CHILDREN: What to tell children about a relative's suicide
Article #: 250499
I have a question regarding the suicide of my younger brother which occurred 13 years ago. I have 2 teenagers that I have not brought this up with. My brother was an amazing guy, a dedicated public servant, lighthearted and funny. His suicide was a complete shock to everyone, he left no note, and we are left wondering if it was perhaps related to an acne medication which has been linked to suicide, which he was taking. My question is this. I believe teenagers and young adults have a tendency to be unstable and dramatic when faced with the difficulties of life - though mine aren't particularly that way. I fear that telling them of this suicide would plant a seed in their heads that suicide is an option. I also don't think it's fair to them to burden them with my sorrows - this is not something they should have to think about. To get around this I have simply not mentioned my brother in stories from my childhood, don't have photos around, etc. The problem is that my husband has suddenly started blurting out "your brother..." stories - rarely, but enough to put me on edge. I'm sure they've noticed childhood photos at grandpa's house as well and wondered who the little boy is. My kids haven't asked me about it, but I'm sure there's some confusion there. What do you think would be the best course of action at this point?
I'm so sorry to hear of your brother's suicide. Suicide has a devastating affect on surviving family members and it isn't surprising that it's still painful for you to talk about it after 13 years. It sounds as if you loved him very much! I wonder if your family ever had suicide bereavement counseling to help with the shock and pain.
Bear in mind that what we Elders at EWC have to say is not professional advice, but comes from our own life experiences. But I can assure you that it's a misconception that talking about suicide "plants a seed" in a teenager's head. I've worked closely with adolescents and I believe there are few teenagers today who don't know of someone who has taken their own life, or who haven't at least heard of someone who has considered suicide or made an attempt. Statistics say that 1% of all teenagers make a suicide attempt and many more contemplate doing so. Many schools have even implemented suicide prevention programs.
In fact, being open with teens about the fact that such feelings exist can be instrumental in whether a young person will feel free to come to you if they ever feel depressed and hopeless, or whether they will hide it from you as a "taboo" topic.
Frankly, I believe that your not talking about your brother may not have been the wisest choice. Your husband has now introduced the subject and there are pictures at grandpa's house, so, if they're intelligent children they're going to eventually ask the question. I'm actually surprised that they haven't done so already. t's possible they may indeed be confused, but are avoiding asking because they sense it will cause you pain.
I can't tell you what to do, of course, but what I would do in your position is wait for an appropriate opening and then be quite honest with them (i.e., avoid just saying "he died"!). The last thing I'd want to do is "burden them with my sorrow," but I think they're old enough to know the truth. You can tell them all the wonderful things about your brother, how very sad it was that he took his own life, and that you believe it was while taking an acne medication that was linked to suicide.
In my opinion, demystifying the story of the "little boy in the pictures" is the healthiest way to go, as long as you don't then dwell on it at length. They sound like stable and sensible young people, and I'd just state it as a fact and leave it there, answering questions only if they bring them up (and doing so honestly and without emotion and drama). It's natural that, as a good mother, you want to protect your children from life's difficulties, but don't forget that they didn't know your brother, so the impact will not be nearly as hurtful as it was for you.
Have you thought that by talking about him and how amazing he was and how funny and lighthearted, you will also be honoring the brother you loved so much, and helping yourself to deal with some of that pain that you still carry? Perhaps you and your husband can agree on the kind of positive stories you're both prepared to tell them if they ask, and that will help prevent your being so "on edge" about this. It could really help you if you were to get it out in the open.
I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to get back to us if you want to talk more about this or about any other problem. We're always here to listen and to help if we can!