LIVING WITH THE KNOWLEDGE – SUPPORT GROUPS GIVE SURVIVIORS, OF LOVED ONES LOST TO SUICIDE, KNOWLEDGE TO LIVE ON — (Vero Beach Press Journal)

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Vero Beach Press Journal

June 17, 2002

Author: Nicole Berner staff writer

Janina MacNab sat in the quiet, sterile library of the Center for Emotional and Behavioral Health in Vero Beach, clutching her purse tightly on her lap.

“Yesterday, I was at Wal-Mart, and I saw they were taking pictures there,” she said. “The kids, 3-year-olds, I was just staring at them.”

Her voice trailed off as she began to cry.

“They say it’s supposed to get better. Am I nuts? It’s not getting better.”

MacNab, a Sebastian resident, lost her son, Gene Workman, when he hanged himself almost two years ago. He was 38.

Seeing children sometimes upsets her, because it makes her think of him.

And since her son’s death, MacNab has not enjoyed listening to the radio, because she might hear a country-and-western song, the kind of music Workman liked.

She prays she will dream about him, to see his turquoise eyes.

She buys him flowers.

Last month was particularly hard for MacNab. Workman would have turned 40 May 11.

“He’ll always be 38 to me. Gene will always be 38. He’ll never get any older,” she said.

MacNab doesn’t like to go out to socialize, for fear of seeing a group of young men “goofing off” in the bars, the way Workman did.

If she does go out to socialize, she thinks, “I feel bad because he’s gone. He should be here doing this. He should be here.”

MacNab, who has three other grown sons, seeks help from the Lost to Suicide support group, which meets the first and third Wednesdays of each month at the Center for Emotional and Behavioral Health. She attends as often as she can.

Toby Reisman, the group’s facilitator and a former social worker, describes Lost to Suicide as different from other grief counseling groups.

That difference can be summed up in one question: Why?

“Sometimes, it’s expected that that person would die,” Reisman said, explaining that a husband or wife may die after an illness, for example, making the death and subsequent grief not easy, but somewhat expected. “This is totally unprepared, unexpected, unanticipated.”

Indian River County’s Mental Health Association (a United Way agency) sponsors the support group, which began seven years ago. Reisman said sometimes one person shows up, sometimes five or six, sometimes 12.

The group’s goal is not to answer the question of why, but to facilitate discussion about the feelings associated with suicide.

“We might think we have an idea,” Reisman said of a person’s reasons for choosing to die. “And so in exploring with the individual what was going on in the suicide’s life at the time, we try to put some pieces together. Sometimes the individual can see what happened, which might be a cause or causes, but it’s still hard to fully accept.”

Struggling with past

MacNab repeats a scenario in her head, over and over: Workman had threatened suicide before, and he had attempted it in 1996, but his friends found him and took him to a hospital, where he stayed for three days.

After his suicide attempt, he began taking Lithium, but eventually switched to Celexa. Both are antidepressants.

The night he hanged himself, his friends said he was being moody, as he often was. And he told one friend that he was going to kill himself, as he often said. The friend did not believe him, because of the previous empty threats.

Workman was alone in his Muskegon, Mich., home. His wife, daughter and two grown stepsons were not around.

But this time, the threat turned out not to be empty.

MacNab got a call in the early morning hours after her son’s death, telling her what had happened.

She had known nothing of the previous suicide attempt – Workman’s friends did not want to worry her – or the medication Workman had been prescribed.

But Celexa was not in his bloodstream at the time of his death, according to an autopsy performed at MacNab’s request.

Sometimes, a person who has been prescribed antidepressants decides he or she feels fine, and stops taking the drug.

“Once they stop and think they can do it on their own, whatever is paining them seems to return,” Reisman said.

The support group tries to help people realize that if a suicide was completed, it was inevitable. It would have happened at another time, Reisman said.

“Dan tells me I just have to let it go, and I just let him tell me that,” MacNab said of her husband.

But MacNab is plagued with thoughts of how that final act could have been prevented.

“I can’t accept it. They say (depression) is a sickness, and I don’t know. If somebody would have been there, maybe he’d be here.”

Education can help

Every day, about 1,500 people in the United States attempt suicide, and 86 succeed, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. That’s more than 29,000 people every year, making suicide the 11th-leading cause of death.

About 10 percent of people 18 and older suffer from depression, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and about 5 percent of children suffer from it, said Michael Fitzgerald, clinical director of the Mental Health Association of Indian River County.

And about 60 percent of people who die by suicide suffered from major depression, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

One of the biggest frustrations MacNab expresses is that she did not know the warning signs for suicide. And the fact that suicide occurs – frequently – has not been talked about enough, she said.

When Workman died, MacNab blamed everyone, she said. She couldn’t understand what had happened.

Workman’s doctor later informed his mother that he had bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression.

So MacNab began educating herself about her son’s illness. She requested information from a psychiatric facility, which sent her literature, and she spent countless hours online and in bookstores, reading about depression and suicide.

Learning about Workman’s depression helped, and looking back, the signs were there, she said.

Workman’s mood swings were extreme, and he was impulsive with money and compulsive with work.

A high-end boat and yacht painter, he sometimes worked until 3 a.m.

He often complained about being bored.

“He was a happy person until he would get in the mood,” said MacNab’s husband, who knew Workman since he was a teen.

And Workman abused alcohol.

Twice, he had gone to 30-day detoxification and rehabilitation programs.

“He couldn’t handle booze. Invariably, 99 percent of the time, he’d end up in a fight,” D
an MacNab said.

Reisman said about half the suicides that occur involve alcohol or drug abuse.

Janina and Dan MacNab visited Workman shortly before he died, and he seemed withdrawn and antisocial. But because his illness had progressed so slowly and steadily over the years, they thought, “Oh, that’s Gene. That’s just the way he is.”

Today, they realize the situation was more complicated, and more dangerous.

“Be as informed as you can,” said Dan MacNab. “If you think something’s wrong, it probably is.”
Caption: (Color) Photo by Molly Bartels staff photographer: Janina MacNab, who lost her eldest son, Gene R. Workman Jr., to suicide almost two years ago, goes to the Sebastian Cemetery three or four times a week, even though Gene is buried in Michigan, where he lived. “I know he’s not here but it comforts me to be here,” MacNab said.(Color) Photo by Molly Bartels staff photographer: Janina MacNab has framed pictures and mementos from Gene’s life throughout her home in Sebastian. Gene hanged himself in Muskegon, Mich., on July 19, 2000.(Color) Photo by Molly Bartels staff photographer: Even though Janina MacNab has come to the Sebastian Cemetery many times in the past two years, it is still extremely difficult for her to cope with the loss of her son. Only after the suicide did MacNab find out that her son, Gene R. Workman Jr., had bipolar disorder. The disorder which causes a person to have episodes of mania and depression can lead to suicide if medications are not used to control the disease.
Edition: Indian River County
Section: Lifestyle
Page: C1
Record Number: 0F43C801AD10081A
All content copyright (c) 2002 Vero Beach Press Journal and may not be republished without permission.
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LIVING WITH THE KNOWLEDGE – SUPPORT GROUPS GIVE SURVIVIORS, OF LOVED ONES LOST TO SUICIDE, KNOWLEDGE TO LIVE ON