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BLOOMINGTON — No one can predict when that final drop of water will fall, causing water to spill out of the cup.

Lori Kimbrough, Monica and John Iliff and Ginny Rude don't know what was the final drop that prompted their loved ones to take their own lives.

But they have thoughts, feelings and, most importantly, an ability to listen that they'd like to share with other Central Illinoisans who've had similar nightmares.

They are core members of the Survivors of Suicide Support Group. The group, which meets monthly at ABC Counseling in Normal, is to support people who have lost friends or relatives to suicide.

"The support group allows people who experience suicide of a loved one to be there for each other," said group facilitator Lynn Willard, ABC Counseling executive director, licensed clinical professional counselor and licensed clinical social worker.

"Everyone experiencing loss experiences stages of grief," Willard said. "But this group helps people to cope with the uniqueness of suicide."

Death by suicide is treated differently, she said. The area of death is treated as a crime scene. Family members may not, for a while, get some of their loved one's possessions if they are a part of a police investigation.

And the social stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide remain, group members said.

Kimbrough — whose stepson Darnell Kimbrough died by suicide in May 2014 — got the feeling that some people thought "those Kimbroughs must be super messed up."

One thing group members have learned is to stop blaming themselves.

"There is a layer of shame," John Iliff said.

"We are supposed to protect our children," Monica said.

After a while, group members recognize there's no one person to blame.

"This group has been wonderful for me," Kimbrough said.

The core group members and Willard want people to know about the group because they know that there has been an increase in suicides.

According to the McLean County Coroner's Office, there were 15 confirmed suicides in McLean County this year through Oct. 21, and three of them were among 15- to 25-year-olds. During all of 2014, there were 17 suicides in McLean County and three were among 15- to 25-year-olds.

During the past five years, the number of suicides has ranged from 15 to 25 each year, and the number of young adults has ranged from one to seven.

"There are a lot of parents, a lot of families that are crying inside," said John Iliff of Bloomington. His and Marcia's son, Eric, died by suicide in March 2007.

"They don't know there's help," he continued. "We're not a cure-all, but we can help."

"Darnell would be what people would consider a good, nerdy kid,"  recalled Lori Kimbrough of Normal. He enjoyed video games, science fiction and was active in student activities at Normal West High School.

"He always perceived himself to be smarter than anyone else, including the teacher," Kimbrough recalled with a smile. "He didn't have a lot of friends but the friends he had were good friends."

Darnell died by suicide at age 20 after completing his sophomore year at Northern Illinois University.

"I didn't believe it," Kimbrough recalled. "Hysterical is too light of a word."

After Darnell's death, the Kimbroughs found out through the university that he was having academic problems. "For him, that would have been devastating," his stepmother said.

"I think that had a lot to do with it. We think he may have had depression but we don't know," she said.

When Kimbrough returned to work, she was referred to the support group.

Eric Iliff was smart, kind, thoughtful and talented and was involved in a variety of activities as a student at University High School. He finished college in three years, then enrolled in an Eastern Orthodox seminary in another state to study theology.

At the seminary, he was sexually abused. He told his parents about it afterward. He returned to the seminary but — suffering from depression — he was prescribed antidepressants.

He received his master of divinity, returned to Bloomington-Normal, got a job but was "under-employed" and was being treated for depression, his parents said. When he decided to file a lawsuit against his abuser and the seminary, he was cyber-bullied, his parents said.

He died by suicide at age 25.

"It was surrealistic," Monica said. "We did a lot of crying." Following individual counseling with Willard, the Iliffs joined the support group.

Ginny Rude of Normal said her brother, Bill Racutt, was a gifted repairman who fixed restaurant equipment. But family relationship issues, his ongoing medical problems and pain and the death of Ginny's husband all took their toll on Racutt, his sister recalled.

"He was in pain and depressed," she said. "He was on 16 different medications, including two psychotropics."

When Ginny was diagnosed with cancer, he took the news hard because he was living with her at the time. Then he had trouble with his computer.

He took his life in May 2013 at age 56.

"It was quite an ordeal," Rude said. "I'm still in shock." She joined the group shortly afterward.

Group members don't know why there is an increase in suicide, especially among young adults.

Is it because some young adults and their still-developing brains haven't developed coping skills to put lower grades and other problems in perspective? Is it because some people overuse and abuse social media to the detriment of face-to-face conversation? Is it because some people aren't being properly treated for a mental illness?

It's probably all of the above and more, group members said.

"If you think a person is considering taking his or her life, ask them 'Are you feeling suicidal?'" Willard suggested. Listen to them.

Help is available by calling PATH at 211, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or at your nearest hospital emergency department.

With support and treatment, people can get better.

Sometimes, they don't make it. That's when the group can help surviving family members and friends.

Said Willard: "After awhile, people learn to let go of 'why did this happen?'"

"There is no microwave recovery," John said.

"We want people to know," Rude said, "that there is light at the end of the tunnel."

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Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech


Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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