East Lyme suicide-prevention foundation to start young-adult support group
East Lyme — Between hosting support groups and providing a safe space to cope with grief, Ann Dagle said that since she found a permanent home for the Brian F. Dagle Memorial Foundation on Main Street a year ago, things have been going very well.
“The house has taken on a life of its own and done its own thing. I haven’t pushed anything but I’ve let the universe let things happen,” said Dagle, whose son Brian died by suicide in 2011. She started the foundation with her husband and surviving two sons in 2014 as a way to encourage conversation about mental health and to connect people who are grieving.
And though their Main Street home, known as the Brian’s Healing Hearts Center for Hope and Healing, has become a safe, comfortable and supportive space, even serving as a community center of sorts, Dagle said one key component still is missing: a support group for young adults coping with loss of their own.
“I wanted to get a group going for young adults for a long time now,” Dagle said. “From my experience, I saw the struggles (Brian’s friends and siblings) faced after losing a close friend. And it would have been nice, even if they didn’t want to go, to have the option of a support group for people their age.”
Targeted to young adults aged 18 through 29, Dagle said the group will welcome anyone dealing with grief, whether it be from the loss of a friend or a parent. She said the group is set to start meeting twice a month beginning May 14.
Differing from the typical support groups Dagle hosts in the home, which do less socializing and more “sitting in circles,” the young adult group will incorporate more fun and a bit more mingling, as well as food, Dagle said, smiling.
Though Dagle is not a licensed therapist or counselor, she has received a certification in grief and death studies from the Center for Loss in Colorado, is on the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board and has worked closely with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention to research suicide.
Since starting the foundation, she has worked with hundreds of people, both in group settings and individually, acting as a listener to help them through difficult times.
“I can’t tell you exactly what to do or how to get through loss,” she said. “But I do know that somehow you will survive. I just say, 'Keep holding on, keep holding on and you will make it.'”
Dagle said that, after her son died, she was “in a very dark place” for a long time. “I felt entirely hopeless,” she said.
But once she found the right support group in Massachusetts, she said things began to drastically change.
“I know the therapeutic power a support group can provide,” she said. “Helping others helps you. It just does. And there is a connection made between one another. As humans, we all want to be connected to other humans. So finding that connection through grief is huge for people.”
In the region, though, Dagle said she doesn’t know of any support group for young adults.
“And unfortunately, in East Lyme, a lot of young people, as well as parents, have passed away recently,” Dagle said, adding that recent work with two young adults gave her a glimpse of how their relating with each other, because of their age, has helped.
“There really is a need for this for young people here,” she said.
The group, Dagle said, will be led by two facilitators — Patty Giannattasio, who is in her 50s and interning with the foundation, and Becca Teeter, 27, who will act as a peer for group members to more easily relate to and open up with.
Teeter, who was a friend of Brian’s throughout high school, suffered her own form of loss after Brian died, Dagle said.
“It’s a funny age group because they might not feel comfortable opening up and sharing in a typical support group setting,” Dagle said. “But with peers, they are more likely. That’s what I hope Becca will help with."
“Young people that age just want to feel normal, but going to a group doesn’t feel normal,” Dagle continued. “They don’t want to be singled out. And maybe they don’t even know what they’re feeling. But I hope this group can become a place where they connect with others their age and with those who are also going through a similar experience.”
She also said she hopes the group will address the specific issues that young adults may face with loss.
“As young adults hit milestones — graduations, weddings, births — they have to go through those events with that person missing,” Dagle said. “I also find that there are a lot of people going through life with unresolved grief. And that really can affect us negatively for the rest of our life. That’s a concern I have for young people, that grief will affect their relationships, etc., going forward.”
Whether group members want to talk or not, Dagle said, the main point will be for them to know that “they are not alone.”