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Publish Date: 9/10/2005

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Keli McIntosh, 40, holds the ashes of her husband, Greg, who committed suicide in March by hanging himself from the overhead frame of the bed she is sitting on. A support group for survivors of suicide was formed in May. Times-Call/Lewis Geyer

New grief support group helps suicide survivors


LONGMONT — Accountants aren’t the only ones who stumble across invaluable paper trails.

During a recent Suicide Survivor Support Group meeting, Longmont resident Sonja Nelson shared that she had just found a shoebox of old birthday, Christmas and Mother’s Day cards from her late son, Brett.

Last October, at age 37, he shot himself at his Thornton home.

Thumbing through the cards proved a bittersweet reminder that Brett cared about his family, she said, despite his three-year battle with alcohol and depression that ended in his suicide.

Talking about the keepsakes choked her up.

Still, every Wednesday night, Nelson and her husband, Virgil, both 65, join about a half-dozen other suicide survivors to reflect on the aftermath of their loss, ask questions and vent their anger.

“When I hear the pain of someone else, it softens my pain,” Sonja Nelson said. “As soon as somebody new comes in, I want to help them, and that helps me.”

Longmont psychotherapist Sherri McIntyre formed the support group in May and acts as its facilitator. But she stays mostly mum to let those who are grieving express what is often painful or seemingly inappropriate outside those walls.

“Some days I feel like I can’t go on without Greg. Other days, I feel like I don’t want to go on,” said Keli McIntosh, 40.

Her husband, Greg McIntosh, 42, hanged himself in March while she was taking a shower.

After a car accident in 2001 that crushed his right ankle, he underwent 14 surgeries and suffered gangrene. Just before taking his life, he lost his job. Shortly after that, doctors decided to amputate his right leg below the kneecap, she said.

McIntosh added that she recently found something handwritten, too: Dr. Phil workbooks the couple had used to get through a rocky patch in their marriage. Such reminders stir up emotions, but this group can cry and laugh together.

McIntosh said some days she feels so much anger toward her husband that she wishes she could coat the urn containing his ashes with rubber.

“That way I could kick it around,” she said, while others chuckled with her.

McIntyre recognizes these lighter interludes as teachable moments.

“You’re further along if you can be angry at the loved one, not at everyone else,” she said.

Another woman, a single mother who recently lost her only son to suicide, said the teenager is buried next to another young person — a woman killed in a car accident.

“Sometimes I’ll stand there between the two and say, ‘Damn it, Zach. This was not her choice. Why was it yours?’” the grieving woman said.

Though the group’s half-dozen drop-ins represent various stages of grief, McIntyre said survivors share universal needs. “The first and most pressing thing? They want to know why (it happened), even if the loved one left a note,” she said.

Loved ones also struggle with guilt, even though the only one responsible for the death is the person who committed suicide, McIntyre said. ltimately, discussing these issues helps participants understand that they are not alone and that their reactions are normal, she added.

McIntyre said the format fosters healing, something that happens when survivors don’t think about the loss all the time and feel OK with not knowing why it happened. “Focus not on how your loved one died, but on how they lived,” McIntyre said.

For help

What: Suicide Survivors Support Group

When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays

Where: Longmont United Hospital’s board room, 1950 Mountain View Ave.

Cost: Free

Information: Call facilitator Sherri McIntyre at 720-304-0460. Online resources for survivors are at:
• www.suicideprevention-colorado.org
• www.heartbeatsurvivorsaftersuicide.org
• www.cdphe.state.co.us/pp/Suicide/publicawareness.html

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-684-5224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.

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