Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Andi Jason is a sitting board member of the Second Wind Fund of Boulder County.
Grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide can be an isolating experience.
It’s common for survivors to feel confused, traumatized or misunderstood because of the stigma surrounding suicide. Hope Lights the Night provides those who remain a much-needed way to celebrate the lives of their loved ones without fear of judgement.
“I think when someone dies by suicide, most of the time they don’t actually want to die. They want their pain to end,” said Andi Jason, a suicide prevention advocate and loss survivor.
“I think the pain doesn’t end, it gets transferred to the people who are left behind. As a society, we’re very private about our grief, but there’s something about grieving together with other people that somehow makes your soul feel a little bit better.”
The 11th annual Hope Lights the Night event to the honor loved ones the community has lost to suicide will be Wednesday.
Hosted by the Hope Coalition of Boulder, the free program will include music by the Resonance Women’s Chorus directed by Sue Coffee and featuring cantorial soloist Holli Berman, a speech by Rabbi Nadya Gross of Pardes Levavot congregation and a candle-lighting ceremony. The non-denominational event will take place at Community United Church of Christ.
Susan Marine, the advocacy chair of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado and a member of the Hope Coalition, said the night is about more than remembering loved ones who have died by suicide.
“The event is about remembering and honoring those who we have lost to suicide and celebrating the survival of those who have lost someone to suicide,” Marine said. “Another goal is to counteract some of the stigma that surrounds suicide and it brings people together in the community to talk about suicide and to support one another.”
Marine said the biggest problem with the stigma surrounding suicide is people don’t understand what happened and how to prevent similar deaths. Those who have lost loved ones to suicide also don’t get the support they need from others in their community, she said. Marine has lost two children to suicide, and she said people often don’t know what to say to her.
One of the ways she has been dealing with her children’s deaths is by organizing Hope Lights the Night and lobbying for suicide prevention measures at the state Capitol under the auspices of the Suicide Prevention Coalition. A few years ago she helped form the Suicide Prevention Commission, which works with several state agencies and groups that have been impacted by suicide, such as farmers and first-responders. One demographic for which she is currently trying to affect policy changes is LGBTQ+ youth, who Marine said are at very high risk for suicide.
“It’s been a way to make meaning out of loss,” Marine said. “It’s been very important to me.”
The Boulder County Coroner’s Office recorded 64 cases of suicide in 2018, up from 58 in 2017. Males accounted for about 80% of those deaths, with15 deaths reported for individuals men between the ages of 18 and 29. The rise in youth suicides isn’t just a county problem. Suicide is the leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24 in Colorado. Teen suicide in the state increased by 58% over the last three years, according to a report by the United Health Foundation. That increase ranked Colorado as having the sixth highest teen suicide rate in the country.
For teens in Boulder County who may be suffering from depression or suicidal ideation, a major resource is Colie’s Closet, which works closely with the Hope Coalition. Colie’s Closet is a nonprofit founded in 2004 by then-13-year-old Jenna Machado. The peer education organization now has participating volunteers from almost every Boulder Valley School District high school, who are trained to speak to their fellow students and those in middle school about depression and the warning signs of suicidal ideation. The group also holds fundraisers and donates the profits to pay for therapy for uninsured or underinsured youths who are identified as at risk for suicide. The students are paired with a therapist through the Second Wind Fund.
‘Nobody told us anything’
Prevention advocate Jason is the project manager of Colie’s Closet, representing it in the Hope Coalition, and a sitting board member of the Second Wind Fund of Boulder County. She said the organization’s services are increasingly in demand.
“Fortunately more students are finding their way to us,” Jason said. “Unfortunately more students are needing the service. We’ve had rising numbers every year, with over 75% jump in the last three years.”
Jason’s journey into the suicide prevention world started after her 16-year-old son, Jesse Simon, died by suicide in 2010. In the aftermath, Jason and her husband, David Simon, worked on getting HB 12-1140 passed, which requires Colorado hospitals to provide information on resources after an individual has received care for a suicide attempt. A year before Jesse died, he walked himself to the hospital after a suicide attempt while his parents thought he was doing homework in his bedroom. They received a call from the emergency room, and were left completely shocked. When Jesse was released, the hospital didn’t provide his parents with any further information.
“Nobody told us anything about the fact that this attempt made a future attempt more likely,” Jason said. “They did say to follow up with his practitioner and all of that, which we did. But there was no direct information relating to increased risk.”
Although the bill was passed, there was no money attached to the bill, which Jason said is a major issue when it comes to suicide prevention legislation. She said she can’t be sure why it’s such a problem, but speculates it’s in part due to the stigma surrounding suicide.
“It just seems crazy to me,” Jason said. “If we knew our kids were dying from some strain of flu, wouldn’t we put all our money into figuring out how to eradicate or treat or vaccinate against that strain of flu? But we’re not, even though we know what our kids are dying from in Colorado.”
Importance of community
Because a community of healing is so important, it is crucial for the Hope Lights the Night event to be non-denominational, Marine said. Gross said that the first couple of years that she spoke at Hope Lights the Night, she did so without her title. Many people who have lost someone to suicide have been wounded in a secondary way by the response from their faith leaders because of the way many religions perceive suicide, she said.
“In those early years, there was a real concern that people would be less receptive to what I had to say if they knew that I was a faith leader,” Gross said. “So we didn’t use my title for a few years, but that’s now changed.”
Despite the initial judgement some may find in certain houses of worship, Gross said for some it can be an important part of healing to find a spiritual leader in their chosen faith who will be open and receptive.
“For some people who believe that, when a person dies, they go to a better place, that kind of faith or belief in the hands of the right kind of compassionate, open-minded spiritual leader can really provide comfort,” she said.
Gross said she hasn’t put together her thoughts for Hope Lights the Night yet, but she knows she wants to emphasize the importance of community and coming together with others who know the same loss. Although the rabbi has never felt that loss personally, she’s worked with many survivors and the bereaved, both close friends and in her congregation. This will be her 10th year speaking at the event, and above all else, she wants to remove the stigma of suicide. She wants those who have lost a loved one to suicide to know there is no need to be ashamed or feel guilty.
“What I want is for them to know that they deserve support and guidance,” Gross said. “Their grief is to be held in a sacred way.”
If you go
What: Hope Lights the Night
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Community Church of Christ, 2650 Table Mesa Drive
Also: Attendees are encouraged to bring a photo of their loved one to post.
Resources for those in crisis
If facing an emergency: Call 911
Mental Health Partners: To request services, 303-443-8500; walk-in center, 3180 Airport Road, Boulder, 303-447-1665
COACT Colorado’s crisis hotline: 844-493-8255 (TALK) or, text “TALK” to 38255
National hotline: 800-SUICIDE or 800-784-2433