How To Interact With A Family Member After They Lose Someone By Suicide

Sep 17, 2018, 12:22 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Thousands of people participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk for suicide prevention Saturday.

One mother is dedicating her life to the cause after losing her own son.

Avery Kertamus was only 15 years old when his mother, Shari Elliott, started noticing changes in his personality and behaviors. Concerned, she sat down and talked with him.

“We were like, ‘What’s going on?’ Something’s just not right,” she said.

Despite Elliott’s efforts, her son died as a result of suicide just days later.

“It was hard to believe that he was just gone,” she said. “We turned the corner and we saw all the emergency vehicles. It just really hit me that he wasn’t here anymore.”

Shari Elliott poses with her son, Avery Kertamus, who died by suicide.

Shari Elliott poses with her son, Avery Kertamus, who died as a result of suicide.

Turning grief into action

Today, Elliott said she has poured her grief into advocating suicide prevention. She is the director of this year’s Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“This would not be possible without the volunteers,” she said.

She’s been busy coordinating volunteer schedules, making phone calls, answering emails, and reaching out to other families who have also experienced the same thing she did.

Life after suicide

After losing her own son, Elliott needed support from friends and family. She said had to go back to work just two weeks after her son died.

Shari Elliott is the director of the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention in Salt Lake City.

Shari Elliott is the director of the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention in Salt Lake City.

“Walking into work I felt like I had the plague. Everybody quickly turned their head away,” she said.

Steve Andrus, a mental health counselor at Cornerstone Counseling, said people who lose a child, sibling, parent or friend often don’t have a place to talk about their loved one after they pass.

“You lose places to talk about it. It’s like friends … are like, ‘I don’t know what to do with this and they have a hard time listening,’” he said.

Andrus encouraged friends and family to be there for someone experiencing a loss.

“Just being empathetic, being understanding when people are in that place they just want someone to listen. They want someone to be there to help. They don’t want to be judged. They don’t want to be fixed. They just want to be heard,” he explained.

Out of the Darkness

“I love talking about Avery,” Elliott said. “We don’t want anybody to forget our children.”

Elliott has become a listening ear for other people dealing with loss through her service.

“Just knowing that they have a place where somebody understands what they’re going through,” she said.

This weekend she will share strength with others who also understand her story as she walks in honor of her son.

Shari Elliott is the director of the Out of the Darkness walk for suicide prevention

Shari Elliott spends a lot of time connecting online with other families who have also lost a loved one. She spends time listening to their stories and connecting them to the right resources

“I’m able to give Avery the voice that he didn’t feeling he had here,” she said. “And that’s why I do this.”

Elliott hopes to raise awareness and provide resources for others who might be struggling to step forward seeking help.

“They just need to know that they’re not alone and that there are resources out there and people out there that care,” Elliott said.

Elliott said a majority of the Out of the Darkness donations go directly to suicide prevention research.

Suicide prevention resources

  • If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Additional crisis hotlines

  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-226-4433
  • Salt Lake County/UNI Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741-741
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
  • University Of Utah Crisis Interventional Crisis Line: 801-587-300

Online resources

In an emergency

  • Call the police
  • Go to the emergency room
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How To Interact With A Family Member After They Lose Someone By Suicide