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I have three children 12, 13 and 19 and their father committed suicide 10 years ago (when they were 1, 3 and 9).

They have suffered through many childhood taunts, at times, including:
"Your father killed himself because he didn't want to look after you."

Some parents have prevented their children from playing with my kids, as they didn't like the association with someone who had committed suicide.

My oldest son has finished school, but my younger two have just started and is about to start high school. This means making new friends and meeting new parents of their friends.

Even though, his death was a long time ago, we are still faced with the problem when people, naturally, ask how their Dad (my husband) died. There were times when I drilled them to lie and say he died of a heart attack. The other day I took a deep breath and told another mother, that he committed suicide.

In terms of any medical providers, schools etc, it is vital that they are aware of the nature of their father's death.

Does anyone have any good ideas of how to deal with this? I don't want to encourage my children to lie and feel ashamed of something that was in no way their fault; at the same time, I want to protect them from unnecessary social isolation or the stigma that suicide still has.

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It never ceases to amaze me how cruel children can be. –  user1450877 Oct 10 '13 at 10:41
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Human beings can be cruel. They alienate people who don't fit the mould –  user4784 Oct 10 '13 at 11:04
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children are not very good at empathy, it takes time for them to develop it, that is why it seems like they are cruel sometimes. –  santiagozky Oct 25 '13 at 9:21

4 Answers 4

up vote 25 down vote accepted

To directly answer your question: if the topic comes up a potentially good answer would be "well my father/husband passed away a long time ago". The "a long time ago" basically indicates that this is in the past and has no immediate bearing on the present. It also indicates that the case is closed and you don't want to discuss this further. Most people will get the message. Now if you run into some insensitive idiot who still probes "Oh wow, how did that happen", you can easily deflect this with: "If you don't mind I'd rather talk about something else".

A second thought: This has obviously been a horrible experience for you and your children. Given that you posted two questions here in quick succession could be an indicator that you are still deeply struggling with this. Please make sure that you and your children get all the professional help you can to get you through this traumatic experience. Best of luck!

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yes, it has been a huge issue and we have the support of a great counsellor ty +1 –  user4784 Oct 3 '13 at 11:23

When all else fails, they can fall back on a version of Miss Manner's timeless response, "I'm sorry, that's just not possible." In this case, something along the lines of "I'm sorry, I don't want to talk about it," or "This subject is still painful for me, can we talk about something else?" might be useful.

Don't expect everyone to have manners and not talk about it when your kids ask them to, but repeating this over and over, no matter what is asked, will at least teach the asker they're not going to get any other answer.

Rude people think they're entitled to the information. They're not. A terse refusal can make them think "oooh, a family secret!" that they'll try to wheedled out of the kids, or make up on their own if they can't. But a polite refusal, emphasizing the discomfort the child feels when discussing the subject, leaves them without a leg to stand on.

And some kept their children from playing with yours because your childrens' father committed suicide? Sheesh. At least it saves you the trouble of finding out what miserable excuses for human beings those people are.

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this is good advice. I tell you, it does sort out the wheat from the chaff.. it's my children I get upset over. As we all do, when it is our children we are like mother (or father) bears +1 –  user4784 Oct 3 '13 at 11:24

As an adult you may be comfortable saying, "It's not something I like to talk about," but this will be a harder line for your children to say and stick to when pressed. You might suggest to them to say, "He had some health issues I don't really understand." This is the truth, as someone who commits suicide has serious mental health issues and no one can fully understand. If they are pressed further, they can say their mother doesn't like to talk about the details, so they don't really ask. Then they can turn the question back on the new friend - ask about their parents and siblings. You can practice this with your kids.

While people who ask may come across as rude or insensitive, mostly they are well-intentioned. They are asking questions to find out more about you. They may ask how he died because they think you might like to talk about it. They may ask how he died because they have their own fears of death, and hearing details allows them to put some distance between themselves and this particular instance of it - not admirable, but not intentionally malicious. People who stigmatize suicide are likely particularly fearful.

Children taunting children is something a bit different. While horrific for your children to experience, taunting is something children do as they learn how to navigate social circumstances. It is also fear-motivated - they taunt because making someone else stand out helps them fit in. It might help for your children to understand this, though it won't make such experiences feel any better.

Best wishes.

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We adopted my son Michael out of foster care, which is a completely different situation, but also has a certain stigma attached. People want to know how he ended up in foster care.

What we tell people is that is Michael's personal information to share or not share as he chooses, and that we will let him make that decision for himself when he is fully capable of understanding the ramifications.

In other words, I would leave the decision to disclose or not up to the child who will have to deal with the fallout on a case by case basis. Does that child trust the friend enough to neither use the information against him nor spread it to someone else who will? I would tell the parent something like, "That's a sensitive topic that I will leave up to my son to tell your son when he's ready."

Medical providers are a different story. They are bound by confidentiality, trained to handle it delicately, and you never know when it may be relevant.

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If the cat's already out of the bag, that changes things, but I still think the general principle applies to when your kids are ready to confirm or deny the rumor and go into more detail. –  Karl Bielefeldt Oct 3 '13 at 14:24

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