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My 10-year-old daughter's mother died last week. She was a masochist and suffered from depression and childhood issues. She, from what I understand, hung herself in her closet from a belt. I'm not sure if she intended to kill herself or if she was trying to "get off" and wasn't able to get the belt off in time. There was no note AFAIK, so my guess is it was the latter, I want to think it was an accident but neither would surprise me.

As far as my daughter knows, her mother had a heart attack. She's taken the news really well so far. She gets teary-eyed from time to time when I really try to press the subject of her mother's death but she is otherwise acting like nothing happened.

My brother is a psychologist and a grief counselor. I asked him for advice on the subject and he said she seems healthy but that I should try to evoke a response from her regarding her mother's death as it's unhealthy to hold those feeling in. We wrote her letters and burned them. I try to talk to her about it at least once a day but I never get much of a reaction from her other than teary eyes. She hasn't really vocally cried since we initially told her and even then it wasn't much.

Since her death we've moved into a bigger place, closer to her school. She's excited about having a bigger room and getting to sleep in a little bit. Maybe that excitement is helping to mask the pain somewhat. At least I feel like that's the effect it's had on me.

Anyway, I don't like lying to my daughter but I feel justified in this case, and one day, years down the road I plan to tell her the truth. In the mean time it's been really hard to evoke a reaction from her as my brother suggested. I believe it's important that she cries to get those feeling out and it's occurred to me that if I tell her the truth about her mother's death that might evoke a reaction.

Should I tell my daughter the truth about her mom's death or continue to live a lie, risking that I might slip up and accidentally refer to her mother's suicide or that she might hear me discussing it with church leaders or other family? I feel like this will be a hard lie to maintain. If not, what other things can I do to help my daughter get those emotions out?

Edit.. I think telling her would help me with my own grieving process as well. Maybe that's selfish. I just want to do whatever is right and best for my daughter though.


Update... A few important points....

  • I've seen people on this site try to ask questions in lieu of therapy. I'm not one of those people. I'm asking to supplement therapy. We are in contact with several therapists - the problem is there is often no consensus among them, so in order to make the best possible decision I'm asking the community as well.
  • My brother is neither my therapist, nor my daughter's therapist. In fact we don't even speak very often as he lives out of state. I only just recently found out he was a psychologist. That said, he has been an invaluable resource to me because he knew me as a child and in many cases I'm learning that he knows me better than I know myself. He's also a somewhat prominent figure in my church, which means he's sort of a one-stop-shop for all my general spiritual and psychological questions... but he is definitely not my therapist nor is acting in that capacity.
  • I told her the truth yesterday and it turned out to be a good thing I did, as it filled in some of the puzzle pieces for her and answered certain questions that she had.

Thank you all for your advice and your opinions.

  • 25
    Two questions. 1) How do you know she hasn't already taken care of these feelings? Just because she didn't have a 20 minute cry session with you doesn't mean she didn't either do it on her own or let it out in a different way than you expect. 2) How and why did this lie start in the first place? This is something important. Lying and revealing the truth later will just open up old wounds and she'll have to go through all this grief over again to reconcile the "truth" (assuming she even believes you and that you don't blow all your trust with this) with her memories of mom. – Becuzz Dec 6 '17 at 16:13
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    I should try to evoke a response from her regarding her mother's death as it's unhealthy to hold those feeling in I was 11 when my mother passed away. Believe me, you should be very careful while trying to evoke a response from your daughter. It may take her time to deeply realize what has happened. And it would be much more unhealthy to push her towards a conversation she might be not ready yet. I'm not saying you should not try, but if you see she hesitates to talk, tell her it's fine and you're always there for her to talk. Maybe try again in a few days/weeks/months. – Igor Soloydenko Dec 6 '17 at 21:22
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    Where did "heart attack" come from? Did "heart attack" feature in the doctor/police report, or was it something made up to spare your daughter's feelings? (By you, by someone else ...). -- It's one thing to omit "adult" implications for a younger child (slowly adding complexity as they grow up: "She did die of a heart attack, but it was one caused by self-administered asphyxiation ..."), it's quite a different thing to fabricate an alternative explanation (necessitating a hard-break "I actually lied to you about you mom's death" conversation). – R.M. Dec 6 '17 at 22:30
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    Not everyone grieves in the same manner, and given the circumstances you described, it is even possible that there will be very little grieving. Another thing that can happen, at the other end of the spectrum, is that the emotions are so intense and/or conflicting that portions of the brain shut down. In this case, the tears will come later when the grief starts to fade. – pojo-guy Dec 7 '17 at 2:18
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    @Iwrestledabearonce. Wikipedia puts the rate to 25-30%: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_note and there is a further reference that I didn't checkout. – Frank Hopkins Dec 7 '17 at 20:04

18 Answers 18

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As far as working on a eliciting a reaction goes, if she seems to be coping ok and there aren't any other behavior / mood changes to indicate problems, I wouldn't worry about it. Everyone handles grief and mourning differently, both in the how and the when. She may have handled it on her own in private sometime. She just may not need a full blown crying session to get through it. As long as she seems fine and she knows and trusts you enough to come to you for help if needed, don't worry.

If you still find yourself worrying or you see signs that things aren't ok, you could always consider some sort of therapist. Their job is to help people with this kind of stuff. They should be excellent resources for you.

As far as when you should tell your daughter, I would do it sooner than later, immediately if possible. There are a few reasons for this.

Being honest will strengthen your relationship. Based on your comments, it sounds like this lie about the circumstances of her mother's death was probably conceived with good intentions. However, lying never leads to good things, especially in the long run. And even if you didn't start the lie, not telling the truth makes you complicit. Dishonesty isn't just acts of commission (like lying), but also acts of omission, like not disclosing the truth and letting a lie continue. Relationships are fundamentally founded in trust and trust can only come with honesty.

