Weeping In Kansas, Sobbing In Australia
Martha cannot sleep, so she drags herself out of bed and stumbles to
the computer. She gets online and checks her e-mail. She’s connected
with her online support group, Parents of Suicides (POS); she is not
Martha’s 12 year old son, Ian, took his life, and now, via the
Internet, she has a support group she can be involved with at her
convenience. She doesn’t have to dress up or drive across town at
night to participate.
Through POS, Martha communicates with other parents who are also
grieving the death of a son or daughter to suicide; people who have
suffered the same type of loss she has. At the end of Martha’s
messages, her signature tells it all.
Weeping in Kansas.
Martha, Mom to Ian
11/10/94 - 3/18/07
POS is an Internet community whose members connect with each other
through an e-mail system that sends messages to all members of the
group. About 3000 messages go through the group each month; they can
be read or sent 24 hours a day.
POS’s membership is international, with members from Ireland,
Scotland, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, France,
Canada and Jamaica joining the American members.
POS was created on October 9, 1998 as a way of connecting a few
bereaved parents who found each other, who simply needed on that day
to survive. The fact it still thrives after more than ten years is a
testament to the commitment and dedication of members who remain
with the group to help others.
E-mail exchanges are just one aspect of POS. The group also
publishes a twice-monthly e-newsletter called The Butterfly Net.
There is systematic acknowledgement of the names of members’ sons
and daughters on birth and memorial dates within the group.
POS has its own private chat room, and each year, POS and its
partner group, Friends and Families of Suicides (FFOS), hold a
special Holiday Remembrance Program in the chat room for all members
of both groups.
Members of the group work cooperatively on other projects, too. They
have created eight memorial quilts so far, and they have published a
hardback memorial book and two memorial cookbooks.
POS members also attend retreats together twice a year in Tennessee,
where they meet face-to-face with the people they’ve connected with
online. Some of the members from outside of the US fly in to attend
the retreats each year. While they are at the retreat, they also get
to see another special project: the International Suicide Memorial
POS members have developed several websites. Some of them are
memorial sites, some offer grief support and resources, and some
help educate the public about suicide in hopes of helping to reduce
the number of tragic deaths.
The group websites are the Suicide Memorial Wall, Faces of Suicide,
Suicide Grief Support Forum and Suicide Reference Library. And of
course, there is the main website for the POS-FFOS Internet
Community. (Links are at the end.)
A partner Internet group evolved from POS to help meet the needs of
people other than parents. Friends and Families of Suicides (FFOS)
Internet Community is for anyone whose life has been affected by
suicide: spouses or partners, adult siblings, grandparents, adult
children of, co-workers or friends, and other family members.
What's even more amazing is that POS is completely a volunteer
community, run by members fully committed to its objectives. No fees
are involved for group membership or to participate on any of the
websites, and we have no paid staff.
Because of their involvement with the group, some POS members become
active in other healing projects. They create memorial trees and
quilts, publish poems and books, and attend or facilitate support
Others choose to focus directly on suicide prevention more directly.
They help educate their communities and raise awareness. They join
tasks forces, state coalitions and suicide prevention organizations.
They network with policy makers, raise funds for suicide research,
and participate in public awareness activities.
The overall mission of POS is to help individuals and families find
the strength within themselves to heal or live again. In helping
families, POS is also saving lives.
POS has survived over 10 years because it meets needs in a way that
is not intrusive or imposing. It allows all members to control their
own level of involvement, and it encourages healthy survival.
The first step in helping new members appreciate the value of the
online support community is to let them know that they are not
alone. After they join, many members reach out their hands and walk
Jacky, Ashley’s mum, from Australia wrote:
“I didn't find POS until 13 months after my son died. I was
floundering, badly, no-one to talk to, no -one who understood,
thought I was going crazy.
Sitting on the Internet one day, searching, POS came up, I joined. I
had no idea what to expect, I was clueless, I was desperate.
