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My daughter's husband killed himself after years of severe
depression. They have 2 kids, 10 and 7. I would like some advice from
people who have had experience with this sort of thing. I have so many
questions. Should I be concerned with the 10 year old not grieving
outwardly and the 7 year old crying all the time? What's too much help
for my daughter? How to help her through this horrible period? Their
house is getting foreclosed upon (even before this). Should they move
NOW or later? Is it healthy to stay in the house or better to move
out? I have rescheduled my whole life so I can be available to her +
kids 24/7, but I am only on call so far. She honestly has not used me
that much. (She has chosen to be closer to her husband's family
because she knows I never approved of her husband and the way he
treated her and what he put her through, especially the last few
years). It's very complicated. Any suggestions/advice etc. would be
appreciated. Frankness and bluntness is no problem. I prefer that.
this is horrible--there are so many things to deal with that
are incredibly hard. supporting your daughter through this
is of course crucial, so that the kids can feel as secure as
possible that she will be there for them. my father did the
same when i was almost 10 and my brother was 8, so i have some
perspective here, and i remember missing him terribly but feeling
secure that my mother was going to be there to help us handle it.
there are several things about suicide in particular that hit--
sometimes the parents of the suiciding parent will blame the
other parent (everyone is full of anger in these situations as
it is so horribly painful), if that happens try to keep the kids
shielded from it, people will eventually (hopefully) come around.
losing a parent suddenly is traumatic--everything is ''normal''
and then irrevocably changed--this can happen to everyone,
car accidents or other things, but doesn't happen to most people,
but for a child they now know that something terrible can happen
at a drop of a hat even in a normal situation. this will linger.
it took about 10 years until i could think about it without
horrible sadness. if there is a memorial tradition in the
family, it should be kept up, in mine (jewish) my mother, brother
and i would say the mourner's prayer together every week and
look at my father's picture. but i didn't konw it was a suicide
then, not for many years. once i found out i was incredibly
angry and i still am even though i know that he felt so much
pain and desperation that he could think of no other way. the
kids should know (if they know it was a suicide) that suicide is
an illness symptom, not anger at them, and that they couldn't
stop him. they might blame themselves for not figuring it out
and stopping him. 10 is old enough to do that.
as they get older they will want to know more about their father
at different stages as they will be ready to relate to him
differently, even though he is no longer there. if you can
remember anything about what he said about them, what he
wanted for them, etc., write it down now, so you can tell them
then. they will probably want memories of him, if they can
forgive him. especially, as fathers are often the source of
approval, things that he was proud of them for. your memories of
him are an incredible treasure for them now. take care.
hang in there
You could say that you would like to be able to be there for her,
and connect with her, and the kids. Maybe something about not
putting thoughts/energy into how she viewed you/your relationship
with the father in the past, but just wanting to focus on the
present, and nurturing the relationships that currently exist.
offer to go to some sort of therapy with her. or pay for it for
her, or for her and the kids. ask if it would be nice to have
dinner at your house a couple of times a month. ask if she needs
space. if it would be nice for her if you had the kids for dinner
a couple times a month, or once a week. i think it is important
to be there, and suggest things, and let her know that you want
to connect and know how to be a support, but not to suffocate her
with your 'need' to help....i hope this is helpful, it sounds so
i write as a
fatherless daughter, a mother, and as a person who mourns. first
of all, don't let fear of the emotional history/baggage between
the two of you become a barrier. more than ever, your daughter
needs the unconditional Love and support from those around her,
especially her mother. be loving, BE Love. now is the time to let
go of your fear, pride/ego and past hurts, and heal your
relationship. forgiveness paves the path to healing. in your
heart, forgive her for her life-choices that she made without
your approval that somehow wronged you and you must forgive her
husband for ''what he put her through'', and she in turn will come
to forgive you for your judgemental disapproval, past slights,
and your lack of unconditional love. whatever you may have
thought of him, your daughter and her children LOVE him. is it
any surprise that they ''choose'' to be close to his family who can
share in that Love, can share in their mutual sorrow, and cherish
memories of him? it is not really even a ''choice'' of his family
over you, it really is not about you at all. by even thinking of
it as a choice, you show that you have closed off your heart and
mind to him and by extension her & the children. you made it into
a choice, and in doing so, you made that choice for her. feeling
hurt or excluded because she is close to his family is about your
ego and projecting your needs onto her life, and only pushes her
further away. love is infinite. she can be close to his family
and close to you, if only you allow it. whatever you may have
thought of him, he suffered an unfathomable mental illness one
that drove him to end his own life. lingering on your perceptions
of the past, on ''how he treated her,'' your bias against him, is
not constructive, is not loving, and will only serve to distance
you from your daughter and your grandchildren, who are after all,
a part of him. if you can forgive him, let go of your need to
''approve'', and pray that his spirit is now mended, that he is
free from the suffering & torment that drove him to take his own
life, and open yourself to sympathy for him, then you can be
present in unconditional Love with your daughter. while you may
never understand or feel the depth of her loss & sorrow, you can
still feel hurt for her and be empathetic and be a part of her
life and her healing journey. you have that choice to make.
