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Sunday, November 22, 2009

On suicide, group offers comfort, support

MERRIMACK – Greg Castillo chose a career dedicated to saving the lives of others: working as an emergency medical technician. But earlier this year, Castillo’s family discovered he was the one who needed saving all along.

On April 18, a day before Castillo was to turn 25, he took his own life, leaving his parents, three younger brothers and everyone else who cared about him to pick up the pieces.

“When he needed care, when he needed life saving, he wasn’t able to ask for it,” said his father, Rick Castillo.

Saturday was a day dedicated to those, like Rick Castillo, left behind after someone close to them committed suicide. Survivors of suicide are often left to ask themselves why they didn’t see it coming and whether there was anything they could have done to stop it.

Rick Castillo, who lives in Merrimack, was one of a dozen people who gathered at Home Health & Hospice Care for the 11th annual National Survivors of Suicide Day.

“This kind of day promotes healing and understanding,” said Diane McEntee, whose son committed suicide in 2001. She now helps co-facilitate a support group for suicide survivors, which meets at the Merrimack facility the first Wednesday of each month.

McEntee said it’s important for those grieving after dealing with suicide to know they’re far from alone. She has found many people come back to the support groups just to share their stories again.

“The more you tell the story, the more you heal,” she said.

The group Saturday started by watching a 90-minute DVD. In it, others who have lost one of their loved ones through suicide talked about their experiences. Groups throughout the country and other parts of the world watched the same DVD as part of a coordinated effort.

In the DVD, five people shared their stories. One woman lost her husband just days before she was due to give birth to their first son. Her husband killed himself while serving in the military. She gave birth the day of his funeral.

One man lost his brother. Another woman lost both of her parents in a murder-suicide.

Mike Keenan, from Connecticut, talked about his experience after his son took his own life. He discovered his son’s body after he shot himself. In the following weeks, Keenan said he shut himself off. He didn’t communicate with his wife.

“Suicide not only takes the life of the individual, it can also destroy families,” Keenan said.

Afterward, the small group in Merrimack went around the room and shared their own personal connection with suicide. Boxes of tissues were placed around the table for those who needed to wipe away tears while talking about their experience.

Castillo, wearing a picture of his son in a button on his chest, has just started to reach out for support. After seven months, the reality of what happened is now just beginning to sink in and Castillo is hoping that by taking that first step, others in his family will follow.

“You realize you’ve joined this club that you never thought you’d have to join,” Castillo said. “There is some comfort in sharing in other people’s sorrow.”

For some who came out Saturday, it had been decades since they lost a loved one to suicide. For others, it had been only a few months. The group talked about the stigma associated with suicide and why people who haven’t gone through it are uncomfortable talking about it.

“They’re afraid,” said Maureen Sloan, who lost her daughter to suicide. “They really don’t know what it’s like to have someone in your family with that type of serious depression.”

Sloan helps McEntee run the support group in Merrimack. Like many who came Saturday, Sloan said suicide survivors often feel like there is no one else feeling what they feel. It’s important that people grieve in their own way and at their own pace, she said. “For most people, six months is just when the reality starts to set in,” she said.

Linda Riley lost her uncle to suicide and her son in a car accident. She now facilitates a group called Compassionate Friends, which meets at St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church in Nashua the fourth Tuesday of every month.

Riley said there are often some within a family who don’t want to talk about a suicide that occurred or seek out support groups. That’s why sometimes it’s up to one person within a family to take that difficult first step, she said. “Taking that first step is the hardest step because what that first step means is that this really happened,” Riley said. Castillo believes he’s in the process of taking that first step toward healing. After his son’s death, Castillo learned more about the work his son did to help homeless people.

“One of the things I’ve learned through this is the great man that he became,” Castillo said.

Castillo has left his job in the field of technology to continue his son’s work. Castillo is now working as a housing counselor for The Way Home, which seeks to prevent homelessness.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.