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Memory tree in Colorado Springs helps survivors of suicide loss

With all the happy holidays, food and family it's so easy to forget that for many, the holiday season is a difficult time of year. 

That's especially true for survivors of suicide loss, those grieving the death of a loved one - maybe for the first time. 

According to federal data, US suicide rates are the highest they've been since World War II. Now, there's a local group hoping to bring light to a dark subject. 

Heartbeat is a Colorado Springs non-profit that supports survivors after suicide. And for parents Betty and Kevin Van Thournout, it's the group that helped them after the death of their 26-year-old son, Ryan.

"Our son completed suicide in July 2014," said Betty, "I needed to know that there were other mothers on this journey because I couldn't do it alone."

Now, every year, Betty and Kevin gather survivors together at a large evergreen tree at the Chapel of Our Savior in Colorado Springs.  They call it a Memory Tree, and they invite the community to attend the lighting ceremony, where they put ornaments on the branches - each with the name of a person gone but never forgotten. 

Betty says, don't let the holidays sneak up on you. It helps to make a plan. "You need to decide are you going to travel for the holidays, are you going to start a new tradition, do you want to continue with the old tradition with your family and honor your loved one in some way."

The Thournouts say the holidays will never be the same without their son, but they have continued on and say this is their new normal, helping others process the pain and remember the good times. 

They will be decorating the tree at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Chapel of our Savior in Colorado Springs. The lighting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday. Attendees are encouraged to bring a picture of their loved one. They will have hot chocolate and coffee. All are welcome and they're always in need volunteers. You can visit the Memory Tree from December 3rd through January 4th.

And if you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text "talk" to 38255.

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Kristen Skovira


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