Mary Kate Jackson lifted a small light in a quiet lecture hall at Fort Lewis College. One of about 30 participants in a candlelight vigil to remember those lost to suicide, Jackson and others, one by one, softly spoke their names.
Part of International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Heartbeat Durango took part in a global simultaneous screening of “The Journey,” a documentary about people learning to cope with suicide in their lives.
The screening evoked emotions in the room. At least one woman chose to leave, her grief too much to bear.
In 2012, Colorado reached a record high 1,053 suicides, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 16 of those were in La Plata County. So far in 2014, there have been eight deaths by suicide, coroner Jann Smith said.
Before the screening, Tracy Kennedy of Heartbeat, a suicide survivors support group, shared her experience with life after her husband died by suicide in 2012.
“You are not alone,” she told the audience. “You think you know someone. This is the most trying loss and experience of my life.”
Kennedy shared her health complications since her loss and how she found help in Heartbeat after eight months of being on her own.
“This is a great day to help us all,” she said. “It’s a long and winding road, but you can get through it. You will have a new normal.”
Like Kennedy, Jackson, who moved to Durango from Chicago a year ago, didn’t know there was support.
“I was trying to find a group but couldn’t,” she said. “Then I thought maybe I didn’t need a group anymore.”
Jackson said that talking abou t her mother’s suicide with others helped her accept it.
“I talk freely about it, but when it happened, my dad didn’t want us to say it was suicide,” she said.
Other participants shared their difficulty moving past their loss and their hopes that coming to terms with it would allow a sense of healing.
Grief therapist Katie Bachman, of Hospice of Mercy, encouraged survivors to be kind to themselves, especially during the holidays.
“Grief is human, organic and natural,” she said. “Let that emotional energy come out.”
Counselor Amie Bryant read poems that conjured feelings tied to the loss of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, brothers, sisters and partners. Many bowed their heads and wept but, at the same time, found it in themselves to raise their candles and utter the names of their loved ones with honor and conviction.
A community candle stayed lighted near the doorway, and as survivors left, they placed their candles around it. The soft light grew.
Kim Johancen-Walt, therapist and survivor, said accepting her brother’s death brought solace.
“When I was no longer focused on how he died, suddenly he came back,” she said.