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Doctoral Work becomes Ministry for C-N Nursing Professor

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Cynthia Lynn Reaches Out to Those Suffering Aftermath of Suicide

Despite the fact that an academic doctorate is often called a terminal degree, Cynthia Lynn was determined that her degree would not be an end to anything. Instead, it would be the beginning of something that served people, “that made life better for them.”

Now known as Dr. Lynn, the Carson-Newman nursing professor is using her five years of intense research and exploration to help family members and friends who have been left to suffer in the wake of a loved one’s suicide. They amount to survivors who do not think they can survive and, says Lynn, who often feel as alone in church as outside of it.

While studies vary, the number of people affected by a “completed suicide” range from six, “who are directly affected,” to 28 who are “significantly connected.” Those first two concentric circles of pain ripple across the community and often leave others afraid to say anything for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Self-killing amounts to some 35,000 deaths per year, not including some cases that may have been deliberate but present inconclusive causes of death, according to Lynn. In 2008 alone, almost 1,000 Tennessee residents chose to end their lives prematurely. That results in as many as 20,000 brokenhearted people in need of compassion and ministry.

The academic says even the framework of language surrounding suicide is telling. During the course of her research, she stopped referring to the act as “committing suicide” because of criminal connotations. “Think about it, we say commit a robbery or commit adultery or commit a crime, but suicide is the result of deep psychological pain,” she said.

Suicide, the professor noted, “is a subject that we conceptualize individually, but one that we do not deal with collectively.”

That point was driven home to her when she, as a doctoral candidate in such of a research topic, found very little scholarly material on the subject. “It was clear in looking at the research, and the lack of it, that it’s something that we still have not found a way to discuss, but it’s something that those affected by it need to talk about. They need outlets for their pain,” she said.

While research is seen as sterile, clinical and detached, Lynn said she was led to reach out specifically to mothers who had suffered the loss of a child by suicide. Though some close to her tried to dissuade her from the topic on the grounds that mothers would never speak of such deep pain, she found that not to be the case.

“I made some flyers, let some people know what I was doing and then it was just word of mouth. They called me and said, ‘I want to tell you this.”

Lynn’s participants told her the suicide of a child is most likely accompanied by crushing isolation.

“The silence was perceived as and encountered through lack of interaction, physical avoidance, and conversation centered upon on the suicide act rather than the child or the well-being of the mother,” wrote Lynn in the dissertation. She went on to quote one mother as saying, “I will tell you something that my cousin and I talked about, and I think this is very important. People don‘t want to talk about your child, and you want people to talk about them. You want people to talk about them because their memories live on, but, when you lose a child, nobody wants to talk about them.”

She said one of her nine participants called her back three days after the interview to say, “‘I feel better than I have felt in years. People wouldn’t let me talk or, if they did, they wanted to fix it, but you didn’t try to do that. You just let me talk.’”

Another mom told Lynn that while her son’s pastor “did a wonderful job” in eulogizing him, she felt abandoned by him following the funeral.

“(I)n three years’ time, not a week, not a month, never have we had a phone call, a note, anything from this minister...,” she cried. “How do you hold a service for somebody you say you love and who you’ve spent… He’s been in your church, your church member for all these years and not care enough about their parents to at least send one note, one follow-up...”

Instead of using the dissertation as job security or some sort of certification, the member of Corryton Church said she wants to open avenues of education and service. That includes helping pastors and churches interested in serving those in pain, but also by leading a support group. Called ComPASS (Communicating the Pain as Suicide Survivors) – “because after the suicide death of a loved one you have to navigate an ocean of grief,” the first group is being offered in conjunction with Jefferson Memorial Hospital.

“I want this to be my way to minister and help people live full lives after suffering the pain of a completed suicide. And I want to help people who want to minister to be helpful,” she said.

Lynn said there are a couple of things that can help those who receive such awful news. “First, the way the person died or the method they used to kill themselves should not matter, so don’t bring it up. And then, don’t judge the person who took his or her life. The person should not be locked into one moment in time. It’s not their-daughter-who-committed-suicide, it’s their daughter! “

Those interested in more information can contact Lynn at 865-471-3256 or at clynn@cn.edu.

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