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March 2, 2021

Memorial Day for survivors of suicide

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Tom-Muir-Suicide-Memorial-Day-cropt-EJ-IMG_6413The most recent Australian data (ABS, Causes of Death, 2009) report deaths due to suicide at 2,132. That equates to six deaths by suicide a day, or one every four hours. *

For every completed suicide it is estimated that as many as 30 people attempt – That is 180 attempts per day. That’s more than one new attempt in Australia every 10 minutes. *

It is estimated that 249 people make a suicide plan everyday.  It is estimated that as many as 1,014 people think about suicide every day. *
* From the Lifeline website

Story & photos Eve Jeffery

Tom Muir speaks very carefully about the passing of his brother Bob. The emotions sit just under the surface.

Many survivors of suicide trip over the words surrounding the end of life – the words ‘died’ and ‘passed away’ seem almost an untruth when it wasn’t a demise by accident, age or illness, but by the person’s own hand.

The people left behind to deal with the aftermath sometimes suffer not only bereavement, but also a mixture of guilt and shame, not because of the death itself, but by their self-imposed ideas about what they may or may not have done to contribute to their loved one’s actions.

Tom’s own experience has prompted him to create a memorial day for survivors of suicide, both friends and family of those who have died and for those who have been unsuccessful in their attempt.

‘The event for me came out of my brother’s death a decade ago,’ says Tom. ‘I found that afterwards everyone seemed to forget about it very quickly and I felt like it was a subject I couldn’t talk about that much.’

Tom says at the time he let it go. He thought he had dealt with it. Then about 18 months ago he was suddenly overcome with emotion. ‘I was walking through the cemetery in Ballina, just getting used to the town, and I broke down sobbing. I realised I hadn’t really grieved for Bob’s death.’

About a month later he shared some ideas with some friends and suggested they organise an event. ‘This is where people can grieve and commemorate the loss of the person who took their own life and hopefully find a bit of healing. I got such great support from everybody and we decided to do something.’

Tom-Muir-Suicide-Memorial-Day-EJ-9W6A9711Tom says it has taken about a year to organise the memorial day.

‘It is designed to provide a public forum for people to not feel isolated because I have discovered there are a lot more people touched by suicide than what people think. It wasn’t until I did a bit of research that I realised I wasn’t alone and the more I talked in the community about this issue, the more I found there were others who had been affected in similar ways.’

Tom says that one of the recommended therapies for the healing side of losing someone like this is to be able to attend a public ceremony and to commemorate the loss.

The memorial event will have several speakers, some of whom have made attempts at suicide and survived. ‘We will have two speakers who got that close,’ says Tom. ‘One of them tried three times and survived. They will speak about messages of hope and the place they were in at the time.’

There will also be a song by Dan Hannaford, who toured Australia with a youth band highlighting the issue of youth suicide, and there will be some musicians from the C3 church performing.

‘There will also be a short ceremony to symbolically remember the person who passed away, the aim being to try to help people recall a happy memory, because often when we go back to that place we are still processing the hurt. I want people to take some time out and recall the happy side of the person.’

Tom says there will be people at the event who are equipped to support people emotionally on the day, the suicide bereavement counsellors will have blue lanyards with the word ‘TEAM’ written on the tags. There will also be the opportunity for people to enquire about access to ongoing support after the event.

Tom says the Suicide Memorial Day is a supportive opportunity for people to heal and grieve.

‘This is such an important process and while no one grieves the same way, there comes a time when the sun seems to shine a bit more brightly than it did before.’

The Suicide Memorial Day will be held this Saturday September 14, at the Missingham Park Amphitheatre in Ballina from 3 to 4pm.

Everyone is welcome.

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