They have different stories to tell, but they all have one thing in common. They have lost at least one loved one to suicide.
On the second Tuesday of each month, they gather in the wood-paneled conference room at Mental Health America of Aiken County on Pendleton Street. For the members of the Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group, it's a time to laugh, cry, vent and remember.
“We can come and feel comfortable talking about what's on our mind because we know that the people here can relate,” said a man who attended the support group's meeting on Oct. 8.
His son committed suicide and so did a nephew. They both have been dead for less than a year.
Walking past the closed door of the bedroom where his son died still makes the man sad, and it frustrates him when friends and acquaintances don't understand the depth of his grief.
“They're like, 'It's been eight months; It's time to move on,'” he said. “They've never experienced devastation, so they don't know how I feel.”
There have been days when the man has cried uncontrollably and forgotten to do routine things like brush his teeth. His memories of the tragedy remain vivid, but his son's last words, “I love you, daddy,” provide him with some comfort.
Another man, whose daughter committed suicide, thought she was his most levelheaded child and was surprised when she took her own life.
“She was the last person you would expect to do something like that,” he said. “She was bright and effervescent. I still wonder about what the signs were that we missed.”
A man whose son died three years ago offered some suggestions about how people should act around the parents of suicide victims.
“I would rather somebody touch my shoulder or just say, 'I don't know what to say,'” he said. “You don't have to say something, just be there. Don't compare my son to the pet dog that you lost.”
Keith Asbill, who lives in Gilbert, is the support group's facilitator. He got involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention following his brother's suicide in 2009 and has been trained by the organization to lead and guide discussions about such tragedies.
Typically, at a support-group meeting, “we let everybody introduce themselves, say who they lost and talk a little bit about how it is affecting them,” Asbill said. “Then we let the conversation flow around the room. There isn't a time limit on anything. When there is silence, I ask a question to someone that I'm comfortable asking it to, and that gets the conversation flowing again. Everything is confidential. We don't talk about each other outside the group, so this is a safe haven.”
Lisa Tindal, executive director of Mental Health America of Aiken County, regularly attends the support group's meetings, which begin at 6:30 p.m. and last 1˝ hours.
“The first time I came and sat next to someone who had lost a loved one, I knew that we could never not have this group,” she said. “I was so impacted by the stories that I want to do everything that I can to prevent someone from being in that much pain.”
For more information about the support group, call Mental Health America of Aiken County at 803-641-4164.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard.