Local Group Helps Family and Friends of Those Who Lost Love Ones to Suicide

By Daniel Baldwin

Carmen Newtown (far right) lost his son Christopher to suicide. He and his friends attended last year’s AFSP Out of the Darkness Community Walk at HCCC. The three are also trying to reach out to other families and warn/teach them about suicide.

The rate of suicides and suicidal thoughts among teens and young adults has increased from 2020 to 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people (aged 10-24) in New York state in 2020, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

More and more people are taking their own lives.

Their suicides have had a deep painful impact on their friends, family members and loved ones. Many surviving family members feel guilty and depressed after losing their loved one to suicide, according to emedicinehealth.com.  They are ashamed of themselves and traumatized by the event. They have a hard time moving forward in life.

Those who have lost a loved one to suicide and feel guilty or depressed after their loss, should contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The organization’s mission, according to Karen Heisig, AFSP’s Greater Central New York area director, is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. The organization has provided programs, resources, help and support to those who have lost a friend or family member to suicide or are thinking about suicide.

“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is the leading nonprofit funder of suicide prevention research in the United States,” Heisig said. “We do programs. We support those at risk. We support those who have lost someone [to suicide]. We offer support and resources to anybody who’s been impacted by suicide and then we do loss and healing. Loss and healing entails supporting those who have lost a loved one. Whether that’s connecting them to a peer, providing written and digital resources, like a list of books they might find helpful, a list of support groups and finding a therapist who has experience talking about suicide loss.”

Bear, Delaware, resident Angela Biamonte-Bowers reached out to AFSP after losing her son, Ryan, to suicide.

“I absolutely did,” she said.  “Weekly calls, weekly check-ins, and brief support groups. We fundraised, and they [AFSP] came and showed their support at the fundraiser and talked about suicide.  I can’t stress enough to love and support this foundation.”

She also turned to her friends for help.

“The support of family and friends is the only thing that has gotten us through this,” Biamonte-Bowers said. “We had a great group of friends that have taken us in, treat us as family and our friends alone have helped us to survive every second of every day.”

Personal loss

Dolgeville resident Tracy Stewart (fifth person to the right in orange shirt) lost her daugther Meagan to suicide. She and the rest of her family and friends started a suicide awareness nonprofit organization named “Miles For Meag” in memory of Meagan.

Heisig lost her husband, Maurice Heisig, to suicide.

“My husband died by suicide in January of 2006 after a long struggle with depression, post-traumatic stress and the loss of his brother to suicide and his dad due to chronic illness.” Heisig said. “He had many risk factors — health, historical and environmental risk factors.”

Life was rough for Heisig after the loss. But she emotionally healed after reaching out to AFSP and volunteering at it Out of the Darkness Walk (an AFSP fundraiser).

“It [moving on] was really difficult,” Heisig said.  “I lived in North Carolina far from family, so really where my healing started was when I connected with other people who have lost someone. When I moved home to New York, I met other people from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I got involved in my local community (AFSP) walk in Rochester. I started volunteering there and that gave me a sense of purpose. It (AFSP walk) helped me give meaning to everything that happened and that’s still what carries me on years later.”

Heisig sees suicide as a more complex health issue.

She learned more about it and discovered the reasons why people do it. The discoveries were what influenced Heisig to become a member of AFSP.

“We lost my husband’s brother in 1999,” Heisig said, “Nobody was talking about suicide at that time. So none of us were learning anything about it. It was just swept under the carpet. Then when we lost my husband, it was like ‘oh my gosh. We need to talk about this.’ Thankfully, as the years have gone on, people have started talking about this more and more. That really helped me because the more I learned about it, the more I realized, ‘OK this is a complex health issue.’  There’s a lot going on when somebody dies by suicide and the more you know about risk factors and warning signs, the more likely they are to be able to help somebody. So that had a big influence on me doing this work, volunteering, and joining the (AFSP) staff.”

AFSP is not the only organization reaching out and helping those affected by suicide.

Surviving family members are also trying to help.

Ilion resident Carmen Newtown lost his son, Christopher, to suicide. Newtown said that he had a hard time moving on after the loss. He is now trying to reach out to other families and warn them about suicide, so that they do not go through the same emotional pain that he did.

“It’s certainly not easy (moving on),” Newtown said. “But if we can prevent one other family from going through what we went through, whether it would be education, that’s our key. We’re trying to educate youth and adults alike that there’s another way. What seems like the end for them is probably a bump on the road. Our goal is to spread the word and educate people to prevent one other family from going through this.”

Dolgeville resident Tracy Stewart lost her daughter, Meagan, to suicide last March.  Stewart is also trying to raise suicide awareness and help other families who lost their loved ones to suicide. She started the “Miles for Meag” program in memory of her daughter.

“It is a nonprofit organization,” Stewart said. “We started a ‘Miles for Meag’ organization to help others and support families (who lost their loved ones to suicide). We’re working on suicide prevention as well as support services for families if a suicide happened. Our ultimate goal is to get a house for families to go to if suicide happened in their home.”

This non-profit organization is still up and running today.

Suicide may be a complex health issue, but it can be prevented. Those who are in suicidal crisis or are thinking about ending their lives should immediately call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

“I would say to that person, ‘please keep going,’” Heisig said. “Please reach out for help and if you reached out before and it didn’t go so well, reach out again or reach out to someone else. There are times in our lives where things become overwhelming and we all need a little assistance. Talking about the way we’re thinking and feeling can be positive steps towards getting out mental health back on track.”

Where to Get Help

If you or someone you know are thinking about suicide, call one of these organizations:

• Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

• American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: 1-888-333-2377.