ST. GEORGE – It has been five years since Tina Hender lost her son to suicide, but the pain is still there. And while the pain will likely never go away, Hender is providing hope to other survivors of suicide loss through a peer-facilitated support group held on the third Wednesday of each month in the St. George Library.
The main message of the Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group is “you are not alone,” Hender said.
“(We want) people to gain a feeling of understanding and acceptance on this journey that nobody else understands,” Hender said.
Hender’s difficult journey began in 1982, she said, when her 15-year-old brother took his own life. Hender was 10 at the time.
Counseling and support services looked very different in 1982, Hender said.
“There was nothing that my family participated in,” Hender said. “There was nothing available to us at that time.”
In 2011, Hender lost her son to suicide. She said:
(He) was 18. He had just started college and had just made the marching band at Weber State. He had his whole life ahead of him, and he just got to the point with what he was going through I guess. I mean we never know why. No matter how we want to toss that dice, we are not going to have an answer. But he took his life at his best friend’s house and destroyed our family from what we knew it to be.
Because of her previous experience with suicide loss, Hender said she knew that the first thing she needed to do for herself and her family was get some sort of therapy.
Living in northern Utah at the time, their family participated in counseling services for about five months.
When Hender moved to Southern Utah to get away from all the emotional triggers she experienced while still living in northern Utah, she searched around for some sort of support service for a few months until she found Paula Larsen, who had started the Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group in St. George in 2005.
“She was a Godsend,” Hender said of Larsen, “because I wasn’t ready to be on this journey by myself yet.”
It is a journey that Larsen also understands all too well having lost her own son to suicide about 14 years ago.
Larsen’s family had seen a lot of loss the year her son took his own life, Larsen said, and she could see the light going out in his eyes.
On Dec. 19, 2002, Larsen’s son bought a gun and some ammo and used that gun to take his own life.
Though the two women’s stories differ in many ways, they both have a similar understanding of the pain, heartache and feeling of isolation that is associated with losing a loved one to suicide.
After Hender discovered the support group, she attended for about a year before participating in a training through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that gave her the ability to be a co-facilitator of the group.
Together Hender and Larsen facilitate the support group, which provides a safe space for survivors of suicide loss to listen to other survivors’ stories as well as to share their own, Larsen said.
The group is a peer support group, Hender said. There are no licensed therapists or counselors. Hender also specified that the group is not provided through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The foundation just offers survivors like Hender and Larsen the means to facilitate support and a guideline to help others.
For the two women and countless others who have sought refuge in the support of other loss survivors, the group provides strength in numbers, Larsen said.
It is a place where you can hear someone else’s struggles or stories and go “oh my gosh, me too,” Larsen said.
“There is great, great strength in that,” Larsen said.
The Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group meets the third Wednesday of each month in the St. George Library from 6-8 p.m. All adults 18 years and older who have experienced the loss of a loved one through suicide are welcome to attend.
Everything said in the group stays within the group, Larsen said.
For people who are not ready to come to the group, both Larsen and Hender will provide peer support by telephone, they said. Hender can be reached at 801-529-4895, and Larsen can be reached at 435-669-8136.
In addition to the monthly meetings, Hender is coordinating an event for International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day which will take place Saturday. The event will be held in the Washington City Library, 220 N. 300 East, Washington City, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Presentations from area suicide loss survivors and mental health professionals will be given and refreshments will be provided.
If you are struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
- What: Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group.
- When: Third Wednesday of each month, 6-8 p.m.
- Where: St. George Library, 88 W. 100 South, St. George.
- Additional information: Must be 18 or older.
International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day
- What: International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day
- When: Saturday, Nov. 19, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Where: Washington City Library, 220 N. 300 East, Washington City
- Resources: Event flyer
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