Southern Maryland event for survivors of suicide loss
Second annual meeting aims to provide healing, support
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.
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.
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.