Friday 19 December 2014

Easing the anguish after a loved one's suicide

Living Links is an invaluable and free support available to families who are tragically bereaved by suicide

Patricia Casey

Published 13/05/2014 | 02:30

Living Links is an invaluable and free support available to families who are tragically bereaved by suicide

ABOUT 500 people die by suicide every year in Ireland. This amounts to a suicide rate of about 15/100,000.

Every such death takes its toll on the local community. But, most of all, for the grieving families, their lives will be changed irrevocably.

A sudden death for any reason is a source of unimaginable bewilderment and sorrow, but suicide carries with it a more complex range of emotions.

Close family members experience a challenging mix of self-blame and self-questioning, anger and confusion, even sometimes relief which, in turn, fosters spiralling guilt and unremitting longing. The grief after suicide is very different from the impact of other bereavements and so requires different approaches to those generally available.

Coping with practicalities such as funeral arrangements in such a fraught state of mind is a huge effort for family members. At a recent forum on the topic called 'Life is Fragile', organised by a local woman Hillary McBride and held in Westport, I had the great fortune to meet a man who has spent his life trying to ease the path of those faced with the suicide of a loved one.

Michael Egan, formerly a member of An Garda Siochana, spent many years providing training to members of the force on how to break bad news. Indeed, gardai are among the first people to be called to an untimely death.

Their involvement may be viewed as intrusive and clinical, as the place of death, often seen as special, even sacred, becomes a forensic scene since possible foul play has to be ruled out. After his retirement from the force, and exposed to the suicide of a person he knew well and the problems faced by family members in that immediate post-discovery period, he decided something had to be done.

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Kind words and a listening ear are of course hugely important and friends, neighbours and clergymen are exemplary in providing this type of emotional support. But Michael Egan, influenced by his previous work on the immediate impact of bad news, recognised that something more was needed to assist people at this time. This led him to found an organisation in the village of Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary in 2002.

Living Links is now a nationwide organisation and has recently opened branches in Northern Ireland. It is a postvention service that anybody who has lost a loved one to suicide can contact at the time that it happens, or in the months afterwards. A Suicide Support Outreach Person, trained in dealing with acute grief, both emotionally and practically, will visit the bereaved individual on request.

The service is free and the meeting(s) will take place at a location of the person's choosing, be it their home, a local coffee shop or a place where they will not be recognised and can feel anonymous. Information and assistance on the funeral, the inquest and on organisations to help with the grief in the medium term is provided.

This organisation is not in itself a grief counselling organisation, only in so far as providing information and practical assistance helps to alleviate some of the burden and anguish at this difficult time in a family's life.

Basic questions that are on people's minds when there is a suicide death are discussed. Questions such as, "what do I tell the children, what are my legal entitlements, what should I say to my employers?" and so on, are considered. This is a one-to-one exercise – Living Links appreciates that those bereaved by suicide often have difficulty meeting even people they know well, let alone confiding their innermost pain, doubts and questions.

It may take months before a suicide bereaved person has the strength to meet others similarly bereaved, as their emotions are too jagged.

Living Links can be contacted through the organisation's very user-friendly website (www.LivingLinks.ie) and a mobile number is helpfully provided. Alternatively, anybody needing their assistance can obtain details of the nearest organisation office on the website's drop-down menu and request assistance. I can think of few more worthy and helpful organisations for those recently bereaved by suicide. The early days after such a death are deeply distressing and sensitive; practical input can ease the burden of the trauma that has arisen. Nothing can take away the heartache, self-doubting and questioning, but the path to finding answers, and ultimately peace, will undoubtedly be smoother.

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