News Local/State

Finding Hope After Losing A Loved One To Suicide


Screenshot from "A Daughter's Journey" Documentary

When someone dies from suicide, it’s common for their loved ones to experience shame and isolation. That's according to Dennis Cockrum, a counselor at Parkland College in Champaign who is a survivor of suicide loss himself.

Cockrum lost several friends to suicide by the time his own brother died from suicide 14 years ago. He said the loss was devastating.

“Everybody experiences it differently” but there are some commonalities, Cockrum said. Many people's first reaction is utter devastation, followed by numbness, “and then you try to make sense of something that makes no sense."

Cockrum said his work as a counselor helps him feel connected to the loved ones he lost to suicide.

“I couldn’t help them. I didn’t know how to help them,” he said. “But I can help other people with struggles with mental illness (and) I can help other who are struggling to put their life back together after a loved one who may have died by suicide.”

It’s common for survivors of suicide to have a lot of unanswered questions following the tragic death of their loved one, Cockrum said. And it can be a very isolating experience, because oftentimes, people who aren’t sure what to say may choose to stay distant.

Cockrum’s advice to other survivors is: Take care of yourself, because healing from grief is hard work.

“Your journey is uniquely yours, so you have to go at it at the pace that’s comfortable for you,” he said. “And along the way, self care is so important.”

If possible, he said, connect with others who can relate.

“Reach out and talk and share this journey—that you don’t want to be on—with someone,” Cockrum said. “Because there is help in reaching out.”

Cockrum is one of the organizers of an event for survivors of suicide loss, taking place at the Parkland College Student Union this Saturday from 9 am to Noon.

The event includes a screening of the documentary, A Daughter's Journey, as well as a panel discussion with suicide and mental health professionals and small-group discussion opportunities for those who have experienced a similar loss.

Other “International Survivors Of Suicide Loss Day” events are taking place this Saturday across Illinois and the world. A searchable list, as well as complete documentary films about suicide survivor loss, can be found at the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman