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The 6th Annual National LOSS Conference

For the second year in a row I have had the opportunity to attend the National LOSS Conference. This year’s conference, Postvention is Prevention, was held in Fort Worth, Texas and was hosted by the Tarrant County LOSS Team. Nearly 150 LOSS Team members from all over the United States gathered together for two full days of training and networking.

The first day we welcomed Dr. Cindy Claassen as our morning keynote speaker. Dr. Claassen has spent the last 19 years researching suicide-related topics, including her current research on methodologies for surveillance of suicidal events and on presentations of suicidal patients in emergency departments. During her keynote entitled, Why Now?, she discussed why people who attempted or died by suicide chose that particular moment in their life to end their pain. While we know we can never completely be certain, Dr. Claassen shared some of her research about the timing of suicidal acts among those who attempt and those who died. Some of her findings concluded that 55 percent of people who died by suicide had no noticeable symptoms at the time of their death. She also found that among emergency room patients, 75 percent of them had their first thoughts of suicide before their teenage years. Over the past 45 years, suicide has increased 60 percent worldwide and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is expected to be the number one leading cause of death in the world by 2030.

On Wednesday, I attended a breakout session about substance use entitled, Suicide-One of Addiction’s Hidden Risks. During this session, we learned about the fundamentals of treating addiction as a brain disease and discussed the prevalence of the role that addiction plays in suicide attempts. Following the session, I sat in on a First Responders Panel where we were able to ask questions on how to improve relationships with our local law enforcement and how the LOSS Team can be used as a resource for first responders. One of the first responders also brought up the importance of self-care. He compared this need to Viktor Frankl’s famous quote, “Those who give light must endure burning.” Not only is self-care important for first responders and law enforcement, but also for all of the LOSS Team volunteers.

Our keynote on Thursday, Understanding Suicide-Related Grief: Considerations for Survivors, Therapists, Caregivers, and Educators, addressed the many unique aspects of suicide-related grief.  The presenter, Stuart Smith, is a licensed psychotherapist in the Atlanta area who is largely dedicated to grief work, relationships, and psychological growth over the lifespan. He talked about grief being an active process and explained that grief is simply a response to love; we grieve because we care. Guilt is a very common emotion after a suicide loss. He took time to explain the difference between guilt and regret, and how important it is to move from guilt on to regret.

“You see, guilt implies responsibility and culpability. In the case of suicide, no one is responsible for another’s actions and choices,” said Smith. “It is okay to regret words unsaid and actions not taken. Regret removes the responsibility that guilt infers.”

Josh Rivedal performed scenes from his one-man play, Kicking My Blue Jeans in the Butt, and talked openly about losing his grandfather and father both to suicide. After the loss of his father, Rivedal struggled with depression and nearly made a suicide attempt of his own. Using a mixture of humor and song, he explained how he decided to use his writing and love for singing and acting to change his legacy. In doing so, he has been able to instill hope in millions of others who have lost loved ones to suicide or have made attempts of their own. He now travels the world performing his play and leading discussions. He also published a book entitled, The i’Mpossible Project: Reengaging With Life, Creating a New You.

Once again, the most powerful moments of the conference came during the survivor panel.  Six local survivors spoke on the panel and shared their own stories of loss, grief, and healing. During Smith’s earlier presentation, he quoted Jalaluddin Rumi by saying “Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.” Many of the survivors shared how they turned their tragedy into something positive. One father talked about the foundation he started in the memory of his daughter; a brother now honors his younger brother by hosting an annual concert and donating money to the local LOSS Team; and many of the panelists are now volunteers on their local LOSS Team.

Hearing so many inspiring stories of healing reminded me of why we do the work we do. Some days it may be hard to see past the ruin, but when we do, we are able to see the treasure.

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Jill Hamilton, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation

Jill Hamilton has been the Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation since 2014. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and public relations from The University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since working at the foundation, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, Nebraska LOSS Advisory Committee, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, The Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, Nebraska State Conference Planning Committee, is Chair of the Nebraska LOSS Teams Conference Planning Committee, and serves as the Outreach Coordinator for the Metro Area LOSS Team.