After tragedy, one suicide loss survivor devotes decades to helping others

Jane Quercia

For years, I saw the sign for Samaritans’ Helpline on the Sagamore Bridge heading to Cape Cod. I always thought I would be good at volunteering on the Helpline, but life happens and that thought got put on the backburner, as it sometimes does.

Person in gray suit with bowtie smiling
Jane’s Brother, Tommy Abbott

Then I lost my brother Tommy to suicide in 1987. He was going through pain I can’t even begin to understand, and didn’t have the resources to help him through his struggle.

When Tommy died nearly 32 years ago, suicide was even more taboo than it is today. I felt like I had a Scarlet A on my chest for so long – the stigma, the isolation. I went through the emotions common to so many survivors: sadness, guilt, anger. Sometimes people don’t know how to deal with the roller-coaster of emotions and that can be debilitating. I didn’t know what to do with those feelings.

In my search to make any sense of my devastation, I reconnected with a psychiatrist I had seen a decade before. I mentioned that volunteering at Samaritans was one way I thought I could channel my pain. Even though I hadn’t had any prior volunteer experience, I decided to apply to answer calls from people who were lonely, desperate, or struggling.

It’s been 30 years since I made that decision, and I’ve volunteered with Samaritans ever since. First, as a Helpline volunteer, I shifted four hours each week and did an eight-hour overnight shift each month. Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings were always my special shifts. After several years of answering calls, I began homeleading – advising our volunteers during higher risk calls.

In the 90’s, a support group for loss survivors held by Catholic Charities was no longer going to meet. Samaritans realized there would be a gap in services for survivors in the community. Several of us volunteers began facilitating SafePlace groups to meet that need. We met in Davis Square in Somerville but after four or five years we couldn’t use the facility any longer and moved to Grace Episcopal Church in Medford. Samaritans still holds the peer support groups there, along with groups in Boston, Quincy, Needham, Framingham, and Worcester.

Years later, Samaritans recruited a handful of SafePlace volunteers to bring home visits to loss survivors. With that, the Survivor-to-Survivor Network was born. Each time I leave a home visit and a survivor seems to have a bit of their burden lightened, I am reassured that we are doing critical work. Letting people know they have someone to walk with in their pain is so important.

A group of suicide loss survivors walking in white tee shirts wave to the camera during Samaritans 5K in 2017
Jane (center) with Tommy’s Team at the 2017 5K

In 1998, Samaritans’ 5K Run/Walk for Suicide Prevention began and we assembled Tommy’s Team. I’m proud to say we are the only team who has participated in every 5K for 20 years. Eventually, I joined the Samaritans Board of Directors. With a professional background in human resources, I felt I could bring something to the table, and only recently retired from the Board after a 16-year tenure.

The only good thing that has come out of Tommy’s death is my relationship with Samaritans. One of my favorite moments each year is at the Annual Memorial where we gather to celebrate our loved ones’ lives. That event brings people together – as survivors, we can understand each other’s pain and hurt. I often say to other survivors, “I’m so glad you found Samaritans, but I’m so sorry you had a reason to look for us.” I can’t picture my life without the organization. It’s meant the world to me to be able to volunteer my time to help others.

We are so grateful to Jane for her years of service and dedication to Samaritans. Jane’s compassionate and empathetic nature has helped so many people who rely on Samaritans’ programs. We’re fortunate to have her in the Samaritans family.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide and would like to help other loss survivors, please read our volunteer description at to learn more about the requirements for our Grief Support Services volunteers.

If you need to talk, call or text Samaritans Helpline at (877) 870-4673.