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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ken and Lyn McGuire, of Draper, started a support group, now affiliated with the LDS Church, for people who have lost family members to suicide. They lost their son Kourt to suicide.
Mormon-affiliated group offers help, hope to suicide survivors

Left behind » Faith-based gatherings give believers and nonbelievers a place to talk, to weep, to feel.

By Lisa Schencker

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published May 03 2013 07:33 am • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:31 pm

Draper » As young brothers, Kris and Kourt McGuire often spent hours chasing the shimmering dragonflies that floated above a lush, green pasture behind their Draper home.

One day, when their mom told them to come inside to clean their room, they silently obeyed — or so she thought. After a time, she went to check on the two youngest of her four sons. She found their bedroom alive with dragonflies, which they had tied strings around, hanging them from the ceiling.

At a glance

Learn more about suicide support and prevention

To contact Ken and Lyn McGuire about their group for suicide survivors, call 801-201-1518. For more resources, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website, https://www.afsp.org/. To go to the Utah chapter’s website, go to http://tinyurl.com/ce76um4.

To talk with someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number 1-800-273-TALK.

LDS policy on suicide

“It is wrong to take a life, including one’s own. However, a person who commits suicide may not be responsible for his or her acts. Only God can judge such a matter.

“The family, in consultation with the bishop, determines the place and nature of a funeral service for a person who has died under such circumstances. Church facilities may be used. If the person was endowed, he or she may be buried in temple clothing.”

Source: Handbook 2: Administering the Church

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She smiled, and they all broke into laughter.

It’s one of Lyn McGuire’s favorite recollections of the two boys — a memory that predates the heartache of losing them both.

Kris died at age 8 in 1986, when a car hit him on the way to school. Kourt died about 10 years later, at age 17, killing himself amid depression and the still-stinging absence of his older brother.

Through the years, Ken and Lyn McGuire have found comfort in images of dragonflies, which now fill their home. The dragonflies remind them of warm memories and hope for the future.

They hope to bring that sense of comfort to other survivors of suicide, including through their Mormon faith. For years, the couple have run suicide-survivor groups, and they recently started one affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that they’re calling Dragonfly Haven. Though the group is open to all, they have met with LDS Family Services, which offered guidance and encouragement.

It’s uncertain how many similar, faith-linked support groups might exist across Utah, but the McGuires hope their group fills a need as society becomes more willing to discuss suicide and how to prevent it. Many communities and individuals still struggle with how best to support those left behind. Survivors often find themselves navigating a world where few understand what they’re experiencing or how to help them.

Lyn McGuire believes much can be accomplished simply by talking to those who’ve walked similar paths.

"They want to look across the room," she said of working with other suicide survivors, "and say, ‘I know you know what I feel.’ "

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Changing attitudes » In recent decades, a number of religions’ attitudes toward suicide have softened. Some faiths used to focus largely on what they saw as the sin of killing oneself.

In the past, Catholics who committed suicide were not allowed Christian burials, said Scott Dodge, deacon at the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City’s Cathedral of the Madeleine. Until about 20 years ago, many evangelicals assumed those who committed suicide were headed to hell, said Greg Johnson, president of the Standing Together Ministries coalition of evangelical churches across the Wasatch Front. And it used to be that Mormons who committed suicide could not have church funerals or be buried in temple clothing.

That’s no longer the case. Though most religions condemn suicide, there’s an understanding, among many faiths, that those who take their own lives don’t always have full control over their actions.

"What the [Catholic] church tends to recognize now," Dodge said, "is that most people who [commit suicide] suffer from probably a grave psychological problem or really deep depression or sometimes, sadly, that happens in the grips of some kind of addiction."

Johnson said he never would preach from the pulpit that those who take their own lives go to hell.

"The grace of God that saves a sinner from their sins," he said, "is the same grace that saves a sinner who commits suicide from being damned because life was somehow beyond their capacity to cope."

Similarly, the Mormon faith’s Handbook 2 advises local LDS leaders that "it is wrong to take a life, including one’s own. However, a person who commits suicide may not be responsible for his or her acts. Only God can judge such a matter." It further says that suicide victims may have Mormon funerals and be buried in temple clothing.

Such compassion extends to families of those who have killed themselves.

Johnson and Dodge said they are unaware of specific suicide-survivor support groups affiliated with their faiths in Utah, but local evangelical leaders do their best to offer help and many Catholic parishes have groups meant to comfort grieving families in general.

Dennis Ashton, counseling manager at LDS Family Services’ Layton office, said he’s found the LDS Church’s attitude toward survivors to be accommodating, loving and accepting. But he said it’s unusual for a lay couple within the faith, such as the McGuires, to volunteer to create a support group, especially dealing with loss. He said the couple reached out to the church when starting their group.

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