Losing a loved one to suicide leaves a disorienting storm of emotions and questions with no answers in its wake; connecting with others who have already navigated the terrain helps. The Crisis Centre of BC’s new program, A Cup of Tea for the Soul, creates new opportunities for community building, connection, and learning for those who are bereaved by suicide.
When the Crisis Centre began offering bereavement support, Lu Ripley, Director of the Centre’s Community Learning and Engagement department, knew the programs needed to be backed by people with lived experience. “Those who are going through suicide-related bereavement may face unique, complex emotions ranging from shame and guilt to despair,” explains Ripley. “People with lived experience needed to be at the center of program development to make sure that the bereavement support we provide is truly helpful.”
Lu Ripley and Jessica Wolf Ortiz, the Crisis Centre’s Bereavement Coordinator at the Crisis Centre worked with theBC Bereavement Helpline to launch the Bereavement Advisory Committee (BAC): a panel of lived experience experts meeting regularly throughout the year to provide input and feedback on program development and improvement and find ways for group members to get involved in programs. “We are always curious and want to know what is helpful to others because they are the experts of their stories,” says Jill Townsend, a member of the Crisis Centre BAC.
“People who lose loved ones to suicide are often very alone with our questions,” continues Townsend. “We need a community to learn how to cope from each other, and to reduce stigma.”
Townsend has been navigating through bereavement after losing her daughter to suicide three and a half years ago. She knows firsthand how difficult it is to get support while dealing with immense grief. “As soon as I could look up for a second, I made a vow to myself to ask for help,” says Townsend. “I kept reaching out to my community even though at times I wanted to hide under my bed from the shame I felt.”
The advisory group saw a need for easy-to-access support programs and groups that are especially dedicated to different types of bereavement. The group also expressed interest in giving back to others going through similar experiences, inspiring the new series of gatherings.
A Cup of Tea for the Soul is a series of free online gatherings that brings suicide loss survivors together for sharing, connecting, and building resilience. The series is facilitated by Jessica Wolf Ortiz and co-facilitated by a suicide loss survivor who has been through the Crisis Centre’s 8-week support group. Each 75-minute gathering has a specific topic and is tailored to the bereavement experiences of those who have lost a parent, partner, or sibling to suicide.
“Through these gatherings, people will find sameness and safety, both of which are necessary for people to make connections and build community,” says Ortiz. “Even if the group is brief, people who attend the gathering get to see that they are not alone in their experience, there are other people out there going through similar things.”
The facilitators take a strengths-based approach and promote connection among peers, with the hopes of reducing isolation, increasing coping skills, and creating long-term networks of support. Facilitators help participants to share their experiences and learn from each other by asking questions such as: What helped you get through the toughest times? What is unique about the bereavement you are going through? How do you deal with the challenges?
Townsend co-facilitated the first gathering, which focused on losing a child to suicide. She noted how different each person’s grief experience was, along with the common threads of intense pain and the need for safety, community, and reassurance. “It was also amazing to see the compassion and gentleness people had for each other,” says Townsend.
“The courage it takes to show up – I was so proud of the parents who came. Why should we be alone, feeling numb and silent, when we could be together learning how to speak about our grief – and our love.”
One of the big messages that resonated among the group during the first gathering, according to Townsend, was “it does get better – it’s going to hurt more than you think you can bear – and you can survive this.” After the first gathering, the participants were eager to attend more events. “What they’re saying is they need connection,” reflects Ortiz.
Townsend encourages anyone grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide to try one of the gatherings, especially if they’ve never tried support groups before. She wants people to know that their voices matter. “Our voices can make a difference,” Townsend emphasizes. “When you are ready, there are people who will want to hear from you.”
The organizers aim to keep the Cup of Tea for the Soul series going throughout the year, with the hope that ongoing opportunities for sharing will help participants find healing through speaking their truth and hearing the truths of others.
The next Cup of Tea for the Soul gathering will be on March 28th, specifically for those who have lost a partner to suicide. To register for upcoming events, please visit the Crisis Centre of BC Eventbrite page. If you have any questions about the Crisis Centre’s suicide grief support programs, please email us at email@example.com
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please reach out:
- Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789 (no area code required)
- Anywhere in BC 1-800-SUICIDE: 1-800-784-2433