Losing a family member is one thing, but when it happens by suicide, it’s very different. Someone made a choice to end their life. It causes confusion. There are loose ends everywhere. Here are some ways I have learned to cope with a suicide in our family.
For me and my family personally, it was completely shocking on so many levels. We had just talked to this person — my husband individually and me individually. And we were making plans. She was talking about the future and about visiting. We talked about us possibly eventually visiting her. (She lived in Alaska and the plane ride with a toddler was really daunting to me. Now I regret feeling this way). How could someone who was planning on ending her life be texting happily and seemingly excited about the future?
Her suicide happened in November, and to be honest, we’re still processing the grief. And since grief is one of those things that never goes away, we’ll likely be dealing with this grief for a long time. Especially since there can’t be closure, really. We won’t have closure in the traditional sense where a family member might have died of old age, might have been sick, or even might have died suddenly from a health complication. And, we will never know what was going on in her head. We know she left a note, and that note gave a reason. But it still didn’t make sense to us. It never will.
This isn’t an article about how to get children through understanding what happened. I still am struggling with that, so I can’t advise. But here’s what it’s made me think about as my child grows up.
Make Yourself a No-Judgement Zone to Others
Our family member obviously felt that she couldn’t express feelings of utter sadness and depression with anyone — not even her own sister, whom she was very close with. I don’t ever want my child to think that he can’t come to me with these feelings. And, I also don’t want him to think he has to be happy all the time and that being sad or mad more often means something is wrong with him. I also want him to come to me when he thinks he’s in big trouble, or a hole so deep he can’t get out of, like in this awful situation that happened in 2021.
Invest in Therapy to Cope with Suicide
If you’re not already in therapy to deal with a situation like this, it might be time to find a therapist you vibe with and talk out your feelings. Therapy is more than just talking with someone and venting. Therapists can offer ways to cope with grief and ways to help your kids deal with their grief, as well. They can probably help with ways to help you parent as you deal with your grief. And they can help you be that gentle parent who allows big, challenging feelings to be heard and not buried. Developing these strategies early will help your child run to you in times of struggle in their lives vs running and hiding their problems from you.
Check on Everyone – Even People Who Seem “Fine”
I really can’t get over this one. This family member and I had just texted the week before she ended her life. She talked about how exciting it would be if she moved closer to my husband and I with her partner. We talked about how much fun it would be for me to visit her in her outdoorsy state, and how perfect it would be for my active little boy, who was happy to throw rocks in water and dig with sticks. But I said I couldn’t stomach traveling that far right now at his age. We were making future plans, which is something they say doesn’t happen with people who commit suicide. But she left a note, and it was definitely a suicide. She was not okay and I will always regret not asking her how she was doing. She was the epitome of positivity and strength despite her hard life and I’ll always regret not checking on her more.