by Karyl Chastain Beal, M.Ed.
Martha cannot sleep, so she drags herself out of bed and stumbles to the computer. She gets online and checks her e-mail. She’s connected with her online support group, Parents of Suicides (POS); she is not alone.
Martha’s 12-year-old son, Ian, took his life, and now, via the Internet, she has a support group she can be involved with at her convenience. She doesn’t have to dress up or drive across town at night to participate.
Through POS, Martha communicates with other parents who also are grieving the death of a son or daughter to suicide; people who have suffered the same type of loss she has. At the end of Martha’s messages, her signature tells it all:
Weeping in Kansas
Martha, Mom to Ian
11/10/94 – 3/18/07
About Parents of Suicide
POS is an Internet community whose members connect with each other through an e-mail system that sends messages to all members of the group. About 3,000 messages go through the group each month; they can be read or sent 24 hours a day.
POS’s membership is international, with members from Ireland, Scotland, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, France, Canada, and Jamaica joining the American members.
POS was created on October 9, 1998, as a way of connecting a few bereaved parents who found each other, who simply needed on that day to survive. The fact that it still thrives after more than 12 years is a testament to the commitment and dedication of members who remain with the group to help others.
E-mail exchanges are just one aspect of POS. The group also publishes a twice-monthly e-newsletter called The Butterfly Net.
There is systematic acknowledgement of the names of members’ sons and daughters on birth and memorial dates within the group.
POS has its own private (password protected) chat room, and each year, POS and its partner group, Friends and Families of Suicides (FFOS), hold a special Holiday Remembrance Program in the chat room for all members of both groups.
Members of the group work cooperatively on other healing projects, too. They have created eight memorial quilts so far, and they have published a hardback memorial book and two memorial cookbooks. They create personal memorial websites, they write poetry, and they attend and/or facilitate support groups in their own communities.
POS members also attend retreats together twice a year in Tennessee, where they meet face-to-face with the people they’ve connected with online. Some of the members from outside of the United States fly in to attend the retreats each year. While they are at the retreat, they also get to see another special project: The International Suicide Memorial Wall.
POS members also can call in to Grief Phone Support calls, scheduled and facilitated by some of the members for those who want to talk out loud about their sons and daughters.
POS members have developed several websites. Some of them are memorial sites; some offer grief support and resources; and some help educate the public about suicide in hopes of helping to reduce the number of tragic deaths.
The group memorial websites are the Suicide Memorial Wall and Faces of Suicide Memorial Wall. The group public messages board is the Suicide Grief Support Forum. And of course, there is the main website for the POS-FFOS Internet Community. (Links are located at the end of this article.)
A partner group evolved from POS to help meet the needs of people other than parents. Friends and Families of Suicides (FFOS) Internet Community is for any adult whose life has been affected by suicide; it’s for spouses or partners, siblings, children, grandparents, other family members, co-workers, and friends.
What’s even more amazing is that POS is completely a volunteer community, run by members fully committed to its objectives. No fees are involved for group membership or to participate on any of the websites. And we have no paid staff.
Some members of the groups choose to focus directly on suicide prevention more directly. They help educate their communities and raise awareness. They join tasks forces, state coalitions, and suicide prevention organizations. They network with policy makers, raise funds for suicide research, and participate in public awareness activities.
The overall mission of POS is to help individuals and families find the strength within themselves to heal or live again. In helping families, POS also is saving lives.
POS has survived over 12 years because it meets needs in a way that is not intrusive or imposing. It allows all members to control their own level of involvement, and it encourages healthy survival.
The first step in helping new members appreciate the value of the online support community is to let them know that they are not alone. After they join, many members reach out their hands and walk with them.
Jacky, Ashley’s mum, from Australia wrote:
“I didn’t find POS until 13 months after my son died. I was floundering, badly, no one to talk to, no one who understood. I thought I was going crazy.
Sitting on the Internet one day, searching, POS came up, I joined. I had no idea what to expect, I was clueless, I was desperate.
Then the mail started coming though, masses and masses of it, I was stunned beyond comprehension.
I read, I cried. I read, I cried some more. I read again, I sobbed my heart out. But, I felt better, because, all of a sudden I wasn’t alone. There were others who knew how I felt.”
Martha is still in Kansas, and Jacky is still in Australia, but neither is alone any more.
The following list are the websites created and maintained by members of the POS-FFOS Internet Community:
About the Author: Karyl Chastain Beal live in Columbia, Tennessee with her husband, Ronnie. She’s the mother of Ron and Arlyn (who died by suicide), and she’s a retired teacher and an amateur writer. Karyl founded the Parents of Suicides – Friends and Families of Suicides Internet Community on October 9, 1998. She is a member of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, the American Association of Suicidology, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.