by Clara Hinton
Suicide is probably the most traumatic of all child losses. Suicide leaves behind many unanswered questions, as well as many fears. Adults caught up in the tremendous pain of suicide often are not aware of the impact a suicide has on the children who are left behind.
Children need love and extra care when there has been a suicide in the family. Children need someone to talk to them following a death by suicide. If a parent or other family member is unable to talk to the children due to their own consuming grief, find a qualified counselor or clergy person to talk to them to help subdue their anxieties and fears.
A good way to define suicide to children is when someone chooses to make their body stop working. You do not need to go into a detailed, graphic explanation. Please remember to keep your thoughts and explanations to children as age appropriate as you possibly can. Children want to know what happened, but often their young minds take a small piece of information and grow that information into a huge fear. Suicide is very difficult for anyone to understand. It is especially difficult for children to try to understand.
It helps if you can talk about good memories with your remaining children. Suicide is such a traumatic ending to a life that it is easy to get consumed in only the idea that your child chose to end his/her life, instead of remembering the countless moments of fun and happiness you enjoyed while together. Younger children need to hear some positive talk! They will pick up on your emotions of intense grief and sorrow, and often in their young minds, they will only be able to think of this one sad event, rather than the many joyous times spent together as a family.
As parents, you can lead your living children into more healthy thinking by reminiscing happy times. Perhaps you can pull out family photo albums and home videos to remind your children that you indeed did enjoy many wonderful times together. It is important that you do this in order to dispel some of the many myths surrounding suicide.
As difficult as it will be, it is vitally important that you sit down as a family and talk about what happened. When your children hear you talk about the death, you will help diminish their hidden fears. Silence can be very frightening to a young child. Again, I would emphasize that you should be age conscious. Do not talk about specific frightening details to a young child!
Tell your children that suicide is a choice that was a mistake. Explain to them that there are always better choices—there is always a way out of any problem, no matter how impossible it might seem. Hug your children and be sure to tell them how much you love them. Remind them that there is no problem too big that you cannot work it out together.
Suicide causes tremendous fear and insecurity in children. You can help them in this complicated grief by explaining to them that living is always the best choice. Always! Explain to them that sometimes people don’t understand that.
Help your living children to see that you choose to think of your deceased child’s life rather than dwell on the suicide. When your children model your thinking, they will be making that all-important first step on the way to working through the complicated grief associated with suicide.