A recent spate of celebrity suicides has brought one of the most confounding human decisions into the national spotlight.
The reasons for suicide are as varied as the cross section of humans who choose the act. What all suicides have in common are the questions that remain for those left behind.
Jody Barrilleaux is all too familiar with those questions. After her father, Kenneth Tyler Sr., took his own life on Good Friday in 2015, Barrilleaux said she began seeking others who had experienced the same pain. “I immediately started looking for a group to talk with because I had never known anyone to die this way,” she said. “I’ve learned over the past three years that I was in a minority. Now, when I talk to someone about my loss, there’s a 90 percent chance they know someone who has taken their own life.”
Barrilleaux said a mutual acquaintance introduced her to Amy Johnson, who lost her 13-year-old son Cole in 2010. Johnson was a member of a group named HALOS, Healing After a Loved Ones Suicide by one of the founding members Sharon Istre, whose son took his own life in 2001. The group was founded in 2011, but it’s first incarnation was short-lived. When Barrilleaux met Johnson in 2015, the two resurrected the group and began meeting at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at the Hampton Inn on Henning Drive in Sulphur.
They’ve since added a Lake Charles meeting which begins at 6 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month at Christus Lake Area Medical in the Ben Mount Board Room. There are at least four core members, those who’ve been with the group the longest, at each group meeting and between one and six new ones.
“We have a wonderful core group of eight of us,” said Barrilleaux. “We all feel helping others helps us,” she said. Barrilleaux added that even though core member Johnson moved to South Carolina to be near her parents, “we will always consider her a part of HALOS. This is her legacy, also.”
The function of HALOS is “simple but profound,” Barrilleaux said. “It is amazing that just being there helps a new survivor. We share our stories and we just let them know they are not alone in their feelings, whatever those feeling may be We discuss everything.
Some in the group can’t open up with their own families, though. “In our group they can openly say anything,” she said. “We never give advice, just share our own personal experience as we walk this grief journey.
HALOS also doesn’t answer the questions that remain after suicide. “We are more about helping each one find their own way and find their own answers to the ‘why’ so they can move one step forward in living life again,” she said. “We help them know, by telling our own stories, that life can go on and life and even joy can be had again, in their own time.”
Barrilleaux said HALOS focuses on addressing one of the most common emotions survivors feel — guilt. “We really want to help them shed that guilt,” she said. “It is never their fault.”
HALOS also wants to educate others, particularly about the language surrounding suicide. Their philosophy is that the phrase “committed suicide” feeds into the stigma that surrounds the act, one that is already difficult enough for survivors to talk about. “The correct way to say it is ‘died by suicide,’” she said. “Our loved ones committed nothing.”
Barrilleaux said one of the most important messages to impart to those left behind is, “The way a person leaves this earth does not define who they were,” she said.
HALOS is hosting a seminar from 9 a.m. until noon Saturday, July 28, at Brickhouse Catering, located at 110 W. Pine St., in Lake Charles. She said the event, HALOS Heroes, is for those not quite ready to participate in the support group. “They can just come and listen,” she said. “It’s a first step.”
Anyone interested in attending HALOS Heroes is asked to call Barrilleaux at 337-794-3113.
Also the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, AFSP, will host their Out of the Darkness Walk from 9 a.m. until noon on Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Lake Charles Civic Center. For more information on the walk or the support group visit firstname.lastname@example.org.