In 1977, Steven Koenig, 18, who hadn't given any indication that he was suffering, shot himself. "He was the one I didn't worry about," says his mother, Marilyn Koenig. Through tears and prayers she struggled to keep her household with six other children going. In 1982, Koenig met another mother who lost her son to suicide. Realizing the need for support the pair founded Friends for Survival.
The group distributes 4,000 newsletters worldwide and holds numerous support meetings in the region. Koenig is developing state guidelines for providing support services to survivors of suicide. Giving them comfort, encouragement and education is "life saving suicide prevention," she says. "This is God's program, not mine. At first they look so beaten and so hopeless. And pretty soon they're going to start smiling and getting a life back."
Chris Moon, who co-founded the group, lost her 18-year-old son to suicide in 1979. The pair met at at a support group for parents who had lost children from all causes. A group for suicide survivors did not exist at the time. "In those days nobody talked about (suicide)," Koenig said. "It was a taboo subject, one of many." Friends for Survival began with $100 and 8 members attending support meetings in Koenig's home. She made hand-written postcards to send to members as reminders for meeting times. The group grew quickly, and soon handwritten cards were no longer an option. Currently Friends of Survival recieve 25-30 new families a month. Most groups that support suicide survivors serve local survivors only. Koenig could not bring herself to turn anyone down based on geographic location, so she sends out copies their newsletter, titled "Comforting Friends" to surivors worldwide. To her knowledge no other organization distributes as many newsletters as Sacramento's Friends for Survival.
For 26 years the program was run exclusively by volunteers. Now Koenig is able to hire 4 part-time staff members to man their humble office on El Camino Ave. All volunteers and staff are suicide survivors themselves and the program continues to grow and define itself based on the needs expressed by survivors.
Comforting Friends is more than a newsletter that lists meetings and news of the group. Its a resouce filled monthly with poems, prayers and inspirational writing about nurturing oneself through grief. They also list birthdays and death anniversaries for loved ones lost. Support groups include an educational component as well, including speakers on recovering from grief. Survivors are given a range of ways to be connected through the group. They can attend meetings in person or simply read the encouragement in the privacy of their own home.
"If you've been effected by suicide, reach out to help and support," says Koenig. "Most people can't cope with this in a healthy way without help. It's too hard, too complicated."
To recieve a copy of the "Comforting Friends" newsletter please call Friends for Survival at (916) 392-0664.
If you know someone who has given of themselves to help others please email suggestions for future I Care columns to Autumn Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.