Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Action, Advocacy Empower Survivors of Suicide

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Action, Advocacy Empower Survivors of Suicide

Article excerpt

MIAMI -- Transforming grief into action after the suicide of a loved one can be empowering, according to a panel presentation at the annual conference of the American Association of Suicidology.

The four panelists explained how losing a family member to suicide devastated their lives in the short term and how they emerged from the experience to help others distressed by such a tragedy.

"I lost my sister Rhonda 10 years ago; there were no signs. She had purchased a week's worth of groceries the day before," said Donna Cacciatore, director of suicide prevention and volunteer services at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay (Fla.).

Ms. Cacciatore attended individual therapy for 3 months, stopped, and returned after only 2 weeks. "This is not something you can get over in 3 months," she said.

The first 6 months were the most difficult--a time of shock, guilt, and feelings of isolation. "It was incredibly hard for me to leave the house. Going to group therapy helped me feel like I was not odd. I did not have to explain how I felt," Ms. Cacciatore said. Everyone grieves differently, which was not an easy lesson for Ms. Cacciatore. "I became frustrated with my father and brother. They were not grieving the way I was. They did not want to be part of a support group.

"At first, when I talked about Rhonda, the word 'suicide' was always right behind," Ms. Cacciatore said. "I now define Rhonda by her life and not by her death. I've learned to embrace unexpected reminders of her, such as songs on the radio. I don't think about how I miss her. I think about how she is there with me.

"I have a wound in my heart that will never completely heal," she said. "Rhonda would want me to find happiness, and I have."

"My daughter Beth was one of those people you would never worry about, but she took her own life at the age of 15," said Pam Harrington, Florida representative for the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA Inc. (SPAN USA) and president of the Beth Foundation Inc., Ponte Vedra Beach. "I was in denial that Beth had died, but deep down inside, I knew it was true. I experienced a panic feeling from the moment I woke up until I went to bed at night." Ms. Harrington said. "Those days and months are forever vivid and forever blurred."

She was consumed with trying to find out why her daughter committed suicide until she realized she would never know the answer. "Working through my grief is the hardest thing I've ever done and continue to do. With Beth's death came a fear that no matter what I do, I cannot protect my son or husband," she said. Her advice included taking one day at a time and realizing there will be bad days, such as birthdays and anniversaries.

"About a year after she died, the phone rang, and a man called and asked for Beth. He was calling to ask her to babysit. I almost said, 'Hold on,'" Ms. Harrington recalled.

"I tried to go to a survivor group, but it didn't help me. I learned about SPAN USA and the advocacy letters. I started going store to store selling ads. I started educating people. With SPAN I got a real sense that I was not alone," she said.

Suicide survivors should take care of themselves first before they reach out and help anyone else. "Letting go of all the questions and the guilt was so important so I could focus on the gifts I have in my life. It's hard, [and] you have to live through it, but whatever your path is you will get to a better place," Ms. …

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