15 December 2017

SURVIVING SUICIDE

No sooner has Santa vacated the High Street than Cupid rushes to take his place. Everything has gone heart shaped; leaving us in no doubt, romance is in the air. But, while the sentimental season may be good for business, as Christians know, it has very little to do with love. Unlike its worldly impostor, there is nothing superficial or transient about the genuine emotion. Profound and enduring, the gift of true love is one of life’s richest blessings. But, as many have discovered, its loss brings indescribable heartache.

Whether it’s as a result of disease or accident, for the surviving family, the death of a loved one is hard to bear. But when life is deliberately extinguished, the grieving process is particularly difficult. Apart from an overwhelming sense of shock, they are left with the burden of the unanswerable question; why?

Linda Flatt knows what it’s like to search for answers that don’t exist. Her painful quest began when her twenty five year old son Paul decided that life was no longer worth living and brought it to an end. She recalls:

“Just before Paul’s death, we seemed like any other normal family. Our daughter had become a mum and we were enjoying the role of grandparent. Paul, although a little immature, was a lovely, caring and sensitive young man. For me, there was simply no sign of the tragedy to come. Although, to be honest, his girlfriend had told me that he’d threatened to take his life but when I confronted him, he merely laughed and insisted it was just a joke and a ploy to stop her ending the relationship. I had no reason not to believe him.”

Regardless of his assurances and playful bravado, Paul was indeed in mental turmoil.

“On the day Paul decided to end his life, he left a note explaining his reason. I don’t recall the exact words but basically he said that he’d messed up his life and didn’t want to go on. The tone of utter hopelessness was almost palpable. I was distraught and completely heartbroken.”

Only those who have experienced loss from suicide will understand Linda’s journey through grief and shock. Like an emotional rollercoaster she was hurtled toward pinnacles of pain before plunging to the depths of despair.

As with all of life’s trials her faith may not have provided immunity to sorrow but it did offer solace.

“In those early days when grief was still raw, I took comfort from a small circle of church friends who visited me at home. Their prayers and presence helped sustain me through many dark hours. It can be embarrassing or distressing to speak to someone bereaved in this way but is so important not to ignore them. Believe me they will appreciate your efforts. ”

Linda’s friends provided a safe, loving environment that enabled her to voice and share her sorrow. But they could not give the answers she craved. However, almost two decades later, Linda has finally ended her search.

“I prayed for understanding but in the end I had to accept that there are no answers on this side of eternity. God will eventually reveal everything but in the meantime He has given me healing and a purpose for my life. Gradually He turned my focus away from my own hurt toward others who are suffering. In 1996 I started a bereavement support group that continues to meet twice a month. My loss was a personal tragedy but I try to use it to help others. It has been eighteen years since Paul’s death and I still miss him. I always will.”

Linda’s story is indeed a personal tragedy but it is just one among thousands. In fact records show that every eighty-two minutes someone in the UK will end their life. It is statistics like these that ensure Britain has the highest suicide rate in Europe. But, unlike Linda, not everyone will have or feel able to share the burden with friends or a loving church family. However, it is for such individuals that God has called people like Tanya Orr.

Tanya’s Christian journey began at the early age of five when she committed her life to Christ but just a decade later, God revealed the direction of her service.

“At fifteen, I was doing some volunteer work at a Christian holiday centre in Wales when God laid the plight of hurting people on my heart. Whatever the reason, whether its pressures of life or in some cases, the church; individuals get hurt and I wanted to help. From that young age, I had a clear vision of my vocation.”

Over the next few years Tanya focused on gaining the qualifications needed to gain entry to the field of counselling and psychotherapy. When she was introduced to Lynn Farr who shared a similar vision, she felt her service was confirmed. Today Tanya heads up a dynamic team to offer ethical counselling and therapy at the Restore Centre in Belfast. As well as a comfortable, secure environment, Restore also offers an opportunity to take time to reflect and meditate or simply enjoy the ministry of Tony Horsfall at the beautiful Drumalis Retreat Centre in Larne

Tanya’s work with those struggling to come terms with loss through suicide has shown her the importance of allowing each individual to move at their own pace.

“Losing someone to suicide is an enormous shock to those left behind. It takes time to work through the emotional chaos. Sometimes, individuals simply want to sit in silence, others will cry, talk or look at photos. I allow them to dictate the pace. It’s a difficult journey, my role is to accompany them and try to offer the support they need.”

Like Linda, many of the bereaved who visit Restore, are looking for answers. They want to know why. Some feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for not recognising their loved one’s distress.

“There is always a burning desire to know why someone has deliberately ended their life. But, there is just no answer to this question. Equally, I try to gently remind the bereaved person that they are not responsible for the loved one’s death. It was an event that, although tragic, was beyond their control.”

As well as supporting the individual, Tanya plays a vital role in trying to monitor the family situation. In the aftermath of suicide, emotions are fragile and vulnerable personalities can be at risk.

“I try to find out who else has been affected by the death and how they are coping. By doing this I can keep an eye on things and hopefully prevent a situation escalating.”

Suicide within the family is a devastating event but it also affects the wider community. Yet everyone can play their part in both prevention as well as supporting families affected. Some groups made up of suicide survivors as well as community support workers have already bonded to raise awareness of the subject. But church leaders are uniquely placed to offer invaluable input. Many with knowledge of the physical, social and spiritual problems facing the various members of their church family can offer a front line defense in the fight against suicide. For these caring shepherds as well as anyone who feels challenged by God, Restore offers a variety of training and counselling courses.

Dr Paul Miller MD DMH MRCPsych

offers some sound advice.

“Individuals who struggle with the issue of suicide can feel totally alienated. To these people our message should be ‘you are not alone!’ It is my firm belief that when we in the Church begin to be more candid and honest about the problem, we can create an environment where individuals feel able to share their concerns in an open and honest way.”

At the end of the day, we can all play a role in the prevention of suicide as well as alleviating the burden of the families struggling to cope with its aftermath.Perhaps as Linda has discovered:

“Suicide cannot be erased. Life will never be the same. It will be different but that doesn’t mean it won’t be good. With God in control, it can even be better.”

For further information on counselling/ training or to book at Drumalis Retreat Centre contact: hello@restorecounselling.com or // telephone 90278191 or write to: Hopelink Centre,  31 Carlisle Circus,  BT14 6AT

Lorraine Wylie