When a raven appeared at Wade C. Haskell’s home several days in a row, he supposed that he had made a new friend in the animal kingdom.
Haskell, a senior biology student at Utah Valley University, enjoys Native American religion and folklore. In some Native American traditions, the raven, among other creatures, is considered an omen of death. Haskell’s mother committed suicide in the few days following.
A strong proponent of being active for the sake of mental health, Haskell wasted little time finding a local support group for those who have lost someone special to suicide. The group met once a month, sharing stories, conveying vulnerable and intensely personal beliefs, and fortifying one another with mutual compassion and understanding.
“I just want people to understand that that the pain and grief associated with suicide loss is very unique,” said Haskell. “Unfortunately, society is still in a place that people aren’t comfortable with death, especially suicide. That is the importance of a group like this.”
Haskell continued to desire a more frequent assembly of support. Considering UVU’s enrollment of more than 32,000 students last year, Haskell felt that many are likely walking the halls, silently tormented with shock, anguish and complex emotions that commonly haunt suicide survivors.
Haskell went on to form the “Breathe: Suicide Loss Support Group” at UVU. Previously, ‘suicide survivor’ was included in the group’s title, but was changed out of confusion that the group was formed for those who have attempted suicide. The group focuses on emotional nourishment for those who have had a loved one intentionally take his or her own life. However, members expressly communicate a desire to support anyone with suicidal ideation.
One group member explained that those who have been through the bereavement that comes from a cherished one’s suicide tend to build up a façade. It’s a smokescreen to conceal vulnerability, she claims, and the Breathe group is the only place where she can drop the pretense and be herself.
“If I can help only one person,” said the group member wistfully, “and let them know that they are with people who understand, it would help me to heal, too.”
Suicide is very painful to the survivors and the essential message of a group like Breathe is that the survivors deserve support. According to another anonymous member, the point of the group is not merely support; it is a place to honor oneself, one’s healing, and the loved one who chose not to go on for whatever reason, each case being different.
“Each life is to be honored,” she said. “Sometimes with the stigma of suicide, we buy into a shame or a guilt that is not necessary. We are all human and we will all face death. It’s an honor to be here in this group.”
Haskell’s goal is to take his passion for mental health and extend it into the medical field. In his view, standard questions regularly asked by doctors and other medical professionals, such as ‘how is your pain?’ and ‘where does it hurt?’ ought to routinely include questions about the patient’s mental well-being. He believes that everyone, suicide or not, should be encouraged to get what he calls “a check-up from the neck up.”
In the months passing after the suicide of Haskell’s mother, the raven appeared each month on the 11th day, which is the day she was found dead. While it may sound coincidental to some, members of the group understand one another instinctively, to the point of accepting each other as family.
A supportive and safe space to heal and honor the absent loved-one is a crucial, compassionate, and possibly life-preserving addition to the UVU campus. The Breathe group strives to honor those who have taken their lives as well as the survivors who face the aftermath.
Any student bearing a weight of this magnitude is strongly encouraged to attend the meetings.
By Lindsey Nelson