Erickson offers hope to suicide survivors — (The Daily Tribune)

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The Daily Tribune

By Marie Tolonen

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 24th, 2004 12:16:33 PM

CHISHOLM ­ Losing a loved one is never easy.   However, when a death is the result of a suicide, the grieving process can be especially difficult for the survivors.   Carla Erickson has experienced the devastating affects suicide can have on the survivors first hand. Erickson lost her youngest son, Slade, known to his friends and family as Deuce Erickson, when he commited suicide on May 20, 1996.   “Deuce was bipolar and chemical dependent,” said Erickson. “When he was up, he was full of life. But when he was down, he’d stay at home so people didn’t see that side of him.”

Erickson found herself going through a whirlwind of emotions as she started the grieving process. She tried to seek comfort in others who had been in her shoes, only to find that to attend a suicide survivor group, she would have to travel to Duluth or the Twin Cities. She then decided to start a local suicide survivors support group.   “I started the group about five years ago,” said Erickson. “When I first started, I sent out flyers everywhere from Ely to Grand Rapids. I set up for 50 people at the first meeting, but only two showed up. Today, it is still a small group, which consists of about 10 people and the average time they stay in the group is about two years.”

Erickson feels she has made it through her grieving process, reaching acceptance. To get to this level, she had to work through several steps in the grieving process, including shock, denial, shame, guilt, anger, loss of trust, depression and loneliness.  Some of the steps such as shame, guilt and anger she found to be especially difficult as a suicide survivor.

“With suicide, there is a stigma that the family has failed, that it is sinful, shameful and should be hidden,” said Erickson. “This is something that I refused to bow under.”   With suicide being the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34 in Minnesota, Erickson feels it is extremely important to educate people on the myths associated with suicide.  In addition to her survivor’s support group, she also does public speaking on the subject.

She has spoken at the college and to the Girl Scouts and is willing to speak just about anywhere.  The following misconceptions were sited on the SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) Web site.

  • People who talk about suicide won’t really do it. Not true. Statements like “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” no matter how casually or jokingly said may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
  • Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy. Not true. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane.
  •  If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her. Not true. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death. Most suicidal people do not want to die, they want the pain to stop. 
  • People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help. Not true. Studies of victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help before their deaths.
  •  Talking about suicide may give someone the idea. Not true. You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true. Bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.

Erickson believes that her son did not intend to end his life on the evening he completed suicide.  On the evening of her son’s death, Erickson and her husband, Dan were in Duluth where Dan was hospitalized after having a heart attack.

Erickson said that her son had started taking anti-depressants two weeks before he completed his suicide, but they had not taken affect yet.   “I feel the pain was just too great for him,” said Erickson. “His clothes were packed and he was all ready to come down to Duluth the next day. I just feel he had so many ‘dress rehearsals,’ each of them taking him closer, and this time it went too far.”

Erickson learned of the other attempts after Deuce’s death when friends of his had told stories of him playing Russian roulette at parties.  On Saturday at Super One Foods in Hibbing, Erickson will have a booth set up as part of Suicide Survivor Awareness Month.  A poster will be on display with pictures of people, including Erickson’s son, who have committed suicide. The purpose of the booth is to raise awareness and to raise funds to cover the expense of materials and other items necessary to continue the support group.

Erickson continues to reach out to survivors in the area.  She sends a flower and one of her cards to funerals where a suicide is involved to let the family know where they can get help if they want it. She also hopes that as word of her group spreads that survivors will feel free to call her sooner if they feel the need to.   Her husband Dan is very proud of Erickson for all she’s done to help others.  “She’s always been a go getter,” said Dan.  She’s doing a tremendous service to our community.”

Erickson said she just wants people to know it’s not all gloom and doom forever.   “I feel that I have become a better person through acceptance,” said Erickson. “I want to put out a ray of hope to others.”   If you are interested in finding out more about the Suicide Survivor’s support group or would like to make a donation, please call Erickson at 254-2619.