Two Platteville residents who have experienced more loss than anyone should have to spoke to the 135th annual Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association in Wisconsin Dells June 15.
Patti and Terry Cullen of Platteville are the parents of Benjamin Cullen, who died of suicide at 27 Nov. 11, 2014. The Cullens host a monthly Survivors of Suicide meeting the second Tuesday of each month at Mound City Bank in Platteville, and started the Ben’s Hope 5K run and 2-mile walk, the second of which will be Sept. 24.
The Cullens spoke about other deaths in their family — Patti’s brother Greg Weigel, who died at 14 in 1981; their nephews Chris Capps, who died at 16 in 1990, and Tom Tennessen, who died at 19 in 1996; and nieces Laura Tennessen, who died at 20 in 2006, and Abby Cullen, who died at 5 in 2009. Abby died from Viral Myocarditis while the other deaths were cycle- or car-related accidents.
The Cullens compared death to a grenade and how its impact hits those closest then trickles outward. Ben’s death left them and their daughters Mandy and Carrie behind, each blindsided and in a position never imagined. The Cullens talked about the aftermath of dealing with the complexity of a suicide and its stigma and how someone move forward from this devastation. They have learned that for every completed suicide, there are 25 attempts. This statistic validates the number of people struggling each and every day, and ignoring it isn’t beneficial to anyone.
Gary Wodka, the WFDA director of education, and Matt Melby of Melby Funeral Home & Crematory in Platteville, facilitated the Cullens’ speech.
The Cullen family has faith that goodness can come even in tragedy and are doing everything to ensure this happens. The Cullens spoke with the Optimist, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs in 2015; and were interviewed with QueenB Radio, The Platteville Journal, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald and UW–Platteville Exponent. In September, they were guest speakers on National Suicide Awareness Day at Southwest Behavior Services in Platteville, participated in the Suicide Awareness Walk in Kaukauna, hosted the first annual Ben’s Hope Suicide Awareness 5K/2mile event Sept. 26 with more than 350 participants.
One month later, they traveled to Marshfield for a ceremony in honor of Ben, whose corneas and tissue were donated. The Cullens spoke at an open forum at UW–Platteville on National Day without Stigma; and worked with Jason Artz from UWP Counseling to prepare a suicide awareness video that can be viewed on Bens-hope.com. They also accepted an invitation from the Madison Lions Eye Bank and spoke at the Coroner/Medical Examiners Conference in Stevens Point.
The Cullen family is gearing up for the second annual Ben’s Hope 5K/2mile event Sept. 24. The Cullens continue to host their monthly free Survivors of Suicide meetings in the Mound City Bank Motor Branch meeting room the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. Attendees share personal stories, laughter, and tears with hopes of healing. Interested participants from SOS will join the Cullens in upcoming speaking engagements with Southwest Health EMS, the Platteville Police Department and a panel discussion at UW–Platteville.
The Cullen family hopes that by sharing these stories, they will educate others and encourage people to open up to have conversations without fear or judgment. Many are struggling, some have attempted suicide, others have or may be contemplating suicide now, and others have been left behind from a loved one taking their life by suicide. They want others struggling in life to know they are not alone and that there is help and others who do care.
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation. Even in the darkest of times, there is always hope. The Cullens ask you to please talk about it. It could save a life of someone you know and love.