BRANDON — When Adrienne Vander Ploeg decided to break up with her college boyfriend Scott eight years ago before Christmas of 2004 she never imagined his reaction.
Unhappy about the breakup, he made the decision to kill himself.
Although the seven-year relationship had its ups and downs, the young college student was unprepared for something as extreme and abrupt as suicide.
Most family members and friends experience similar emotions. It's one of the reasons LifePath Hospice will offer an eight-week support group to deal specifically with those who have lost a loved one to suicide. The first meeting is Feb. 11 at First Presbyterian Church of Brandon.
"I run groups open to people who deal with every type of loss," said Laura Franco, a LifePath Hospice bereavement counselor. "Last year, a few people who came to our group were dealing with a suicide loss. I noticed how their needs were a little different than others."
Vander Ploeg certainly fell into that category. Even years later, the shock of the loss still haunted her. She felt emotionally trapped between anger at her boyfriend for taking his life and guilt for being angry at him.
"You just live in a place of questions and 'what ifs,' that you can't let go of," Vander Ploeg said. "It's paralyzing."
She tried to escape the grief by going to party after party, doing drugs, living a life that pushed away the sadness. She would never speak about her loss. As far as she was concerned, she was over it.
Or so she thought.
Then came the birth of her daughter, Bella, six years ago. That proved to be a watershed moment.
"It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me," Vander Ploeg said.
For the first time since the death of her boyfriend, she not only had a daughter, but a positive focus that kept her on a straighter path.
After much urging from her family to go to counseling, she went online but found nothing specifically for suicide loss support. So she decided to attend a grief support group led by Franco.
At the meeting, Vander Ploeg met a widow who had lost her husband of over 50 years, also to a suicide. Even though the other woman was older, Vander Ploeg felt an instant connection to her.
"It was amazing to have someone with the same story, who never saw it coming," Vander Ploeg said.
With the guidance of Franco, both women were given ways to acknowledge the tragedy and learned the importance of grieving. She helped them focus on facing what had happened but also on the past relationship.
"Just because you lose that person doesn't mean you lose that bond," Franco said.
Vander Ploeg also benefited from discussing how to handle holidays or other significant events in advance, and planning how to emotionally deal with each one.
Most important, Vander Ploeg said she didn't feel alone in her experience anymore.
Now Franco hopes to help more people gain that support. Vander Ploeg also will be in attendance.
"Suicide loss is different than other types of losses because of different factors," Franco said. "Primarily, its about finding a connection and being able to share with other people who have gone through a similar experience."
Belinda Kramer can be reached at [email protected]