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Survivors of suicide loss share stories, strength in Parkersburg

Jeanie Phillips shares about a family friend who took his life and how it affected her family, including her son, who were close friends with the boy. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

PARKERSBURG — There is hope after the loss of a loved one, family or friend, to suicide.

On Saturday, community members gathered at the Parkersburg First Lutheran Church to share their stories and help each other grieve for International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.

The event kicked off with an introductory section, where everyone introduced themselves and shared a little of why they came. Myla Kreinik, event coordinator who is associated with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), used the first portion of the event to address holiday grief, an important topic this time of year.

“When grieving during the holiday season you need to remember that you have the right to: Feel what you feel; not share those feelings; not go to parties or family gatherings; take time for yourself; cry when it hurts, laugh when it’s funny, smile when you are happy and to not feel guilty for any of it; have your loved one remembered; change your mind. You may not know what you can or cannot handle until faced with it; change traditions; enjoy the holiday and try again next year,” said Kreinik.

While not a substitute for professional care, there are multiple simple activities that were addressed that can help to reduce stress, encourage wellness and restore a sense of well-being. These activities focus around the mind, body and soul.

Beads were distributed to attendees, white beads for loss of a child, red for loss of a spouse or partner, gold for loss of a parent, orange for loss of a sibling, purple for loss of family member or friend, silver for loss of a first responder or military, green for personal struggle or attempted suicide, teal for a family member or friend that struggles with suicide and blue to support suicide prevention. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

For mind, activities such as gratitude journals, expressing emotions, being creative and reading are suggested. For body, walking or biking, preparing a favorite meal and taking a bath are among suggested activities. For soul, asking for help, volunteering and talking to a friend are among the suggested activities.

“You need to ask yourself, ‘Who hears you, who do you feel safe with?’ It is good to know those people you can turn to in a time where you need support,” said Anna Klosek, safe and healthy student liaison for Wood County Schools and the event’s guest speaker.

Klosek started her work fighting suicide rates in 1997 while working in psychiatric at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“We did things differently back then, and today luckily we know more about suicide prevention and the warning signs,” she said.

Klosek said she knew she could be doing more, and this led her to grad school, then into the school systems themselves, where she has been working to inform teachers on the warning signs, create plans of action and helping students in need.

Anna Klosek, safe and healthy student liaison for Wood County Schools and the event’s guest speaker, holds up posters that are displayed in Wood County Schools for suicide awareness. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

Over 350 of the Wood County Schools teachers and counselors have been trained on suicide prevention and knowing the warning signs.

Some of the information of what to look for includes:

RISK FACTORS: Depression or hopelessness, post-traumatic stress, ADHD, substance abuse, failing grades and acting out at school.

WARNING SIGNS: Suicidal threats, sudden changes in behavior and increased risk taking or impulsivity.

WHAT TO DO: Remain calm, listen to them, do not leave them alone and get help by notifying someone such as a teacher, school nurse, counselor or parent.

Pamphlets were left out for those in attendance who needed or wanted the information. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

RESOURCES: 911, the national suicide prevention lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the crisis text line 741741 just text TALK.

Klosek shared a personal story about a suicidal family member, who was unnamed as they are not ready to personally share their story, but gave Klosek permission to share parts of it.

“I saw the warning signs and I secured the house from guns, alcohol and pills, but if there is a will there is a way,” she said.

Klosek talked about how she professionally knew how to respond to the situation, but the person still attempted two suicides that she came home and witnessed.

“Emotionally I did not understand how this could happen in my own home. I saw the signs, I took precautions, I was confused,” she said.

Following the speaking portion, attendees watched a short film about the family and friends of Chris Taddeo, of North Syracuse, N.Y., who took his life sometime following his college graduation. (Photo by Madeline Scarborough)

Klosek talked about this confusion and her own self blame at the time for not being able to control the whole situation.

Following the speaking portion at Saturday’s event, attendees watched a short film about the family and friends of Chris Taddeo, of North Syracuse, N.Y., who took his life sometime following his college graduation.

The movie talked about who he was, the questions the family was left with following his death and the daily struggles of maintaining a marriage following the loss of a child.

Following the movie, attendees broke out into groups to share their stories with others of a similar experience (loss of a child, loss of a spouse, and others).

“I miss him every day, but glad he is happier now,” said Marcia Westbrook, who lost her son, Sergeant First Class Tyler Westbrook, 31, to suicide in 2015.

Tyler Westbrook was assigned to Second Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Carson, Colorado, and completed two combat tours in Iraq.

Locally there are multiple resources available for coping with loss of a loved one to suicide and getting help for personal mental health. One such resource is the Legacy Project, a bereavement group for survivors of loss to suicide. It meets 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library on Emerson Avenue on the second Tuesday of each month. For more information on the Legacy Project or other local support groups and suicide resources available contact Myla Kreinik at mylak@yahoo.com or 304-485-6729.

Madeline Scarborough can be reached at mscarborough@newsandsentinel.com

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