A New Normal - outreach support group established in Clondalkin

By Maurice Garvey

A TERRIFYING reality for residents who have lost a loved one to suicide, is how lonely and adrift they feel, while trying to cope with the devastating aftermath.

Shock, guilt, denial, and internal conflict, along with having to face the daunting prospect of an autopsy, funeral arrangements, a potential 18-month wait for an inquest at the Coroner’s Court, and the legal probate process.

Neilstowm Suiside Support 01 compressor

Karen Docherty, Carol Cosgrove, Ann Troy, Frank Brown, and Caroline Corcoran

Only those personally affected by such a tragedy, can fully understand the pain, and this reality has led to the formation of a new outreach support group in Neilstown – A New Normal.

Set to be formally launched next week, the adult peer-to-peer group is for family, friends and those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

It is not a counselling group, but a support group for people directly affected by suicide.

Anyone who attends their meetings can be referred for specialist counselling if they request it.

The concept was kickstarted by Karen Docherty from Lucan, a mother who lost her eldest son Stephen (30) and youngest son Graham (22) to suicide, in 2015 and 2017 respectively.

Feeling “completely lost and unsupported within the services”, in November 2018, Karen approached Community Action on Suicide (CAS) because she wanted to form a community-based support group for those bereaved by suicide.

“It’s a support and friendship group,” Karen told The Echo, at the Community Health House in Neilstown on Tuesday morning.

“CAS were fantastic and we wouldn’t be here without them. I felt totally unsupported in services, there is a six-month waiting list for Pieta House. People don’t know how to approach you on the street. I didn’t know anyone who lost a child to suicide.”

In May 2018, Karen met up with Bawnogue mother Carol Cosgrove, who lost her son Daniel Dempsey (21) in 2014.

“I saw some posts on social media, got in touch with Karen, we met for a coffee and the rest is history,” said Carol, of their friendship.

“You get some mad ideas. I wanted to wallpaper Damien’s bedroom with photos of him, but then I thought ‘what am I doing’, I have other kids to think of.”

As the two share a chuckle, Karen notes the importance of these bonds.

“When suicide happens, you feel you cannot laugh or be normal. We are trying to reach out to families, trying to break the silence. The hardest thing is to take the first step, to reach out and talk.”

This connection with others in a similar situation is vital, according to Caroline Corcoran, a Sruleen mother who lost her ex-partner to suicide three years ago.

Caroline said: “You can’t go to counselling for the rest of your life. But it’s good to show people your emotions, to know that other people are going through the same thing.

“It is not the same thing as a normal funeral. Nobody tells you where the body is. When my Dad passed away from cancer, we were able to make plans, but with suicide you go to the back of the queue.”

Also present on Tuesday morning were Anne Troy, SDCC Partnership and Co-ordinator of the Health Project in Neilstown, and Frank Brown, Parish Pastoral Worker, Clondalkin.

“We knew at CAS that people were looking to reach out – it’s important to meet up and bawl your eyes out,” said Anne.

“It is normal to be out of your mind when suicide happens. But a waiting list of six to twelve months for support is not on.”

Frank stresses it is not a council group, but led by members with expertise and experience.

“This group is a move from counselling to compassion,” he said.

“It is a unique template that can work in other regions. We have been saying in CAS for 10 years that we need a community response, and now we have, with the courage of these ladies. The group is an outreach, not a panacea, but it has evolved and is taking shape.”

South Dublin County Council provided funding for a free booklet available from the health house and local churches, with personal stories, practical advice in dealing with the aftermath of suicide, and other helpful information.

“You don’t know what you are going to hear at an inquest. It can be very traumatic for families, this group helps to prepare them for that,” said Anne.

A New Normal will launch on World Suicide Day, Tuesday, September 10, at 6.30pm in Rowlagh Church.

On Wednesday, September 11, the group will have an information stand at the Resilience mental health seminar at Áras Chrónáin, between 9.30 to 1.30pm.

Adults affected by suicide are invited to attend group meetings at Clondalkin Health House (4 Neilstown Crescent), on September 18, October 9, October 20 – the Wednesday meetings are on between 7pm to 8.30pm.

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