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Ryan Johnson, Published April 28 2013

Support for survivors struggling after loved one’s suicide

FARGO – It can be hard to know where to turn for help after losing a loved one to suicide – even when there are several support groups and professionals available to assist.

But Chairwoman Mary Weiler said a new service from the North Dakota chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention could help fill this gap of assistance by bringing together volunteers who know the impact of suicide firsthand and the newly bereaved for conversations of support, advice and a shared understanding of this grief.

“The main thing is reaching out and being available for survivors at their biggest time of need, and that doesn’t always happen for survivors,” she said. “They sometimes don’t know where to go or who to call, or they just want someone to talk to and particularly to talk to someone who has experienced the same kind of loss.”

The Survivor Outreach Program is up and running, available to send one of its four trained volunteers to meet with anyone in the Fargo-Moorhead area who calls the local hotline at (701) 412-6176.

Coordinator Tavia Smith said it’s not meant to take the place of professional help. But the free service can help connect grieving family and friends with counselors, therapists or support groups while spreading the message that they’re not alone, she said.

“That is the full intention with AFSP is to fill in that gap because we have our support group once a month for adults and then we also have one for children, and sometimes it’s difficult to get them to come the first time,” she said. “But if you had a one-on-one sit-down with somebody and they realized that there’s a group of people out there that know exactly how you feel, they might be more inclined to come.”

Volunteer Jill Bishop said the program would’ve been helpful to her two years ago when she lost her sister to suicide. She said she was “in such a state of shock” for the first few weeks, sometimes arriving at a destination without remembering how she drove there or realizing she had run a red light without even thinking about it.

She said there’s no denying that a suicide is a “horrible” thing, but she said the new outreach program can serve as a reminder that grieving friends and relatives can still look forward to a bright future.

“You’re going to turn a corner and there’s going to be hope and there’s healing and there’s people here that understand and have been through this,” she said. “You can talk to us about anything and we’re going to get it.”

Bishop said the program also can cut through the misinformation that often surrounds suicide and can make it even harder for survivors to acknowledge they need some help.

“If you can peel away the layers of the myth and the misinformation that we’ve all lived with for hundreds of years, hopefully you can get them to the truth and that will help them get to a better place as quick as possible,” she said.

For more information or to schedule an appointment through the Survivor Outreach Program, call (701) 412-6176 or visit www.afsp.org/survivingsuicideloss.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587