I believe in the healing power of community. In our acronym crazed world there is a group called LOSS – Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide – and I am a facilitator. LOSS is sponsored by Catholic Charities but no religious affiliation is required to take advantage of the services. If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide you can get individual counseling, attend monthly support meetings or participate in a closed 10-week session.
The people in the 10-week sessions begin the process in broken isolation – I picture their hearts as the little pieces of glass in a stationary kaleidoscope. The first night is always intense as they navigate through their stories. All losses are difficult but there are different facets to a suicide that can be hard to discuss in polite society. It’s sometimes extraordinarily difficult that first night, but these survivors feel no judgment or revulsion from the people around the table, and sometimes see a surprised yet validating look from others that might silently say “Oh you went through that…felt that way, too?” We go through a lot of Kleenex at all meetings but the first night requires the most.
At each meeting we talk about different aspects of “surviving” and finding the “new normal” in their lives. Sometimes we talk about what we would say to our loved one if we had one more opportunity and what we’d like to hear them say to us. Toward the end we bring in pictures to pass around and people nod as they finally associate handsome, lovely faces with the images they’ve had in their minds for weeks. We still use the Kleenex liberally.
By the last meeting the group is so bonded that discussion includes the new job search, how the pregnancy is going, when the new grandchild is due or the possibility of a Cubs World Series victory in our lifetimes, along with the work of surviving. There is also – finally – laughter. As the kaleidoscope rotates, the broken pieces of glass have the potential for momentary brilliance and this is what I wait for every 10 weeks. No one heals in 10 weeks but it’s a start.
Sometimes the stories hit too close to home for me, and my son’s death is yesterday instead of 12 years ago. People occasionally ask why I put myself in the position of being devastated once more. I’d like to say it’s the brilliance of the kaleidoscope but that’s too esoteric. It’s really the ability of the group to provide comfort and healing – individually and as a whole. I believe in its power over these temporarily shattered people and am continually awed by it.
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