Lawrence couple hope son is remembered for 19 years of life — not death by suicide

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series to raise awareness about suicide as part of Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 9-15. Tomorrow: Suicide prevention.

Lisa Zwiener and her husband, Raymond Zwiener, sit on a bench next to their son's gravesite in Rock Creek cemetery, west of Clinton Lake, on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. Their son, Ryan, died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, after a battle with depression. The Zweiners said they find some peace in visiting the burial site.

Lisa Zwiener and her husband, Raymond Zwiener, sit on a bench next to their son's gravesite in Rock Creek cemetery, west of Clinton Lake, on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. Their son, Ryan, died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, after a battle with depression. The Zweiners said they find some peace in visiting the burial site. by Richard Gwin

Ryan Lee Zwiener was creative and a hard worker — and he liked to make others laugh.

His parents, Lisa and Raymond, said they would be watching television, and Ryan would enter the room and just start dancing around.

“He liked having fun and being spontaneous — we really miss him,” Lisa said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

Ryan, a Kansas University student, died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, two weeks before his 20th birthday, after a battle with depression.

His parents and sister, Mandy, openly talk about the suicide in hopes of preventing other deaths, but they also don’t want Ryan to be remembered for how he died.

“He taught us so much in those 19 years of life,” Lisa said.

She recalled many stories about Ryan during a two-hour interview in her Lawrence home. He liked to make dandelion tea and he enjoyed building things. Lisa said she had mentioned wanting something besides a carrier to put their three small dogs in when nobody was home, so one day Ryan surprised her with a unique, two-story, indoor doghouse he had built.

“He truly was an amazing man,” she said, as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Although it has been nine months, the death is still very painful for the Zwieners, but they said it helps to talk and share memories.

“There are some people who try to avoid it or don’t want to say anything because they don’t want to upset you or whatever, and it’s almost more upsetting when they don’t bring it up because you do want so desperately for them to be remembered,” Lisa said.

A photo of Ryan Zwiener is displayed in his parent's home. Ryan died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, after a battle with depression. His parents, Lisa and Raymond, said they don't want Ryan to remembered for his death, but for his 19 years of life.

A photo of Ryan Zwiener is displayed in his parent's home. Ryan died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, after a battle with depression. His parents, Lisa and Raymond, said they don't want Ryan to remembered for his death, but for his 19 years of life. by Richard Gwin

•••

Last year, 385 Kansans died by suicide, including seven in Douglas County. Those suicides caused a lot of grief for their loved ones — spouses, children, grandchildren, grandparents, friends and colleagues.

Marcia Epstein is director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, which provides a support group for people who have lost someone to suicide. She said suicide is never someone else’s fault, but it’s common for those left behind to feel guilty and blamed by others. That’s why it is important for others to reach out and offer support.

“They need to know that they are loved, accepted and have support. What they fear is that people are blaming them or that people are looking badly at the person they lost to suicide. Acceptance is so, so important,” Epstein said. “So often, what happens is people will avoid you. They literally will turn to another aisle in the grocery store because they don’t want to say something hurtful or the wrong thing.”

Her advice is to say, “I am so sorry for your loss,” and then listen.

Lisa Zwiener’s colleague and friend Marcia Stetler admitted she didn’t know what to say or do to help Lisa when Ryan died. She was grateful that Headquarters Counseling Center provided group counseling at their workplace a day or two after Ryan died.

“That was good because we were all experiencing different things and we all have children and it really hit hard. I think that helped a lot,” Stetler said.

Lisa said Stetler has been one of her rocks. She takes walks with her and they reminisce. If Lisa has a breakdown at work, Stetler gives her a hug and listens. “She’s great. She doesn’t really tell me what to do,” Lisa said.

Epstein said nobody can truly understand what someone is going through because the grief process is complicated with suicide. There can be a variety of feelings: anger, shame, fear, sadness. These could stem from:

• dealing with secrets that come out after the death.

• watching someone struggle for so long and then suddenly not having to worry and be on guard for that person’s behavior anymore.

• feeling like maybe they didn’t really know the person.

“It’s really, really complicated, and so all of these things relate to what the healing process is going to look like,” Epstein said. “There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs.”

Lisa and Raymond Zwiener, of Lawrence, display a tribute to their son, Ryan, in the rear window of the family car. Ryan died by suicide at age 19 in December 2011 after a battle with depression. They openly talk about the suicide in hopes of preventing other deaths, but they also don’t want Ryan to be remembered for how he died.

