Local musician, yogi reaches out to other 'suicide victims'

Jeffrey Cohen holds up a photograph of his mother, Donna, who killed herself when he was 12. People who responded to email by Cohen also submitted similar photographs for his video, "Sometimes Angels."

Jeffrey Cohen was only 12 years old when his mother, Donna, committed suicide.

The expected feelings of sadness and guilt followed, but for Cohen, so did difficulties with behavior, academics and substance abuse.

Cohen, now a musician, a yoga instructor and co-owner of Jivamukti Yoga Charleston, "broke the cycle of dysfunction" by embracing music and spirituality that he got from yoga, which he started practicing in 1995.

"Creativity has been one of the gifts of her passing," says Cohen, adding that expressing himself was key to healing.

In March, at age 46, he decided to produce a video for a song, "Sometimes Angels," he wrote a year ago about her and his experience. When he sent out an email asking for other "suicide victims" to submit photos to be a part of the video, which will be released today on YouTube, he was overwhelmed with the responses.

In April, Cohen asked some of the local respondees to come in for video recordings.

"Once we got people into the room, it was clear that people want to talk about suicide," says Cohen. "Short interviews turned into longer ones and it quickly became apparent that we needed to do something more."

That "organic process" from song to video to hearing other stories has inspired him to create a documentary and to submit an application for funding to Sundance.

Among the 25 people who responded to Cohen's email was Rock Hill social worker and former local police officer, Wendy Ann Adams. Her father killed himself by jumping off a bridge on Sept. 21, 2000, in southern New Jersey.

Adams, who is now 45, says for five years after his death, she didn't want to talk about it. Then, "like a volcano," she did. Adams attests for the need for herself and others to be able to talk and says that society needs to break down the taboo surrounding suicide for the sake of the living coping with it.

Being part of the video project, Adams says, will bring survivors together and help them heal.

"The more comfortable we are talking about suicide, the better it will be for those who are dealing with it," she says.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.