HALO: Helping people through personal tragedy

Published 9:58 am Saturday, August 28, 2021

Individuals who struggle with the shock and sadness when a loved one dies from suicide can be reluctant to talk about it. Jody Barrilleaux gets it. She is one of those survivors. She lost her father. No stranger to tragedy, her husband was killed when she was 21 and eight months pregnant.

In her role as Hixson Memorial Funeral Home Community Relations Director, she interacts daily with the bereaved. It is a life that has prompted her to live large and do as much as she can for others as long as she can until she can’t, she said.

One of the things she does is help provide a unique environment, service, and sometimes a shoulder, for other suicide survivors.

Healing after Loved Ones Suicide (HALO) is a peer-led support group for suicide survivors. When her father died Good Friday in 2015, Barrilleaux had never known anyone in her circle of family and friends to die of suicide. She never uses the phrase “commit suicide.”

“Our loved ones committed nothing,” she said. “They died by suicide. They didn’t want to die. They wanted their pain to end.”

After the initial shock knocked Barrilleaux off her feet, she started planning her father’s funeral.

“I knew I was going to celebrate my dad,” she said.

Ironically, Barrilleaux had completed Celebrant training the month before she conducted her father’s service.

She doesn’t suggest her response to his suicide is what other survivors should do. It’s simply what she did, something she had, without knowing it, been uniquely prepared by life and training to do.

“I said, I’ll be ‘derned’ if anyone leaves this place thinking about how my dad left this earth because the way a person dies does not define who they were. That has become the slogan of HALO. The way a person dies does not define who they were, who they are to the ones who love them,” she repeated.

Barrilleaux did talk to a counselor after her father’s suicide and realized the people she most wanted to talk to are people who have gone through losing a loved one by suicide. Sharon Istre lost her 24-year-old son in 2001.

In 2011, she came up with the HALO name and general concept. Other HALO core members are Regina Darbonne, who lost her sister, and Ted Thibodeaux, who lost his daughter.

Barrileaux was put in touch with Amy Johnson in July 2015. Johnson lost her only son when he was 13.

“Immediately we connected,” Barrilleaux said, “and I’ve seen this connection with and between others in HALO. We’re like a family.”

Meetings began in August 2015.

“All we wanted was to offer a safe place to come and talk,” Barrilleaux said.

She and three other core members, hurricane survivors, also refer participants to other services available.

“Every loss is different,” she said. “Some people who come are angry. Some are frustrated or sad.”

One woman came to the meeting again and again and again before she was finally able to utter a word.

Feelings associated with the loss of a loved one by suicide can include guilt, anger, frustration, bitterness, guilt, confusion, rejection and shame because of the stigma and trauma associated.

“I guess my message, and the message from those who have benefitted from HALO is, it is going to help you to talk about it.”

Find out more, go to the HALO Facebook page. Meetings are 6 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at Holiday Inn Express in Sulphur.