Twenty-two-year-old Western senior Haley Beglau constantly thinks about her father, Kurt. She thinks about him while she sips a cup of black coffee. She thinks about him on her 20-minute break at work. She thinks about his humor. But she won’t hear his voice again. Three years ago, her father took his own life. When Beglau talks about what happened she is careful with the words she chooses. She emphasizes the phrase “passed away.”
“I use that terminology, passed away due to suicide, because ‘commit’ sounds like commit a crime, commit a murder,” Beglau said. “You don’t commit cancer.”
After her father’s death, Beglau took a year off from Western and took classes at Edmonds Community College. She wanted to be closer to family and be able to receive counseling. After returning to Western, Beglau started looking for resources and support. She was referred to one-on-one free counseling and grief groups. But when she attended grief groups with her family, she felt a barrier between them and the rest of the people there. She felt like her loss was taboo and that others’ losses were somehow better. Eventually she stopped going. She wished for resources that better fit her needs.
She still struggles to understand what went on in her father’s life that caused it to end so abruptly. It seemed like everything in his life was moving in a positive direction. He was days away from taking his nursing exam, had a job lined up and had a supportive wife. There was no note or phone call to say goodbye.
“My father always said suicide was a cry for help, so it came as a real shock when he passed away,” Beglau said. “I think it was an absolutely traumatic, terrible choice in the moment and then he took his life.”
Feeling lost without support programs tailored to her experience, Beglau decided to create the kind of resource she was looking for. It started with a class assignment to create a program to address a gap in services. The project was only supposed to be hypothetical, but Beglau realized it was something she wanted to bring to Western’s campus.
Beglau worked with her group members to create a survey that asked participants if they would be interested in a suicide survivor group. Of the 64 students who responded to the survey, 23 of them indicated they would be interested.
“I can only imagine how many more people have lost someone due to suicide,” Beglau said. “I really want to bounce ideas off people like, ‘what are you doing for therapy? How are you working through your loss?’ Especially because suicide is so sudden.”
Beglau pitched the program to the Counseling Center, but she encountered hesitation about how much creating it would cost. So she took the idea to University President Bruce Shepard, who lost his son in the same way Beglau lost her father. Shepard liked the idea and decided to back the group. The director of the Counseling Center, Nancy Corbin, offered to head it up. Not enough people expressed interest to make it happen this quarter, but Beglau is hoping it can become a reality at the start of the next school year.
She imagines the group as a safe place for people to confront their loss without feeling the weight of the stigmas attached to suicide.
“I am trying to break the taboo surrounding suicide,” Beglau said. “Just like in domestic violence, rape or anything else hard to talk about in this culture, it just needs to be talked about.”
Although there are many groups dedicated to suicide prevention, Beglau said groups supporting the loved ones of suicide victims are rare. If you’re interested in joining, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Life is what you want to make of it,” Beglau said. “I could quit school, or I could have a really negative life, but I don’t want to. My father’s loss was out of my control, but what I do with my life is in my control.”