Service remembers victims of suicide

Danette Dooley
Published on December 10, 2011
Tina Davies (left) and Kim Kelly will participate in a candlelight service in St. John's Sunday to remember people who have died by suicide. Davies' son Richard (in photo with Davies' sister, the late Kim Baker) and Kelly's brother Brendan Kelly (photo in front of her) both took their own lives. Photo by Danette Dooley/Special to The Telegram

After hearing about an annual memorial service held in Northern Ireland to remember people who have died by suicide, Kim Kelly started a similar service in this province seven years ago.

Kelly's brother, Brendan Kelly, took his own life in August 2000. A university graduate, he was 24 years old at the time of his death.

Kelly says her family's story is different from many others. She saw the signs that her brother might take his own life. He'd been losing weight and was getting over a failed relationship. Kelly took her brother to several health professionals, including a psychologist and a psychiatrist. However, she says, he convinced them that he was not suicidal.

Her brother was playing "the biggest role of his life," she says.

While Kelly doesn't feel guilty about her brother's death, that's not the case for all families living with such a loss.

Tina Davies' son, Richard, died Dec. 9, 1995. The 18-year-old hung himself in the downstairs bathroom of the family home.

The guilt she felt about the suicide was "absolutely overwhelming," Davies says.

"As a mother, for your firstborn child to take his own life seemed like the ultimate rejection. For many years I kept saying that I should have known. I was in the house. I was asleep in my bed upstairs. Why didn't he come to me? We could always talk about anything."

To help get through her grief, Davies reached out to others in similar situations.

She started a support group two years ago for people who have lost a loved one through suicide. The group meets at Memorial University's School of Social Work the first Tuesday and third Monday of each month.

Both women are trained in suicide intervention through Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) NL.

According to statistics, they say, there were 63 suicides in this province in 2010.

Kelly is a social worker with Memorial's School of Social Work. Both she and Davies meet with families who are coping with such a loss.

Kelly said because of the stigma attached to suicide, it's important for people to know it's OK to celebrate and remember their relative, even during joyous occasions such as Christmas.

"When I put up my Christmas tree I always have a picture of my brother on it. And when we have grace at the dinner table, we always remember Brendan and we are thankful for having him as part of our lives."

The annual non-denominational service, which includes tributes, a candlelighting ceremony and music by Shelley Neville and Peter Halley, will take place Sunday at 3 p.m. at St. John's Chapel on Memorial University's campus in St. John's.

People are encouraged to bring a photo of their relative. The pictures are arranged together at the front of the chapel.

"The face of suicide knows no boundaries," Kelly said. "And it's really helpful for me when we come together to do this service to know that we are doing this to honour our family members. ... We're not celebrating how they died. We're celebrating their life."