HCN News & Notes

Survivor Day to Help Those Affected by Suicide on Healing Journey

WESTFIELD — The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the nation’s largest suicide-prevention organization, is hosting more than 350 International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day events worldwide on Saturday, Nov. 19. Survivor Day allows people affected by suicide loss to gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding.

Locally, the Western Mass. chapter of AFSP will host a Survivor Day event at Westfield State University from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 19.

All Survivor Day gatherings will include a screening of Life Journeys: Reclaiming Life after Loss, a new, AFSP-produced Survivor Day documentary that traces the grief and healing journey that follows a suicide loss over time. Additional programming at the Westfield State event will include presentations by loss survivors and mental-health professionals, as well as small-group discussions. For those who can’t attend, AFSP will also host a 90-minute online program that will include a film screening of Life Journeys, a post-screening discussion on coping with a suicide loss, and a Q&A session with online viewers.

“After I lost my younger brother Raymond to suicide, I felt so alone and guilty about his death. But attending a Survivor Day event allowed me to connect with others who had lost a person close to them, and made me realize I wasn’t alone — that others understood my grief. It was incredibly healing,” said Renae Carapella-Johnson, who lost her younger brother, Raymond Carapella, to suicide in 2005.

Although Raymond, a consummate prankster known for his sense of humor, might have seemed a healthy high-school student, his family, who knew him best, recognized that he struggled with anxiety and depression. They tried to encourage him in his interests, like watching football (the Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were his favorite teams), creative writing, and cross-country running. But in 2005, his life ended abruptly and all too soon when he took his own life.

After Raymond’s suicide, his sister Renae felt alone and lost. It wasn’t until she found AFSP and attended her first Survivor Day event that she began to realize there were others like her, even in her own community, who had experienced a similar loss. When she connected with them at the Survivor Day event in her town, she began to consider what she could do to prevent others from experiencing this kind of grief.

Since the loss of her brother, Renae has found a way in her healing journey to honor her brother’s life. On what would have been Raymond’s 26th birthday, she ran her first marathon. Recently, when she and her husband were on one of their antiquing trips, she found an old army trunk. Upon closer inspection, she discovered, engraved on the top, the word “Raymond.” They bought the trunk, and plan to one day give it to their son, whose name is Charlie Ray.

For more information about Survivor Day events, visit afsp.org. To register for the Survivor Day event at Westfield State University, contact Heather White, area director for the Western Mass. chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, at (413) 387-3770 or hwhite@afsp.org.