Pauline: "We didn't have to pretend."
After Pauline's 26-year-old son completed suicide, her two younger sons struggled. Pauline and her family found help and support at the Caring Place.
How Do You Tell the Kids About Suicide?
When my son died, he left behind, in addition to parents and the usual list of relatives, four brothers.
Two of his brothers, only eight and six, were very close to him.
Two years previous we lost my husband's mother. We muddled through, but with this most recent loss we knew we were going to need help…especially with the particular circumstances of my son's death. You see, my son suffered from bipolar disorder and was in a depressive phase when he took his life.
We had seen the commercials for the Caring Place on TV. The school sent home a packet of information and a DVD.
I took the little boys with me to the Caring Place the Monday after the burial. The eight year old was asking questions about how his brother died and I didn't know how to answer them. I didn't want to lie to him or scare him. I went to find out how to explain suicide to my eight year old.
I got there, walked in the door but could not even speak when they asked me what I needed, the tears just poured. A couple of women came out, and one took the boys to a playroom and I went with the other to a quiet room. With a box of tissues, I explained what had brought us there and asked how I could possibly explain what had happened.
The staff member talked with me. She gave me suggestions on how to explain suicide to a child. She also advised me to wait for the youngest child to ask. Children process grief in little, age-appropriate bits at a time.
She then explained to me about what they do at the Caring Place and took my name so that we could attend an orientation when they would start a new group.
No Pity or Forced Politeness
We came to the orientation and then committed to a ten-session group (meeting every other week). I was excited and apprehensive about the first meeting but I knew that we needed this to help us heal. The boys loved it from the start. For every two-hour session, we first met for a shared meal of pizza or subs and then broke into groups (age-appropriate for the children) for the second hour. The children would do structured activities that would invite them to share as much or as little as they wanted about the one they lost and how they felt.
I must admit that for about the first four sessions I would become very anxious and somewhat agitated a few days before the session. Once there, I would sit in the room, barely able to speak for all the emotion that would swell up, sharing these most intimate feelings with complete strangers. But the more we all shared the more we understood that we were all feeling the same things. When one of our group asked, "How are you doing?" we didn't have to pretend. There was no pity or forced politeness. They genuinely wanted to know and could understand when answered with the truth instead of the desired answer, "I'm OK." We weren't "OK" and wouldn't be for a very long time.
Over the weeks the families bonded. The children made friends who knew and understood what it was like to lose someone close to them. They could be angry or sad or lonely or happy and not be judged…and so could the adults.
The Healing Will Continue
I noticed in my own kids that they were more open to talking about their brother, his life and his death. About the sixth or seventh session my six-year-old asked me how his brother died. I explained to him as I did to the eight-year-old, how it was explained to me. I think it was a question that he had wanted to ask for a long time but didn't know if he could. After that time, he began talking much more about his memories of his brother.
Our ten-session commitment has ended but we're not done. The Caring Place doesn't just set us free. There will be opportunities for reunions and continuing groups. You may attend as many continuing sessions as you feel the need.
We have already signed up for the next continuing group. The same families may not be there but it won't matter. We are tied to all the families who have ever or who will ever walk through those doors.
The healing will continue and we carry on. We all started on this journey strangers united by tragedy. We continue as the dearest friends holding each other for support and encouragement.
I would like you to know as we parted…
We laughed until we cried…
but most importantly through our time together
we cried until we laughed.