second, when people are grieving, many friends make offers of
''call if you need anything''. rarely does the bereaved person
call; they don't want to impose or be a burden. they are mired in
their grief and don't have the wherewithall to realize they need
help, much less ask for it. it's much better to offer some
concrete acts of kindness and create space for an opening or
opportunity to share. if someone says, ''i'm going to stop by
tonight at 5pm with dinner. i can stay if you need to talk, but
don't feel pressured.'' or, ''i'm free to come on thursday from
2-4pm to clean your bathroom, do laundry, etc. will that work for
you?'' or, ''let me take the kids to a movie on saturday'' then
arrange for someone else to be with the person during that time
so they're not alone. most people want to be helpful, but just
don't know how to go about it. someone who is going through
tragedy or even a new mom or a sick friend hates the idea of
being a burden. they don't want to make any decisions.
as their house is being foreclosed, she is likely struggling
financially which is stressful on top of dealing with her grief
and being a parent. if you are not able to help them financially
or she is unwilling to accept that help, buy them groceries, that
is one practical way to ease her stress. there are no hard & fast
should and should nots in the tangled emotional issues
surrounding their foreclosure situation. rather than offer advice
either way, you could try facilitating her decisionmaking by
asking her open-ended questions instead. trust her to make the
best decisions for herself and her family.
third, grief has no language & children in particular donít
innately have the tools or means to articulate their own grief.
as adults, we need to guide them & give them safe spaces to share
their feelings. with their father suffering mental illness you
want to give them better tools for emotional health.
you donít mention gender & that can also impact the way children
express/repress sadness. girls in particular may emulate their
mother. children should be allowed to witness their parent &
elders grieving & crying, so that they can feel free and safe to
be present in their own emotions & to share their own sorrow as
well. for a boy, encourage him to express his emotions & to cry
when he feels sad because social pressure on males to repress
emotions played a role in their fatherís depression. donít
underestimate the value of touch. just being held while you are
sad is healing.
you could trying giving the children a cathartic ritual to
creatively express their grief. they could write a letter to
their father. you could then make a copy of the letter (saving
one copy for for them to revisit & reflect on) & give them the
choice of how they would like to send it to their loved one; the
child chooses the element that speaks to their own spiritóvia the
ocean, on the tail of a kite, in a small bonfire, left under a
rock or in a tree, at the gravesite, or read out loud in a
prayer. if the child is not able to articulate their grief, they
could also create something by hand with whatever medium feels
comfortable. even for an adult, this little ritual helps to give
closure to the raw emotions that the healing may begin.
know that grief is a profound emotion that cannot be denied, it
leaves a palpable mark on oneís souls. they will live with this
loss for their whole lifetimes. your daughter & grandchildren
will always feel their loss, every day, every moment, at all
lifeís rites of passage & meaningful events, they will taste the
bittersweet, even as they may also partake in lifeís joys. tears
of joy & tears of sorrow will be one and the same. there is no
contradiction in that. patiently listen to their expressions of
grief without judgement or hurry, hold the space for them, hold
them, offer them the love and security that they may reflect on
their sorrow and move forward in their life.
don't let fear stay your hand or bind your tongue. pause,
breathe, open your inner eye, listen to your heart (not your ego)
& be love.
