Focus | Support for survivors of suicide victims

Story by Chris Graham
With AFP Audio

Sean McGowan lost his son, Aaron, at age 22. It wasn’t a car accident or fighting in the military overseas or pancreatic cancer. Aaron died in 2006 by suicide, and not a day goes by that Sean doesn’t ask himself the question – why?

“You’re always going to be healing. Your life will never be the same.You always have that sense of loss, but the rawness isn’t there, and the hope for happiness in the future is there. I can now see a time when it isn’t as painful as it is now,” said McGowan, who after his son’s death joined a local support group for family and friend survivors of suicide victims as a means of coping with the loss.

The Survivors of Suicide Support Group is helping sponsor a local event in association with a national teleconference scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 21, that is aimed at connecting survivors of suicide loss.

The event is set for 1-3 p.m. Saturday at the Augusta Community Care Building on the Augusta Health campus in Fishersville.

For McGowan, the connections with fellow survivors keeps him connected to Aaron, who attempted suicide five times in a six-month period in 2006 before being successful in his sixth attempt.

“It started right in the beginning after Aaron died. At that time, I knew nothing about support groups, but when Aaron died, I decided that I didn’t want him to have died in vain. So I thought the easiest way for me to ease my pain was to reach out and help other people ease some of their pain, and have that commonality about it,” McGowan said.

Cynthia Long, a grief counselor with Lutheran Family Services in Waynesboro, works with the local suicide-survivor group. Long said a benefit to joining a support group is “that there is some common camaraderie.”

“We’ve all shared the same kind of loss, and it’s something that we can all try to move towards healing together, because the other folks in the room have a similar understanding of what you’ve experienced,” Long said.

Interview with Cynthia Long and Sean McGowan (3:15)

The local group in some respects “acts as a sort of 12-step group, “in that the old-timers like Sean become almost like sponsors. They’re not as emotionally needy as they were two or three years ago, but they serve as kind of the elders in the group, and they do a lot of the intervention, the support,” Long said.

That’s what brought McGowan back to the group. “I just went through a phase recently where I broke away from the group a little bit, and had plans of backing out totally. I got two phone calls, and the thought that went through my mind was, You jumped into this, you started this, you wanted to do this in Aaron’s honor, you can’t walk away from it now,” McGowan said.

“I’ve gone back to the group again, and I’m getting more out of it now. Watching people heal is very rewarding,” McGowan said.


Teleconference for survivors of suicide victims
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 21, 1-3 p.m.
WHERE: Augusta Community Care Building, 64 Sports Medicine Drive, Augusta Health campus, Fishersville
INFO: Call Sean McGowan or Nancy Koplin at 540.490.COPE


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