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A weeklong series on WCBU's All Things Peoria, focused on mental and behavioral health in Greater Peoria. Airing July 11-14, 2022.

Suicide loss survivor shares her brother's legacy, and how losing him impacted her life

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Beth Martinez
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Ben Bloom (left) with his sister Beth Martinez in 2016. This was the last photo taken of Bloom four days before his death.

CONTENT WARNING: Some readers and listeners may find parts of this story about suicide distressing or difficult.

Ben Bloom was originally from Washington, Illinois. He spent years working in mining in Colorado, and working various other jobs.

Bloom also battled mental health issues for many years. He took his own life almost six years ago. He was 37 years old.

Towards the end of his life, he moved back to Illinois to be closer to family. His sister, Beth Martinez, was one of the people he was closest to.

“He was a fiercely loyal friend who had the same group of buddies from grade school until his death. He loved music, concerts, festivals. He was very very funny,” Martinez said.

Suicide took more than 45,000 lives in 2020, according to Suicide Awareness Voice of Education.

Martinez said one of her favorite memories with her brother was when she and him waited in line with her kids to get their faces painted years ago.

“He sat down in the chair, pulled up his sleeve and asked the face painter if she could do a carrot doing a chin up on his barbed wire tattoo. She looked at him like he was crazy, but she did it. He was always silly that way,” Martinez said.

Martinez said Bloom tried to find mental health support while living in Colorado, but he never was able to find the support he needed. He had seen a therapist and had been on various medications.

Once Bloom moved back to Illinois, he refused help. She said she was persistent about finding help for him leading up to his death, including reaching out to people she knew that worked in mental health and taking him to the hospital.

Their last conversation was one of these times.

“He was not in Peoria County where I could call emergency response services and have them go and help with his mental health. There’s nothing like that in Woodford County, which is where he was. So, then, your option is ‘do you call the police and tell them that your unstable, mentally ill family member has a bunch of guns that they’re threatening to use?’ How’s that situation going to turn out? Maybe okay. Maybe terrible,” Martinez said. “You don’t have a lot of good options as a family member of someone who is an adult and just doesn’t want to get help.”

Martinez said having a good outcome when battling mental health depends on continuing to take prescribed medication. Without this consistency, it’s easy for people facing mental health challenges to experience heightened symptoms and be in danger.

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Beth Martinez
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Ben Bloom was a Washington, Illinois native.

Bloom openly communicated with her about his eventual plans to end his life.

“I think he felt like it was the next logical step. Life wasn’t working out for him, like, if you’ve ever tried a hobby or something where you’re like, ‘I think I’m going to take a painting class,’ and you take it and you’re like ‘I tried but I’m terrible at painting and I just don’t like it. I’m going to quit.’ That was how he was but with life,” Martinez said.

Martinez said Bloom was at a point in his life where he simply did not see an alternative solution even when she tried to find help for him.

“I don’t think it was so much that he wanted to die as that he just did not want to be alive any longer. He definitely did not actually want to kill himself, but he just didn’t want to be alive, and there weren’t other methods,” Martinez said.

Martinez said her relationship with her brother was strong, and he often talked to her about what he was feeling and experiencing.

“He was a good person. He was more than how he died, and I think that’s important for people who have lost someone to suicide to keep in mind. A lot of times when someone dies by suicide, that’s their legacy. The reason that I talk about this stuff is because I want his life to have meant more than ruining our lives. I want people who are struggling and their families to feel less alone, and I want people to know that they can have a better outcome, but they have to get the help."
Beth Martinez, suicide loss survivor

“I am in a pretty unique position of people whose loved one has died by suicide in that I really had the opportunity to say everything I wanted to say. To ask everything I wanted to ask. I mean we talked through it. I know what he thought because he told me, and he knows what I thought,” Martinez said.

Since Bloom’s death in 2016, Martinez has openly spoke about who were brother was and the impact he made on her life.

“He was a good person. He was more than how he died, and I think that’s important for people who have lost someone to suicide to keep in mind,” Martinez said. “A lot of times when someone dies by suicide, that’s their legacy. The reason that I talk about this stuff is because I want his life to have meant more than ruining our lives. I want people who are struggling and their families to feel less alone, and I want people to know that they can have a better outcome, but they have to get the help.”

After Bloom died, Martinez said she was “laser focused on coming through this.” She immediately joined suicide loss support groups, went to personal therapy, and processed the loss of her brother.

She said the loss is no longer something she is actively processing or grieving, but it is an aspect of her life that will forever impact her.

“So, it was important for me to not let this ruin my life even though my life is forever affected by it. It was important for me to be okay, I guess, and I am. Even though I’m tearful now, I’m not tearful in my everyday life. I talk about him and think about him and remember the person that he was and the times that we had,” Martinez said.

