AGM 2018: Living with Suicide Loss

A crisp early autumn day in Manchester, Saturday September 29th, saw a stalwart group of twenty members and others, undeterred by delays on the rail network, gather at the Friends’ Meeting House for the second Annual General Meeting of Suicide Bereaved Network.

What’s so wonderful at events for the suicide bereaved is the instant rapport that we all have with one another. Though some attendees were indeed old friends, within minutes of arriving everyone was drawn into a contented hum of conversation as people exchanged stories of their journeys, both to the day’s event and through the bereavement that brought us to tread this rocky, winding and sometimes lonely path.

Everyone seemed happy to talk as we presenters wrestled with setting up the technology for showing slides and videos. It had all worked perfectly when trialled at home, but there’s always an unforeseen glitch to grapple with on the day.

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Following the introductions, our first speaker was Abbie Zenda (Mitchell), who is about to move on from her role as Trustee of Suicide Bereaved Network. Abbie is a mental health activist and blogger who specialises in mentoring young peer supporters, currently through her work with Fitzrovia Youth in Action.  Abbie showed a short video Heart of the Matter: Suicide Taboo made by Bournemouth University students and included in a series of vlogs created with her friend Sophie. The video focused on their shared experience in losing close family members to suicide, Abbie having lost her mother when she was only fourteen, and Sophie having lost her brother more recently. Abbie went on to talk about how her personal experience and struggles inspired her to work with young people, mentoring and empowering them to support each other. She then took questions from the audience and the ensuing discussions well over-ran the allotted time, as many people were keen to learn more about how to communicate with young people about suicide loss and mental health. We thanked Abbie for her presentation and for her work for the charity in her role as trustee over the past year, and wished her well for the future.

Next to speak was Neelam Sharma who gave a very moving presentation about her son Akash, known to his friends as Sky, a very talented and caring young man who sadly took his own life at the age of twenty one. Akash was a very talented musician, even composing his own music. He was popular with everyone, and went out of his way to help his friends and neighbours. Neelam showed videos of Akash and recounted her personal experience of bereavement and how she and her husband Dinesh are coping. In response to their loss, they have set up the Sky Sharma Foundation which campaigns to raise awareness of mental health issues within the South Asian community, and works with local organisations in and around Ilford, Essex. The Sharmas work with local schools, using fun activities to help children develop awareness of their own and their friends’ mental health needs. Neelam’s story prompted great empathy and interest from the audience, and there were many questions and lively discussions of the issues raised.

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After a buffet lunch, Gillian Brooks introduced the film “Let the Memory on the Vine Stay Sweet”, part of the ‘What Remains’ project by verd de gris, the community arts company from Hebden Bridge, North Yorkshire. Gillian gave a fascinating account of how this project evolved from a creative writing course she took some years after her husband’s suicide, through becoming the basis of her daughter’s performing arts course at university, to finally taking shape many years later as this wonderful film by Geoff Brokate. Each story of suicide bereavement is unique, but Gillian’s stands out as extraordinary, both in terms of the ‘story’ itself and of her response to the tragedy as it unfolded, and as she and her children seek to come to terms with the aftermath. The film is a profoundly authentic, searingly honest and ultimately transcendent exploration of Gillian’s relationship and the loss experienced by her and her children. Afterwards there were questions, and some tears, from the audience, though the work is so perfect and self-contained that questions and comment seemed almost superfluous. Gillian is protective of this very intimate piece of work, and for now only shows it at small local gatherings such as ours, where she can use it as a basis for promoting understanding of mental health and loss.

After a final round of refreshments, and a little more time to talk, reflect and network, we concluded our AGM 2018 event for another year. Huge thanks to our wonderful presenters, and also to the members and friends who attended.

Nina Kennedy
Chair
Suicide Bereaved Network

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