What to Say to Parents Who Lose a Child to Suicide
ABOUT THIS POST: “What to Say to Parents Who Lose a Child to Suicide” provides valuable insights and recommendations for offering support to grieving parents. The personal experiences shared by the author create a heartfelt connection. The inclusion of quotes from experts and external resources enhances the credibility of the content. The post effectively highlights the importance of breaking the stigma around suicide and encourages open conversations. Additionally, the suggestions for supporting grieving parents are practical and thoughtful.
How to Offer Grief Support to Parents When Their Child Has Died by Suicide
There Are No Words
What to Say to Parents Who Lose a Child to Suicide? As a mother who lost her son and only child to suicide, I can vouch for how stymied people get when they try to offer their condolences to parents bereaved by the suicide of the their child. The stigma around “suicide” lends a sense of awkwardness to even saying the name of this form of death out loud. I didn’t know how true this was until my son died by suicide. (Read More About the Stigma of Suicide: Suicide is Not a Choice: Surviving Your Child’s Suicide)
Recently after my son died, I attended a Labor Day party that included my colleagues from work. The greatest gift of grief support came from a colleague who simply offered these words: “There are no words.”
Yes-when a parent loses a child, “there are no words.” And yes, when a parent loses a child by suicide, “there are no words.” The solemnity of the tragedy of my son’s sudden death was expressed in those few chosen words: “There are no words.” (Read More About Suicide Grief: 5 Ways Suicide Grief is Different)
Please Ask My Child’s Name
Asking me to tell you about my child is not the same as asking me to explain their death. Ask my child’s name and what they were like because I (just like most parents) love to talk about my child. If I have tears, it’s because I lost my child and not because you brought the subject up.
It does my heart good to hear my child’s name. If you knew my child, I welcome stories and memories of my child. It’s a lonely world without my child, and it’s easy to feel everyone’s forgotten I have a child who lived and breathed–and mattered. (Read More and Listen to Music About Losing a Child: Songs for Child Loss)
Platitudes Don’t Help
“At least you had your son for 19 years.” “He’s in a better place.” “It isn’t right.” “Suicide is selfish.” “God must have needed another angel.” “You’re so strong.” “I know just how you feel.” Or worse yet, “I’d just die if anything happened to my child.”
As well meaning as these things that were said to me were, not a single one helped ease my burden of mourning and grief after the death of my son by suicide. I am not strong because I survived my son’s death. I live on because as long as I live, my son does too. (Read More About How Suicide Grief is Different: When Someone is Too Bruised to Be Touched)
Stigma of Suicide
My son died by suicide. Perhaps the harshest stigma of suicide persists (and still exists) when someone who has died by suicide is said to have “committed” suicide. To “commit suicide” is lexicon that hearkens back to a time when historically, dying by suicide was considered a criminal act because so little was understood about suicide. No one “commits” death, and dying by suicide is properly referred to as she or he “died by suicide.”
the criminal language associated with the suicidal act endures in the lexicon. Specifically, using the phrase “to ‘commit’ suicide” equates the act with homicide or fratricide, and suggests that it is akin to “self-murder”.Jack Jordan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and grief counselor, Coping with Suicide Loss–And How to Help a Grieving Friend
The will to live and the instinct of “fight or flight” means that we rally against death and dying as long as we can in our lifetimes. Suicide is not “selfish” any more than dying by heart disease or cancer is “selfish.” Suicide is a tragic death, a sudden, violent, and unexpected death. Dying by suicide doesn’t make sense, and research is now focused on preventing death by suicide. (Read More about the Stigma of Suicide: Living in the Glare of My Son’s Suicide)
Break the Silence, Shame, Stigma
How to break the stigma of suicide? As the mother of an only child who died by suicide, I find research that suggests suicide is always preventable deeply disturbing. I do not believe this means of death can always be prevented any more than any other means of death can always be prevented. The important word is “always.”
Suicide research (Read More: Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, Nationwide Children’s Hospital) is absolutely essential for knowing how to prevent what seems an unnecessary means of death. Suicide intervention can help, understanding and talking about suicide can help, and post-vention follow-up can help those who have attempted suicide. (Read More: The Pain of Suicide: It’s Not About Wanting to Die; It’s About Wanting the Pain to Stop)
Can suicide be prevented?
