A suicide survivor is not what you expect

Published 9:09 am Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Column: Maiden Voyage, by Sherry Westland

It seemed logical to me that the name “suicide survivor” would be given to those who have failed an attempted suicide. That is what I thought until I became one.

A suicide survivor is one who has survived the death of someone who took their own life. As others would agree, we wouldn’t have chosen this status, yet we have become part of an elite group just the same.

Sherry Westland

Sherry Westland

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Every year, survivors of suicide loss gather together in locations around the world to feel a sense of community, to promote healing and to connect with others like them. I will celebrate my first Suicide Survivor Day on Nov. 23 in Rochester. If you have lost a loved one, I would encourage you to attend.

Survivors of Suicide Day began in 1999, when a new resolution was introduced to the United States Senate. With its passing, the Congress designated the Saturday before America’s Thanksgiving as National Survivors of Suicide Day, a day in which friends and family of those who have died by suicide can join together for healing and support. In recognition of suicide’s worldwide impact and because sites are organized on every continent, the program is called International Survivors of Suicide Day.

International Survivors of Suicide Day has grown each year, and now the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s program unites survivors of suicide loss across the world. There are events in 300 cities on six continents throughout the world, where survivors of suicide loss gather together to remember their loved ones and offer each support. Each event is independently and locally organized. Each location welcomes survivors of suicide loss, providing a safe and healing space where everyone can comfortably participate in a way that is meaningful to them.

They join with others to listen to a diverse panel of survivors discuss their losses, how they coped and much more. At most of these community centered events, organizers show a 90-minute DVD (created by AFSP) that features the personal stories and advice of other survivors and psychiatric professionals.

(Survivors of suicide loss are also able to watch from the comfort of their own homes, as the program is streamed on its website AFSP.org).

If you’ve lost someone to suicide, you may feel alone (as though no one understands what you’re going through); shocked (even if you knew your loved one was at risk. You may find yourself replaying their last days over and over, searching for clues); responsible (wondering whether there was something you missed, or something you could have said or done, or wished you hadn’t said or done), angry (at whoever you believe is to blame), abandoned by the person who died, ashamed and worried (about whether to tell people the truth, for fear of being judged), guilty (for laughing, having fun or beginning to enjoy life again), or even relieved. It is normal to have some, all or none of these feelings as you cope with suicide loss.

I encourage you to come in person to experience the powerful sense of connection and community that is forged between survivors of suicide loss. You are not alone on your journey. Let’s draw strength and meaning from community and from our own experiences by showing up on Nov. 23 in Rochester.

This is an environment where people understand suicide loss. It will be a day of healing where those in attendance recognize and honor our loss. Though the grief of children is important, this event is not appropriate for children under 12.

For more information on the Rochester event, contact Jenna Cerda, 507-923-8188. Event location will be at the Bluestem Center for Child and Family Development, 124 Elton Hills Lane NW. Hope to see you there!


Albert Lea resident Sherry Westland is Ms. Minnesota in the Ms. Senior America Pageant.