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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.



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"It’s come out of the love," Ashton said, "of their own child they’ve lost."

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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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A need in the community » Taryn Aiken, chairwoman of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Utah chapter, applauded the idea of such faith-affiliated groups.

When Aiken’s father killed himself in 2002, she was impressed with how the LDS Church handled the tragedy. She said he had a Mormon funeral, and "there was no kind of condemnation or derogatory comment about his soul being lost."

She knew of no LDS-affiliated support group at the time, but said such assistance could help tremendously, noting her organization often refers survivors to those places.

"They need the support of the community," Aiken said. "They need to be able to talk about how their loved one died and why, and that they’re not alone. So many of these families, they think they’re the only ones who’ve experienced it because they don’t talk about it."

Lyn McGuire said starting various survivor groups helped her when she lost Kourt to suicide.

"It helped with my anger," she said, "to direct it through a positive channel."

The couple approached the LDS Church this time out of a desire to fill a need in their community in their retirement.

"We [as a society] talk a lot about suicide and suicide prevention, but there really is another arm to this whole complex issue, and that’s the bereavement side of it," Ken McGuire said. "That’s so huge, and we don’t do a very good job with it."


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The couple emphasize, however, that though they’re working with the church, their group is open to anyone and is not about religion.

Emotional discussions, not scripture readings, fill the meetings, which they hold in their home. The McGuires’ groups generally meet for eight to nine weeks. Each week they discuss a different topic, ranging from self-blame to holidays to taking care of oneself.

Each meeting lasts three to four hours — not because of a schedule but rather to give survivors time to talk. The McGuires see their group as more of an educational mentoring group than a traditional support group.

It offers a chance, they said, for people who have all been through similar stresses to share their stories and learn from one another — without the ticking clock of a paid clinician’s office. They have about 50 people in their current group.

"What that allows people to do is talk," Lyn McGuire said. "Talking is one of the best ways to heal."

The McGuires begin each group by telling their own story. They often hand out pins bearing images of dragonflies.

A lesson in living » Lyn McGuire said friends of suicide survivors often want them to move on, to be happy again. But people need to heal in their own time.

"People need to recognize it’s going to take time for that person to find a new normal," she said, "for them to be back to laughing and caring and moving on and not so focused on the death that’s happened to them."

She and her husband also try to teach group members that it’s all right to enjoy their lives and their families again. Though suicide prevention is a vital message, Lyn McGuire said it’s also important that survivors understand they can’t blame themselves for what happened to their loved ones. Sometimes, she said, there are no signs.

The McGuires, for example, knew their son was depressed but otherwise he seemed to be doing well. He was a popular student at Alta High, always trying to take care of those around him. He didn’t seem withdrawn.

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