Gorge meeting will be held via Zoom

It’s been nine years since Susan Gabay brought the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day program to the Gorge, but this will be its first year held on an online platform. 

On the third Saturday of November, those who have lost a loved one to suicide come together to watch a short documentary provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and share their own experiences. 

“This event isn’t about confronting the epidemic — really, we haven’t made any success in dropping our suicide rates nationwide,” Gabay said. “This is for the people left behind by a suicide.”

Because of the pandemic, this year’s program, which was scheduled to be held in The Dalles, will be offered at 10 a.m. on Nov. 21 via Zoom; for a link, contact Debby Jones, Wasco County YouthThink, at 541-506-2673 or debbyj@co.wasco.or.us.

Gabay is assisted in hosting the events by Jones and Belinda Ballah, Hood River County Prevention Department, and said that attendance varies year to year. They’ve had as few as four or five, or as many as 20. She’s hoping that the Zoom platform encourages anyone who feels intimated by an in-person event to attend this year.

“You have the flexibility to be quiet,” she said of Zoom. “You sign in. You don’t have to show your face and you don’t have to speak if you don’t want to. You can just listen.”

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day was enacted by Congress in 1999 after Nevada Sen. Harry Reid lost his father to suicide. Gabay believes the third Saturday in November was picked, in part, “to recognize how difficult the holidays can be.

“We’ve had people come to the Survivors of Suicide Loss programs who lost someone literally months earlier, and people who come 30 years later,” she said. “We had a sister and brother come one year, who had lost their sibling 30 years earlier and thought it was important to come and talk about it and how they managed their grief — they took different paths.”

The meeting is confidential; those who attend are asked to introduce themselves to whatever extent they’re comfortable. Next comes the AFSP documentary (this year’s film is approximately 26 minutes long) that features those who have lost a loved one to suicide. 

“By listening to them talk about how they’ve managed their grief over time, then it opens it up for discussion,” said Gabay. 

The International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event is not a counseling session, but “it’s a way of getting it out,” she said. “… That’s why I think people come who have lost someone years ago — they’ve stuffed it all those years. This is a way to come to terms with it.”

Gabay will be remembering her daughter, Susanna, who, at age 21, took her life in May 2010. She brought the program to Hood River in November 2011.

“When (Susanna) died, I wanted to talk about it,” she said. “That’s when I was confronted with the stigma around mental illness.

“… It’s an uncomfortable thing. You don’t know if, when you’re in the grocery store, if someone’s avoiding you because they don’t know what to say to you. But I felt the need to talk about it.”

One year, a mother and her two children came after the loss of their husband and father to suicide — and came back two years later to share how they had moved along from that loss, Gabay said. “That was exceptionally moving for all of the rest of us,” Gabay said. (The event is not recommended for children under the age of 10.) Another year, half of those in attendance were from Warm Springs, and “that was extremely powerful — mothers losing sons — and we all stood together. It was extremely meaningful.

“Again, it’s the power of not feeling alone and wrestling with whatever emotions they’re getting and how they’re getting reacted to by family, friends and neighbors,” said Gabay. “That’s why we do it.”

Monthly meetings

Three years after the loss of Susanna, Gabay trained as a survivor of suicide worker for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. She helped bring NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to the Gorge and, as a result of the 2019 International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day program, helped coordinate Survivors of Suicide Loss monthly meetings, held on the second Tuesday of the month via Zoom (email belinda.ballah@co.hood-river.or.us). NAMI of the Gorge also meets monthly on the first Thursday of the month (for a link, email susanbgabay@gmail.com or margiest@centurylink.net).

To visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which includes resources for those who have lost someone to suicide, go to afsp.org.

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