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Central Missouri families seek to help others after suicides

Central Missouri families seek to help others after suicides

March 24th, 2019 by Joe Gamm in Local News

Laura Landwehr, left, and Barb Gordon, co-founders of In A Flash — a support group for people who've lost a loved one to suicide — plan an upcoming event. Landwehr's sister and Gordon's husband died of suicide and they do not want people to be afraid to talk about the issue or seek help if they are thinking of committing suicide.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

Two Jefferson City-based organizations will band together in early April to train adults about the signs of suicide.

The Anne Marie Project and In A Flash are partnering to bring a program to St. Mary's Hospital that is designed to train adults, teachers, parents and guardians about the signs of suicide and how the adults might save lives.

The program will be presented twice — at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. April 9 in the Garden Level of the hospital's Health Plaza Conference Center.

Sponsoring the event are the Anne Marie Project — a coalition that provides resources to help young people find information and guidance on challenges they face — and In A Flash — a recently created nonprofit that strives to prevent suicide through education and heightened awareness while uniting survivors and providing support to those affected by suicide in local communities.

Although there will be no charge for the two-hour sessions, donations will be accepted to help produce future sessions. RSVP by emailing to inaflashjcmo@gmail.com or calling 573-694-1478.

Laura Landwehr, who lost a sister to suicide in 2016, and Barb Gordon, whose husband died of suicide in 2015, created In A Flash to stop suicides from happening in their community — or at the very least raise awareness about suicide.

The two women wanted to overcome the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, Landwehr said.

"People who struggle with mental health (issues) don't seek help because of the stigma," she said. "We don't want people to go through what we went through — losing family members."

The death of her sister, Sally Bodenhamer, caught her off-guard, Landwehr said.

Bodenhamer had what appeared to be a charmed life. She was beautiful. She had graduated from Jefferson City High School and attended the University of Missouri. After earning a degree in occupational therapy and graduating with honors in 2001, Bodenhamer went to work at Capital Region Medical Center for several years as a therapist.

She later decided to follow her father's footsteps and become an optometrist, earning a doctorate degree in optometry from Northeastern (Oklahoma) State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and joining the family practice.

She served in numerous organizations and even served on the board of governors for Capital Region Medical Center.

Bodenhamer killed herself Aug. 21, 2016. She had just turned 37.

"I never would have expected my sister to die by suicide," Landwehr said. "She was the pretty one. She was the smart one."

There may have been signs, although Landwehr wouldn't have recognized them at the time. Bodenhamer disconnected from social media that she had used. But she had an excuse, Landwehr said. She sold a beloved piano. But she had an excuse for that too, Landwehr said.

"If I had connected these things, I might have asked if she was struggling with thoughts of suicide," Landwehr said. "I think that's what most people who have lost someone to suicide realize — is that they didn't ask."

Knowing what to recognize will be part of the presentation during the April 9 programs, said Colleen Pace, suicide prevention manager for Communities Healing Adolescent Depression and Suicide, the St. Louis-based coalition for mental health that will offer the programs in April.

"We're teaching adults what to look for," Pace said. "We teach them what to look for in their own teens and how to respond."

Programs include discussions about how to react to multiple situations — particularly those involving somebody coming to them with concerns, Pace said.

"Suicide is a real issue. It is the second-leading cause of death (after accidents) for middle school and high school students," she said.

According to data the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in June, suicide was the 10th overall leading cause of death in the country from 1999-2016. And the rate at which Missouri residents died from suicide increased faster than most other states, the report shows.

Of deaths by suicide, 42 percent involved relationship problems as a contributing factor. Crises involving intimate partners, physical health, legal concerns, families or jobs over the past two weeks before the events were involved in the deaths 29 percent of the time, according to the report. Substance abuse was involved in 28 percent of the deaths.

Attendees of the two-hour programs in April will be asked to take in a lot of information over a short period of time, Landwehr said.

They'll learn the ACT (Acknowledge, Care and Treatment or Trust) suicide intervention technique.

The first part of the technique, if someone has recognizable warning signs, is to acknowledge them, or take them seriously, Pace said. Second, let the person know you care about what's troubling them. Third, if they are an adult, help them find treatment.

"For kids, 'T' is for trust," Pace said.

Get them to speak to someone they trust.

In A Flash hopes to hold a similar event for youth at some point in the near future. The April program is geared toward training adults, Gordon said.

Having both lost adult family members, she and Landwehr recognize suicide is not an issue that is exclusive to young people.

Gordon's husband, Gregory Dean "Flash" Gordon, was 53 when he died. He too had graduated from Jefferson City High School. He worked for Scruggs Lumber for 35 years and was a manager at the business when he died.

The couple had two children.

Gregory Gordon died Oct. 15, 2015.

Shortly after his death, Barb Gordon, friends, family and Scruggs Lumber held a skeet shoot as a fundraiser, intending to provide resources to help families dealing with suicide overcome the challenges they faced.

"I wanted to use that money for something here in town. I wanted to keep it local here in Jefferson City," Gordon said. "I wanted people to realize it's an illness, just like cancer is."

But there were no real local resources dealing primarily with suicide, she said.

Gordon and Landwehr ran into each other at Panera Bread in Jefferson City. Both women knew they wanted to stay busy.

The women, who had met earlier while volunteering at Helias Catholic High School, decided to begin hosting a support group at the West Point Executive Center on West Main Street.

There are multiple reasons their organization is called In A Flash, Gordon said. "Flash" is an acronym for "Feel Loved and Stay Here."

"We also named it In A Flash because (Barb Gordon's) husband's nickname was Flash Gordon," Landwehr said. "And your life can change in a flash."

Barb Gordon, Landwehr and other organizers of In A Flash will meet at 6 p.m. April 1 in the United Way offices at 205 Alameda Drive in Jefferson City. Anyone who might contribute to the nonprofit with organizational knowledge or skills, such as experience developing a website, is invited to attend and help In A Flash get on its feet.

The group will hold a support group meeting at 6:30 p.m. April 23 at West Point Executive Center for people who have experienced a suicide in their family or who have concerns about somebody in their family. For more information, call 573-694-1478.