Group tries to answer questions, offers support for family, friends affected by suicide
Editor's note: Last names of some in this story have been left out for sensitivity reasons.
By ELIZABETH GOLDEN
Carmen lost her 27-year-old son to suicide. She felt the need to talk to someone who could understand, but couldn't find any suicide support groups in northwest Kansas.
She was referred to Ann Leiker, executive director of the Center for Life Experiences. Leiker helped her start the Healing After Loss of Suicide program in 2009 at First Presbyterian Church of Hays.
The confidential HALOS program meets twice monthly and focuses on dealing with the grief of loss for those who are left behind.
Leiker said the group usually has seven attendees who are recovering from the loss of a loved one, with the occasional guest, nursing student or social worker coming to participate.
Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler has been responding to suicide calls for more than 20 years.
Ellis County Sheriff Ed Harbin said he has been working suicide calls for 30 years.
Scheibler and Harbin spoke to the group of seven this week about dealing with suicide incidents and prevention.
According to Scheibler, last year the city of Hays received 75 suicidal subject calls, with two resulting in suicides.
"I still remember the first suicide I went to," Harbin said. "You always remember a little bit about every suicide incident you went to. One of the questions we always ask is, 'Why? What was the thing that made the person do what they did?' "
Harbin and Scheibler both said every suicide call is taken seriously, and in the case of a completed suicide, the case first is ruled a homicide until proven otherwise.
"You just don't know," Harbin said "Some people don't understand why we treat it as we do."
After the death is confirmed to be a suicide, the police force must notify the next of kin face-to-face.
"When we make notification, we don't want to leave you by yourself," Harbin said. "We're not going to leave until someone comes. We don't want to make pests of ourselves, but we will always go back the next day."
Carol and Gary lost their son, Tim, who was in the police force, on April 15, 2010.
"The hardest thing for me is the things I'll never know," Carol said. "That's the hardest thing to accept."
Diane, whose sister "completed suicide" in 2011, agreed.
"She overdosed on at least six different prescription medications," Diane said. "I'll never know for sure whether or not someone helped her swallow 250 pills or whatever it was. It doesn't matter what answers I know or don't know. She's still going to be gone, and I can't ever change that. You're never going to know the answers because they're not here to tell you. And even if they were here, they probably wouldn't tell you the whole truth."
Ruth said she always will wonder what she could have done differently.
"When Glenn called me," she began, struggling to speak through tears, "I don't know if his family knows how he was really talking to me when this happened because they don't talk to me anymore. They still blame me for some reason. I couldn't get it across to them that I would have done anything for him."
He was at her house when she came back from her dad's death in Wichita.
He called her a few more times that day and came over the Monday before he killed himself.
"He was sitting on the porch talking to me and just saying random things that didn't even make sense," Ruth said. "He wasn't even talking about him, but just things he thought were going on with us."
The night he died, he asked to come over, but she said no. He called her later as she was planning her dad's funeral with her family.
"You can't accept me back in your life, but I'll always love you, and next time someone finds me, they'll find me at the grave," he said to her that night, she said.
Soon after, he sent her a message saying, "I love you and I'm sorry. Goodbye."
"Ten minutes later, his daughter called me and said, 'You need to get over here. Dad's going to kill himself,' " she said. "I was so angry, and I kept thinking why, why are you doing this to me? All I could say is, 'It's not my problem.' "
Ruth said she believes if she would have let him come over, he still would be alive.
"Right now, those words to his daughter," she said, "I live with that day in and day out. If only I would have known."
There is no way to know when someone will complete the act; however, Scheibler said there are warning signs.
"Sometimes people get really happy and joyful before they do this since they know whatever suffering they've had will soon be over," he said.
"Sometimes they'll give us a call if they're by themselves and let us know where the key is at, or make sure someone takes care of their dog. They're calling so someone knows."
According to Harbin, funding could be a significant problem in combatting mental health issues.
"They've closed several of the state hospitals thinking the communities could take care of the people," he said. "The community doesn't have the training that the mental health facilities do."
HALOS will meet next Jan. 21. For more information on how to get involved, contact Leiker at email@example.com.