Jennifer Steele lost her older brother to suicide in 1993. At the time, Robbie Steele was engaged and had just set a date for his wedding.
"In suicide prevention the signs are always talked about and even now I can't really see signs. It was really a surprise for everybody," Steele said.
She made the effort to seek help about the loss of her brother. She started with the college counselor and has sought counseling here and there ever since. But having a safe environment to talk about Robbie was exactly what Steele needed to process what happened. Her parents didn't want to seek help or even talk about what happened.
"It was a different generation, and at the time there was so much stigma to it. With suicide, there's grief and then there's the aspect of, 'What could I have done differently,'" she said.
Steele said that because her parents decided against seeking help, she watched the grief tear them apart. Her mother became an alcoholic and died at 62 years old. Later in life, her father had his own thoughts of suicide.
Steele has seen what comes of both getting counseling and not getting it after losing a loved one. A few years ago, she started working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which works with local organizations to host the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. This event brings together suicide loss survivors so they can find comfort and understanding with discussions and story sharing. This year, Jennifer is working with Hospice of SLO County to host the event.
"At an event like this I like seeing people get help early and reach out to others. It's really good to have a place where people know they're not alone," she said.
There will be a screening of the film The Journey: A Story of Healing and Hope at the event. It was provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and is about people who are dealing with suicide loss. There will be a group discussion and an art therapist in the afternoon.
The art portion is Steele's favorite part because it's a relaxed portion of the day where people create a memory box. The small box is decorated with photos of the loved one. It's a chance to talk about the memory of the photo and what they loved about that person.
Steele said she likes to attend these events because it's a chance for her to talk about Robbie. She said that she didn't keep her brother's death a secret, but it wasn't something she really talked about because it didn't come up.
"Now I really like just saying his name and telling stories about him; the things he did to make me laugh," she said.
One of her favorite stories to share is about Robbie's love of fishing. There were a lot of ponds in the neighborhood they grew up in, and one day she headed out to one of the ponds to fish with him.
"There was a great blue heron standing next to him and he was hand feeding it a fish," she said.
Whenever Steele sees a blue heron, she believes it's her brother and it's a chance for her to say hi and think about the loving person he was.
The International Survivors of Suicide takes place Nov. 18 at 10:30 a.m. All are encouraged to attend but participation isn't necessary, Steele said it's great if people come and just sit in the back to take it all in. For more information about the event or the counseling services that Hospice of SLO County provides, visit hospiceslo.org or call 544-2266.
• The San Luis Obispo County Band is hosting its 23rd Annual Benefit Concert for the Homeless on Nov. 12. Concert donations go toward the Homeless Foundation of SLO and will be matched by Thrivent Financial. The theme of the show is "a folksy shade of blue." The show will begin at 3 p.m. at the Mount Carmel Lutheran Church, 1701 Fredericks St. in SLO. For more information, visit slocountyband.org. Δ
Staff Writer Karen Garcia wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tips to email@example.com.