Support group helps grieving Fargo youths affected by suicideFARGO – It may be true that “grief is grief,” Tiffaney Holm said, but there often are profound differences in how children and teenagers process that grief when they lose a loved one to suicide instead of cancer or an accident.
By: Ryan Johnson, INFORUM
FARGO – It may be true that “grief is grief,” Tiffaney Holm said, but there often are profound differences in how children and teenagers process that grief when they lose a loved one to suicide instead of cancer or an accident.
It’s a reality Holm, now 34, said she experienced firsthand at the age of 12 when she lost her father to suicide. For many youngsters, it can be a period of guilt and wondering if there were warning signs they should have noticed.
But Holm and other local volunteers with the North Dakota chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention are helping these young members of the community process their grief and learn an important lesson – it’s acceptable to be happy again, even after a terrible tragedy.
“Sometimes they feel bad because they are enjoying themselves, and I think that’s part of grieving as well as letting yourself laugh and celebrating their life,” she said. “We don’t just focus on the way they died, but we want to focus on how they lived.”
Holm said she jumped at the chance to put her experience to good use when the AFSP offered training for facilitators to launch local support groups specifically geared toward children and teens ages 5 to 18 who have lost loved ones to suicide.
The local group has met once a month in Fargo for about a year, drawing six to 12 youths to get together for stress-relieving activities and a chance to talk about a subject that may be hard to discuss with their friends and family.
Holm said parents of these youths have told her it can be a difficult topic, and if they start to cry when their children try to talk about the loss of their friend, sibling or relative, kids can end up feeling even guiltier.
“This just gives them a place to let it out without that guilt of making someone feel sad again for talking about it,” she said.
The youth support group meets from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. the third Thursday of each month at Atonement Lutheran Church, 4601 South University Drive in Fargo.
The meetings happen at the same time as the AFSP’s support group for adults who have suffered a loss to suicide, and Holm said parents are told upfront they’ll have to be out of the room to allow their children to open up with the volunteers and their peers who are dealing with similar losses.
She said the three facilitators who now run the group also make sure each meeting ends on a positive note, such as asking the participants to share favorite memories of their loved ones.
“We tell them, too, that we’re not doctors; we’re not licensed psychiatrists; we’re not counselors,” she said. “We’re just some people who have also experienced loss that are here to help them talk.”
For more information, visit www.afsp.org/northdakota or email afspyouth firstname.lastname@example.org.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587