Dagle foundation reaching out to grieving families

East Lyme - Ann Dagle wants people in the depths of grief to know they are not alone.

Three years ago, in the very early days after the death of her son, Brian Dagle, by suicide, she felt isolated in her loss and unsure where to turn, in spite of kind words from friends.

But she found comfort in meeting and talking to others who had also experienced tragic loss. Now she can speak with them about her beloved son and feel their pain, too.

"By talking to people who didn't know him, I could openly and safely share," she said, "and they loved hearing about him."

Today, Dagle and her family have become advocates. Ann and Paul Dagle, Brian's parents, and his two brothers founded the Brian T. Dagle Memorial Foundation Inc., a nonprofit, to reach out to those grieving the loss of a child or loved one.

Brian, a popular teenager who enjoyed lacrosse and football, died at age 19. The East Lyme High School graduate and student at Castleton State College had many who loved him, from classmates to teachers.

"He was everybody's best friend," his mother said.

On Tuesday, the foundation, along with the East Lyme Youth Services Bureau, will hold the second community forum on suicide prevention. The first was held in the winter of 2013.

Ann Dagle said the foundation's mission is to reach out to others - even to touch just one person - by talking about mental health and letting those grieving know they are not alone.

She hopes the forum will help get rid of the stigma surrounding suicide and issues, such as depression and anxiety, and bring the conversation out into the open. Dagle hopes to reach people, including young adults and friends of her son.

"I want them to understand it's OK to ask for help," she said. "I want them to understand the warning signs, and I want them to understand the misconceptions."

Dagle, who is on the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board, has worked closely with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention to research suicide.

She's learned that usually a "perfect storm" of events puts individuals in an awful place, and there's seldom one cause. The majority of people who die by suicide have an undiagnosed, or a diagnosed, mental illness, she said.

She said one important stepis educating people so they don't assume things about a person who has died by suicide. She said the final days of a person's life don't represent their whole life.

Talking with those who have been through similar traumatic loss can be a resource for those in mourning, she said. Sometimes talking only to those who are mourning your loved one can feel like it's compounding the grief, she explained.

The memorial foundation espouses a mission "to promote hope and healing for people who are grieving with support services, education and resources to nurture both their physical and emotional needs." It has also established support groups: one for people who have lost children, and another for people who have lost a loved one through suicide.

Scheduled to speak at Tuesday's forum are: Andrea Duarte, a licensed clinical social worker from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services; John Holt, a sports reporter and anchor at WFSB Channel 3; and Ainsley Bryce, a University of Connecticut graduate and one of Brian's closest friends. Bryce started a "Team Dagle" walk in memory of Brian, as part of the Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention walk at the University of Connecticut. First Selectman Paul Formica will moderate the forum, and there will be an opportunity to ask questions.

David Putnam, the director of Parks, Recreation and Youth Services, said the event will be held annually to raise awareness about suicide. Last year, the forum drew about 50 people and was well-received, Putnam said. Among them were teenaged girls, but no boys. Organizers are trying to make sure young men as well as young women feel welcome.

Ann Dagle understands the ripple effect suicide can have on a community and the many unanswered questions it leaves. She hopes the forum and foundation will reach East Lyme and communities beyond.

"So many people you wouldn't even imagine have been touched by suicide," she said.

Dagle said she's come a long way from the early days after Brian's death, when she would drive to out-of-town grocery stores rather than face people she knew. At a fundraiser for the foundation at Flanders Fish Market earlier this month, she felt the full support of the community, from Brian's friends to his teachers.

"I just really hope we can get this word out and let people know they're not alone," she said.

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

If you go

What: A Community Forum on Suicide Prevention
Who: Hosted by the East Lyme Youth Services Bureau with the Brian T. Dagle Memorial Foundation
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Town Hall
More information: www.brianshealinghearts.org. For more information on the forum, contact David Putnam at (860) 739-5828.

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