Two Rivers parish hosts Survivors of Suicide group
TWO RIVERS — "I was always looking for better, but better never came," said Polly Ziniti. "It just got different. It still impacts you. It impacts you for life."
In July, Ziniti will mark the 15th anniversary of the suicide death of her 17-year-old daughter, Karen Manna.
"We're reaching the point where she is soon going to be dead as many years as she was alive," said Ziniti. "I think about how I will be old and she will always be young in my mind, my memories. I still have periods that I cannot believe that this happened. Did we really go through all this?"
Ziniti finds support through her involvement in the Manitowoc County Survivors of Suicide group (S.O.S.), facilitated by Franciscan Sr. Pat Touhey and Betty Meyer.
S.O.S., which formed in the fall of 2007, helps family and friends cope with the suicide of a loved one. The ecumenical group meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at St. Peter the Fisherman Parish.
Polly Ziniti and Ken LeGreve hold photos of their children who died by suicide. Ziniti’s 17-year-old daughter, Karen Manna, died in 1994. LeGreve’s son, Mathew, died in 2003 at age 31. Ziniti and LeGreve find support through Survivors of Suicide (S.O.S.). The group, formed in 2007, is facilitated by Franciscan Sr. Pat Touhey, left, and Betty Meyer, far right. (Rick Evans photo)
"This group is very important to me, because I (previously) had no reference for support here," said Ziniti, who relocated to Wisconsin from Massachusetts eight years ago. "Karen's anniversary would come and go. I would get calls from Boston, but from page 1
people here had no clue. I now feel as though Karen lives in Wisconsin."
Talking with each other is the focus of the group," said Sr. Pat. Occasionally, meetings will feature guest speakers or DVD presentations.
"I feel that these people heal each other," she said. "Confidentiality is an important part of the group. Everything we talk about stays within the group. Listening is another priority."
"This group helps make people feel comfortable," said S.O.S. member Ken LeGreve. "The people here listen to each other and do not judge."
In 2003, his 31-year-old son, Mathew, died by suicide after struggling with job related issues.
Getting past the stigma associated with suicide is a hurdle for many surviving family members, said LeGreve.
"There is a stigma that people are going to think that I failed," he said. "Too many people go into a shell. Relatives and friends are afraid to talk. I knew right away that we had to talk. I knew that it was important for the children and grandchildren. I told them, ‘It's going to be all right.' We had to stick together and talk."
Mathew's son, Hunter, was only 2 years old at the time of his father's death.
"It's important that he knows about his father," he said. "Children want to know what happened. Don't hide the truth."
LeGreve's personal healing required letting go of any anger felt towards Mathew's workplace.
"I can't hold bitterness towards the people there," he said. "If I start getting bitter, it will eat away at me. I try to be as positive as possible."
Celebrating the person's life is important in the healing process, he added.
In October, Ken, his wife, Yvonne, family and friends gathered at Knollwood Gardens in Manitowoc in honor of Mathew's birthday. Green and yellow balloons were released as part of the celebration.
"He (Mathew) sold programs at Lambeau Field," said LeGreve. "He loved the Packers. I think one of the balloons may have ended up at Lambeau Field. He also really liked his Harley. He was a big guy, 6' 4," but was a real gentle person. We've talked about making this an annual event. We joined together for (Scripture) readings, took pictures and told stories. It's something to get people to open up, relax and share their feelings."
Celebrations are also a part of S.O.S. meetings. Survivors sometimes bring along photos or special items in memory of the deceased. In December, group members hung ornaments on a Christmas tree and told stories their loved ones.
"Committed suicide" is not used within the group to remove the emphasis off the person committing an act, said Meyer.
"Instead, we say that the person died from suicide or by suicide," she said.
"Suicide is a disease, we are finding out more and more, like any other disease," said Sr. Pat. "They didn't have a lot of control. The pain was so great; the illness was so great, that all they wanted to do was to get relief from the pain. They don't see beyond anything else. Suicide is a very permanent solution to temporary problems."
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a person dies by suicide approximately every 16 minutes in the United States, or 80 people per day. Confirmed suicides in Manitowoc County have reached double figures the past two years.
Six to 13 people regularly attend S.O.S. meetings. The minimum age to participate is 14. There is no fee, but donations are accepted to offset costs. The group is also looking for support through grants. Funds are used for resources and to publicize the group. Sr. Pat is developing a lending library to offer books on suicide.
LeGreve and Ziniti are among the group members who have participated in training to become facilitators.
Reaching out to other survivors of suicide is common for LeGreve.
"By your hurt, you've become a wounded healer," he said. "I send out cards. I send e-mails inviting people to contact me. I want to let them know that there are other people out there who know what they are going through. I try to interject some humor to make them feel at ease."
It's difficult when a new person joins the group, said Ziniti.
"It rips off the old scabs," she said. "You know some of the emotions they are going to go through. When someone new comes in, I feel the pain. You have to convey to them that there is hope. Early on, I thought I would never laugh again. A group of my friends from ceramics helped me laugh. I will never forget that moment. I just thanked them."
She compares the experience of a death of a loved one by suicide to throwing an egg against a wall.
"You feel as though your life is splattered all over and you are trying to put it back together," she said. "This group lets people know that they don't have to suffer in silence."
For more information, call Sr. Pat at (920) 794-7454 or Betty Meyer at (920) 794-1572.