Batesville support group raises awareness about suicide, loss

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published October 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 11, 2013 at 11:33 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Mary Robertson started a suicide survivors support group last October. The group includes Batesville residents who meet once a week to discuss loss. The group will also have an Out of the Darkness walk on Oct. 26 to benefit the Arkansas chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

BATESVILLE — If you ask Mary Robertson why she started the Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group in Batesville, all she has to do is point to her bracelet.

It has the photos of five of her loved ones whom she lost to suicide.

“I’ve lost two sisters, my stepson and two dear friends,” Robertson said.

Robertson’s sister, Deniece, died in 1982 — she was 16, and Robertson was 17.

“I didn’t talk about it until I was in my 30s,” Robertson said. “I thought you weren’t supposed to talk about it.”

Dealing with her sister’s death showed Robertson how hard it is to deal with the loss of someone to suicide.

“It was hard because we were the closest in the family, and she was just a year younger than me,” Robertson said.

After Deniece died, Robertson lost a young man in her life who took his own life in 2003.

“He called me his second mom,” Robertson said.

These two losses made Robertson draw closer to her family; then tragedy struck again. Her second sister, Angelia, was the hardest to lose, Robertson said. She committed suicide in 2004.

“We became closer because of the first loss,” she said. “We talked three to four times a day, and then that went to nothing. She was in her late 30s.”

Robertson said her stepson, Sean, was another difficult loss for her.

“We lost him in 2011. He was in my life from when he was 12 or 13 until he was 25,” she said. “He was really hard to lose.”

Robertson’s mother told her that losing a child was one of the worst experiences anyone could have.

“We were pretty close,” Robertson said of her relationship with Sean.

After four losses from suicide, Robertson decided it was time to do something.

“I knew there were things I could do to help; I just didn’t know what to do,” she said.

She then made contact with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s chapter in Little Rock in 2012.

“Wendy Thompson sent me information to get [Survivors of Suicide] started,” Robertson said.”I was learning [the material] when I lost my friend Michelle.”

Five of Robertson’s loved ones had committed suicide. Now Robertson is doing her part to help others deal with the same kind of loss. The Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group, or SOS, started in October last year.

“I get [the meetings] started. I tell about my losses just to get [attendees] started, and they can talk as long as they want,” Robertson said.

The support group meets from 6-8 p.m. the first Thursday of each month in White River Medical Center’s Josephine Raye Rogers Center for Women and Imaging in Batesville.

Robertson said talking to others who have experienced the same type of loss she has helps her as she facilitates the meetings.

“I hate that anyone else has gone through it because it’s really hard,” she said.

When people lose a loved one as a result of suicide, Robertson said, they are left with a lot of guilt and a lot of questions.

“One thing I learned [when I was starting the group] is that there are certain things you don’t say to somebody when they’re thinking about suicide,” she said. “My stepson, he just kept going on and on about how he wanted to die.”

Robertson said she told him to think about his family and his children before making a life-threatening decision.

“It was about him and what he was feeling. I wish I could take that back,” Robertson said.

Other than learning what not to say to a suicidal person, she said, she has learned what to watch for when it comes to potential suicide.

“[Through the group], I’ve learned how to be more open,” Robertson said. “We learn how to be there for each other.”

Though attendance at the support-group meetings has been relatively small, Robertson said sometimes it’s better for the crowd to be small if a person is coming to the group for the first time.

Robertson said one woman who had contemplated the idea of coming to SOS for a while came for the first time, and it was just the woman and Robertson.

“I felt like she needed that one-on-one time,” Robertson said. “I think it helps them to talk to someone who knows what it feels like.”

In addition to helping others, Robertson said, facilitating the group has helped her deal with the losses in her life.

“It’s helped me a lot,” she said. “[The group] keeps me busy, and it helps me cope.”

On Oct. 26, at Riverside Park in Batesville, group members and others who have lost someone to suicide are invited to participate in the Out of the Darkness Walk.

Robertson said the money raised from the walk will go to help raise awareness of suicide and provide education to save lives.

“I want people to know that it’s OK to talk about suicide,” Robertson said.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

Online Reporter Lisa Burnett can be reached at 501-378-3887 or lburnett@arkansasonline.com.

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