If you’ve lost your child to suicide, you’re likely going through an incredibly challenging time. Feelings of guilt, anger, loss, and many other emotions are likely surfacing in you. Among all this, you’re probably also wondering how to talk to your other children, especially if they are younger. What can you say to them to help them understand? What words can you use? What feelings might surface in them once they realize that their brother or sister won’t be coming home again?
Although you might want to lean towards not telling the truth, thinking that it might be easier for your other children to accept, it’s better to explain suicide and tell the entire truth. The following lists a few ways in which to make this conversation easier for your children and for you:
1. Make sure your child is in a safe and comfortable place.
2. Make sure you’re speaking in a nurturing tone, using a soft non-threatening voice. You can also show your support in the conversation by both listening closely and giving your affection when you can. Being a responsive listener can also help to make the conversation comfortable and easier to bear.
3. Be entirely open and honest with your children. By doing so you facilitate their trust in you. Although the news might be hurtful, they will likely appreciate your honesty and openness.
4. Give them time to share their feelings. Be sure to give them enough space to have their initial reaction as well as any way in which their feelings might change even in the middle of the conversation. At first, your children might express sadness and perhaps shortly afterwards, they might be angry. Giving them the space to feel what they need to feel will help them heal.
5. Be sure to let them know that suicide was not their fault. Once children realize that their brother or sister took their own life, they might jump to the conclusion that they are at fault. However, as parents, if you can state right away that this isn’t true, it might help prevent their tendency to believe it.
In fact, children may go through a range of feelings throughout their grieving process. Plus, because suicide is the cause of grief, there might be particularly unique feelings that are different than losing someone due to illness or injury. Other feelings that children might experience after a death due to suicide include:
Abandonment – Children might feel that their brother or sister didn’t love them.
Guilt – Children might feel that the death is their fault or that they should have loved the person more or did more to show their love.
Confusion – They may not understand suicide or why their brother or sister would have done something like this. They might not understand how this could have happened to someone they love.
Fear – They might fear that they might die to or that they are vulnerable to suicide as well.
Anger – They might feel anger towards their brother or sister, at God, or everyone.
Numbness – They might feel an absence of feelings or an inability to feel.
Embarrassment – They might feel embarrassed by the suicide and refuse to go to school or see friends or family.
Worry – They may feel concerned that someone else in their family might also die to suicide.
Denial – They may simply go on with their life and deny that anything happened.
As parents, it’s important to recognize the range of responses that your children might have. And along these lines, you might realize too that these feelings are those that you might experiences as well.
Families who lose a loved one to suicide might want to participate in family therapy to help the entire family heal from the loss. To do this, contact a mental health professional to arrange a consultation and begin your sessions. You might also consider individual therapy and/or couples therapy. It’s important to find the resources that will assist in your healing and the healing of your family.