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Support for loved ones of those who have ‘died by suicide’
October 4th, 2016
By Christina Gray

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is offering half-day support groups this fall for anyone who has been affected by the loss of a child, sibling, parent, friend, school or work companion who has died by suicide.

Mercy Sister Toni Lynn Gallagher, bereavement coordinator for the archdiocese, and Christine Folan, a lay associate of the Sisters of Mercy, will present a Saturday morning of “prayer, reflection, understanding and hope” at three host churches in San Carlos, Tiburon and Pacifica.

Support groups will be held on Oct. 22 at St. Charles Church in San Carlos; Oct. 29 at Church of the Good Shepherd in Pacifica; and Nov. 5 at St. Hilary Church in Tiburon. All three run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and are free of charge.

While the church has welcomed those affected by suicide, it is still a “private event” for those involved, said Sister Toni. Language and old perceptions often hinder people from comforting those who have lost a loved one who has “died by suicide.”

“Words either invite or close doors to those grieving a suicide death,” she said.

Using the language “died by suicide” invites a sacred story to be told about what may have caused a person’s death and calls others to console and comfort with compassion and love and without judgment, she said.

Sister Toni said that statistics reveal that 120 persons die daily in the U.S., more than 20 of them veterans. For every actual death there are 25 reported attempts. Due to stigma and secrecy, many attempts and deaths are not reported, so the numbers are likely much higher.

Finding a community of people who have been through a similar situation is helpful in grieving and healing from the loss of a death by suicide, said Sister Toni, a story that is often whispered, given only to a few or held in silence.

The negative aura surrounding suicide can amplify a person’s pain and turn away from the church as a source of healing and hope, she said.

“Many still believe that there is no salvation for this troubled person,” Sister Toni said. The perception is not the reality, she said.

“In offering a welcoming and consoling community we hope to help them put the past stigma away and focus on God’s tender mercy which encircles us all as one family,” she said.

Contact Mercy Sister Toni Gallagher at

From October 6, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

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