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Searching for ways to cope with son’s suicide inspired Henderson mom to start support group

In 1993, Henderson resident Linda Flatt looked for a support group to help her deal with her son’s suicide. She didn’t find one.

“I went to a general grief group, and I felt completely out of place,” she said. “I was in there with people that had lost their (spouses) after 60 years of marriage, and my kid had ended his life on purpose.”

After three years of “leaning into the grief” by educating herself on how she was going to survive, Flatt established the Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL) support group in 1996. She became an activist for suicide prevention and was instrumental in the establishment of the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention. In 2006, Flatt was hired as its suicide prevention trainer and networking facilitator for Southern Nevada.

Also in 2006, the National Conference of the American Association of Suicidology recognized Flatt’s work with the Survivor Services Award, calling her “a tireless advocate whose mission has been to educate people about suicide prevention measures and assist with support for family members who experience a suicide.”

Flatt retired from the Office of Suicide Prevention on Jan. 1, 2013, but continues to lead the support group she started nearly 20 years ago.

“I’m a facilitator. I’m not a therapist,” she said. “I try to strike a balance (in the group meetings) where people can tell their stories but also learn how to survive.”

Suicides of Clark County residents

Surviving the unthinkable

Cal Calderaro’s daughter, Jessica, was 24 when she became an arson victim. She suffered severe burns, spent months in the hospital burn unit, underwent skin grafts and had post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. On Aug. 6, 2013 — the third anniversary of the fire — she took her own life.

Cal, 51, eloquently described the loss of his daughter from suicide as an “epic, emotional journey — an emotional odyssey of biblical proportions. It’s beyond a measure of words to tell you what it’s like to go through this wilderness.”

He attended his first SOSL meeting three weeks after her death. He continues to go to meetings more than two years later.

“Going to a group like this helps keep you on a path towards healing,” said Cal, a Clark County School District psychologist. “It’s been so therapeutic — I don’t want to imagine where I’d be without that group.”

In an Ironman race in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on June 29, 2014, Cal, a triathlete, carried a small keepsake of Jessica’s ashes in his left hand and a small picture of her in his right.

“I promised her she would be there when I crossed the finish line,” he said. “Even though I’d lost her, I kept my promise — she was there and crossed the finish line with me.”

Survivors come when ready, stay for as long as needed

Karen (who withheld her last name for privacy) lost her 30-year-old son to suicide. It was more than a year before she sought help from the support group.

“Some people come a few weeks after,” she said. “I could barely make my way to the bathroom by then.”

She continued to attend meetings for approximately six years.

“It was nice having people around that get it,” Karen said. “You keep asking why, but I guess you just keep asking until you don’t have to ask anymore, until you finally come to the realization that you’ll never know why.”

Another survivor, Denise (who also withheld her last name), brought her mother to the support group one month after her father took his life.

“I originally started going because my mom was just in such a state of total shock,” Denise said. “It’s just a caring place where you can just be yourself and express your emotions and share with other people, and you’re not going to be judged.”

Denise and her mother attended meetings for five years.

Group meeting guidelines

According to the written guidelines of the support group, even though all group members are encouraged to share their experiences, no one should feel pressured to participate. All group discussions are kept confidential without fear of judgment, criticism or condemnation.

“Nobody has the answers, but we talk about the things that are difficult for us and talk about what we are doing to help ourselves,” Flatt said. “I don’t think we ever get over it, but I do think we get through the difficult places that stop us in our tracks. We can move forward.”

For more information, call Flatt at 702-807-8133.

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