Suicide bereavement group cares for those left behind

The death of TV celebrity Caroline Flack has thrown the spotlight on the tragic circumstances of the victims of suicide.

But sometimes the victims who suffer most aren’t the ones who have taken their own life but the loved ones – family and friends – who are left behind.

They are the ones who have to live with the self-imposed sense of guilt and cope with the unjustified stigma that often surrounds a suicide death.

The big question for say a mum, a husband, a daughter or just a best friend of a suicide victim is: “Could I have done something to prevent it happening?”

A recently launched ‘Bereaved By Suicide Group’ at Pendleside Hospice intends to allay the issues that are suffered by these loved ones.

The group – eight people have attended the first two meetings – shares experiences and emotions and works towards alleviating the pain and grief such deaths create.

The hour-long discussions are ‘facilitated’ by – there is no chairman or leader – two women whose husband and mother both took their own lives during the last 12 months.

Carol Sledding had been married for 56 years and had cared for her husband Keith for a number of years while he suffered depression helping him receive medical treatment and giving him homely attention. But last May Keith took his own life leaving his family in despair.

Carol received one-to-one counselling at Pendleside which she described as ‘a life saver’. Now Carol is helping others, as well as herself, by attending the peer-led Bereavement By Suicide Group.

She said: “People who have suffered suicide bereavement leave our meetings more relaxed about their situation after sharing their thoughts and experiences with other group members.

“I think everyone in this position suffers the guilt feeling of ‘could they have done anything more’ to prevent the person taking their own life. To tell you the truth after Keith took his own life I thought I was going crazy.

“The group adds another layer to the grieving process which after a suicide is a different kind of grieving process to a normal death. It can be really difficult to come to terms with sometimes but expressing your feelings to other members of the group really helps in the process.

“I can’t praise Pendleside enough for having the insight into providing this service.”

The other facilitator Sally Penn, whose mum aged in her 80s took her own life after suffering years of disability and chronic pain, said: “It’s just so advantageous to talk to people who have been through the same as you. It makes you realise you are not alone when dealing with the thoughts that suicide puts on you.”

Sally, who also helps as a volunteer in the spiritual care team, added: “Sometimes it’s harder to be understood by people when there is a suicide in the family. They don’t always show the sympathy they might otherwise do if it is a normal death.”

The group is the brainchild of Simon Frauts, Pendleside’s family support team leader. He said: “People who attend the meetings share their feelings and their stories but encouragingly they also contact other group members outside of the meetings and have formed fledgling friendships.”

The group is now one of seven across Lancashire and South Cumbria – a year ago there was only two. It is supported by the Healthier Lancashire and South Cumbria Mental Health Team.

 The Bereaved By Suicide Group meets the second Monday of every month between 5pm and 6pm at the Pendleside Hospice Family Support Centre, Reedley. If you would like to attend please contact 01282 440102 for an informal conversation about your needs.