Kevin's Song: Organization helps those left in the wake of suicide

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News
 
It’s been six years since Detroit family law attorney John Urso and his wife Gail, an interior designer, got a call from their middle son, Brian, that their first child, Kevin, had taken his life. He was 41.

“It was in late March of 2013. We were on our way to visit friends when our middle son called to tell us that his brother, Kevin, had died. We had just visited him in January and he was in great spirits. It was a terrible shock,” John Urso recalled.

Even with an abundance of information available for parents who have lost a child, Urso found that the death of a loved one by suicide is accompanied by an additional set of questions.

“The loss of a child is life-changing for any parent, but when the child’s death is by suicide there is an extra layer of guilt. With the loss of a sick child, you know you’ve done everything you could,” Urso said. “The loss of a child by suicide is different because you are always asking yourself, ‘What could I have done that I didn’t do? What did I miss?’”

Since Kevin died, the couple has learned from their research, and conversations with experts on the topic, that they really couldn’t have done anything differently.

“He never talked about it,” Urso said. “We realize now that Kevin had already decided to take his life and he was at peace with his decision. That often happens when someone has made that choice,”

Not long after Kevin’s death, the Ursos learned more about suicide through research and community outreach efforts. Those efforts led them to establish “Kevin’s Song,” a Michigan nonprofit that works to raise awareness among friends and family who know someone who is at risk or who have lost a loved one as a result of suicide.

“A month after Kevin died, a Newsweek cover story opened our eyes to what an enormous health crisis this was. Through the story, we learned that we had a lot of company.  We thought, ‘If we didn’t know this, there must be a lot of other people who don’t know,’” Gail Urso said. “Looking back, I don’t know what we were thinking when we decided to start Kevin’s Song. We just believed we could do this.”

Since its founding, Kevin’s Song, named for Kevin Urso’s love of music, has evolved into a community resource recognized for its conferences with nationally known experts and its outreach to families who are dealing with suicide-related issues.

“When we started Kevin’s Song, we got help from local clergy, who remain involved. And we were able to have Dr. Thomas Joiner, a nationally recognized expert on the topic, speak at our first and subsequent conferences,” Gail Urso said.”

“What we came to understand was that suicide is very common, in fact it’s a public health crisis of epidemic proportions,” she added.

A 2018 report issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that suicide is indeed an epidemic.

Despite the statistics, John Urso believes that, overall, efforts by the mental health community and organizations like Kevin’s Song have helped to lessen the stigma surrounding the discussion of suicide.

“It’s a reflection of how far we’ve come by saying it was a death by suicide. We don’t use the term that the person committed suicide because it seems to add a criminal dimension to it,” John Urso said. “The other thing you don’t say to a person, especially to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, is that suicide is preventable. In my mind that immediately triggers guilt for not being able to prevent it.”

An expert in family law, John Urso, an alumnus of Wayne State University Law School, said even after decades of practice, losing Kevin has made him more aware of the emotional toll lawyers often suffer.

“Of all the professions, lawyers have the second highest rate of suicide, right behind dentists. The idea of a balanced life can seem remote for attorneys who have the stressors of their client’s lives and their own to handle,” John Urso said. “It’s important that we support one another. If we see someone who is
depressed, regardless of who they are and what they do, we need to reach out to them or say something to someone who can help.”

After the tragedy of losing their son, the Ursos still believe they are fortunate to have each other and to be able to channel their grief into Kevin’s Song.

“Trauma can be hard on a marriage. John and I have been married for 52 years. Fortunately, we could support each other through Kevin’s Song,” Gail Urso said. “And we know people grieve differently. So, this has helped us to do something positive. We’re helping to save lives.”

To learn more, visit https://kevinssong.org.

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