SOBS London Support Day, Saturday June 18th, 2016
Not that anyone has officially been keeping count, but Saturday June 18th saw the London Group of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide hold their ninth annual Support Day, in the familiar and welcoming surroundings of All Souls Clubhouse, at number 141 Cleveland Street. Since its inception in 2008, the Support Day has played host to many leading experts, practitioners and activists in the field of suicide loss and prevention, including Dr Alison Chapple, who researched suicide bereavement for the patient experience website Healthtalk, Paddy Bazeley, founder of Maytree, Dr Alexandra Pitman of University College London, Hamish Elvidge, Chair of both the Matthew Elvidge Trust and the Support after Suicide Partnership (SASP) and Co-Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA), and the late John Peters, who was such a significant figure in the development of SOBS, to name but a few.
As always, this year’s programme provided that mixture of support and informational content that makes SOBS support days so special, and the sixty or so people who turned out on Saturday June 18th were not disappointed. The local London SOBS team, led by David and Cordelia, ensured that everyone felt welcome and supported, and that the day’s proceedings ran smoothly from the welcome coffee and biscuits, to the concluding support meetings and beyond.
The first presentation from Sally May, former editor of the Compassionate Friends magazine, was a thought-provoking talk on strategies to cope with guilt, that “horrible squirmy feeling” that many of us experience for a long time following the loss of a loved one to suicide. That remorseful feeling of having done something wrong, of frustration and exasperation, of regretful “if onlys”, of failure, self-punishment and self-doubt. Sally highlighted the role of both memory, and the need to feel in control, in contributing to these complicated feelings of guilt that are so characteristic of suicide grief. During this highly interactive session, Sally encouraged participation from the audience and we heard of the many and varied ways that people have learned to challenge, accept and ultimately, let go of the guilt.
The second talk by Hugh Davies QC OBE, Inquests: strengths and weaknesses of the system, addressed a topic that frequently comes up for discussion during support group meetings, that of the Coroner’s inquest. This was a very engaging talk on a difficult subject, enlivened by personal anecdotes and real life examples that many of us could relate to. Although the inquest process has been reformed in 2009, and now includes the role of Chief Coroner in maintaining standards, nevertheless the process is still highly variable and dependent on the individual Coroner. Many people present told of the delays, frustrations and anxieties they had experienced, or were experiencing, in going through this unavoidable process.
The next item saw a complete change of mood, with the very moving personal testimony of a bereaved mother on her journey following the loss of a beloved son. She spoke of her devastation, saying “I cry shamelessly”, but also of the support she has received from family and friends, and through writing, lobbying and volunteering, which give her life a new sense of purpose.
The buffet lunch was excellent, and provided a welcome opportunity to catch up with old friends and to make some new ones. The afternoon support groups, based on type of loss – whether child, parent, sibling or partner, gave us a very special space and time to share our sense of loss, and our glimpses of hope for the future. As always, there was laughter as well as tears.
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