But for a mother or father who has lost a child to suicide, that the death of their child might have been prevented places a heavy burden of shame and blame on their parenting abilities. That something must have been “wrong” at home with the parenting when a child dies by suicide is simply not true.
Breaking the stigma of suicide means breaking the taboo of silence around suicide. Talk to those who have lost a loved one to suicide; offer condolences; provide emotional and physical support just as you would any parent who loses a child to any means of death. (Read More about seeking an understanding of suicide: Carrying Ache and Love in Suicide Loss)
I Couldn’t Keep My Child Safe
There is no equivalent to losing a child. And when a child dies by suicide, the parent(s) already feel isolated. “Why?” “How did I fail my child?” “Why couldn’t I keep my child safe?” are questions that haunt those left behind. In breaking the silence and talking about suicide, we break the stigma of shame surrounding a mysterious death. (Read More About Guilt: Guilt After Losing a Child to Suicide)
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Things to Say that Might Help Parents
Because of the taboo and stigma attached historically to [suicide], too many people think that they should not bring it up at all.Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., Grief counselor and educator, Center for Loss and Life Transition, The stigma associated with bereavement by suicide and other sudden deaths
Too often, others simply do not know how to talk to a parent who has lost a child to suicide. They fear upsetting the parent(s) so they say nothing.
Grief counselor Jack Jordan advises “The first thing is to not treat suicide as if it’s so weird or different or special that you don’t say anything.”
So offer your condolences. Attend the funeral if you can. Send flowers and a handwritten note. All of these acknowledge that something really tragic has happened for the person, and it communicates that you’re really willing to be there for the person rather than, ‘This is too difficult and awkward to talk about.’Jack Jordan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and grief counselor, 7 Things to Say When a Friend’s Loved One Dies by Suicide (and 3 to Avoid)
“10 ways to support a loved one who has lost someone to suicide”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a rich resource bank of personal narratives, books for loss survivor and how to support suicide loss survivors. Here are some of their suggestions for how to support a loved one who has lost someone to suicide.
Watching a loved one struggle with the pain and devastation of losing someone to suicide can make you feel utterly helpless. You might want to reach out, but hesitate because you don’t know what to say or do, and perhaps worry you might somehow make them feel worse.American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 10 Ways to Support a Loved One Who Has Lost Someone to Suicide
- Refrain from saying “I know how you feel” unless you are also a suicide loss survivor. Instead, something like, “I don’t know what to say: I have no idea what you’re going through, but I care about you and I want to be here for you,” will be more honest and meaningful.
- Read about suicide loss. You’ll better understand what your loved one is experiencing, and in the process might discover helpful information you can share with them.
- Don’t wait for your loved one to ask you for help; they may be too deep in their grief to realize what they need. Rather than saying, “Let me know if I can help,” do something specific for them, like shop for groceries, offer to babysit, bring dinner to their home, etc.
- Help connect your loved one with other suicide loss survivors through International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, AFSP’s Healing Conversations program, and bereavement support groups.(When appropriate, consider offering to accompany them to an event so that they don’t feel so alone.)
- Many people find that professional counseling helps them deal with their grief in a healthy way. Help your loved one search for a therapist, schedule appointments, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to speak the name of the person who died. Your loved one will be grateful for the opportunity to reminisce.
- Knowing what to expect and learning from someone else’s experience can help both you and your loved one get through the more difficult times.
- Just be there. Sit with them. Watch TV or a movie. Listen to music. Go for a walk together.
- Be patient. This experience has changed your loved one’s life forever. The weeks and months following the funeral, when the initial shock wears off and the full reality of what has happened sinks in, may be the toughest for them. Continue to check in, and let them know you are thinking of them, that you’re there for them, and that you want to listen.
- This experience has changed your loved one’s life forever. The weeks and months following the funeral, when the initial shock wears off and the full reality of what has happened sinks in, may be the toughest for them. Continue to check in, and let them know you are thinking of them, that you’re there for them, and that you want to listen.
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Get the Book of Poems About Losing a Child to Suicide
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