Bernadette Ramsay-Copeland lost her sister to suicide 37 years ago, at a time when the subject of suicide remained heavily stigmatized and went largely unspoken.
“Just finding my way was really, really difficult, because I was told not to talk about it,” Ramsay-Copeland told Simcoe.com. “People didn’t know what to do.”
With growing awareness, times have changed.
That much was evident when, nine years ago, the Orillia woman was again faced with tragic loss; her best friend had died by suicide.
Rather than stay silent, Ramsay-Copeland reached out for assistance.
“I didn’t stay isolated,” said Ramsay-Copeland, chair of the Simcoe County Suicide Awareness Council. “I went and sought help, and so I know how important that is.”
On Nov. 17, community members affected by suicide are invited to gather at one of several locations in the region to share stories, while also finding comfort in knowing that they are not alone.
“When you are going through this, you feel that you are the only one, or you feel that you will always be in this terrible stage or feel this way — that you are never, ever going to get better,” Ramsay-Copeland said.
Hearing about others’ experiences can help provide a sense that “I am going to be able to find joy again, I am going to be able to find meaning again in my life,” she added.
The afternoon gathering runs from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and coincides with International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
Participating communities include Orillia (St. Paul’s United Church), Midland (library), Barrie (Canadian Mental Health Association office, RSVP Room, at 15 Bradford St.), Innisfil (library), and Huntsville (library).
The event begins with a video presentation highlighting the story of one daughter’s journey after her mother’s suicide.
An opportunity for discussion follows.
“Listening to other people talk about their journey, it gives hope to know that, yes, I am going to go through this horrible thing but there is hope at the end,” Ramsay-Copeland added.
In the more than two decades since the inception of a local support program for survivors of suicide loss, Ramsay-Copeland has witnessed growing willingness among individuals to reach out for help.