Everything about Oct. 5, 2012, is firmly fixed in Linda Hagan’s memory.
That’s the day her husband of 46 years, Tom Hagan, died of suicide in the couple’s home.
She found his body.
“I can take myself back there right now,” Hagan said. “That will be forever etched on my memory.”
Tom Hagan was 68 years old. From years of working in a noisy environment, he had lost about 90 percent of his hearing, which led to a sense of isolation and depression. Later, he had a preliminary diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. At the time of his death, the Hagans were waiting for a neurologist to order an MRI, which was needed to confirm the diagnosis.
For years now, Linda Hagan has been the facilitator for SOS, or Survivors of Suicide Loss Bereavement Group in Owensboro. The little-known support group meets at 6 p.m. the second Wednesday of each month at the Logsdon Community Center, 2400 Friendship Drive.
“We’ve never had huge crowds,” Linda Hagan said. “We should have standing-room only.”
That’s because suicide is the second leading cause of death for Kentuckians ages 15 to 34. It’s the fourth leading cause for those ages 35 to 54.
In 2016, suicide was the nation’s 10th leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It claimed nearly 45,000 people that year — more than double the number of deaths by homicide.
After Tom Hagan’s death, friends and family shied away from talking about him, Linda Hagan said. It was a manifestation of the stigma that surrounds suicide, which proves hurtful for survivors. If he had died of cancer or an auto accident, she said, the support would have been multiplied.
“If there’s a suicide, people are so taken aback by the nature of the death they don’t know how to react, so they don’t react. It’s not a malicious thing. It’s discomfort,” said Mike Flaherty, a psychologist and president of Owensboro Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition.
Linda Hagan, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after her husband’s death, found support at SOS and has tried to help others who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Statistics show survivors of suicide are far more likely to try to take their own lives, Flaherty said.
“It is probably the most complicated and difficult grieving process,” he said. “It causes a lot of guilt and a lot of questioning. Why didn’t I see this? What could I have done?”
Linda Hagan remembers the first few days after her husband’s death.
“Breathing was all I could do,” she said.
She continued to see a therapist after his death. Within a month, she went to her first SOS meeting.
Still, it took her a while to use the word suicide when she talked about her husband’s death.
“It is such a deep, dark journey,” Linda Hagan said. “You have to work so hard.”
Flaherty said communities need to improve on identifying clinical depression and those at risk.
“If you intervene during a suicide crisis, there’s a good chance the person won’t die by suicide,” he said.
And communities should educate themselves.
The Owensboro Regional Suicide Prevent Coalition, which is a nonprofit, offers prevention training for businesses, churches and schools.
According to the coalition’s brochure, these may be warning signs of suicide:
• Someone who threatens self-harm or talks about wanting to hurt or kill himself.
• Someone who looks for ways to kill himself, such as gaining access to firearms or pills.
• Someone who expresses rage and seeks revenge.
• Someone who acts recklessly or engages in risky behaviors.
• Someone who feels trapped and hopeless.
• Someone who increases drug or alcohol use.
• Someone who withdraws from family and friends.
• Someone who feels anxious, unable to sleep or wants to sleep constantly.
• Someone with dramatic mood changes.
• Someone who sees no reason to live.
The brochure mentions several ways to help, such as talk openly about suicide, listen and allow the person to express feelings, show support and interest, offer hope, remove guns or pills, and seek help from someone who specializes in crisis intervention.
If a loved one talks about suicide, don’t lecture them on the value of life, ask why, offer sympathy or be sworn to secrecy.
For more information, go to www.orspc.org. Contact the local crisis or information line at 270-684-9466 or 800-433-7291.
Story by Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, [email protected]; published 7 February 2019 in Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer
NOTE: If you or someone you know are thinking about suicide, in the USA please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis! If in the 7 county area around Owensboro/Daviess County, CALL or TEXT the 24/7 Crisis & Information Line: 800-433-7291. If you are having a medical emergency, please dial 911. *To find a suicide helpline outside the U.S., visit https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/