AGM 2018: Living with Suicide Loss

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.


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.


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
Suicide Bereaved Network

© Copyright Suicide Bereaved Network 2018

Book review: From the Punjab to Pear Tree

Book Review: From the Punjab to Pear Tree

My Father & the Lost Legend of Pear Tree, Part 1 by Kalwinder Singh Dhindsa. 2016 (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, £8.99). Available from Amazon and listed in the Suicide Bereaved Network Library.

It is rare to find a book that deals in any depth with the subject of suicide in a minority ethnic or religious community, and Kalwinder Singh Dhindsa’s self-published book is to be welcomed for filling this gap and for providing such a rich and informative account of life in the Sikh community in his hometown, Derby. The loss of his beloved father, Mohinder, to suicide when he himself was in his mid-twenties is the central theme of the book, and this event provides the starting point for the narrative. Although Mohinder was a man of few words, his relationship with his son is described in a very authentic way, leaving us in no doubt about this man’s devotion to his son and to his wider family. This makes his decline into depression all the more heart-breaking and heightens the sense of loss felt by his family and community following his suicide.

The book provides a vivid description of the young Sikh boy growing up, from a perspective that spans two continents. Kalwinder’s pride, both in his Punjabi ancestry and in his East Midlands hometown is vividly evoked. The cultural complexities of Sikhism are explained, particularly the hierarchy of sibling roles within the family and – amusingly – the difficulty Kal experienced in trying to maintain his top-knot as a young boy.

This book also provides a remarkable insight into the male psyche, describing the author’s pride in his beloved Derby County Football Club, his strong work ethic and drive to achieve, and how he draws on these elements when navigating his grief at the loss of his father.

My Father and the Lost Legend of Pear Tree is not necessarily an easy read, as the narrative tends to jump around and there is so much background detail to absorb. There are also some sections that don’t add much to the reader’s understanding and which would have benefitted from editing. Another observation is that the pages of this book are unnumbered, making it difficult to refer to specific locations in the book.

However, this is a hugely valuable and informative book on the themes of suicide and suicide bereavement, on the Sikh community and culture in Britain, and on masculinity and father-son relationships.

Suicide Bereaved Network Home

Honour for dedicated SOBS volunteer

MBE for Trish Thomas, Gloucester SOBS

Patricia Thomas MBE
Patricia Thomas, MBE for services to Supporting People Bereaved by Suicide in Gloucestershire.

Although now rapidly fading from memory, New Year 2018 got off to a good start with the welcome news of a New Year’s Honour for one of the longest-serving suicide bereavement volunteers in the UK, Patricia Thomas, who has been awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). Trish has volunteered in support of people bereaved by suicide for over twenty years. In 1997 she joined the Steering Group which led the development of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) into the national organisation it is today – SOBS now has 60 support groups throughout the UK. Two years later, she went on to set up the Gloucester SOBS Support Group, facilitating the meetings for many years. In addition to providing direct support for the bereaved, she has also worked tirelessly with police forces, mental health trusts and other organisations, developing and delivering much-needed training to front-line staff in how to respond to the needs of the bereaved. We are pleased to see that the importance of support for the suicide bereaved has been recognised in the New Year Honours list and warmly congratulate Trish on receiving this well-deserved accolade.

Suicide Bereaved Network Home

© Copyright Suicide Bereaved Network 2018
Suicide Bereaved Network is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation in England and Wales (No. 1162622)

Notes from our first AGM

Suicide Bereaved Network AGM 2017

With a title like “Where to Start with Suicide Bereavement Support” it came as no surprise that all the attendees at our inaugural AGM on Saturday October 14th were bereavement support volunteers, whether working in suicide, hospice or general bereavement. In all we welcomed thirteen volunteers to spend a Saturday afternoon at Carrs Lane Conference Centre, Birmingham, discussing the issues that are important to them in their volunteering roles.

We started with a quick overview of suicide bereavement support in the UK, a topic too broad to be squeezed into the allocated twenty minutes, but which set the scene for the remainder of the afternoon’s proceedings.

The business of the AGM itself was brief, comprising the Chair’s and Treasurer’s reports, and it concluded with a show of hands to elect our new Trustee, Abbie Mitchell. Abbie brings with her a wealth of voluntary and professional experience in providing support for young people affected by mental health issues and we are very fortunate to welcome her to the Board.

We then threw the proceedings open to the during our “Open Mike” session so that everyone had an opportunity to contribute their ideas and concerns. A huge thank you to everyone who participated. Emerging themes included isolation, reconnecting with normal life, fighting stigma and the importance of language (always a controversial topic). The first Mind Map shows a summary of the ideas shared at the “Open Mike” session, and gives an indication of the range of topics that emerged. The concluding session of the afternoon, “Supporting the Supporters” was more focused, asking people to think about their own support needs as volunteers. The second Mind Map allocates the ideas into two broad themes: volunteer peer support and organisational support. Volunteer peer support includes suggestions for a “buddy system” and having a variety of volunteer roles so that group organisers do not have to do everything themselves. Organisational support included ongoing training, supervision and involving trustees in supporting frontline volunteers.

An emerging theme was the common ground between suicide bereavement and general bereavement support. There were similar challenges faced by volunteers in both areas, and any type of bereavement can bring up other painful issues from the past, as the bereaved person tries to come to terms with their loss.

There is plenty of food for thought in the ideas gathered at our first AGM. We hope that these ideas will form an important element of our agenda over the next year. We look forward to reporting on progress at AGM 2018.

Nina Kennedy,
14th November 2017

Suicide Bereaved Network Home

© Copyright Suicide Bereaved Network 2017
Suicide Bereaved Network is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation in England and Wales (No. 1162622)

Where to Start with Suicide Bereavement Support?

Suicide Bereaved Network AGM event, Birmingham October 14th 2017

Would you like to learn more about the provision of self-help support to people bereaved by suicide? Then please join us for our AGM event “Where to Start with Suicide Bereavement Support” which takes place in Birmingham on Saturday October 14th, from 12:30 to 4pm.

We’ll explore how best to support the volunteers who provide these vital services. The event is free to attend, and lunch and refreshments will be provided – but places are limited. Please call 0300 999 0300 or email events@sbnwk.org.uk for more information, or you can book through Eventbrite.

Suicide Bereaved Network Home