Martinez has also shared writings on her Facebook page about her experience of losing Bloom.

“Here's how I envision myself, as a suicide loss survivor. I imagine my body as terribly scarred, as though I'd been in an explosion or had acid thrown on me, but all the scars are covered by my street clothes. If you pass me on the street, if you have a conversation at the cash register with me, you won't notice that I am, in fact, horribly disfigured. This is what suicide loss feels like. The scars don't hurt every day, but they are there, constantly. I know they are there. Even when they don't hurt, I can feel them as I go through my day,” Martinez said in a 2019 Facebook post.

Martinez said a loved one taking their own life is an experience one cannot prepare for, no matter how much they brace themselves for the possibility when battling mental health.

Martinez said everyone in the family was impacted differently by Bloom’s death, but her decision to be open about what happened and talk about suicide has connected her to others who are suicide loss survivors. She said talking to others who are in a similar position is important and has helped her.

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Beth Martinez
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Beth Martinez (left) pictured with her husband, Jami Martinez, and their two children.

“I think I am the only person that a lot of people know who openly talks about suicide and suicide loss and mental health challenges and what it’s like. People do come to me and say, ‘hey my daughter in law’s sister is struggling, and can you talk to her?’ I think it’s important to have that person and be that person even though it’s hard,” Martinez said.

Martinez continued, “You don’t stop having the loss, but it can stop being like the center of your focus. It doesn’t stop being hard, but it stops being something that you notice you’re carrying all the time. It’s still heavy, but you’re used to it. It’s extremely hard for me to be the only surviving child. It’s just difficult.”

Regret often follows suicide loss, and according to Martinez, many people that were in Bloom’s life said they felt like they should have done more after his passing. But Martinez said it’s important for people who have lost a loved one to suicide to not blame themselves for the death and to learn to forgive themselves.

“The truth of the matter is only Ben could have prevented this. This was a decision that he made, and it was his life. It was his decision to make even though I think it was a bad decision. I don’t agree with it. I told him I didn’t agree with it. It was his to make,” Martinez said.

Martinez said it’s important for people who have a suicidal family member or friend to not just talk to them about what they feel but to truly listen to what they’re going through.

“When you’re talking to someone who has suicidal ideations on an ongoing basis, it’s really difficult on a lot of levels, and it is hard to walk the line of letting them know that you see them and you hear them and you understand that they are in pain, but also wanting them to do something about that pain that’s not end their life."
Beth Martinez, suicide loss survivor

“When you’re talking to someone who has suicidal ideations on an ongoing basis, it’s really difficult on a lot of levels, and it is hard to walk the line of letting them know that you see them and you hear them and you understand that they are in pain, but also wanting them to do something about that pain that’s not end their life,” Martinez said.

Asking bold questions, such as “are you having suicidal thoughts?” is also important. Martinez said this can open a door for honest conversations that can lead to finding help. She said because suicidal people are thinking about suicide 24/7, it’s important to meet them where they are at and listen.

For those who have already lost a loved one to suicide, Martinez said it’s important for them to find help too, such as in person and online support groups, online mentors and personal therapy.

“We don’t honor a relationship that we had with a person by grieving for the rest of our lives. Grief is a journey, yes, and you’re always on the path, but if your person died by suicide, and you decided that your life is also ruined, that is not honoring that person or that relationship, and you can honor them by going forward and finding healing yourself so that their story can be more than ruining your life.”

Suicide hotlines and text lines are not just for people considering killing themselves. People impacted by suicide loss or people that are trying to help someone struggle with their mental health can also access suicide hotlines.

Martinez said for others who are suicidal and facing mental health challenges, she encourages them to be persistent about seeking out help and finding others that will support them on their mental health journey rather than bearing the weight of it alone.

“Regardless of how many people you feel like you have in your life right now, you would be astounded at the people who will be affected by your death. You don’t want that to be your story. That’s the thing I think a lot of people think about when they think about Ben. They don’t think about how he was funny, how he was smart. They don’t laugh at all the stupid things that he did. They think about him as a person who died by suicide, and his story is more than that,” Martinez said.

Martinez said for people reading this story who are struggling, she encourages them to try one more thing: one more doctor, one more hospital visit, one more medication, one more therapist, or one more resource. She said help is out there, and it’s important for people who are hurting to realize their life has value and they are loved.

Help is available for people suffering from a mental health crisis 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK. A trained crisis counselor can also be reached through the Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will be changing to the three digit number 988 beginning Saturday, but the current number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available after 988 is launched.

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Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WCBU. She joined the station in 2021.