Graphic by Liv Schanck

On Nov. 18, Julia Vicaire, Dominique DiSpirito and Mirium Thomas led the survivors discussion at the Wilson Center for International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. Annually, this event is held the Saturday before Thanksgiving as a safe space for community members to openly discuss their grief prior to the holiday season.

Vicaire is a licensed clinical social worker at the University of Maine’s Counseling Center. Thomas is a doctoral intern and master’s student in professional psychology who also works at the Counseling Center. DiSpirito is the 2022 UMaine Valedictorian and current Lead for America Hometown Fellow Harry S. Truman Scholar. Together, they organized this event sponsored by the American Association for Suicide Prevention.

The Wilson Center set up a group of chairs forming a circle. Also set out were buttons, pins and bracelets with affirming messages relating to the cause. As people began to file in, the organizers introduced themselves and asked everyone around the circle to share their names and where they are from. They noted that simply being there is a vital step in the grieving process.

Although much of society considers suicide to be a rather taboo topic, it is something that happens far too often. Those who have lost friends or family deserve a space of connection and support where they can be honest in describing the progress and setbacks they have faced.

Everyone was given an opportunity, if comfortable, to speak to the group about who they have lost and how it has affected them. With respect to those victims, all stories and experiences shared did not leave the circle. However, new perspectives did. It is important to be intentional about the language used and avoid sharing details that may be too graphic. Phrases such as “died by suicide” or “lost by suicide” are highly encouraged considering the sensitivity of the subject.

Following the open dialogue, a documentary titled “Pathways to Healing: Hope after Suicide Loss” was shown. It followed the family of Chris Taddeo as they grappled with loss after he took his own life as a young adult. Each family member shared their personal journeys of grief and healing. Together, they paid tribute to Taddeo’s life through participation in an annual 5k race in his honor.

The group discussed the documentary and how some of his family members’ experiences resonated with them. The film established resilience in the face of loss and provided an authentic account of how prevalent of an issue death by suicide is. The Taddeo family’s ability to come together and cope was inspiring and provided hope to those early in the grieving process.

The meeting concluded with the reading of a piece titled, “This Poem Should be a Circle” by Mark Nepo followed by a candlelight vigil. People were given an opportunity to light a candle for a loved one that has passed away as well as present a photo of them. The group took a few moments of silence out of respect before giving everyone time to socialize following the end of the program.

The event was very moving and eye-opening in regard to the common hardships experienced as a result of suicide. It is important that those struggling seek help by confiding in someone they trust in order to establish healthy methods of coping and avoid untimely death. If you or somebody you know is dealing with loss, attending a survivor’s discussion such as this one, could prove to be incredibly beneficial.

For more information about the Wilson Center, visit https://umaine.edu/wilsoncenter/.