Nov. 19 observance celebrates lives of loved ones, offers support for those grieving suicide loss
Suicide affects millions of people worldwide. In the United States in 2020, there were nearly 46,000 suicides, equating to one death every 11 minutes. Additionally, 12.2 million people seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a suicide plan and 1.2 million attempted suicide. In addition to the person committing suicide, family and friends are also affected and left wondering what they could have done differently to sup- port the individual. Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, created by U. S. Senator Harry Reid in 1999, is recognized annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The day is intended to celebrate the lives of those lost to suicide, and focus on the healing of those left behind.
Finding Support with Others
As holidays approach, people who have lost someone to suicide may struggle to cope. Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is an opportunity for those affected by suicide to come together for healing and support. Parkwest Medical Center and Peninsula will be hosting an event on Saturday, Nov. 19, to support survivors of suicide loss. The event will take place at Parkwest Medical Center from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. It will feature community survivors and a keynote presentation by Denise Meine-Graham. Meine- Graham is the founder of LOSS (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) Community Services in Columbus, Ohio, which helps survivors of suicide loss through support groups, remembrance events and postvention programs. Postvention refers to an organized response program after a suicide, and LOSS teams consist of trained volunteers who are sent immediately to support those left behind.
About the Keynote Speaker
After losing her son to suicide, Meine-Graham didn’t think she would ever do anything normal again. “I had an acquaintance from church come visit me a few days after it happened,” she recalls. “Her son had taken his life five years prior, and I remember being so surprised that she was capable of driving her car all by herself. Seeds of hope were planted that day.” Meine-Graham attended the National LOSS Conference in 2013, where she learned about the active postvention model. She connected with other suicide postvention advocates and launched a LOSS team the following year. Since then, the team has launched several aftercare programs, including support groups and a one-on-one “companioning the bereaved” program. The services are based on a model of care developed by Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., who is recognized as a leading grief counselor, author and educator on topics related to death and mourning.
LOSS Community Services offers dozens of suicide postvention services, from professional counseling and therapy to remembrance events and support groups. “We don’t all grieve the same, so we don’t all benefit from the same type of support,” says Meine-Graham. “I initially attended a sup- port group that was not suicide-specific. While I had a positive experience, this is not the case for many loss survivors. Suicide deaths still carry a stigma, and loss survivors can some- times feel judged, shamed and isolated. There’s just something indescribably special about connecting with fellow loss survivors.”
To Meine-Graham, having an official day to recognize survivors of suicide loss is an important step of validation. “The day says ‘We see you. We know there’s no getting over this. We want to
recognize you and give you an opportunity to connect with fellow suicide loss survivors who are learning not just to survive, but to thrive after this life-changing loss.’” Meine-Graham is a certified thanatologist (a special- ist in a scientific discipline that examines the various aspects of death). She has completed a death and grief studies certification program offered by nation-ally renowned author, death educator and grief counselor Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. She is a psychological autopsy investigator and is trained in several suicide prevention programs. Meine-Graham has helped over 5,000 suicide loss survivors since 2014 and travels throughout the country supporting other communities.
To learn more or register for the free event, visit TreatedWell.com/Survivor or call 865-374-PARK (7275).
Navigating the Aftermath of a Suicide Loss
Suicide loss survivors struggle in the immediate aftermath of feelings from grief and hopelessness, wondering what could have gone differently. Denise Meine-Graham, a suicide loss survivor who leads a resource organization for other suicide survivors in Columbus, Ohio, encourages survivors to “give themselves grace.”
“I wish I knew sooner that even after five or 10 years, there would still be perceived ‘setbacks.’ There’s still a little voice in my head that says ‘It’s been 10 years; you should be able to…’ that
catches me off guard,” says Meine-Graham. “Learning to tell myself it ’s OK to have sad days, to still be impacted by unexpected songs, smells, sights or people has been difficult. There will be sadness that co- exists with the hard-won joy for the rest of my life.”
For those struggling with suicide loss, Meine-Graham recommends three things: “One, find support that works for you on your timeline. Be careful of people who mean well but prescribe what they think you should do and when. Two, choose life! The depths of despair you may be feeling are not permanent. The pain will soften. Three, try not to judge your feelings.”
If you know someone struggling with a suicide loss, Meine-Graham says to listen to them with empathy. “Don’t listen to provide answers or ‘fix it’ messages,” says Meine-Graham. “It’s hard, it’s
uncomfortable, but loss survivors need people to join them where they are and not try to pull them somewhere else.” She also adds that remembering dates like birthdays, anniversaries or special holidays can help those suffering. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
Peninsula ComPASS Support Group
The aftermath of losing someone to suicide is a grief-filled time that looks different for everyone. Peninsula, a division of Parkwest Medical Center, offers a free support group to help those grieving work through the pain.
ComPASS, or Communicating the Pain as Suicide Survivors, provides a safe place where members gain understanding and education while grieving the loss of a loved one. “Suicide is a topic that many people are uncomfortable discussing, and they would prefer to avoid talking about it,” says Mark Potts, director of clinical services for Pen- insula. “Survivors are likely to be experiencing intense emotions which can also be uncomfortable for them and the people around them. Having a place to talk where there is an understanding that it’s OK to say
whatever they are feeling can help relieve the sense of isolation and alienation that many survivors experience.”
Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide is encouraged to attend. You will be surrounded by people who understand what you are going through. ComPASS currently holds in-person meetings on the second Tuesday of each month from 6-7:30 p.m. in person at Pen- insula Lighthouse, 1451 Dowell Springs Blvd., Knoxville, TN 37909. Group meetings
are held on the lower level of the building and are open to the public. A Zoom link is available for those wanting to join from another location.
To learn more or to join the group meetings, visit PeninsulaBehavioralHealth.org/Compass or call 865-374-7106.