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Messages for Hope stages suicide memorial

Sep. 11, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- When Connie Spurlock lost her daughter, Brooke, their family was understandably heartbroken. The 30-year-old, known for her broad smile and exuberant personality, died in June 2009 after taking her own life.

"We were devastated. We were in total confusion, in total darkness, because all we saw was her beautiful smile," said Spurlock, addressing a small crowd at Harris Riverfront Park Tuesday evening. "We had no idea she was struggling."

Spurlock spoke about her ordeal on World Suicide Prevention Day, marked by a ceremony and floating candle memorial staged by Messages For Hope. Messages For Hope is the brainchild of Debbie Cardwell and her husband, Chuck, who lost their 29-year-old daughter to suicide in May 2008. The group aims to provide a network of resources and support groups for those left behind following a friend or family member's suicide.

Spurlock told Tuesday's gathering that nearly a million lives worldwide are taken each year by suicide, an average of one death every 40 seconds. She said lack of knowledge, stigmas surrounding suicide and those left behind and little access to appropriate care and educational programs are all roadblocks these families face.

"We know that education isn't going to combat the stigma or change negative attitudes, but there does need to be a long-term effort to offer community resources and adequate treatment," she said.

Spurlock was joined by fellow survivor Jack Runion, who told the crowd about his struggle following the death of his father five years ago.

"When you lose someone to suicide, you're put in a special category of loss. People don't know how to reach out to you, how to respond to you. People didn't come around," Runion said. "Five years later, I can understand that people were afraid they'd offend me or make me more upset."

Runion offered two suggestions to the group.

"As a survivor of suicide loss, please use our loved ones' names. You may think that emphasizes our loved one is no longer here with us, but they are still with us in our memories," he offered.

Runion also said that using the appropriate terminology in talking about suicide is helpful to those left to cope.

"People will say that someone 'committed' suicide like it was a crime, but they didn't do anything wrong. They were sick and they were battling," he said. "We prefer to say they completed suicide or that they took their own life."

Runion said he wanted other survivors of suicide loss to understand there are people in similar circumstances willing to lend their support. He also said there are resources for people struggling with mental health concerns or suicidal thoughts.

"There are people who want to help you and support you," he said.

For more information about Messages For Hope, visit www.messagesforhope.com.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

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