A year ago today a phone call changed my life. Nate and I had just put four kiddos to bed and were ready to spend the evening relaxing when my uncle called. He asked to speak to Nate and, very quickly, my husband left the room, still on the phone. I heard mumbled conversation and I knew. When Nate stepped back into the living room, I didn’t make him tell me. I simply asked “Did my dad kill himself?” and all Nate could do was nod.
Of course, the first few days were filled with activity. We rushed over to Spokane to help with all the things that needed to be done while Nate’s parents graciously took Caleb to their home. Grief and the realization of loss happens gradually so it was days before I realized that this was not only my reality but was going to be my boys reality. They were going to have to process death and suicide long before I would want them to.
It was about a month after the event that we finally began having the conversation with Caleb that his grandpa had died. How do you explain death to a three year old? The conversations we had to have with him are ones I wouldn’t wish on anyone but we got through it. He’s still too young to understand suicide and mental health issues but someday we’ll have to have those conversations too. It will be hard, but I know we’ll get through that as well.
Maybe you’re in the same boat and, firstly, I want to tell you how unbelievably sorry I am that you are going through this heartache. Losing someone to suicide is different than any other death and only those who have gone through it can even come close to understanding the emotions you are experiencing. I wish I could wrap you up in a huge hug, bring you a mug of tea, and just cry with you. As I’m writing this post, I’m praying for the hearts of each and every one of you that are reading this. You’re reading this post for a reason and, I know all too well, that reason is a nightmare.
I’m a year into grieving and the Lord has worked on my heart in tremendous ways and brought healing I didn’t think was possible. There are still days where I’m sick to my stomach, filled with tears, or riddled with anxiety but I know God’s working, even during those times.
In my processing, I’ve spent a lot of time processing for my children. How will I talk to my boys about such a heart wrenching topic? I’m sure you’re asking yourself the same questions so I’d love to share my thoughts with you. I pray they help!
How to Talk to Kids About Suicide
Keep Things Age Appropriate
We haven’t talked to our boys about suicide yet. I don’t know when we will. Our oldest is four and he is still too young to have that conversation with. He knows his grandpa died and, after processing through that with him, we have begun talking to him about the fact that his grandpa died because his brain was sick. We had been praying for a little boy with brain cancer (who is doing amazing!) so I’m sure Caleb has filed those two sicknesses away in the same category in his own precious brain. Someday, when the boys are older, we’ll be having more conversations about mental health and, eventually, their grandpa’s suicide. When it comes to talking about death, we let Caleb guide the conversation and give him age appropriate answers. We don’t force the conversation and we typically don’t bring up aspects of death and eternity that he doesn’t ask us about first. This will continue even when the answers begin changing to give him more detail.
Focus On Mental Health
Mental health illnesses run in my family. I personally struggle with depression and anxiety and we already see anxiety tendencies in Caleb. Although he doesn’t know it, we’ve begun teaching him techniques to handle his anxiety. Obviously my dad struggled with mental health problems as well. Ultimately, he took his own life because the treatment he was getting for his disease didn’t bring healing. That is how we will explain it to our boys. Just like someone who has cancer and the treatment fails, their grandpa’s treatment failed him.
We will tell our boys that their grandpa’s mental health illness led him to feel as though life was too overwhelming, sad, and hopeless. We’ll tell them that his illness led him to feel out of control and do things he wouldn’t have done otherwise. We’ll tell them that his illness caused him to make a choice that doesn’t make sense to those of us who are healthy.
What we will want them to remember is how important it is for each of us to care for our mental health. We will encourage them to see therapists if needed, take medication if needed, and practice healthy self care. I will be open with my own struggles with my boys – talking to them about seasons of life when I’ve been on medication, not keeping my own therapy appointments a dirty little secret, and sharing with them things I do to keep my mind healthy.
Discuss the Spiritual Side
Oh, the conversations I’ve had regarding faith, heaven, hell, salvation, and eternity in the past year. Ultimately, it comes down to, what does eternity look like for someone who takes their own life? I know this will be a question Nate and I will have to address with our boys when the time comes. We have prayerfully studied the Bible, read books, and talked to mentors about this topic. Here’s how we’ll explain it to our boys…
Firstly, salvation is by grace alone! Jesus Christ died for the sins of each and every person who puts their faith in him. There’s nothing we can do to separate ourselves from that grace. A person who chooses to live life for the Lord should be being changed by the Holy Spirit and should be becoming more like Jesus. Even so, each of us still sins. As the Holy Spirit reveals those sins in our lives, we should be repenting of them and turning away. Unfortunately, each of us have sins in our lives that we have not turned over to Jesus. We all have sins that we may never turn over to the Lord. Grace still covers those sins. We also believe that there are mental health illnesses that go beyond sin. Depression, in and of itself, is not a sin. Sometimes things people do because of their depression can be a sin and suicide is never God’s desire for our lives. We should allow him to be the one in control of our lives and not take it into our own hands. Even so, his grace covers every sin – even someone taking their own life – as long as that person has truly given their lives to the Lord.
As far as we know, my dad put his faith in Jesus Christ. Because of that, we believe that he is with Jesus now, fully healed.
(If you want to discuss this further, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I definitely don’t have all the answers and could be wrong about some of this but I believe my studies have confirmed these thoughts and would love to dig into it with you if you’d like.)
Ultimately, we will guide our boys to the love and healing of Jesus. He is the one we get to turn to in times of need and his grace and love will help us heal.
Note: I am not a mental health professional! If you have experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide, consider seeing out professional help, a support group, or your primary care doctor for medication. Unresolved grief can lead to grief that is absolutely debilitating and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. If you are considering suicide yourself, please call or chat with the Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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