For suicide loss survivors, a support group teaches acceptance


By Mackenzi Klemann - [email protected]



Tom Eisenman holds portraits of his father, Thomas Eisenman Sr., who died by suicide in July 2020.

Tom Eisenman holds portraits of his father, Thomas Eisenman Sr., who died by suicide in July 2020.


Photo by Emily McBride | The Lima News

Need help?

Call that National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

For survivors: A suicide survivors support group will meet from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesdays at Trinity United Methodist Church, 301 W. Market St., Lima, for eight weeks from Wednesday, April 27, through Wednesday, June 15.

LIMA — Tom Eisenman found himself wondering what he missed in the days after his father’s unexpected death: If he had noticed the depression sooner, could he have saved his father?

“We felt ashamed at first,” said Eisenman, whose father, Thomas Eisenman Sr., 93, was one of an estimated 1,600 Ohioans to die by suicide in 2020.

The elder Eisenman was a pastor of 66 years, most recently presiding over the First Reformed United Methodist Church of Christ in Kenton. So, Eisenman initially chose to keep the details of his father’s death private, fearing the judgement that would likely follow.

But when Eisenman was introduced to fellow suicide loss survivors, he learned to stop blaming himself and to accept a decision he didn’t make nor understand.

Survivor’s guilt

The planned and often-violent nature of suicide adds another layer of grief for surviving friends and family members to process, said Diane Tegenkamp, a suicide loss survivors support group facilitator.

“The guilt is unique in the sense that we struggle to understand why someone would make that decision when we would be there for them, and feeling like in some way, on some level we bear responsibility for the decision that they made,” Tegenkamp said. “That is simply not true.”

But family members and friends are often left in the dark when a person is contemplating suicide, Tegenkamp said.

‘A deep grief’

Tegenkamp, herself a retired social worker, experienced the same cycle of grief and guilt after her son, Joel, died by suicide six weeks before his 29th birthday in 2014.

“There’s a deep grief about: I wish that I could have had that last conversation to tell my son how I felt about him,” Tegenkamp said. “I wish that I had known what was being planned, because I certainly would have done everything in my power to prevent it.”

But Joel suffered from severe mental illness, Tegenkamp said. Despite treatment, “the war raging inside of him became too much for him,” she said.

“I know that I can rest at this point with the thought that the decision he made is what he felt was best for him at that point in time,” said Tegenkamp, who now facilitates a suicide loss survivors support group like the one she attended eight years ago through Prevention Awareness Support Services.

Coping with a new isolation

Overall, suicide deaths in Ohio declined in 2020, including in Hardin County, where Eisenman’s father resided.

But Allen County was an outlier: Suicide deaths here tripled that year, potentially exacerbated by new feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety often associated with the pandemic.

Eisenman still wonders whether the onset of the pandemic contributed to his father’s depression, as the elder Eisenman had been accustomed to dropping by unannounced to see friends, which was severely limited in the early days of the pandemic.

“I can’t blame COVID,” Eisenman said. “But I think it had a lot to do with (his death) because he couldn’t interact with people like he used to.”

https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/04/web1_Suicides.jpg
Tom Eisenman holds portraits of his father, Thomas Eisenman Sr., who died by suicide in July 2020.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2022/04/web1_aerojones.jpgTom Eisenman holds portraits of his father, Thomas Eisenman Sr., who died by suicide in July 2020. Photo by Emily McBride | The Lima News

By Mackenzi Klemann

[email protected]

Need help?

Call that National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

For survivors: A suicide survivors support group will meet from 6-7 p.m. on Wednesdays at Trinity United Methodist Church, 301 W. Market St., Lima, for eight weeks from Wednesday, April 27, through Wednesday, June 15.

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