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Heartbeat offers support, community for survivors of suicide

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Grief takes many forms, but the grief that comes after losing loved ones to suicide is different. It’s complicated and isolating in a way other forms of grief and loss aren’t. That makes it all the more important to talk about.

Air Force veteran Kevin Van Thournout and wife, Betty Van Thournout, know that better than most. They are meeting facilitators for Heartbeat, a support group for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. They host a meeting at Discovery Hall on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, every second Tuesday, January through November, to support and connect with members of the community who have suffered this loss.

Kevin and Betty joined the group seeking support and community. Their son, Ryan, completed suicide in 2014.

“We went to our first meeting three weeks after Ryan died and found it to be really hard but really helpful to talk about our loss, and to hear others’ stories and to know we weren't alone in this very different type of grief journey,” said Betty.

They attended regular meetings for two years until the group’s facilitators decided to retire, at which point they took over as meeting facilitators. With support from Michel Cremeans, the violence prevention integrator at Peterson, they’ve started a monthly meeting on base to offer this community a smaller group that is timed to meet the needs of on-base employees and service members.

Kevin and Betty reiterate that suicide can happen in any family, no matter their circumstances.

“We want to break all barriers, all boundaries, all stigma,” said Betty. “You can be the wealthiest person in Colorado Springs. You can be the poorest person in Colorado Springs. It can happen to you. It can happen to your family.”

Kevin notes that it’s easy to get consumed by guilt after a loved one completes suicide, to blame oneself and drown in what one could have done. He compares the guilt to putting oneself on trial.

“If you're going to put yourself on trial, I want to be there to make sure you get a fair trial,” he says, “because you're not guilty.”

Heartbeat’s next meeting is at Discovery Hall on Tuesday, May 14, at 5:30 p.m. The group is for parties 18 and up; Kevin and Betty suggest contacting Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention at 719-573-7447 for information on their Children Left Behind by Suicide groups. For more information on Heartbeat contact Kevin and Betty at 719-229-9657.

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