While grieving and parenting after a suicide is not easy, it is sometimes a comfort to know you do not have to handle grief by yourself. If you’re a parent dealing with the suicide of a loved one, be aware that help is available to you if you would like. You and your kids have access to different kinds of support during this most difficult time of crisis. Here are some parenting suggestions you can use right away:
When you’re grieving, it’s important to take care of yourself. By taking care of yourself, you can also take care of your children. Some ways to help yourself include the following:
- Get the support you need. You don’t have to grieve alone. If you find that friends and family in your support circle have their own issues to attend to, mental health professionals, suicide loss support groups, faith communities and the military community can lend you a helping hand. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
- Pay attention to your health. Proper sleep, healthy eating and light exercise can help you manage your emotions. Try to resist the natural urge to curl up on the couch for long periods of time. Also, avoid using drugs and alcohol to numb your pain: Only use prescription medication under a doctor’s direction, and only drink alcohol in moderation. Get counseling help right away if you find yourself relying on drugs or alcohol to cope.
- Don’t expect to just “get over it.” When a loved one dies by suicide, you may experience a lot of emotions all at once. You may feel shock, guilt, confusion or even anger. These are all normal thoughts and emotions. Be patient with yourself as you cope and grieve—the grieving process takes time. Loss is not something you “get over.”
For your children
During this time, your children will have their own needs. You can help them in the following ways:
- Tell the basic truth. Kids are smart. Even young kids know when you aren't telling them the truth. If you’re hiding the truth from them, you could make them feel anxious. To avoid this, talk about suicide in an honest, but age-appropriate way. Do so and in an environment that makes them feel safe.
- Answer questions. If your kids need to talk, one of the best ways to get them to open up is to encourage them to ask questions. Answer their questions as honestly as possible. If you feel that your kids are having a hard time talking to you, consider getting professional grief counseling services as a family.
- Stick to your daily routines. Kids need consistency, and routines let them know that they can count on certain things no matter what the circumstances are.
- Remain as calm as you can throughout the first days. In the first few days after you lose your loved one to suicide, you may feel like you’re losing control. You may have a great deal to do as you cope with your loss, and your kids may need you now more than ever. Try to stay as calm as you can. And if you can’t handle everything you’re facing, get some help right away.
- Make sure your kids know that they are not responsible. Because kids are naturally self-centered, they may feel that the suicide is their fault. Reassure them that what happened is not their fault.
- Memorialize your loved one. You can hold a memorial service, make a scrapbook, take part in an awareness walk or do a number of other things to honor your loved one. Be sure to celebrate your loved one’s life; don’t fixate on how your loved one died. A professional can help educate you and your children on suicide prevention.
- Look into other resources. Military OneSource offers non-medical counseling for parenting, stress management and grief and loss issues. To get help, call 800-342-9647. For more information, you can also reach out to the military and family support center on your installation, or call the Military Crisis Line. Other resources like TAPS offer peer to peer mentoring with other suicide survivors. And for bereavement counseling, call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 202-461-6530. If you or someone you know is suicidal or in a state of crisis, call 800-273-TALK (8255).
- Learn more. You may be interested in learning more about understanding suicide and how to survive this most difficult loss by contacting The American Association of Suicidology and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.
The grieving process can be a terribly painful time, and going through it as a parent can bring unique challenges and questions, especially after a suicide. It will take time, but with the right support, you can continue on successfully with your life.