Lisa and Raymond Zwiener, of Lawrence, display a tribute to their son, Ryan, in the rear window of the family car. Ryan died by suicide at age 19 in December 2011 after a battle with depression. They openly talk about the suicide in hopes of preventing other deaths, but they also don’t want Ryan to be remembered for how he died. by Richard Gwin

•••

The Zweiners — Lisa, Raymond and Mandy — are suffering from depression and have sought counseling to deal with Ryan’s death, but it hasn’t gotten any easier. Lisa said they haven’t gone through Ryan’s things that are stored in their garage or touched anything in his bedroom in their house.

Sometimes, Lisa said she will just sit in Ryan’s truck or lie on the sheets on his bed. She said there are days when she can’t get out of bed and she’s overwhelmed by sadness. She’s also sad for her daughter who has nightmares from finding her brother, with whom she lived at the time in a townhouse.

“Mandy said something the other day that kind of threw me off because she got mad at me and said, ‘I am tired of coming home and seeing you lying in bed and crying. She said, ‘I’ve lost my brother and I don’t want to lose my mother too.”

Susan Reynolds, of Topeka, said her daughter, Becky, died by suicide 10 years ago at age 23. As a teen, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had an eating disorder. Later, she developed an addiction to drugs and alcohol and stopped taking her medications.

“The first two years were unbearably painful, but it’s better if friends try to reach out and involve you in anything because the tendency is to isolate,” she said.

Reynolds said she has continued to teach a 12-week program for caregivers of individuals with severe mental illnesses through the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Topeka. It was something she started a couple of years before her daughter’s death.

“I think it was probably about as therapeutic as anything I could have done,” she said. “It felt good to educate people and hopefully prevent a tragedy for them.”

She also finds it healthy to talk about her daughter.

“Suicide wasn’t the only thing that happened in her life, and there’s a lot to talk about; yet, people are afraid to bring up her name, but, boy, that’s the best thing they can do. It’s sharing the good memories,” Reynolds said.


SUPPORT GROUP

Headquarters Counseling Center’s “Healing After Suicide” support group is free and open to anyone who has lost someone to suicide. It meets every other Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, contact the center at 841-2345 or email Marcia Epstein, director, at Marcia@HeadquartersCounselingCenter.org.


HOW TO REACH OUT

Eunice Ruttinger, director of adult services at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, offered the following advice when it comes to supporting a friend or loved one who has lost someone by suicide.

Do:

• Say you are sorry for their loss.

• Listen.

• Stay in touch and offer help whether it be to watch children, mow the yard or take a walk.

Do not:

• Offer advice and share personal experiences.

• Say things like: “They are in a better place,” “Be happy with the time you had,” “You seem to be handling it well,” or “You are doing better than I could.”

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence.

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence. by Richard Gwin

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left.

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left. by Richard Gwin

Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, takes a moment to collect her thoughts as she talks about her late husband, Phillip. She attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence.

Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, takes a moment to collect her thoughts as she talks about her late husband, Phillip. She attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. by Richard Gwin

Rose Foster, of Lawrence, cradles a portrait of her late husband, Gordon Foster, who committed suicide at age 40. He had attempted suicide several times before and had been dealing with depression for years. At the time of his death, Rose had cancer and the family had just filed for bankruptcy.

Rose Foster, of Lawrence, cradles a portrait of her late husband, Gordon Foster, who committed suicide at age 40. He had attempted suicide several times before and had been dealing with depression for years. At the time of his death, Rose had cancer and the family had just filed for bankruptcy. by kevin-anderson

Zachary Chipps, left, and Thomas Brown, both of Scottsdale, Ariz., are bicycling across the country to raise awareness about suicide prevention. They both lost an older brother to suicide. Their journey began March 1, 2012, at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and will end Sept. 30, 2012, in Wappengers Falls, N.Y. They are pictured during a stop in Colorado. Chipps and Brown stopped in Lawrence in May.

Zachary Chipps, left, and Thomas Brown, both of Scottsdale, Ariz., are bicycling across the country to raise awareness about suicide prevention. They both lost an older brother to suicide. Their journey began March 1, 2012, at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and will end Sept. 30, 2012, in Wappengers Falls, N.Y. They are pictured during a stop in Colorado. Chipps and Brown stopped in Lawrence in May.


SUICIDE PREVENTION

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, says you can make a difference when someone shows signs of feeling suicidal.

Here’s how:

• Listen and show you care.

• Ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

• For teens, find a trusted adult to help.

