Headquarters Counseling Center offers a Healing After Suicide support group, which meets every other Tuesday evening. The group is for any adult who has lost a loved one through suicide. For more information, call Headquarters at 841-2345.
Addressing a room of parents, grandparents, siblings and spouses who had lost loved ones to suicide, pastor Gary Teske advised them to treat themselves as they would anyone else.
“Be gentle on yourself, be nice to yourself,” he said.
Added to the burden of mourning the loss, survivors of suicide often battle feelings of guilt, shame and isolation as they come to terms with their loved one’s death.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, about a dozen people gathered in the community room at Trinity Lutheran Church to take part in National Survivors of Suicide Day. Together, with more than 200 groups across the country and world, they watched a video in which five survivors — people just like themselves — shared stories about what it was like to lose someone to suicide.
Afterward, a panel of local suicide survivors talked about how they coped with the death of a son, a husband and a father.
“I felt like I had a broken heart,” said Kim Kirk, whose 14-year-old son, Tyler, died by suicide in 2003. “I’ll live with a broken heart forever, but I don’t have to live a broken life.”
In the aftermath of Tyler’s death, Kirk and another suicide survivor helped start a support group through Headquarters Counseling Center.
“Unfortunately the group has grown, but we are grateful it is there,” Kirk said.
Panelists lamented the lack of treatment options available for mental health patients in Lawrence. Kirk’s son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but no one ever told his family what to do if he was in a crisis situation.
In the weeks before Rose Foster’s husband, Gordon, died, Lawrence Memorial Hospital had closed its mental health unit. Gordon Foster was told it would be three weeks before he could schedule an appointment at a local mental health facility.
“You don’t tell someone who is suicidal to hold that thought for about three weeks,” Foster said. “It makes me very sad that he felt like he was out of options. We shouldn’t feel like that in Lawrence.”
Support groups, like the one at Headquarters Counseling, have helped Kirk and Foster work through their grief, something that will be a lifelong process for both.
For Foster, it has been freeing to accept the fact that she will never truly understand why her husband committed suicide.
That, however, doesn’t mean she will stop thinking about him. Foster advises family and friends to never stop saying the name of the person who died or sharing stories about them.
This holiday season, Thad Holcombe, a pastor at Ecumenical Christian Ministries whose father died by suicide several decades ago, said he will enjoy telling tales of his dad.
“And there are some really funny ones,” he said. “With that it is bittersweet. But the remembering, the connecting is really important.”