Threads of Hope

Oct. 22, 2019

International Survivors of Suicide Loss takes place on November 23, 2019. To learn more and find a Survivor Day event near you, click here.

I was nervous, and my counting down strategy wasn’t helping. I had hoped that by counting slowly backwards from ten that by the time I arrived at one, I’d finally be ready to get out of my car and go in to the survivors of suicide loss support group I’d heard about after losing my father. Yet, as I muttered, “one” in a shaky, unrecognizable voice, there I sat sinking heavily into the seat cushions inside the darkness of my car: the lone vehicle in the purposely chosen space on the far side of the lot. I watched as, one by one, others arrived, walked up the side stairs and disappeared into the unassuming concrete building.

Finally, giving myself one last pep talk, I hinged the door open and made my way to the entrance. The meeting was downstairs and as I rounded the corner of a small anteroom, I was met by the group clinician, Jessica. “Welcome,” she said warmly and smiled.

There were twelve of us sitting around the table that night and every Wednesday evening for the next eight weeks. Although each of our loss experiences was different, any awkwardness quickly fell away as we forged an almost instant bond with each other: an unspoken knowingness, a genuine acceptance and sense of immediate and complete belonging. It was a feeling I was in desperate need of: several years prior to losing my father, I had also lost a sibling to suicide.

Jessica, I discovered, had also lost her father to suicide. Our circumstances and the relationships we had with our fathers were unique, yet hearing Jessica’s perspective, I felt my own emotions and grief validated for the first time since that cold July day when my life had seemingly unraveled. This acknowledgment presented me with the first threads of healing, hope, and of possibility for the future.

A year after my dad’s suicide, I was invited to speak at an International Survivor of Suicide Loss Day (ISOSLD) event sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. As I began to share my story with the other suicide loss survivors there, that familiar sense of connection took root. Being back in the company of loss survivors felt like coming home to a place of fully non-judgmental acceptance, understanding and support. It is a feeling I have since longed for and intend on preserving. Each year since, I continue to volunteer to help coordinate Survivor Day events in the Chicagoland area.

Through the years, Jessica and I have kept in touch. Ours is a relationship to which other loss survivors might easily relate: the passage of time cannot weaken a bond shaped by our shared journey. Two years ago, I was the one initiating a connection between us and asked Jessica to be the keynote speaker at an ISOSLD gathering. The year after, she and I co-hosted our first Survivor Day event and in just a few weeks, on November 23, we will again join together to welcome another group of suicide loss survivors to our event. In that safe space, Jessica and I will facilitate story sharing, guide conversations and, perhaps most importantly, invite survivors to share, reflect and—in relationship to one another—find threads of hope that may begin creating the new fabric of their lives as survivors.


Erika Barber is a board member for the Illinois Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), a member of the AFSP Loss & Healing Council, and the author of Letters from a Friend: A Sibling’s Guide for Coping and Grief, and Conversations of Courage, a caregiver-guided activity journal for the child of suicide loss, proceeds of which benefit AFSP.

International Survivors of Suicide Loss takes place on November 23, 2019. To learn more and find a Survivor Day event near you, click here.

AFSP lists U.S. and international support groups as a public service. We do not run, recommend, endorse or fund any of the groups listed. To find a support group, click here.

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