I highly reccomend a group -
Circle of care - for your daughter
and her kids & you if you are interested. If your daughter does
not want to attend, offer to take the kids for her. Its
wonderful, especially for kids who have had a parent die of
suicide (can be extremely isolating). Sliding scale/no fee if
the family cannot pay. Located in Oaklad. 531-7551. Children's
grief looks very different than adult grief. Check out dougy.org
(the Dougy Center of Portland Or) for more info.
I would do two things: work hard to learn about suicide and make
a bridge of support to your daughter and her children (bearing in
mind that this may not have effect right away). Excellent books
are When Darkness Falls: Understanding Suicide (technical but
brilliant) and My Son, My Son (empathic). At least read one
through, because the patterns and tunnel vision of those with
clinical depression are unique and worth knowing.
Forsuicidesurvivors.com has a resource and booklist for spouses,
parents and children. The Association of Suicidology is national
and has groups in North Oakland, Walnut Creek and San Rafael.
is an email for parents surviving suicide & has online support
groups. After losing my best friend in graduate school, I found
the parents surviving suicide support group to be most helpful,
as they took me in, were extremely kind, & do a lot in the
community to help with response and legislation. It was
empowering to look at how to make it easier for other families.
For now, soak in knowledge but know on some level it won't make
sense. You may continue to feel helpless, because it brings that
out in people. It's a terrible time for her. Be humble and open.
Put any judgment or competitive feelings (with the inlaws) aside
if they exist. Apologize for the past. Emphasize your love for
her and her children. (Btw, the oldest child may be in shock or
have complicated grief and may not be able to cry). I wouldn't
ask 'what's too much help', because this is one of the worst
things a person can go through. But she has to let you in, so get
support and advice there on how to approach and hopefully improve
your relationship with her. Not knowing details about the house,
how much time she has, how recent this is, how close you live to
each other, you may need to help line up a place to go and be
there during a move to protect her things. I had to move just
after the death on my own and was robbed. Just make sure she has
a good team around her. I'm very sorry for this loss. Please
understand that if this is very recent, things may change as you
may all still be in some degree of shock, which can last for
months. I'm happy to provide other resources. You can contact the
moderator for my email. Finally, don't put your entire life on
hold; continue to take care of yourself.
My husband and I both have a family history of depression and
suicide. My older brother (age 19), my husband's mother (age
42), and my grandfather--long before I was born--(50-ish?) all
took their own lives. Our daughters, ages 6 and 10, don't know
about this yet. They have asked questions from time to time
about my brother's death (they have seen his pictures) and my
husband's mother (they love his father's current wife, their
Grandma). So far, we have only explained that they died from
illness, and didn't go any further than that. How and when do we
explain suicide to our daughters? I should mention that our
daughters are both adopted, so our family's mental illness is not
part of their health history. Our 10-year-old daughter in
particularly is extremely sensitive, and doesn't like to hear sad
and painful stories. But we don't want to keep ''secrets'' (my own
family did that when my brother died, telling lies--and asking us
to tell lies--about his death to all our close relatives and
friends, including many of my siblings who did not find out for
years). My grandfather's suicide was always a secret, and would
have remained a secret -- until one of my siblings found a death
certificate with suspicious language. What do you think -- when
is the right time, and how to talk about it?
