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Suicide loss survivors’ groups

There are two Suicide Loss Survivors’ groups in Franklin County. One is in the north end, in Malone at Community Connections of Franklin County on 7 Pearl St., and the other is in the south end, in Saranac Lake at the Saranac Lake Youth Center on 9 Woodruff St. Both groups meet from 7 to 8 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month. The doors open at 6:30 p.m., and anyone who has lost someone to suicide is welcome to attend. There is a facilitator for each group: Tamara Landry Cowan in Malone and Aleacia Landon in Saranac Lake.

Our stories and experiences are all different, but we come together for peer support. Suicide grief is unique, and we are often reluctant to talk about it because of the stigma that exists around mental illnesses and suicide.

If you have suffered the loss of someone you know and love to suicide, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Suicide does not discriminate. It occurs in the rich, the poor, men, women, children and people of all races and ages. The people who are left behind are referred to as “suicide loss survivors.” It is not a club you choose to join but a position you find yourself in when someone you know made a choice to take their own life.

Survivors are left with many emotions: shame, guilt, survivor’s guilt, sadness, anger, shock, numbness, denial, abandonment and loss … to name a few. We struggle with the questions of WHY (did they do this) or WHY (didn’t they come to us for help). We also struggle with HOW (could this happen) or HOW (could we not know it was going to happen before it happened).

The emotions come in waves and can be overwhelming if you keep to yourself or try to handle the grief by yourself. You should not be ashamed of any of your feelings. Your grief journey and path to healing will be unique to you and your personal situation. You also should not be ashamed to talk about your loved one. They lived and were special to you. You miss them, and the fact that they died by suicide should not define their entire life or cloud the memory of who they were and what they meant to their family and friends.

The Suicide Loss Survivors’ group is a small group. Together we are talking openly and honestly about our experiences and our loved ones. We laugh, and sometimes we cry. We are mending our brokenness by sharing the burden of our grief while working through our anger and frustration. We are all at different points along the healing journey and can learn from each other’s experiences. (This is what a peer group is all about.) We are working together to reduce stigma. We want to build resilience in the survivors of this type of trauma and encourage each other to help heal our hearts.

If you or someone you know could benefit from attending our group, please let them know about it. People who have lost someone to suicide are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts themselves. Preventing suicide in our communities and supporting each other after such a tragic loss is our goal.

You can find out more information by contacting Community Connections in Malone at 518-521-3507 or the Saranac Lake Youth Center in Saranac Lake at 518-891-5846.

Together we “Hold onto Hope” and help each other to cope! Please note that this group is peer support and not meant to take the place of professional counseling.

Tamara Landry Cowan lives in Churubusco, is a member of the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Coalition and volunteers to facilitate a Suicide Survivor Loss group in Malone. She is the author of “Hearts of Love; Be Still.” This commentary is the third of a series for Mental Health Awareness Month, May, put together by Franklin County Community Services.

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