Traumatic grief facilitator Betty Bates and CMHA staff members Chris Harms, Sue Myhre and Sharon Durant discuss the upcoming suicide support group, which runs April 16 to June 4.

Traumatic grief facilitator Betty Bates and CMHA staff members Chris Harms, Sue Myhre and Sharon Durant discuss the upcoming suicide support group, which runs April 16 to June 4.

Support for the bereaved

The Suicide Grief Support Group begins in April and welcomes those who have lost loved ones to suicide

They prefer to be called people who have lost loved ones to suicide, the simple truth about a death that is like no other.

Two people who attended the Suicide Grief Support Group last fall talked about how the group helped them with healing after suicide loss.

“You feel very alone,” said Donna, who lost a daughter to suicide. “The circumstances are so different for each person but the feeling of anger, grief, why, are the same. Of course, other people are sympathetic but no one can really understand unless they have had the experience of losing a loved one to suicide.”

Each person who came to the group had a one-on-one coffee meeting with facilitator Betty Bates before the group began to let them decide if it was the right time to attend or if there should be a referral to other resources like individual counseling first.

Craig lost his father to suicide.

“I found my dad, so there was that trauma in addition to the regular grief. At first, I was very angry about the circumstances that brought Dad to that place. He had been under medical care and I felt my father’s condition could have been handled better and I had a hard time coming to terms with that. I really didn’t know what to expect from the group or how it was going to help me,” he said.

Taking the first step to come to the group can be difficult.

“You are nervous. You are talking to strangers about your tragedy, then you realize that everyone is going through the same thing, feeling helpless, guilty, the stigma, thinking about what you could have done to prevent it,” said Donna.

Bates explained that often friends and family members don’t know what to say so they step back, leaving the people most affected by the loss feeling even more lonely. For each suicide, there is a wider circle of family members and friends who are affected in different ways.

Donna said another family member who was close to her daughter is in counseling to help deal with the loss.

“For me, it was important to talk and to be a good listener for the others in the group. I was able to recognize the steps of grief I was going through, that I was not really losing it, and that I was not the only one going through this. It was a way to normalize, not minimalize what has happened,” she said.

Craig also appreciated knowing that many of the things he was experiencing were normal.

“With suicide, there are a lot of things that were left unsaid, questions that were never answered and things we will never know. It’s such a tangled web of emotions. We were able to recall all the good memories with the loved one, one of mine was fishing together. We wrote letters to our loved ones and we learned how to talk to other family members because they have also had a loss,” he said.

Bates noted that coping as a family is a very important part of grieving and that each person had a unique relationship and is on their own individual journey of grief.

Donna stressed that counseling of some kind is essential, whether it is individual or in a group setting.

“This is something that you never really get over with and something that you can’t deal with on your own. In the group you learn self care and how to be compassionate to yourself. This is a safe place to express your emotions and it is a way to honour your loved one.”

The group also has an education component, including discussions about readings of material about loss through suicide.

“If you have experienced the loss of someone through suicide, recent or in the past, it would be very beneficial to come to this group. You are helping yourself and you are helping the others by being there,” said Craig.

The next Suicide Grief Support Group runs April 16 to June 4, Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The groups, sponsored by The Suicide Prevention Committee of Vernon, are free but pre-registration is required. For more information and registration, call Bates at 250-275-8062 (ext. 4), or e-mail

The Suicide Prevention Committee of Vernon will host an open house at the Schubert Centre March 12. Guest speaker Clair Jantzen, grief and loss therapist, author and grief workshop presenter, will speak on “Healing After Suicide Loss.” Everyone is welcome.


Vernon Morning Star