find healing after a life-altering change, and to bring comfort and strength to others.”

Heartbroken but Hopeful

Janie Mabrey says her life was forever changed by the loss of her 31-year-old son, Matt, in
2013. “I didn’t feel like a survivor,” says Janie. “We are left to continue living, but life
looks different.”

Janie and her family sought counseling, support groups, and found solace in prayer and

Janie shares questions that still haunt her: “What do I do now?” “Will life ever be normal
again?” “Why didn’t I see it?” “What did I miss?” “It was hard to even know what was real
anymore,” she says.

Janie and her daughter Andrea found a way to focus on the present moment and slowly built a
“Grief Tool Box.” Those “nuggets” or small steps forward include:

  • Be patient with yourself. Do not try to do this alone.
  • Know you can survive this, even if it feels like you can’t.
  • Take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – exercise, pray, meditate and, journal.
  • Let the feelings come – feelings of shock, guilt, isolation, loss. Let them come, knowing they will pass, however over- whelming they are. Seek those who will listen without judgement.
  • Focus on small reminders that there is still beauty in the world (like a sunny day or a good cup of coffee)

Both women found an outlet through journaling and writing letters to Matt. Andrea found a
sibling sup- port group that connected her with those who had similar experiences. As a
family, they wondered: “Will I ever be OK again?”

Janie states, “Let me be the first to tell you that yes, you will be OK. Despite going through possibly one of the worst things that can happen, know that you will survive this and you will feel happiness again.”

The grieving mother has become a mentor to other mothers who have lost their children. She
encourages, “Do something good for someone else. Helping others has helped me.”

Her message to everyone struggling with loss is this: “You will come out of this darkness, so
allow your- self to grieve and reach for hope.”

My Whole Life Changed

Annette Scott can recall with crystal-clear precision the day two police officers knocked on her door. The death of her son by suicide was not the news she expected to receive. Annette says, “I will never be the same person I was before my son died. I have found the survivors groups to be very helpful. There are so many ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ spinning in my head constantly. We must
forgive ourselves for what we didn’t know.”

“We need to continue the conversation about mental health,” implores Annette, who has become an advocate for suicide prevention.

“Not talking about it just furthers the stigma. Until we talk about it more, nothing will change. I
want my son’s life to be more than his death. Our loved ones are more than how they died. The best  way we can honor them is by living. Sometimes it hurts so bad we want to join them–we think we can’t continue on without them. I want to see mental health become such a priority that people can say, ‘I’m not feeling right, I need to get help.’ That’s my prayer.”

About Survivors of Suicide Loss Day

After losing his father to suicide, U.S. Senator Harry Reid introduced a resolution to the United
States Senate in 1999 that led to the creation of International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
Also known as Survivor Day, the recognition was designated by the United States Congress as
a day when those affected by suicide can come together for healing and sup- port. It was
determined that Survivor Day would always fall on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving, as the holidays are often a difficult time for suicide loss survivors.

Due to COVID-19 and the social gathering restrictions in place, we hope you’ll join us online in
our observance of Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. This year’s virtual event will feature a series of videos from survivors of suicide who will share their personal journies.

The featured speaker is Dennis Gillan, who lost two brothers to suicide and now travels speaking
about mental health and suicide prevention. He has presented a TEDx Talk, “Standing Tall in
the Face of Mental Health,” and continues to share his own inspirational story and message of hope to audiences everywhere.

How to Participate in the Event

Head shot of Dennis, featured speaker
Featured speaker Dennis Gillan

What: Virtual event in observance of Survivors of Suicide Loss Day

Who: This celebration is intended for anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide.

Location: Online in the comfort of your own home Visit to view videos from families who have lost loved ones to suicide, including our featured speaker, Dennis Gillan.

Date: Saturday, Nov. 21. Videos will be available any time you log on to view them, beginning November  21.

There is Help in Healing

A support group  called Com PASS — Communicating the Pain as Suicide Survivors — provides a safe place of understanding and education during the journey of loss fol- lowing the suicide death of a loved  one. The forum is open discussion, and is free and open to anyone who wishes to attend. Mark Potts,  director of clinical services at Peninsula, facilitates support groups. Potts notes, “I serve as a resource for questions, and can sometimes validate that it’s OK to feel what they’re feeling. The most important thing we can tell them is their grief or sadness is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Potts has witnessed attendees’ shared experiences provide strength and hope to someone who is grieving. “My main message to anyone feeling loss or grief is that you are not alone. Please seek help.” He continues, “We as humans are not solitary creatures. We havea need to connect with others that is just as important to our survival as food and air. When we are grieving our ten-dency is to isolate, or cut ourselves off from the very thing that can help get us through it.”
Potts reminds us there is no time limit on grieving. “When it’s a traumatic and sudden loss, the
grief becomes complicated with questions we’ll never have the answers to.” Currently meeting virtually, these support groups are the second Monday of each month from 6 –  7:30 p.m. No registration is required. For information on joining, please visit

Suicide Prevention Resources

Are you having thoughts of suicide or worried about a loved one? There are resources to help.

  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800)-273-8255 or call 911
  • 24/7 Crisis Text Line for Tennessee Residents – Text “TN” to 741-741