Bloomington sisters form support group for people who have lost loved ones to suicide

For Cortney Rathbun and Caitlin Halihan, the grief over their brother’s death is still raw. Halihan looks down as she speaks, seeming to stabilize before saying the words.

“Our brother committed suicide six months ago.”

By sharing their story, the sisters promised to honor a request from their parents not to share their brother’s name or details of his death. But the family supports Rathbun and Halihan by speaking out about the need for more resources for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

As they attempted to process the reality of their brother’s sudden death, Rathbun and Halihan realized that there were no support groups in Bloomington-Normal focused specifically on those left behind after suicide.

“There are some in Champaign and Peoria, but it would be nice to have a community here that understands,” Halihan said.

Understanding is key, Rathbun added, because the loss of a loved one to suicide triggers very complex and particular grief.

“It’s not just the tragedy of the loss. There are unanswered questions, guilt and multiple layers of shock,” she said.

Rathbun said she wasn’t able to navigate all of the dimensions of her grief in spaces dealing with general loss, realizing her experience had to be specific to suicide. So she began pooling resources across a variety of platforms, eventually focusing on the support provided by the American Federation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

In his research, Rathbun learned that the best way to cope with his own grief was to help others deal with theirs. She and Halihan decided to form their own support group for those struggling in the aftermath of suicide.

Rathbun stresses that she is not a mental health professional, but is working towards becoming a support group facilitator with resources available through the AFSP. Working with Halihan to form the band while navigating their own grief has been a complicated journey.

“We spent time learning what it means to be a facilitator for this group. However, it is at the same time as learning to grieve,” Rathbun said.

The sisters are working with Eastview Christian Church who have agreed to provide space for the support group. Rathbun said the room will be cozy and intimate, with a fireplace and sofas. It’s important that the space is conducive to conversation, as Rathbun has found that just talking with people who have experienced a similar loss seems to help the most.

Rathbun and Halihan have described 12 weeks of talking points and hope to begin bi-weekly meetings on January 13. And while the group of sisters is focused on supporting those who have been left behind, they recognize that sometimes people who have lost loved ones struggle with suicide with suicidal thoughts themselves.

Halihan said anyone with suicidal thoughts should know they are wanted and there is hope. And she asked that people remember the love that exists for them in this world.

“There is so much love that would stay behind. A love that would get you through this,” she said.

For more information on Rathbun and Halihan’s support group, email [email protected] For immediate support regarding suicidal thoughts, contact the PATH Crisis Center by dialing 211 or texting 898-211.

Virginia S. Braud