On Nov. 23, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention-N.J. Chapter and Helping Hands Grief Support are hosting a Survivors Day at the Fellowship Alliance Chapel in Medford, 199 Church Road. The event is a part of a larger, international event put on by the AFSP to support those who lost loved ones to suicide. For more information, visit AFSP.org.
To RVSP for the free event, call the support group at (609) 953-7333, ext. 309. The event is geared toward adult survivors, but teenagers can attend as long as they’re accompanied by an adult parent or legal guardian.
The event is partly funded by the foundation, Gloucester County Institute of Technology, Rowan University, Cooper River N.J. and the Mt. Laurel (Burlington County) and Hamilton Out of the Darkness Walks.
Area Director of the N.J. Chapter Elizabeth Roithmayr-Clemens said the day gives people a sense of community with others who know what they’re going through, and can help them move through the various stages of grief. She added people experiencing these stages helps them see there’s hope and “they too can still get through this.”
“There’s going to be tears with any event that we do, but [we] promote that message of hope to people,” Roithmayr-Clemens said. “We get tears at our walks and it’s about leaving with a sense of connection, resilience and hope.”
George Stein, who founded the support group with his wife Wanda over 20 years ago, said attendees are treated to a continental breakfast before a tribute for the people who’ve died by suicide. Stein said people can inquire on how to have their loved ones included in the tribute by calling the group’s phone number.
Following the tributes, attendees will be shown a film produced by the AFSP, and a panel discussion and Q&A will follow.
“We’ll have a panel (with) people who are trained on this (who) will be speaking about loss,” Stein said. “We break down to support groups directly related to the type of suicide loss.”
During weekly support group meetings, Helping Hands organizes survivors by their loss – whether it is that of a child, friend, co-worker, etc. – to help them move through the stages more easily and to provide a sufficient amount of support.
“They break down in their small groups, and in there, they’re allowed to express everything on their minds, and they meet with people who’ve had a loss in that area who can help them,” Stein said. “As the group matures, other people in that group, they can offer suggestions on how to cope with different things.”
At the event itself, Stein said attendees are given note cards to write their questions down for the Q&A, which are then answered by a panel facilitator knowledgable on the question’s topic.
“It means a lot to me because we get to help people when they’re the most vulnerable,” Stein said. “We have people that are empathetic, encouraged and we’re not there to evangelize people. Just heal and help them.”
Roithmayr-Clemens said the event is an open invitation to anyone who experienced a loss from suicide – but they aren’t pressured to attend.
“You have to decide if you’re ready to be there,” Roithmayr-Clemens added. “We get a lot of people who come the first year that they’ve lost someone and they don’t come back. If you’re looking to find a connection to someone who has lost someone to suicide, come out.”
To learn more about Helping Hands, visit HelpingHandGriefSupport.org.
Editor’s Note: If you, or someone you know, are experiencing thoughts of suicide or need help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, the 2nd Floor Youth Helpline of N.J. at (888) 222-2228, Burlington County’s mobile crisis line at (877) 652-7624 or the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.