--Still grieving after 35 years
Your answer so far has been very good and honest. Maybe the next
time the topic comes up, you could expand the term ''illness'' to
''mental illness''. Even if your children are adopted, it is still
good for them to learn about symptoms of mental illness and to
know that it is really a physical brain disorder that can be
Advocate for brain disorders
The archive on this topic was interesting to read. When my son
asked how my mother died, I always said she had been ill. But
when he was about 10 or 11 and asked me, I felt he was mature
enough to know the truth and I told him. He was shocked but we
discussed it and I told him he could and should ask me anything
he wanted to know. Since the relatives you mention died awhile
ago, I think it is alright to not tell them the truth until you
think they are mature enough to handle it. Your sensitive 10
year old may not be ready for it yet. I don't consider that
lying but rather, using your good judgment as a parent. When it
feels appropriate, probably by age 12 or 13, then tell your
oldest. My son asked me why I had lied to him before and I
explained However, if someone in your children's daily lives
just committed suicide, then it might be different. You must
ask yourself: why do they need to know NOW when they might not
be ready for it as opposed to a few years later? What is gained
by telling them before they are ready? Only you can answer that
and my sense from your posting is that it's just not crucial at
My father committed suicide when I was 2. His father had also
apparently committed suicide (though the family said it was
accidental). My mom probably could have done a little better
about explaining it to us, but just let her bitterness come out
instead. Now I am the mother of a 4 year old son. He asks me
about who my father is, and wants to know where he is. We have
told him that my father died from being sick...which is true,
depression killed my father. I think that is a fine explanation
of a suicide death until the child is MUCH older to truly
understand the complexity involved.
I am so sorry for the losses you have suffered. I have not been
through something similar but when my children have asked about
family history I didn't think they were ready to hear ( for
example my son asked me at age 11 if I had ever had an abortion,
which I have but was not ready to tell him about) I've said
something like '' some things are very personal and I don't feel
it's the right time to talk about this. I'm not keeping a secret
from you I'm just using my best judgement about when it makes
sense to share certain things with you.'' I also let him know he
could ask me about anything and I wouldn't lie but I might choose
not to answer. I wonder if you could use a similar approach. Let
them know for example, ''they died due to mental illness, it was
very sad and when we feel you are ready we can talk about it
more'', that way there is no lying involved but you are protecting
your sensitive children from something they are not ready to
handle. I feel certain you will know when the right time to talk
about it more is.
so sorry for your loss
I don't have personal experience with suicide, but I found
myself reflecting on your question a lot, especially since I've
noticed my own discomfort in explaining it to my own 7 year old
son when it comes up in movies, etc.
This is fitting for me; hope it helps you:
Offering a reason with accompanied solution along with the
explantion, thereby leaving hope. For example, ''Your grandpa
took his own life, because back then they didn't know that they
could ask for help/talk to someone/etc when they were sad''
or ''...because they didn't grow up in a home like ours where
feelings are talked about and respected''....
My children's (12 1/2, 16) dad recently committed suicide as a result
of bipolar illness (manic-depression.) Do I tell them he committed
suicide? Do I tell them how he did it? Right now they just know he died
and the medical examiner is determining cause of death.
Now they're at greater risk of suicide -- what do I do about that?
Thanks for your advice.
Call the Alameda County Suicide Prevention Hotline at 510.849.2212
and have them refer you to a Suicide Survivors Support Group
Counselor asap. These people are wonderful and know their stuff. They
have a 10 week group that is the most incredible resource.
My father killed himself when I was 29, 3 years ago. I did the above
support group within 3 months of his death. Our group has been
meeting once a month on our own now for 3 years and it's become much
less informal, but we're a great souce of support for one another.
We've seen us all go from being completely heartbroken to putting our
lives back together and laughing and smiling.
I also would insist that you (and your children depending on what the
above counselors advise) do EMDR therapy asap. This is Eye Movement
Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy and it succeeds in taking
the charge off of traumatic memories and images such that your life
isn't permanently disabled by them. The best such therapist in this
area is Harriet Sage, LCSW at 510.527.6100. She's a certified trainer
of this method and an excellent therapist. You can also get other
referrals to therapists from www.emdr.org and calling the number
listed, but Harriet's great and will be able to refer you so call her
Your kids do not have to be at risk for suicide. They will need to
understand it and get access to the tools to be sure they can live
their lives in a much healthier manner than their father was able to.
