Larry Berkowitz visited the MVRHS library Tuesday night to discuss suicide and ways of dealing with traumatic experiences.
Berkowitz, director of the Riverside Trauma Center in Needham, sat in a circle alongside parents, educators, and psychologists — many of whom have dealt with suicide in their own lives and experienced a recent loss in the Island community.
Berkowitz started by breaking down the complexities and inherent difficulties surrounding suicide, saying that it can sometimes be oversimplified in books, television, and media.
He said grief over the loss of a loved one manifests itself in many different ways, and everyone has different coping mechanisms.
“Dealing with suicide is incredibly hard, because there are no right or wrong answers to many of the questions involved,” Berkowitz said. “What you need to know is that all of it is totally normal.”
He said some people who have lost a loved one to suicide blame themselves or others. “Some people wonder: ‘What could I have done to prevent this? Could I have helped them?’” Berkowitz said.
Some people even blame the deceased, wondering, “How could you have done this?” he said.
All these reactions are normal ways of dealing with immense loss, Berkowitz said, and no one should feel ashamed for these thoughts.
“Grieving is a mission for making meaning,” Berkowitz said. “We want to understand why this happened, how it happened.”
For parents, Berkowitz said an open line of communication with children can be beneficial when they are going through a difficult time. He advocated for parents to gently pose the topic of suicide to their kids in a way that doesn’t pressure them or make them feel uncomfortable.
“Younger children don’t know how to deal with the finality of death. That is why it’s important to have conversations even early on in a child’s life,” Berkowitz said.
Sometimes, Berkowitz said families and friends want to find ways to commemorate a lost loved one and honor their memory.
But he said memorials aren’t always the best way to remember someone, because they can sometimes bring back painful memories or give someone with suicidal thoughts a certain image of death.
He suggested taking social action by doing things like fundraising for a local or national suicide prevention organization, or becoming part of a support group.
“Don’t waste your grief. When something tragic happens in our lives, we have all this powerful energy inside of us that can be used to help others and ourselves,” Berkowitz said.
Berkowitz acknowledged the compassionate and tight-knit nature of the Island community, and said that togetherness is one of our greatest benefits.
“Nobody should ever have to suffer alone,” Berkowitz said. “We want people to know that there are support systems available.”
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to share resources and stories in order to shed light on an issue that is highly stigmatized.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. For students in high school who are recovering from trauma or grieving, counselors are available.
The Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) emergency services team can be accessed all year at 508-693-0032. Information on additional services can be found at the MVCS website.
The NAMI M.V. chapter is holding its second Darkness into Vineyard Light suicide awareness and prevention walk on Saturday, Sept. 28, at 5:30 am by Bend in the Road on State Beach.