Two mothers setting up suicide support group

Dec. 18, 2003 — by Fiona Galea Debono/The Times of Malta

A "memory tree" at the Millennium Chapel in Paceville on which family and friends can hang the names of their departed.
Two women, whose sons took their own lives, are aiming to set up a support group for the relatives and friends of suicide victims, who experience a "different kind of grieving and need particular attention".
They have both not only suffered the pain of losing a child, but also found themselves drowning in feelings of anger, guilt and frustration.
"If it is suicide, you blame yourself... and constantly ask: what if?," Elaine Mortimer said.
The problem was that families of suicide victims often refused to admit it, so the mothers were trying to stamp out the stigma surrounding it.
"Our aim is to try and encourage people like us to attend the support group to open their hearts, pour out their grief and share their problems; it is also about prevention," she said.
The mothers have contacted the various associations of psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists, the mental health association, the psychiatric unit and the Richmond Foundation, Sedqa and Caritas to inform them that they would be setting up the group.
The Millennium Chapel, in Paceville, which is where the bereaved mothers met, is backing the initiative and has offered its premises for the meetings.
However, since suicide is a taboo word and the truth about its victims is often hushed up, Ms Mortimer is aware it is not going to be easy for people to come forward.
Her son, Cliff, died at the age of 21 three years ago.
He was a good tennis player and bowled for Malta, his mother recalls. But things changed when he was diagnosed with a cyst in his brain and underwent a delicate operation to remove it. The intervention was successful from a physical point of view, but the youth never seemed to have recovered mentally, the cyst leaving an indelible dent on his psyche.
Due to his medication, he was not able to lead a normal life and was lethargic and depressed, Ms Mortimer said.
She was at work when he called her to tell her he was "really bad". But that was almost as common as him saying "hello".
She vividly recalls her last conversation with her son, half an hour before he left their flat, never to return.
Her sadness, still written all over her face three years later, is coupled with anger that Cliff managed to overcome a delicate operation only to take his own life.
Ms Mortimer said she felt she had no one to turn to when her son died, but the internet came to her rescue. Together with an American mother, who shared the same trauma, she set up the internet support group, Forevermoms, as well as a website dedicated to her son one month after his death.
"The mothers find consolation in chatting and sharing information. They send each other Christmas cards and anniversary cards - what they refer to as heaven cards, marking the day their children went to heaven," Ms Mortimer explained.
The first initiative of the two mothers to fight the stigma of suicide and help relatives is the setting up of a memory tree at the chapel, on which family and friends can hang the names of their departed.
Fr Hilary Tagliaferro, of the Millennium Chapel, plans to make the memory tree, conceived in the US about 10 years ago, an annual event.
Its purpose is to provide comfort to relatives and friends; to create awareness in the community of such dramatic losses; for a visual affirmation to depressed, or suicidal people who visit, that suicide is real and final; to help those who struggle with depression and are afraid to ask for help and to keep in touch with loved ones.
The coordinators were afraid many people would not be able to face the tree, but their four boxes of decorations have been used up and there are 50 symbolic baubles glistening on it branches.
The initiative is on until the first Saturday in January. For more information on the support group and the memory tree, contact the coordinators, or at the Millennium Chapel.
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