A dad, brother and sister —

Woman who lost three relatives to suicide focuses on helping others with sudden loss

by Alexandra Heck

It’s a level of loss many would struggle to comprehend.

Jane Brown has lost three members of her family to suicide; her father when she was 29, her brother more than 20 years ago, and more recently her sister.

“There are stages in grief,” said Brown, who now offers support for others who have lost loved ones to suicide. “I didn’t always feel how I feel today.”

Brown is part of the Support After Suicide team with a program called Here4Hope, a partnership between the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo Wellington, the County of Wellington and Wellington OPP.

It’s a program to help families, friends, colleagues and caregivers grieving from the often, sudden loss.

“When a community member dies there are so many that can be touched,” said Cecilia Marie Roberts, suicide prevention lead with CMHA Waterloo Wellington.

She says that Here4Hope is the first of its kind, because it pairs bereaved individuals with a police officer who can act as a liaison on the investigation, mental health support, and the guidance of someone who has similar lived experiences.

She said what follows from a suicide is often a traumatic and complex grieving process, and many may be afraid to talk about it or reach for help.

The program is a three-year pilot project funded by the Ministry of the Solicitor General, aiming to stabilize those in initial shock and work with them in the days and months following.

Both Brown and Roberts say that everyone grieves differently, and that with a traumatic event, there really is no correct order or timeline for how someone may work through the stages of loss.

In the early days, the team helps families with many of the practical questions.

The liaison officer can help answer questions about their loved one’s personal effects, the coroner’s timelines, questions about an investigation.

“There’s definitely support for our officers as well,” said Wellington County OPP Detachment Commander Insp. Paul Richardson.

He said that when someone dies in the community outside of hospital, officers are on scene.

They see what has happened. They are often the ones who speak with family.

He said the program gives officers comfort in knowing that there’s support for those that they meet in these situations.

“They have seen first-hand the pain and the anguish families feel,” said Roberts.  

Questions about writing an obituary, funeral arrangements, speaking with the media and explaining the situation to children are all daunting tasks that the team can give gentle guidance on.

During the next six to eight months, their support changes shape.

“That’s when the anniversaries start happening,” said Roberts, explaining that the first Christmas, birthday, back-to-school, have a tremendous effect. “Those first anniversaries can be so painful.”

Roberts says that life is never the same after losing a loved one to suicide. Instead, things shift and change.

“You move on to a new normal,” she said.

Over and over again, Roberts has heard from clients about the importance of having someone to relate to, someone who has faced a similar experience.

“I think the biggest thing that I offer is hope,” Brown said, noting that she never knows how someone is feeling, but can share how she felt when she was faced with similar circumstances.

“I’m not going to judge them,” she said, explaining her role is primarily to listen.

She shares ideas for coping and stresses the importance of having a strong support network.

Brown wants anyone in Wellington County to know that there are resources available if they are grieving the loss of someone to suicide.

“There’s help out there,” she said.

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