My mother and 2 of my 3 sisters and I have all done a combination of
support group and EMDR therapy and we're all in a much better place
now. Our lives are forever changed, but not in a hopeless way. We are
all stronger than we've ever been and deeper people than we've ever
You will get through this. Surround yourself with the safe resources
above as quickly as you can. Be VERY gentle with yourself and your
family. And please write back to say how things are going.
To the parent asking about whether to explain their
father's recent suicide to children. Probably the best
idea would be to get some professional advice on this,
and exactly how they will handle it depends on the
children and what their relationship with their dad was like.
There is a book called "After Suicide" by Hewett, which
has a chapter on talking to children about suicide.
The book says that you will have to talk to them about
suicide, one way or another, and I think that's probably
My experience with this is having lost a brother to
suicide about 11 years ago. He had a daughter who was
under a year at the time, and I believe my sister-in-law
told her when she was 8 or 9 years old. (Prior to that
she simply said that he had died and was vague about
specifics.) I plan to do the same with my own children
who are still very young. I can't imagine that you can avoid
telling your children about this (including the "how",
if they ask), given their ages (12 1/2 and 16).
My sympathies to you and your children in this painful time.
My niece is doing quite well, by the way -- she has plenty
of friends and is doing well in school.
I'm so sorry - that is so sad for your children. At 12 and 16,
they are old enough to be told what happened, and they should be
told. They may suspect it anyway if their father was often
unhappy in the past, and it may hurt them to find out later that
you weren't fully honest with them. They may be curious about
how it happened and I think if they ask you should tell them in
as gently a way as possible. They may need some help coming to
terms with their father's death. My father died when I was a
teenager and even though I knew I wasn't directly responsible,
for a long time I felt terrible that I hadn't done enough for
him, hadn't loved him enough, if only I had been a better
daughter... It's hard for children not to feel that they are
somehow to blame when a parent dies.
When my son was 6, my ex attempted--and nearly succeeded at--suicide due
to depression. I had shielded my son from her mental illness struggles
prior to that time, but I decided at that point to give as much
information as I could. Essentially, I used the opportunity to really
talk about mental illness. I think this is crucial for a bunch of
reasons. First, it's very important to dispell any impression a kid
might have that he or she was responsible for the adult's actions.
Section, as you so rightly pointed out, it is critical to inform the
child of his or her own vulnerability in this area and equip them as
much as possible with information about how to take care of themselves
and how to get help. Take the shame out of if as much as you can--if
your kid's dad had died of heart disease, wouldn't you want to teach
them preventative care? Good luck.
There is a number for suicide prevention - crisis support services -
(510) 849-2212 - emergency line or business line - (510) 848-1515. They
and individual sessions and can answer and give support for families.
This is a very difficult situation. Whether or not to tell your kids
the cause of death would probably depend on a number of things,
emotional development, personal history (have there been other traumatic
One problem with not telling them is that they may hear it from some
unwitting family member or friend down the line. Telling them now in
these formative years could influence them to think they are like their
father in this regard and pre-dispose them to similar problems. It's
also common for kids to think *they* are the cause of a parent's
death. I wouldn't leave this decision to my feelings or intuitions.
I'd definitely find a competent therapist who specializes in working
with teens and discuss it with that person. (An aside: My experience
is that finding a good therapist that can help you -- with whatever
issue -- is not an easy task. It takes time and research and also your
meeting with a few of them to get a sense of how you would work
together. This costs money, but is well worth the investment.
Therapists have strengths and weaknesses and should not be thought of as
necessarily "equal" in their ability to help people.) I wish you
I am so sorry for your loss. How hard that must be for you to bear.
My strong thought for your situation would be that you really need expert
support here--get your family into therapy very soon. Just consider
it grief counseling. I couldn't begin to suggest what to tell your kids
about such an important, personal subject without knowing more about the
details and your kids. All the best to you.
