New Greenfield group provides support to those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide

  • Donald Brooks co-founded the Greenfield support group with Matoney. He says he feels guilt over the death of a friend who took his own life and wants to use his experience to help others. FOR THE GAZETTE/Dan Little

  • Donald Brooks and Jennifer Matoney, who founded the Greenfield Suicide Loss Support group, prepare materials for their next meeting, to be held Monday. FOR THE GAZETTE/Dan Little

  • Donald Brooks and Jennifer Matoney co-founded the Greenfield Suicide Loss Support group. FOR THE GAZETTE/Dan Little

  • Jennifer Matoney shows her daughter old photos of her family, including ones of her late mother, Lynn Matoney, at their Amherst home. FOR THE GAZETTE/Joshua Solomon

  • This photo shows Lynn Matoney brushing Jennifer Matoney’s hair when Jennifer was a child. FOR THE GAZETTE/Joshua Solomon

  • Jennifer Matoney of Amherst, whose mother took her own life, shows old family photos, that include her mother, to her daughter Cassie. Matoney says a support group help her cope after her mother died. Now, she is co-founder of one in Greenfield. FOR THE GAZETTE/Joshua Solomon

  • Jennifer Matoney shows her daughter old photos of her family, including ones of her late mother, Lynn Matoney, at their Amherst home. FOR THE GAZETTE/Joshua Solomon

  • Pictures of Matoney’s mother, Lynn, are displayed on the mantle at her home. Matoney says she dislikes when people use the word selfish when describing someone who has taken his or her own life. Her mother, she says, was a “giving person.” FOR THE GAZETTE/Joshua Solomon

  • Jennifer Matoney shows her daughter, Cassie, old photos of her family, including ones of her late mother, Lynn Matoney, at their Amherst home. FOR THE GAZETTE/Joshua Solomon

  • A series of family portraits from Jennifer Matoney’s childhood include her late mother, Lynn Matoney. FOR THE GAZETTE/Joshua Solomon

For the Gazette
Published: 6/18/2018 5:36:03 PM

Donald Brooks of Turners Falls says he feels guilty over the suicide of a friend who had reached out to him shortly before his death.

“There’s a lot of times you think, ‘would’ve, could’ve, should’ve,’ and you feel really guilty about how you didn’t know or how could I have helped,” he said.

Brooks was talking recently over iced coffees in the Dunkin’ Donuts on the Mohawk Trail in Greenfield, explaining how he, along with Jennifer Matoney of Amherst, came to start the Suicide Loss Support group at the Baystate Franklin Medical Center in the city.

His friend, he said, who had an alcohol problem, had called him a couple of months earlier to go fishing because he knew that Brooks was recovering.

“That’s what brought him to suicide, trying to get help and he couldn’t get the help he wanted,” Brooks said. “There was a point where I had said, ‘If I had taken off from work and gone fishing with him a couple of times, could it have changed?’ ”

Jennifer Matoney of Amherst listened as Brooks told his story, then shared her first memory of going to a suicide loss support group after her mother, Lynn Matoney, took her own life.

Matoney was living on the border of South Dakota at the time and joined a group held in a funeral home in neighboring Iowa.

“It was very hard to be in the group, talking about my loss,” Matoney said. “But overall, it was very beneficial to me.”

Matoney, who works for the Western Massachusetts branch of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, met Brooks at a related workshop she was presenting called safeTALK.

They noted that while suicide support groups have run for the past several years in Northampton and for more than 20 years in East Longmeadow (See sidebar), there was no comparable gathering in Franklin County. The two teamed up to form the group that meets the second Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the medical center.

“What I wanted to do is, I wanted to help the next family, the next people who feel the way I feel now, the next people who have that loss,” Brooks said. “I want to help them.”

Matoney says she feels the same way. “We’re not mental health professionals, we’re survivors, like the participants,” said Matoney. “We’re peer facilitators, so we share some about our experiences, but we’re mostly just there to support people.”

The group meets for about an hour and a half, giving whoever comes a chance to talk about what’s on their minds.

“If there’s a good discussion, it’s not like there’s an egg timer and it goes off and it’s like ‘Hold your thought to the next meeting,’ ” Brooks said. “We really want everybody to express themselves. ... “In that hour and a half, there may be some silence, there may be some heavy talking, there may be a lot of crying, there could be laughing and remembering who that person was — in the moment, you don’t want to cut it off.”

Moved to help

When Brooks and Matoney joined forces, Brooks had had experience with support meetings, even though he hadn’t been to one related to suicide before.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic and I would’ve never known what a recovering alcoholic in AA was all about until I could identify with being an alcoholic,” he said. “Until you know the loss of suicide, you don’t know how it feels. You can talk all you want, but until you’re sitting in those shoes, you just don’t know.”

The death of Brooks’ friend, a beloved local musician and veteran, roiled the community on social media. There were posts on Facebook, including the note the man wrote before his death. Brooks says he talked to friends trying to help them see that it’s OK to grieve. A support group, he says, can provide that same encouragement.

“A lot of people want to hide and put themselves in this shell because they may feel they’re inconveniencing people by crying about it,” he said. “In a lot of family atmospheres, there may not be the support at home ... to be able to break out of their shell and be able to talk to somebody.”

A group, he says, helps those who are grieving realize “there is somebody out there that will listen, somebody that can relate to what I’m saying.”

Coping with a loved one’s suicide is a continuing process, Matoney added.

“When people lose someone to suicide, I don’t think it’s something they ever get over,” she said. “I think they learn to live with it. I know, personally, I learned to live with it one day at a time.”

Words matter

Language is important during the healing process, Matoney and Brooks say, and they make sure to choose the right words. For example, the phrase “committed suicide,” is not appropriate, Brooks explained, since “committed is usually associated with a crime.”

Matoney said that she dislikes hearing the word “selfish” used when discussing suicide.

“I don’t feel like its a selfish act. I feel like it’s an act of desperation — people who are desperate to escape from the pain they feel,” she said. “In the case of my mom, she was really the most giving person I had ever met in my life ... She took care of three generations, her parents, my sister, my brother, myself. She was married to my dad for 38 years and they were still married when she died. She had grandkids she loved so much, she was active in her community, a master gardener and just a very giving person,” Matoney said.

Joshua Solomon can be reached at: jsolomon@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.

How to connect

To find out more about the Greenfield group, reach out to Donald Brooks at donb42spike@gmail.com.




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