Then the mail started coming though, masses and masses of it, I was
I read, I cried. I read, I cried some more. I read again, I sobbed
out. But, I felt better, because, all of us sudden I wasn't alone.
others who knew how I felt.”
Martha is still in Kansas, and Jacky is still in Australia, but
neither one is alone any more.
Hands Across the Ocean
Karyl Chastain Beal
July 1, 2009
The Internet has removed fences and geographic
borders, changing the face of grief support groups.
Even the ocean is no longer a barrier to connecting
with people ... just like us.
When I attended face-to-face support group meetings
shortly after my daughter Arlyn took her life, the
other people there were people that I could easily
have bumped into while shopping at Wal-mart, going
to a medical appointment, or attending church. We
read the same newspaper, our children attended the
same schools, and we generally spoke with the same
southern accent. They were people I related to
because we shared the same community environment.
Now, however, people who join the Parents of
Suicides (POS) & Friends and Families of Suicides (FFOS)
Internet Community for grief support will find a
totally different group of folks to connect with.
Some of them may live in the same state, or a state
far away, but it's just as likely that the people
they connect with will live in France, Zimbabwe, New
Zealand, China, or Ireland. They may speak with a
Russian or German accent, a Scottish accent, a
Portuguese accent, or an English or Australian
Is it possible for people whose language and
cultures are so different to bond, just because they
have one thing in common: the death of someone to
Absolutely yes. Not only do the members of the POS
and FFOS groups connect with each other, from all
over the world, but some of them have formed
friendships they expect to keep for the rest of
their lives. Their friendships have been solidified
by in-person visits, phone calls, gift exchanges,
POS began on October 9, 1998 when a few people, all
Americans, found each other on the Internet and
decided to join together to help each other cope
with the incomprehensible loss of their sons and
daughters to suicide. They were desperate to know
that they were not alone in grief.
Before the first year ended, Glennis Hunter
(Kristin's mum) from New Zealand and Bob & Lynda
Humphrey (Darren's parents) from England joined the
group. We discovered that, aside from the fact
Glennis and Lynda were mums rather than moms, their
feelings, experiences, problems and concerns were
much like ours. We were not from two different
planets, after all.
During the years, hundreds of other "international"
members joined POS and FFOS. From the very
beginning, they have participated in our various
projects. Some of them have squares on our memorial
quilts and recipes in our memorial cookbooks. They
join us regularly in the group's private chat room,
even though their time zones do not match ours. They
serve as group moderators and leaders, and they
participate as enthusiastically as the American
In 2002, Bob and Lynda flew over from England to
attend one of our retreats, and they have returned
to attend almost every retreat since then. (While
here, they sometimes travel to other states to visit
other members of the group in person. When they
return to England, they always make a point to
remember the sons and daughters of POS members in
the annual candlelight vigils they attend during the
Members from Australia, New Zealand, Canada,
Ireland, Scotland, and South Africa have attended
retreats, too - some of them more than once.
But the ocean can be crossed both ways. Some of the
members of the groups visit their POS and FFOS
friends when they travel overseas. They've even
taken vacations together, sending back happy photos
of themselves together having fun.
Within the group, we sometimes discuss and compare
community attitudes as they relate to death, suicide
and grief. Even though some of the views may be
different from ours, viewpoints and experiences may
also be different from state to state, so in the big
scheme of life, we find that we are all more alike
We may also discuss and compare social issues such
as mental health services, the legal and judicial
system, and medical services. We gripe and complain
about them, but we also acknowledge the positives.
In our discussions, we discover that we have a great
deal in common when it comes to dealing with social
and political conditions without our countries.
Our e-mail connection has been enhanced by retreats
and real-life visits, but it's also been influenced
by the ability to chat with each other daily, to
exchange photos, and to even make phone calls to
other countries easily, thanks to Skype.
At times, the members of the Internet support groups
actually forget that there is an ocean separating us
from each other, because the daily connection is so
real and alive. Our grieving experience is enriched
by the connection with people from all over the
Broken hearts are universal, but thanks to the
Internet, our hands reach across the ocean, and we
find other hands reaching back to help us heal.