Vigil brings awareness of suicide
Mason jars with tea lights line the walkways of the Lehighton band shell for the suicide vigil Saturday. KELLEY ANDRADE/TIMES NEWS
The hand-painted benches at the Lehighton Amphitheater were filled with silent mourners Saturday night.
Tissues and photos of lost loved ones in hand, people listened as the founder of the Carbon County division of HALO, Gail Strohl, spoke about the stigma and pain felt after the devastation of suicide.
"One out of four people know someone who has died of suicide. Knowing you're not alone can help the healing," she told the crowd.
The candlelight vigil took place at 6 p.m. on The National Survivors of Suicide Day. The day of recognition was started in 1999 by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who lost his own father to suicide. Reid introduced the Senate Resolution 99 that declared the Saturday before Thanksgiving the designated date for survivors.
Mason jar candles lined the walkways of the bandshell where Strohl handed out white ribbons and heartfelt embraces to the survivors in attendance.
"Candles are a symbolic part of services in many traditions," she said. "We light five candles in honor of our loved ones, the first for grief, the second for courage, the third for hope, the fourth for the memories and the fifth candle for the love we feel for our loved ones."
The loss of parents, children, spouses, siblings, and friends were called out and recognized during the program with Strohl and husband Ronald leading the group in response, "I miss you, yet I know I am healing."
HALO, Hope After a Loved One's Suicide, is working to reach people in need of support who don't know where to turn.
"There is a higher rate of suicide than drug overdoses; people just don't talk about it," Gail said.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide.
The Strohls lost their 20-year-old son, Kyle James, to suicide about eight years ago.
"He was a good kid. He was outgoing, had his own band, he sang and played guitar. We just didn't see it coming. We have no idea what happened," Gail said.
"When something like this happens, friends and family start to avoid you because they don't know what to say," Ronald said.
After their loss the couple looked for support groups in Carbon but were unlucky in their search. "There was nothing in the area," Gail said, noting the closest HALO chapter is located in Schuylkill County. "I asked Linda (Wagner) if I could use the name for this area and she said yes. I then went for training in Baltimore."
HALO has been hosting monthly meetings at the Lehighton area Blue Mountain Health System where Gail and Ronald encourage people to come and share their experiences.
"It's a place for people to come, look each other in the eye and talk," Ronald said.
"Suicide is a very complicated grief to deal with. People hesitate to come because of the stigma," Gail said. "But they find it very helpful once they know they are in a safe place, they can open up about it."
During the half-hour program Gail shared her strength with the survivors, "You can survive this and be able to move on."
POWER, Program of Wellness Empowerment and Recovery Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, located on First Street in Lehighton worked in partnership with HALO to hold the vigil.
"It's a good time for people to come together and honor suicide prevention day," Lourdes Russaw of POWER said about the supported event.
A survivors' walk is currently in the planning stages for some time next October.
For more information on HALO or the support group, Gail can be reached at (610) 377-2035 or visit www.afsp.org for more information on suicide prevention or survivors support help.