Eagle River father starts support group for families, friends affected by suicide

Published: Jan. 14, 2019 at 6:26 PM AKST
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Eagle River father Kurt Radtke, who lost his daughter to suicide, is starting a support group with a message of hope and healing and wants others dealing with similar grief to know they don't have to go through it alone.

Radtke describes his 16-year-old daughter Madison as full of life. She was well versed in several languages, loved traveling the world and meeting new people. She was living a normal teenage life in Salt Lake City, Utah when on Sept. 21, 2016, seemingly out of nowhere, she took her own life.

"We had no forewarning whatsoever. There weren't any of the classic signs. She never seemed depressed," Radtke said. "She was a very loving, outgoing kid."

Shocked, and heartbroken, Radtke turned to a group in Salt Lake City called 'Loved Ones Suicide Survivors,' or L.O.S.S.

"I didn't know what to do. I was in a fog for months. I don't recall probably those first three months, and I was trying to figure out how to survive that next second," he said. "Not even the next minute, the next hour of the day. It was, 'How do I make it today?'"

While attending group meetings, Radtke met others experiencing similar losses like Kenneth Whipple who lost his son Cody to suicide. It was a place where Radtke and Whipple found comfort in knowing they weren't alone.

"It's just so nice just having somebody to talk to that totally understands," Whipple said. "A lot of your friends say, 'Aren't you over this yet? You're still grieving? When is this going to end?' Kurt just totally understands."

Knowing that Alaska has one of the highest rates of suicide, Radtke wanted to bring that support to Anchorage. He hopes it can serve as a place for loved ones to share stories, learn coping mechanisms for the grieving process, and find peace.

"When we have meetings, we bring pictures of our loved ones like, 'Look, this is my daughter Madison, and this is who she was,'" he said. "Out of that group, you learn about all these other people and you see the loss in their eyes. You learn about them as a person. They're another family, but they're a family that understands how you feel."

The first L.O.S.S. support group meeting will be held Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. at Alaska Regional Hospital, Building E, in the mezzanine level classroom 1. The meeting will be held on the third Tuesday of every month. It is free to attend, and open to anyone dealing with loss related to suicide.

Those interested in having Kurt Radtke speak to students or employees about suicide prevention can reach him at Kurt.Radtke@me.com

If you need to talk to someone now, you can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.