To the mother of the children whose father committed suicide, first of
all, my condolences. My children's (about the same ages as yours)
father made an unsuccessful attempt a few years ago. He, too, suffers
from bi-polar disorder. He subsequently told the kids about the
attempt. I've often wondered how I would have talked with them if his
attempt had been successful.
This past summer, my younger son's soccer coach (father of 3 children)
committed suicide. A group called PediatriCare provided a (free)
grief-counseling group for the boys on the team (many of whom were also
classmates); and I understand they also provide other services. The
kids who attended the session (it was kids only) felt it was very
helpful. Their phone number is (510) 531-7551. The address is 2540
Charleston Street, Oakland, CA 94602.
Dear X: I think it's important for your children to know the truth about
their father's suicide. Even though it can be really painful to talk
about, they deserve to understand what happened and why. It's not easy
to explain suicide to young people, but I think it's important to try
your best to be honest with them. I think it's sufficient to tell them
that he committed suicide without going into the details of how he did
it. That level of information is only appropriate if they indicate that
they are ready/want to hear it.
Ten years ago, my brother committed suicide at age 35. At the time, I
told my son, who was 4 years old, that his uncle had died in a car
accident (in fact, he drove off a cliff). The topic of my brother's
death continued to come up over the years. When my son was about 10, I
gave him more specific information telling him that his uncle committed
suicide as a way of seeking relief from desperate emotional pain for
which he had been unable to find any other solution. More recently, a
woman friend of mine who was terminally ill committed suicide by
overdosing on sleeping pills. Her ex-husband decided not to tell their
children (ages 12 and 17) because he thought they would feel that their
mother had abandoned them. The children knew she was dying, but her
death was oddly sudden all the same. What remains in that family, two
years later, is the sense of a secret in the closet. It's my belief that
the denial of what happened (ostensibly to protect the children) will
return to haunt those kids over and over.
There have been others close to my son who have died: of cancer, asthma,
old age, and by murder. On each occasion, I tell him in an
age-appropriate manner what happened and then we find ways to honor the
memories and spirits of the dead. Suicide is, sadly, a common response
to chronic mental illness. As a society, we are primitives in dealing
with this issue. Shame and stigma are still attached to anyone who
suffers from emotional or mental imbalances. I think it would be really
important to remind your children that their father's death is not about
them, but a result of his own internal anguish. Allowing them to know
what really happened and then giving them time and space to grieve (in
all its stages) will probably be the best antidote to any risk category
this might place them in.
I wish you courage and strength however you handle this situation.
re suicide of husband. First, my sincere condolences at this tragic
loss. I am a nurse who worked in Psychiatry for many years at
Langley-Porter, UCSF My first recommendation is to find a therapist who
can work with you and the children individually and as a family. The
decision to reveal the circumstances of his death is one that should be
made by you with the help and guidance of the therapist. The timing is
an issue and exactly how much you want to share. Sometimes this happens
in stages as the children want and need more information. You will all
need support through this process...the greiving and other feelings such
as guilt and anger that will naturally come up. Bipolar disorder is a
difficult and high risk illness and you are not alone in dealing with
the wake of this heartbreaking disease. Know that it is a disease and
what happened was not your fault nor is there anything you could have
done to change things. I wish you well in your recovery and in moving
ahead with your life.
Tell your kids the truth. They will find out eventually and you will
lose their trust if you haven't told them the truth. Every time I hear
of suicide on TV on in the newspapers I tell my kids that they are not
allowed to kill themselves. I tell them to get help from an adult they
trust or that I will pay a therapist.
As someone whose mother committed suicide when I was 11, I think it is
important to tell children the cause of death upfront. My father waited
years to tell me and my sister, and that increased the stigma for us. As
for the how, I would tell them if they ask, but wait until they do.
Probably just hearing that their father killed himself will be plenty to
take in at once.
