South­ern Mary­land event for sur­vivors of sui­cide loss

Sec­ond an­nual meet­ing aims to pro­vide heal­ing, sup­port

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

The South­ern Mary­land Out of the Dark­ness Walk and the Amer­i­can Foun­da­tion of Sui­cide Preven­tion, Mary­land Chap­ter, held the sec­ond an­nual South­ern Mary­land Sur­vivors of Sui­cide Loss Day in Brandy­wine at St. Paul’s Epis­co­pal Church.

Event co-chair­woman Sue Maska­leris said she started the event to have some­thing closer to home for those in South­ern Mary­land who lost some­one they loved due to sui­cide.

Maska­leris lost her fa­ther to sui­cide when she was 14 years old,

and she wanted to pro­vide an event that would help oth­ers find a path to­ward heal­ing.

“We all have the op­por­tu­nity to heal. Heal­ing is not about ‘get­ting over it,’ it’s about com­ing to terms with the loss and find­ing peace,” Maska­leris said.

Nov. 19 is In­ter­na­tional Sur­vivors of Sui­cide Loss Day. In 1999, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Ne­vada, who lost his fa­ther to sui­cide in 1972, in­tro­duced a res­o­lu­tion declar- ing the Satur­day be­fore Thanks­giv­ing as Sui­cide Loss Day.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion re­ports that in 2014, the most re­cent year for which it has data, sui­cide was the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death in the U.S. for those ages 10 to 34, and the 10th lead­ing cause of death for all age groups, with 42,773 re­ported sui­cides in 2014.

The event in­cluded a screen­ing of the Ameri- can Foun­da­tion of Sui­cide Preven­tion’s new film, “Life Jour­neys: Re­claim- ing Life After Loss.”

The film fea­tured in­ter­views with in­di­vid­u­als who had lost a sib­ling, spouse or child to sui­cide sev­eral years ago, and dis­cussed the ways in which these in­di­vid­u­als have adapted to life after the loss.

Maska­leris em­pha­sized that ev­ery­one grieves dif- fer­ently, and there is no “right way” to grieve.

“The whole thing about the five stages of grief, it’s not a lin­ear thing,” Mas- ka­leris said.

While de­pres­sion is of­ten a ma­jor fac­tor in sui­cide, Maska­leris said there is rarely one sin­gle rea­son why peo­ple take their own lives.

“Peo­ple tend to see the en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues — his wife left him, or his son died — and there’s so much else go­ing on that we don’t see. It’s like the tip of the ice­burg,” Maska­leris said. “We so much want to know why, and some­times we will nev- er know why, and that’s OK.”

Event co-chair John Sta­ples, pro­gram manag- er for “War on Stress,” a project of the non­profit United Char­i­ta­ble, dis­cussed the role of stress and de­pres­sion in sui­cide and the im­pact it has on the brain.

“What I be­lieve is that it’s re­ally im­por­tant for sur­vivors — well, ev­ery- body, re­ally, but es­pe­cial- ly sur­vivors — to under- stand how some­one could reach this place where they could do this thing that seems so wrong,” Sta­ples said.

Sta­ples said stress trig- gers hu­mans’ “fight or flight” re­flex, which re- duces blood­flow to some of the higher think­ing re­gions of the brain; use­ful for help­ing our prim­i­tive an­ces­tors deal with pred- ators, but not as use­ful nowa­days.

“What it’s do­ing in us is it’s cre­at­ing the best pos­si­ble es­cape mech­a­nism we can be,” Sta­ples said.

He said that chronic stress re­sponse can of­ten lead to de­pres­sion, the No. 1 risk fac­tor for sui- cide.

Sta­ples rec­om­mended prac­tic­ing breath­ing ex­er­cises and mind­ful­ness — the aware­ness gained from pay­ing at­ten­tion, in the mo­ment, on pur­pose and with­out judg­ment — as means to re­train the brain to cope with fac­tors that in­duce stress.

The event con­cluded with a group dis­cus­sion, al­low­ing at­ten­dees to share their feel­ings with oth­ers who had lost a loved one due to sui­cide and of­fer sup­port.

Wanda Gryszkiewicz of Baden lost her son, Mitchell, to sui­cide on July 22, 2014. He was 21 years old.

“You never get over it, you just learn to live with it. It be­comes your new nor­mal,” Gryszkiewicz said.

She said the sec­ond year after her son’s death was the hard­est for her.

“It’s when I re­al­ized that he’s re­ally gone, he’s never go­ing to walk through the door,” Gryszkiewicz said.

She and friend Christina Kelly formed com­mu­nity group BadenStrong and or­ga­nized the first Baden “Out of Dark­ness” Walk on Word Sui­cide Preven­tion Day this year, to help raise aware­ness of the dan­ger of sui­cide and re­move the stigma at­tached to talk­ing about sui­cide.

“I don’t want any­one else to ever have to go through what I’ve gone through,” Gryszkiewicz said.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Sue Maska­leris, co-chair­woman of the sec­ond an­nual South­ern Mary­land Sur­vivors of Sui­cide Loss Day, shows a dis­play of let­ters from “A Let­ter to You,” an or­ga­ni­za­tion which col­lects anony­mous let­ters of sup­port writ­ten for sur­vivors of var­i­ous types of trauma, on­line at alet­ter­foryou.org.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

John Sta­ples, co-chair­man of the sec­ond an­nual South­ern Mary­land Sur­vivors of Sui­cide Loss Day, dis­cusses the role fo­cused breath­ing and mind­ful­ness can play in re­duc­ing stress and de­pres­sion.

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