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Weekend of Grace

Alisa Noel, facing camera, embraces her sister, Peggy Clark, during a 2011 suicide prevention event in Cheyenne organized by the nonprofit Grace for 2 Brothers. The group will use money from a church donation to create info packets for the survivors of suicide.

After the loss of a loved one to suicide, family members are left to navigate difficult, unthinkable questions in a haze of loss.

What do they tell their loved one's former employer? What do they need to do with the deceased's bank account? How do they arrange the funeral?

With a $22,700 grant from the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, suicide prevention organization Grace For 2 Brothers will provide packets with information that address those questions to coroners in all of Wyoming's counties. The grant will also help the group expand an existing program that dispatches volunteers to families who have experienced a death by suicide shortly after the act.

"We wanted to provide an informational packet to families in Wyoming that have to go through the storm of losing a loved one to suicide so they won’t feel so alone and also to help guide them through one of the most trying times in their lives," said Rhianna Brand, director of operations for the nonprofit. "It’s not an answer to all of the why’s we all carry, but it is a piece of hope and help from the very beginning, something that those of us who went through a loss all wished we had."

The information packets will contain checklists of documents that family members will need, guides for working with insurance companies and suggestions for arranging a funeral, among other resources. The packets will also list local mental health resources as well as information about the possible emotional responses to losing a loved one to suicide — the numbness, the shock, the crippling grief — and how the feelings will change over time. Sometimes the survivors need help from the organization for only a few months, while others remain connected for years, Brand said. 

"It really walks a family through everything," Brand said.

The grant money will also expand the group's LOSS Team, a group of volunteers that are on call to meet with families immediately after the loss of a loved one to suicide. Currently, the group works only in Laramie County in partnership with local law enforcement and the coroner's office. With the grant money, Grace for 2 Brothers plans to expand to neighboring Goshen and Platte counties. 

The information packets and LOSS teams are part of an effort to provide postvention, or the care of people whose loved ones died by suicide. The work is meant to comfort those people in the wake of their loss and to prevent further deaths by suicide in the affected group.

"We're just starting to build this community of support for survivors of suicide loss," Brand said. "We created something that we needed when we lost our loved ones."

Grace for 2 Brothers was founded in 2010 by B.J. Ayers after two of her three sons died by suicide. Since then, the Cheyenne-based organization has held numerous suicide prevention trainings, educated schoolchildren about suicide and coordinated support groups for survivors. Many of the group's board members and staff have lost a loved one to suicide.

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The money from the Episcopal diocese became especially important after Wyoming lawmakers slashed funding for suicide prevention during the 2017 legislative session. When the state health department and the Prevention Management Organization lost that money, those at Grace for 2 Brothers and other similar groups scrambled to fill the gaps. 

"We're all linking arms to really work together to get funding back for suicide prevention, but more important than money is there are human lives at stake," Brand said.

Grace for 2 Brothers, along with many other suicide prevention groups in the state, will lobby Wyoming legislators for more resources for their work early next month. The group, organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, will meet lawmakers between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. March 1 at the Jonah Building in Cheyenne. In a state that regularly has one of the highest rates of deaths by suicide in the country, the work is just as important as always, Brand said.

"We need to have the hard conversations about suicide," Brand said. "We need to have the conversations about what that loss is."

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Follow features editor Elise Schmelzer on Twitter @eliseschmelzer

 

 

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