From Grief Comes Ability To Help Others


Elizabeth Siller and Janine Affeldt recently started Lost Loves, a non-profit support group for anyone who has lost someone to suicide. Siller lost her daughter in September 2009.

Elizabeth Siller and Janine Affeldt recently started Lost Loves, a non-profit support group for anyone who has lost someone to suicide. Siller lost her daughter in September 2009. Photo by Alexis Bechman. |

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A day after her only daughter shot herself, Elizabeth “Bits” Siller was reeling.

Just two weeks earlier, Siller and Kim Marie “Kimberly” Siller Bailey had visited the Grand Canyon and celebrated Siller’s 61st birthday.

Kimberly told her mother things she had never said before and the two had reconnected — giving Siller confidence her daughter’s suicide attempt seven months earlier was the last and that maybe, just maybe, the gaping hole in her daughter’s heart was finally healing.

But Kimberly’s grief proved too vast for her to bear and on Sept. 14, 2009, Siller received the call she never believed would come.

photo

Courtesy photo

Elizabeth Siller lost her only daughter Kimberly to suicide just a week after this picture was taken at the Grand Canyon in 2009.

In shock, Siller’s mind raced: How could this happen? Could I have done something different? Wasn’t my love enough?

Working through a storm of emotions, Siller yearned for a connection with anyone who could relate, but there was no one.

After a long struggle, Siller eventually found others who shared her sorrow, but most lived in the Valley.

Hoping to reach those still suffering alone, Siller formed a suicide support group, Lost Loves. The group meets from 4 p.m. to

5:30 p.m., the first and third Thursday of each month at the Senior Circle, 215 N. Beeline Highway. The non-profit group provides a safe place for anyone dealing with the overwhelming emotions brought on by suicide.

Telling one’s story often offers the greatest relief after such a crushing loss, Siller said. “When someone dies as the result of an illness or an accident, the facts are rarely hidden and loved ones grieve openly, but not so with suicide,” she said.

“You are trying to wrap your head around losing this person, but you’re also thinking what else could I have done? That is where the guilt and shame plays in.”

Siller had a hunger to talk about her daughter and still does, but for some friends and family, it has been too much.

Their inability to cope with Siller’s grief isolated her and added to her shame.

Lost Loves offers a place where people can talk openly, said Janine Affeldt, bereavement coordinator with Hospice Compassus and Lost Loves group facilitator.

“Survivors need to tell their story, but sometimes this need can wear on family and friends,” she said.

“The general community doesn’t know what to do with this story and they don’t understand this need to tell the story again and the need for someone to just listen. It is an uncomfortable thing and many people don’t know what to say, so they back away, but that just isolates a survivor even more.”

While Siller may never make sense of her daughter’s suicide, talking with others has given her some relief.

“I don’t want others to suffer without a place to go,” she said.

In group sessions, Siller has told the story of her daughter countless times — the wonderful, complicated and tragic tale.

At 33 years old, Kimberly was losing her lifelong battle against depression.

From all outward appearances, however, Kimberly was gaining control of her demons.

After surviving bulimia at 9 and her first suicide attempt at 16, Kimberly was coming off her latest suicide attempt.

In January 2009, she took a lethal dose of pills and was within an hour of death when her children found her at home. Paramedics rushed her to the hospital and she survived.

Afterward, Kimberly told Siller she knew her husband would find her and “that it wouldn’t happen again.”

Siller thought Kimberly was through with suicide, but now realizes Kimberly’s words had a chilling meaning. Kimberly had promised herself no one would find her the next time.

So no one was around when she finally shot herself.

But she left seven heartbroken family members behind.

Kimberly fought clinical depression for most of her life and had received therapy and medication.

She fought hard against feelings of sadness and hopelessness, with a strong will to live a normal life.

“I don’t think she would have lasted as long as she did without this will,” Siller said.

Kimberly married and had five children.

“I have never seen a better mother,” Siller said.

In 2002, Siller’s third child died in his crib at 5 months old from asphyxiation after getting tangled in his blankets.

His death added to her struggle with depression.

“She got hopeless and sad a lot, but she always pulled herself out of it,” Siller said.

Siller believed Kimberly was finally pulling herself out for good after the January suicide attempt, but now realizes she was only getting ready to die.

She helped spread her father’s ashes, visited Siller at the Grand Canyon, changed her name officially to Kimberly and made photo album books for each child — all steps setting the stage.

But when it finally happened, Siller was taken aback.

This type of loss, over most others, does not add up, Affeldt said.

“It is not something we can even really comprehend. Death by choice just doesn’t make sense to us.”

“I don’t care how many times someone attempts, you never believe they are actually going to do it,” Siller said.

“I was in shock for several months, not believing she did it.”

Siller started dealing with this shock when she found Survivors of Suicide (SOS), a support group in the Valley.

“Early on in grieving, I needed to talk to someone at least once a week to let it out,” she said. “Without it I would spiral down.”

But making the 100-mile journey to the Valley twice a month was a lot and Siller knew Payson needed its own group.

Gila County has one of the highest suicide rates in the state. In 2009, there were roughly 100 suicides in the county.

“Until now, there has been no support group in Payson, or the surrounding areas, for adults who have experienced this loss,” she said. “Payson was desperately in need of such a support group.”

Affeldt, who leads other bereavement groups, said dealing with suicide is a unique journey different from other types of grief.

“You get funny emotions and thoughts and you wonder if you are going nuts or if you are normal thinking that,” Siller said. “When you listen to other people (in group) you go, ‘oh OK that is normal.’”

Whatever someone needs to say, we will listen, Affeldt said, adding Lost Loves is a safe, confidential environment.

“There has been a gap in resources for adults to get support for this issue,” she said.

“We want to help people get through this horrible, horrible time in their life,” Siller said.

Suicide has many stigmas attached to it and most people don’t know how to handle it.

“One of the best things I think a person can say though is ‘I don’t know what to say’ because that is real,” Affeldt said. “That gives them an opportunity to say what they can do to meet their need.”

Siller lost connections with several people that couldn’t do this.

“This isn’t the right time to walk away from someone,” Siller said. “They are dealing with something that is unreal as it is and then on top of that is a lot of emotional damage.

“I just needed someone to be my friend,” Siller said.

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