Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Journey

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American Association of Suicidology NEWS LINK
Suicide Awareness Survivor Support Missouri and Kansas: The Journey
By Bonnie L. Swade
When a loved one takes his or her life by suicide, the effects ripple like a rock tossed into the water; it reaches into the lives of family, friends, co-workers, and community. Numerous statistics can be found on age groups; gender; demographics; and financial, cultural, and religious groups, but the fact is that suicide knows no boundaries and no family is immune.
Many survivors who have lost a loved one by suicide often struggle with the never ending question: “Why?” The reality is that we can never comprehend the darkness and depth of our loved ones’ despair. We often thought that if our son had just stayed around a little longer, things would have gotten better and he would still be with us. We have come to the realization, though, that things may have gotten worse. No amount of love has the power to control another person’s thoughts or actions.
I have had many titles in my life: daughter, wife, mother, aunt, teacher, counselor, and volunteer. However, I never dreamed I would belong to the group that no one wants to be part of: suicide survivor. Nine years ago, we received a call from our youngest son. He told us that he found his brother unconscious with a rope around his neck. We were in Chicago at the time and the ride home to Overland Park, Kansas felt endless.
Not a word was uttered between my husband and I on the almost nine hour ride home. Brett was 31 years old when his life came to an end. We often refer to our life with him as a rollercoaster, from the time he was a toddler. He was the oldest boy (of four children) in a blended family, and he gave us numerous opportunities to practice our parenting skills. His sisters and younger brother had reason to feel slighted because so much of our focus was spent on redirecting him, encouraging him, and hoping that he would find his way. Brett experimented with alcohol and drugs at an early age. We tried therapy and other programs, but the fixes were all short-term. Thinking back, he was his own worst enemy and he sabotaged every success he had. It became evident that he was on a path of self-destruction. No matter how hard I prayed that he would find peace, it did not come. When it finally did nine years ago, it was not the peace I had prayed for. I felt angry at God for the way my prayers were answered. Suicide has a way of making one question beliefs, choices, personal worth, relationships, and just about everything in life.
One has a choice when bad things happen: to be bitter or better. My family and I chose to take this devastating, heart breaking experience and turn it into something better. As an educator, I had several students over the years who died by suicide. I never understood the depth of sadness or the feelings of guilt until suicide affected my family. Some people are quick to assume that suicide only happens in dysfunctional families. The stigma facing survivors and families is one of the main reasons that the Suicide Awareness Survivor Support-Missouri and Kansas (SASS-MoKan) came to be.
My husband and I started our non-profit to combat the stigma and shame associated with suicide and to foster a greater understanding and sensitivity when dealing with the traumatic grief experienced by suicide survivors. SASS-MoKan supports many organizations that raise money to research the brain and behavior. However, as a grass roots organization, it also focuses on assisting people in the local community. Our annual walk is the major part of SASS-MoKan’s fundraising. We have a small budget, but members of our board are dedicated folks with huge hearts to help others. Money raised at our walk helps fund our ongoing education, public awareness, networking, efforts to unite survivors, initiatives to reduce suicide, and support for survivors. SASS-MoKan assists area support groups with funds to purchase books and other materials needed to run an effective group. SASS-MoKan also offers a Holiday Memorial Service and Healing Day for survivors at no cost to participants.
Eight years ago, my husband and I started a support group for people who had experienced a loss of a family member or friend to suicide. When our group started, we had three or four attendees. It is now bittersweet that our group averages anywhere from 15 to 25 participants who meet together twice a month. We offer support and want others to know they are not alone. Even though each family is unique, some reactions among survivors are nearly universal; these include anger, guilt, depression, denial, and the search for why. Our support group works because it focuses on receiving support, strength, and understanding from others in a non-judgmental environment.
Nine years ago, we never would have thought our lives would go in this direction. There is not a day that goes by that we do not think about our son, miss him, and love him. Making a commitment to accept things we cannot change and helping others to develop resilience and optimism has helped us with our own personal growth.
To find out more about SASS-MoKan go to You can also become a follower of Bonnie’s blog at the website.
Bonnie Swade has been in the field of education for 40 years. She and her husband, Mickey, facilitate a support group for suicide survivors, and started a nonprofit organization called SASS-MoKan. The couple coordinates a community walk, as well as a Remembrance and Healing Day yearly. They lost their 31 year old son Brett to suicide nine years ago.
American Association of Suicidology 
5221 Wisconsin Avenue, NW | Washington, DC 20015
Phone: (202) 237-2280 | Fax: (202) 237-2282
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, provides access
to trained telephone counselors, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.