Suicide loss survivors to gather

By Megan Rule | Staff Writer

This Saturday, Waco area residents affected by suicide loss will gather for International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day to share stories and find comfort.

“It gives me hope because last year, there were other families there who were further along in their journey,” said Annamaria Fajardo, coordinator of this year’s event. “We had peers that could let us know that it would get better. It helps to know that you’re not the only one going through this as an individual or a parent or a sibling.”

Saturday is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, and events like the one in Waco will take place around the world. Each event will include a screening of “Life Journeys: Reclaiming Life after Loss,” which is a documentary about the journey of both grief and healing after losing someone to suicide. The documentary was produced by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and features a few Texas-native survivors of loss.

“Drawing on stories and insights from long-term loss survivors, the film shows us that through resilience and support we can achieve hope and understanding in our lives while celebrating the lives of those we lost,” according to the event flier.

Fajardo said the video was uplifting and offers hope for the future. Last year’s event was the first of its kind in Waco as the Central Texas branch of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has only been in Waco for three years, Fajardo said.

“We need to create hope, and how we do that is by educating ourselves and helping other families,” said Jennifer Warnick, member of the Central Texas AFSP Board. “Through that process of helping others, you help yourself again.”

The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Strack Building No. 6, located at 4800 Memorial Drive. The program will begin with a welcoming followed by the screening of the documentary. After a 10-minute break, there will be a group activity and then lunch. The day will finish out with presentations by local suicide loss survivors and mental health professionals, then the closing remarks.

“Basically, it’s a place for those that have lost someone to suicide,” Warnick said. “This is more of an intimate session. The tone of the event is teaching how to pick up the pieces.”

For those who cannot physically make it to an event, there will be an online program that will last about 90 minutes, according to the AFSP website. The online program will include a screening of the documentary, a post-screening discussion focused on coping and healing, and a question-and-answer with online viewers. The online program will take place at noon as a live event, then will be available to watch afterwards.

The online program will be moderated by Shannon Donnick, AFSP loss and healing programs manager. Clarena Tobon-Guevara, AFSP Central Texas chapter suicide loss survivor and volunteer, will also speak, as well as Dionne Monsanto and Al-x Gonzales, suicide loss survivors and volunteers from New York City and the Greater San Francisco area, respectively. The live viewing and real-time participation will be conducted through the YouTube Live system.

According to the AFSP website, there are, on average, 117 suicides per day, and surveys suggest that at least 1 million people in the United States each year intentionally inflict self-harm. In the state of Texas, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 34, and more than twice as many people die by suicide in Texas annually than by homicide, according to the AFSP website.

“I think awareness is probably the biggest thing that events like this can do for our community,” said Dr. Sara Dolan, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience and the graduate program director for clinical psychology. “I think the media exposure that the event gets and the number of people who come to an event like this who have lost someone in their life to suicide to spread the message to more people who may not have heard it before will help spread awareness.”

Fajardo said she has also started a survivors support group for mothers that has been meeting for about three months.

“That’s the thing I keep saying over and over — we’re not alone, and it gives hope to people,” Warnick said. “They have a journey ahead of them. They’ve just got to keep going and take it one day at a time.”