As for your children being more at risk to kill themselves, it is my
firm belief that the risk is intensified by the level of secrecy and
shame. So the more you can talk about the situation honestly, the less
they will have to wonder about themselves. Also get them some therapy
now.....that will help alot. I haven't seen the research but I bet that
once children of suicides have children themselves, the risk of their
committing suicide goes way down...they know how awful it is for the
survivors. There are some good books about children and traumatic
deaths....the main point, and this is reinforced by my experience, is
that the shame and guilt of the surviving adults makes the death far
more traumatic. One last thing: Because my mother killed herself, people
were uptight about talking about her. So her death defined her life.
None of the adults in my life ever helped me to understand her life, and
what would lead her to take it. So try, in your pain, to remember their
father by more than his last act.
My heart goes out to you and your children. I wish I had more to
contribute to help you. The main thing I want to say is that
illnesses like Bipolar Disorder are frequently fatal, just the same way
that other "physical" illnesses like cancer are. People sometimes think
that mental illnesses are less valid, or think that since they are "just
in the mind" that they shouldn't be taken seriously. But those illnesses
kill people just as surely as cancer does.
As far as your children being at increased risk, there is still alot
unknown about how heredity works with Bipolar Disorder. Most family
members never develop any form of the illness. Your children's best
bet is to educate themselves about the illness, and for other family
members to be vigilant about noticing any early symptoms. There is much
new research being done in this area, and it is really possible that in
the next few years there could be new treatments that are more effective.
The best way to keep up with these issues might be through NAMI, a grassroots
organization devoted to mental health, they have a website at
http://www.nami.org/. My best wishes are with you.
My son's father committed suicide (as the result of manic depression)
when my son was 20 months old. I got professional advice and ended
up writing about that incorporated our experience. The main advice
is tell the truth! Tell them in age-appropriate terms, in ways you can
add to later. If you don't tell them now, someone will tell them later,
and they'll feel you betrayed them by not being forthright. Your kids are
old enough to understand death and mental disease, and I would be frank.
My son was so young that I've had to really start slowly, at his level,
but from the beginning he knew that daddy's "body doesn't work
anymore," that daddy won't come back, that some people die from
accidents, some from illness, that illness can be of the body or of
the mind, that daddy had an illness that made his mind unable to
function normally. His illness made him feel that suicide was a way
to deal with his problems, but that it is NOT a normal, proper way.
Not talking about death - esp. suicide - is a sure way to induce
guilt and shame. And sooner or later someone else will tell your kids,
and they'll be vulnerable and surprised, may even deny the statement about
their dad, which will possibly lead to taunting and teasing. My goal has
been to make daddy's suicide another fact of our life. If someone brings it
up to my kid, he can say, "I know," without generating any teasing. In fact,
my son at 8, sometimes brings it up himself, matter-of-factly. Of course, he
didn't know his dad well, doesn't remember him, doesn't remember the trauma
at the time. Your kids have more attachment. I definitely recommend all of
you getting some therapy, and the suicide survivors group thru Berkeley
hot line is really good. I was also told to let my grief show, to admit that
this was traumatic, because my kid would feel that something was wrong anyway,
and to deny it would only confuse him. But I had to save my "falling apart"
for times away from him. He needed (still does) to know that I am
basically ok, that we will survive, that I can handle life from here on out.
His very existence depends on that! I would be more than happy to talk to you
in person/on phone. This is very difficult, I know. Talking helps. Call
My sister committed suicide just before my first child was born, so I
have thought about this question a lot. My daughter is only three, so now is
not the right time, but there will come a time that is right and I made a
commitment to be honest about it because there is a good deal of denial
in my family about depression. Presently, she knows she had an aunt that
is in many family pictures who died at age 28 because she was sick. Curiously
enough, my daughter is very interested in death at her age.
There is much good literature available on surviving suicide, and the
county offers grief support groups for people who have had a loved one commit
suicide. You can call the suicide prevention hotline for the number -
its in the book. I recommend the grief groups because suicide is such a
unique and devastating loss. Churches also offer grief counselling groups.
There might be something you could attend as a family. Ultimately your kids
will want to know how their father died, and the truth is the best policy.
this page was last updated: Nov 22, 2008
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