Bereaved by suicide – the power of peer support
Sharing experiences and activities can be a lifeline for those bereaved by suicide. In this blog Bex from Sussex-based organisation Sibling Link explains how they have used walking, baking, and pottery in peer groups to help people connect.
When my brother died by suicide, I didn’t know anyone else who had experienced this type of loss. I didn’t have the energy to explain what it felt like. If I had been plopped into a room with six other people who instantly knew, it would have felt like some sort of comfort.
To lose someone by suicide is a huge shock. I couldn’t believe that it was my brother who had done this. I had a huge amount of guilt that I hadn’t managed to help him and so many questions that I had wanted to ask him. The pain was huge. Not only because he was not here and because I missed him with all of my heart – but also because he had chosen to go in the way that he did. It was very hard.
To be able to talk about all of these feelings with others in the same boat would have benefited me hugely.
Sibling Link was set up by Tash and myself to address this need for peer support. Tash’s brother also lived with mental illness and died. We now help anyone who has a sibling living with mental ill health by talking about how this is impacting the ‘well’ sibling’s’ life at our monthly peer support meetings.
Following on from this grew the need to help those who had been bereaved by suicide. So, as well as the meetings for siblings we also run a regular bereaved by suicide support group.
We started, and still continue with a ‘walk and talk’ which was formed four years ago. This is not just for siblings now – it is for anyone who has been impacted by a loss by suicide.
Walking and talking was instantly a gentle way to help people to connect. Not having to get eye contact was helpful to those who might find this brutal topic difficult to talk about. And being outside and walking gave a shared landscape to enable people to gently talk or to listen. It was also powerful simply knowing that the person next to them might understand without even having to talk.
We realised that there was a potential for other activities to help those who needed to connect with others who had experienced similar painful losses.
Baking and bereavement
The aim of the course was to learn to bake whilst sharing our grief journeys. The benefits of hands-on baking was incredible. Our service users signed up for three sessions once a month. We would all make the dough together and an instant bond was made. People were soon giggling about their sticky dough or comparing notes on their techniques. Then, while the dough was rising the baker would leave the room to leave the attendees to share if they wanted to. Slowly, while the dough was rising people would release a little more to each other, feel heard and hear things that they hadn’t heard others say before. A relief!
The baker would return, and the ‘real world’ would resume. Our first bread was focaccia. It felt good to knead the dough, after the intense talk before. There was more laughter and continued chat about the people we had lost, whilst gently adding some olives.
After the bread was baked it was time to taste. It felt like a full circle. No one had known each other when we arrived and by the end of the session, we had probably shared more here than with people we knew. The bread making had enabled this connection, this trust. It felt nurturing and therapeutic.
The following month was bagel making. This time our attendees had met the month before and were keen to find out how everyone was. We were able to follow up on discussions and feelings from the first session. The bagel making felt like a beautiful way to do this. We knew that we were going to be positively creating something whilst being able to off load some brutal feelings. It was a safe and warm space.
By the third session we were ready for the rhythm of the baking and the space to talk felt natural. There was warmth and nourishment fresh from the oven at the end – a kind of metaphor of the space provided for those who came.
Hands-on craft was very beneficial to allow people to talk about something that is very difficult. It gave everyone something to focus on, and allowed incidental chat. But mainly it encouraged people’s trust and allowed people to let their guards down. Yes it was emotional, but to let those emotions out and have your feelings heard is a very powerful thing.
The Pottery Project
Because of the success of the baking course, we are starting The Pottery Project this September! Again we want to be able to connect people in a way that feels less intense and by learning a new skill, feelings of isolation quickly turn to confidence building. By doing something with our hands it allows thoughts to flow and for us to feel connected to those who are also creating something tangible to take home.
We are very excited to see how this project will work. People will be able to either make something in memory of the person they have lost or simply create something that feels therapeutic. When they look at the piece of pottery, they’ll be reminded that they’re not alone.
Peer support linked with some sort of activity or craft can really help you to get out of your comfort zone. Focusing on making something can give your brain some rest bite from the grief. To do that with others – and come back to reality and be free to talk about what is always at the front of your mind instantly – that’s a great thing. And to have something postive to take home at the end of it, that you’ve made – I think that’s very healing.
Sibling Link is a free resource based in Brighton and Hove and run by two passionate volunteers – Tash and Bex – who get it.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information
Images below: Tash and Bex, Bex’s brother Ali and Tash’s brother Dan