Turning grief into good for others

When someone dies by suicide, it is estimated that as many as 25 people – family members and close friends – are affected and struggle to manage their grief. The survivors often experience feelings of guilt as they question whether their actions, or actions not taken, may have played an unknowing role in the loved one’s decision to take their own life. The stigma associated with suicide and mental health complicates the survivor’s ability to talk about and process their feelings, potentially placing themselves at increased risk of suicide.

Jeff and Tonya Helmuth are very familiar with this struggle. Their 29-year-old son, Kristopher, died by suicide in 2015. Here, Jeff shares how their loss eventually opened the door to helping others.

Kristopher had texted me. I learned afterward that when I replied to his text about 15 minutes later he had already done what he had intended to do. In that kind of situation you can’t help thinking things like, “If I’d called him or texted him sooner, could it have kept him from suicide?”

Working in EMS, I know the unexpected loss of a loved one is a shock to the family – whether the cause is a farm accident, a sudden heart attack or suicide. We encourage grief counseling to help those loved ones work through the stages of grief. Tonya and I joined a group and it helped … to a point. As we continued to try to process Kristopher’s death we began to realize we needed more than the grief support group could provide. We needed to be able to share our feelings and challenges with others who had experienced a loved one dying by suicide.

Two or three months after Kristopher’s death, we began to look for a support group with others in our situation. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website is a terrific resource, and we were able to find a group in Fort Wayne called “We the Living”. The group is led by people who have also lost loved ones to suicide and they very generously set up a group in LaGrange County. We learned that AFSP has a certification course for support group facilitators and decided we needed to become certified. Tonya and I took over the reins from “We the Living” in September of 2017.

Surviving Loss by Suicide Support Group

Through our experiences we’re able to share with others like us. Talking to people of like experiences makes a huge difference, since each of us in the group knows that those we are talking to have a first-hand understanding of what is being shared. Being with ‘our people’ is the biggest advantage of this group.

What I love about our program is that it is an open forum. There’s no agenda – discussions move in a natural way. Group discussion leads the program. That’s why we find it so valuable.

Is the group right for you?

Whenever someone contacts me about the support group, I always ask them how long it’s been since their date of loss. If someone calls after a month, we advise them to spend some time with their family and friends and, if possible, join a formal grief share group. We try to encourage them to attend after six months.

We have five people in the group, on average, and walk-ins are always welcome. There is a core group that attends every meeting. Some of the others are in and out. Some come when they aren’t traveling. The group expands and contracts in size as people’s needs fluctuate.


For more information about the Surviving Loss by Suicide Support Group, call or email Jeff Helmuth at (260) 463-9492 or jeffrey.helmuth@parkview.com

Surviving Loss by Suicide Support Group
Third Tuesday of the month
6:30-8 p.m.
Parkview LaGrange Hospital
LifeBridge conference room

Interested in free suicide prevention training?

Parkview LaGrange Hospital is now in its third year of providing free training to adults aged 18 and older, using a nationally recognized program called Question. Persuade. Refer. Minimum group size of 6 people is required. If you are interested in learning more about this free QPR training, contact Leah Heaston, LCSW, LCAC, at (260) 463-9270 or email her at leah.heaston@parkview.com. QPR training is also available in Allen County.

If you have concerns about yourself, a family member, or a friend, call the Parkview Behavioral Health HelpLine at (800) 284-8439 or (260) 373-7500 to speak with a trained professional.


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