By JULIE JOHNSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Alexis Wiffler and her father were best friends.
When the Rohnert Park dad, Randy Wiffler, took up winemaking, 5-year-old Alexis Wiffler helped him crush grapes in their backyard. He put her face on the label.
When he took up landscape painting, Wiffler was in charge of painting the frame.
So when her father hung himself in 2007, 13-year-old Wiffler felt she should have done something to prevent his death.
“I was mad at myself and upset at myself,” said Wiffler, now 17.
More than four years after her father’s suicide, Wiffler will share her experience grieving for her father with people across the world.
Video of her talking about her father will be broadcast Nov. 19 in 20 countries for International Survivors of Suicide Day, a program held by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The Technology High senior said she wants to use what she learned from her grief to reach out to other people, especially teens, who have lost someone to suicide.
“As much as someone says it gets better, you don’t believe them,” Wiffler said. “But it really does.”
Wiffler will be the first teen to participate in the annual event, said Margo Requarth, who runs Sutter Care at Home’s children’s bereavement program.
The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in 1999 declaring the third Saturday of November as International Survivors of Suicide Day. The effort was led by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., whose father died of suicide.
Requarth met Wiffler about a month after her father died when the adolescent joined a weekly bereavement group for teens.
“Every week that’s what I looked forward to,” Wiffler said. “I could cry if I wanted. I could tell stories about my dad. Everyone there was interested.”
It was a place where people understood why Wiffler didn’t want to play hangman with her friends. She knew members of the group would understand how horrible it felt to walk into a classroom with a noose hanging in the middle of the room. The teacher had intended the prop to spark discussion about the suicide of a character in a novel.
“There are a lot of little hurts,” Requarth said.
Requarth said Wiffler told the group about trying to explain to her teacher why she left the classroom as soon as she saw the noose.
“She has a lot of presence about her,” Requarth said. “She’s bright as heck. She has a lot of courage.”
Wiffler said the group taught her how ask questions and listen. And she’s put what she’s learned to work when other classmates have lost loved ones.
It helps that Wiffler isn’t exactly a wallflower.
She’s overcome a stutter that caused her to stumble over tricky words like “that” and has been the president of Tech High’s speech team since she was a sophomore.
She’s logged 35 hours flying a single-engine Cessna 172 at the Sonoma County Airport.
About a year after her father died, a fellow ninth grader lost his father. She sent him a message through Facebook.
The next day the fellow asked if they could talk at lunch.
“He was a quiet person. Talking wasn’t something he was really used to,” Wiffler said. “It was nice that I had been in therapy so I knew how to get someone to talk. I learned how much I can actually help someone.”
You can watch the International Survivors of Suicide Day broadcast at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at Sutter VNA & Hospice, 1110 North Dutton Ave., Santa Rosa. For more information, contact Requarth at 535-5785.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Birthplace: Santa Rosa
Lives with: Her mother Karen Petit and a cockapoo named Scruffy
What’s in her iPod: Rise Against
Favorite hobby: flying, basketball, running
Dream job: Theoretical physicist
Favorite TV show: “Say Yes to the Dress”
Favorite food: Pizza
Quote: “Above the clouds, the sun shines.” – her father Randy Wiffler.