Growing number of young people, children attend suicide memorial service in Sydney
More than 500 relatives and friends of people who have been lost to suicide joined together to grieve and to remember their loved ones at Wesley Mission’s annual LifeForce Memorial Day service at the Sydney Opera House today.
People from Sydney and beyond heard speakers share their stories of grief and hope and the importance of speaking about their sorrow.
As the breeze freshened across the waters of Sydney Harbour, Master of Ceremonies, Peter Bliss, reminded those attending that they were not alone in their grief. Mr Bliss, whose sister, Diana, passed away in Perth earlier this year, said he was still coming to terms with her loss.
“I still can’t believe she’s gone,” Mr Bliss said.
The Wesley LifeForce service meant people were not alone and was an opportunity to not only remember a life but to share that life with others.
“Today’s event means that you are not alone, Mr Bliss said.
“It is important to give yourself permission to talk about grief. Suicide is a community issue that should not be hidden.”
Janine Schramm, who is an active member of the Western Sydney Suicide Prevention Network lost her 31-year-old son to suicide following the breakdown of his marriage.
“He had lived, loved and fathered two children,” she said.
The suicide prevention network had provided vital and empathetic support for people who had lost family members to suicide.
“Our stories are very different but we are not alone,” Mrs Schramm said. “Our groups are a sanctuary where lives have been shattered.”
The Superintendent of Wesley Mission the Rev. Dr Keith Garner said there was no right or wrong way to grieve. “Put no expectation or pressure on yourself,” he told the crowd. “Celebrate their life, as well as grieve their loss.
“As we gather together, it is important to remind each other that we are not alone and that we have friends today. But the fact that we are not alone is also a statement that we stand with many others who have also journeyed down this painful pathway, some who share very similar emotions to ourselves.”
Dr Garner said that it was strange that in such a permissive age, suicide remained the modern ‘unspeakable’.
“When someone dies, it is hard to find people who know what to say – and often the best solution is that they simply sit with us and allow those uncomfortable silences or even outbursts of anger to happen, without trying to give reasons or reply,” Dr Garner said.
While admitting that the church had not handled the issue of suicide well, trust was a key element in dealing with pain. There were no simple solutions but regaining trust was a way forward.
“Trust is one of those key aspects of life which gets fractured at a time of suicide, but it is worth reconnecting with trust, even in pain,” he said.
“The ministry of Jesus Christ was so often direct and to the point. He was able to say those words which clarify a response in a difficult situation. On one occasion, he was speaking to his disciples and he said words of this kind: ‘Don’t let yourself get troubled. Trust in God, trust in me.’
“At the heart, the Christian message at such a gathering (as the Wesley LifeForce service) is that God does not stand outside of our experience of suffering, but has entered it and shares our loss with us.”
Dr Garner said the number of people attending the Wesley LifeForce service had grown each year. It was encouraging to see the proportion of young people and children growing. ‘They (children) too are part of the loss. We should not discount their need to share in moments of this kind,” Dr Garner said
The audience also heard from Katie Care-Wickham — a staff member of Wesley LifeForce. Katie lost her brother, Cory, to suicide in 2001. It provided motivation to begin work in the field of suicide prevention.
Her brother’s death left a “huge void” in her life. “He was there to protect me,” she said.
She gained support from a “wonderful group of friends” and was motivated to action. She now spreads the word of suicide prevention across Australia through her work with Wesley LifeForce.
Guitarist and vocalist Scott Lavender performed several pieces, including the very moving hymn, Amazing Grace.
Sydney Harbour became a mass of colour as hundreds of yellow flowers were tossed into the water in remembrance of those who had died.
Wesley Mission Pastor Don Walker closed the service in prayer before the symbol of peace — a dove — was released by Mrs Carol Garner.
Wesley LifeForce educates, empowers and resources communities in a sustainable and ethical way. During the past ten years it has educated more than 15,000 people in suicide prevention through workshops and seminars across metropolitan, regional, rural and remote Australia.
Wesley LifeForce programs are aimed at training community members from all walks of life to know how to manage a suicidal crisis, appropriately and confidently.
Wesley LifeForce provides Australian quality suicide prevention training in the form of four hour seminars
and one day workshops. Participants learn about the problem of suicide in Australia and gain an understanding of risk and protective factors, and to recognise warning signals. Participants are also taught an effective, simple strategy to manage a suicidal crisis.