Valdosta Daily Times

January 6, 2013

Facing a complicated grief

Support group to help family, friends cope after suicide

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Tamara Hardesty recalls her father, Tom Hardesty, as an artist, a musician, a newspaper reporter, a puppeteer. A trained soprano, Tamara Hardesty’s musical career began as a child with her father teaching her piano.

She remembers all of those wonderful attributes of her father, but she can never forget the call in 2004 when she learned Tom Hardesty, her dad, had committed suicide.

Tamara Hardesty is now in a place where she can say of her father’s life and death, “The ending doesn’t define the story. You can reach a point where you get past the death and can appreciate the good times with the person you loved.”

But it isn’t easy reaching this point, Hardesty concedes.

That’s why she’s starting a Valdosta support group for family and friends of people who have survived suicide.

SOS Valdosta: Valdosta Survivors of Suicide Support Group will hold its first meeting, 8 p.m., Jan. 16, Unitarian Universalist Church, 1951 E. Park Ave. SOS Valdosta will then meet at the same time and place on the third Wednesday of each month, Hardesty says.

In describing the group, she quickly asserts what the group is not. It is not for people contemplating suicide.

“It is a peer-led, non-religious group with anonymous and open membership for any adult who has suffered a loss to suicide,” according to SOS Valdosta information Hardesty has addressed to area hospitals, funeral homes, therapy centers, mental health facilities and ministers. “Shared experiences play a vital role in the healing process. SOS Valdosta offers a confidential, safe place for survivors to vent their anger and guilt, share their concerns, feel their pain, and ultimately deal with their grief. Our mission is to give survivors hope and help them begin to heal.”

Hardesty emphasizes that she is not a mental-health expert. “I am just someone who has experienced this loss and attended a weekend seminar on how to run a support group.” This seminar was sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention which will also provide Hardesty with administrative support as needed.

She knows the therapeutic and cathartic benefits of a support group from having been a member following her father’s death.

Tom Hardesty was an artistic soul. He played and taught music. He worked as a reporter for the

Oskaloosa, Iowa, newspaper. He had two daughters, Tamara and a sister. He and his wife had been divorced for 20 years.

He was also bipolar, Tamara says. Without medication, he experienced severe mood swings. He had a history of suicide attempts. As he aged, he quit taking his medication regularly. Tom Hardesty’s condition deteriorated until he took his life.

Learning of her father’s death, Tamara Hardesty says the news “came as a shock but not as a surprise.” Tamara had to break the news to her sister and her mother.

“Dealing with suicide is a complicated grief,” Tamara Hardesty explains. “It comes with the suddenness of an accident but with the violence of a murder.”

And the loved one has caused this damage and pain.

“You’re going to feel angry with your loved one,” she says, “and then you feel guilty for feeling angry.”

Hardesty found solace in expressing these feelings in a survivors of suicide support group. She could share her feelings with others experiencing complicated griefs.

Hardesty moved to Valdosta with husband, Howard Hsu, a few years ago, when he took the position of conductor with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra. Sadly, she did not find an SOS group in South Georgia.

She considered starting a support group sooner but admits she did not want to be defined in a new area by her father’s suicide. And she was busy in her new home with an infant son, then the birth of a daughter, teaching vocal classes at Valdosta State University, singing in concerts. Established in Valdosta, Hardesty feels the time is right to start the support group.

Meetings will likely be formatted by starting with an introduction of the participant and the name of the loved one lost; followed by discussion of what participants may want to share; then a discussion topic such as how participants handled the recent holidays or dealing with anger, etc.

While Hardesty says she asks all participants to share their names and the names of loved ones lost, she will encourage everyone share their experiences.

“It helps to get these feelings out in the open,” Hardesty says, “to work through the grief.”

 

SOS Valdosta: Valdosta Survivors of Suicide Support Group holds its first meeting, 8 p.m., Jan. 16, Unitarian Universalist Church, 1951 E. Park Ave. SOS Valdosta will then meet at the same time and place on the third Wednesday of each month. More information: Visit the Facebook site Valdosta Survivors of Suicide Support Group; or email Tamara Hardesty, sosvaldosta@yahoo.com.