• For adults, find someone to be with the person and someone trained in suicide prevention to help.

• Eliminate access to firearms, large amounts of medications and other potential dangers.

• Never keep a secret about suicide.

• Know that suicide is never someone else’s fault.

Where to get help:

Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 785-841-2345.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 800-273-8255.

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center's 24-hour service — 785-843-9192.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 785-505-6100.

Christian Psychological Services — 785-843-2429.

Tagged: bereavement, Suicide Prevention Week, suicide, grief

Comments

blindrabbit 2 years, 2 months ago

Very inspirational story; we have had a couple of suicides in the family, tough to get around to understanding and trying to figure them out. My guess the 385 number for Kansas last year is way under-reported, and the 7 for Douglas County is way low, I heard for the county is was in the neighborhood of 25. Many are not reported because of familial issues or attributed to other causes in order to hide the "shame".

George_Braziller 2 years, 2 months ago

A smile on the public face can be an intentional mask for the inner turmoils and pain so no one knows. If they don't know there's a problem then they won't ask questions or have concerns.

I've been there. It's like staring into a small black box and that's all you can see. There's no light, no life, and no joy. You just want to close your eyes and make it all go away.

Jean Robart 2 years, 2 months ago

IF the families are at all similar, and want their loved ones to be remembered for their lives rather than for the manner of their deaths, why do you keep repeating that they died from suicide? This cannot do anything but hurt the families. Like rubbing salt in an open wound.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

none2 I think you are the hateful and mean one with a large ego. You have no sympathy for those who are in such anguish that they want to die. For everyone else, but not for them. I do believe they are in a better place and that God understands and they now are happy.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

I AM IN TOTAL FAVOR OF AN OPEN, MULTICULTURAL SOCIETY WHICH TO ME WOULD INCLUDE A MUSLIM'S WOMAN TO WEAR A BURKA IF SHE SO DECIDES. I ALWAYS DELETE A BLOG WHEN I PUT A NEW ONE UP. FRANKLY I CAN'T REALLY REMEMBER THE ONE YOU REFER TO. i AM A COUNSELOR WORKING AT HOME ON THE COMPUTER AND I MAKE UP TO $6.66.00 A DAY.

raiderssb 2 years, 2 months ago

Obviously, you have zero understanding of what may, or may not, cause an individual to make such a choice. Yes, it would on the outside appear selfish, but there so many variables . . . And brownback's attack on mental health will not help. There are many suicides not reported in Douglas County. There are a variety of reasons . . .

whiteam 2 years, 2 months ago

When someone commits suicide, they are only thinking of themselves and no one else. They are not thinking about the poor motel workers or family members or friends. If they do happen to think about what these people will go through, in their mind it is no where near as hard or as bad as what they are going through. They believe that suicide is the only option for them and in the end, no person or thing matters but them and their problem.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years, 2 months ago

Why are there two posts that are basically the same from two different posters? Both more worried about motel maids than the person who was driven by horrible circumstances. When you get down to where the rubber meets the road, the soon to be suicide is already in the space between this world and the next. They are already dead to our reality.

hedshrinker 2 years, 2 months ago

The comments by whiteam and none2 demonstrate the answer to the question"if they want their loved one to be remembered for the whole of their life instead of how they ended it, why do they keep talking about suicide"....most of the general public has no idea how to deal skillfully with death, much less suicide. Yes, suicide has many victims and that's what this article is talking about: how to support them. People who make and complete suicide attempts usually are suffering deep and serious mental (and perhaps physical) illness of some sort:depression, bipolar disorder, traumatic brain injury, drug/alcohol abuse, post-partum depression, PTSD.,etc. One of the most serious pervasive aspects of these illnesses is cognitive distortion which prevents otherwise cognitively competent people from making rational judgements. This is so common that my 12-step friends call it "stinkin' thinkin'" Of course the consequences of decisions about continuing to live are high....suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.....but people struggling with this life and death decision don't see it as a temporary problem.....all they see is the unbearable present, no past, and definitely NO FUTURE. PLEASE educate yourselves about mental illness and suicide and develop some compassion. I hear you when you speak on behalf of the ones left behind and I understand your anger.....I have been a therapist for 30 years and have seen this problem from many sides: both the ill person contemplating suicide as the only way out of a life of total misery which never gets better no matter what they do and the people left behind as well. With suicide being in the news all the time now due to returning combat veterans, we all need to tune up our understanding and helping skills. Thanks for sharing your feelings about this difficult topic.

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