When there’s a parental death by suicide, there are resources to help the children left behind.

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We watch their shows, we carry their bags, and we listen to their music. We know their names, their voices, and their faces. So, when a celebrity dies, we all suffer a sense of loss. The recent deaths of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain bring suicide back into the news. Yet, as we may grieve as fans and followers, the tragedy is felt far deeper and longer for the family of those who end their lives, especially their children.

For those who know children affected by the suicide of a loved one, there is a sense of wanting to help but perhaps not knowing the best way to approach the subject. It’s complicated, it’s emotional, and there are no clear-cut answers.

That’s where some guidance can help. The New York Life Foundation, in partnership with Julie Kaplow developed guidance for parents and caregivers to help with the challenging task of approaching the subject of suicide. 

Some things to keep in mind: 

• When discussing suicide with children, it’s important to be truthful. It may seem like the right thing to skate around the cause of death, but that can lead to more problems down the road, as issues of trust might arise. 

• Keep information clear and age-appropriate. Mention the influence of mental illness and depression, and that help is available for those who seek it. 

• Be prepared to have a similar discussion in the future, as your child grows and their understanding of the world and of suicide changes. 

• Remember that physical contact and comfort is as important as the words you choose. Your role is not necessarily to take away the pain, but to share it and to show that it’s ok to feel the grief as you cope with the death as well. Just like when the flight attendant tells you to put on your oxygen mask first, make sure you are getting help you may need. Many caregivers are so focused on their children that they might be ignoring their own issues. 

You may do all these things and still find it’s not enough. That’s when you need to get outside help from a trained professional. Red flags include wishing to be dead in order to be with the deceased, excessive worry or discussion about death, extreme sadness or lack of interest in daily activities, reckless behavior, and changes in socializing, eating, and sleeping for more than six months after the suicide. 

 

For more detailed information, as well as a list of resources, please check out these bereavement resources and the pamphlet mentioned above.

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