Picture yourself telling your daughter the truth in say 5 years. She will be a teenager. She will have hormones, puberty, social drama, etc - all the teenager things. And then you are going to try and heap the revelation that her mother committed suicide on top of all that? I can't imagine that going well. It will open up old wounds relating to her mother's death as she has to, again, grieve and now come to terms with the fact that she committed suicide. Your daughter's head will be spinning. Why did she kill herself? Did she not love me? What drove her to that? Why?

On top of that I can easily see her start to wonder about you. Why didn't Dad tell me this before? Is this some kind of cruel joke? If it isn't a joke, why now? What else am I not being told? What else is Dad/my other family members hiding from me? This can all easily break her trust in you. Since this lie involves both her parents and her mother's death, it will be a very personal and sensitive topic. A lie about something that personal will cause loads of emotional damage. And it will be hard to repair.

If you tell her now it will still hurt. It will always hurt, no matter when you want to tell her. But now the damage will be far less. She will have you and the rest of her family to help her grieve. You will all be there to talk with her and support her. And you will all be sharing that experience, which will draw you closer. And when it's all over, she (and you) can all get some closure and then put it away for good. No need to bring it up later and have to go through it all again.

The short version is that there is no way to deal with a parent's death, especially by suicide, that won't cause pain. This is more about damage control rather than complete avoidance. The longer you wait, the bigger the lie gets and the more harm it causes when compounded with dealing with the suicide. Grieve together and work through it together. Don't save it for later, it'll just fester and rot your relationship.

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    I'm not personally convinced that telling a 10yo that mom committed suicide is less harmful than telling a 15yo that mom committed suicide. In my opinion the suicide part has more impact than a simple early death by heart attack. Unfortunately there is no "ideal" time to break this news. My only experience with this is friends that had a close relative commit suicide. It's unbelievably traumatic based on my observation. – Tim Nevins Dec 6 '17 at 20:53
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    I agree with "better now than later". Yes, it's perhaps more painful than a random accident or heart attack, but I'm a big advocate for telling the truth. This does not mean go into each and every detail, but you won't have to deal with changing and explaining the story later and if the truth should "leak" ( as it's so likely to at some point), you are potentially dealing with huge emotional waves and absolutely no control on timing and similar. But be prepared to explain what drives people to commit suicide and why your daughter is not "guilty" (if she brings it up). – Stephie Dec 6 '17 at 22:04
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    As said, do it as soon as possible, but not in a hurry! This is actually what I would get a therapist for: to help you tell your daughter how the things are. Also, very likely to help yourself deal with the situation, because you need to be (at least somewhat) fine or you can't be effectively helping others! – yo' Dec 6 '17 at 23:44
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    +1 for the advice to avoid lying. Maybe you can tell the full story later, but hearth attack is a lie and that's what can bite you back years from now. – Paolo Dec 7 '17 at 7:22
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    @TimNevins Maybe not, but waiting X years to do it definitely is, becuzz of the reasons Becuzz explained. It's the conclusion I see everywhere, and really, just reading about it makes sense. – Agustín Lado Dec 7 '17 at 14:08
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I don't know if now or later would be the best time to tell the truth, but you do need to tell her eventually since it's something that's going to be nearly impossible to keep hidden forever.

If you decide not to tell her now: Make sure you have a plan to tell her at some point in the future (eg when she becomes an adult), and an explanation for why you didn't do so now. You also need to be prepared for the possibility that she may find out the truth (or become suspicious) and confront you before then. This probably should be similar to the previous, except that you're more likely to need to repair damage to your relationship than if you initiate it.

If you do decide to delay the talk until a future time, communicate with friends/family who are in the know about when that time is. It should reduce the chances of them letting the cat out of the bag unintentionally because they assumed your daughter already knew the full truth.

My grandfather was only a few years old when his father died. Reading through the lines of things he heard growing up, he was convinced the story he was told was a lie and was bitter about it for most if not all of his life.

He was completely estranged from his family during my dads childhood (and into mine); and while he never said why that was one of two plausible reasons I have for him being upset enough with them to cut all contact.

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    It should reduce the chances of them letting the cat out of the bag unintentionally because they assumed your daughter already knew the full truth. This is actually a very important reason for saying something now. – icc97 Dec 9 '17 at 15:29
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First off... I'm am so sorry for your (and your daughters) loss. Along with all of the good advice others have given here I would encourage you to consider a couple of things. Not giving someone all of the details doesn't have to equate with a "lie" - By that I mean...you yourself do not know whether the belt in the closet was a suicide attempt or a thrill seek gone bad... or an accident, so telling her more than you know for sure would be conjecture on your part. Short of a note, or some kind of verifiable message that she left, you'll never really know, so what would providing details to your daughter accomplish? As another person mentioned, everyone grieves at their own pace, and in their own way. When she wants to know the details she will ask...and she may not want to know. And finally, studies show that children who lose a parent to suicide are much more likely to suffer psychological effects including an increased risk of taking their own life. Grief therapy is really, really important for both you and your daughter.

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    Hello there! I'm afraid you missed the fact that a lie had been said but has not been corrected. I mean the "heart attack" thingy. If the daughter was only said that "mom is away and will never be back", it would leave room for the daughter to wonder more about the details at any time in the future. But here, a blatant lie is flying around, and that's an issue. – yo' Dec 7 '17 at 0:04
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There are plenty of good answers. I went through a similar process with very well-adjusted kids 4 years later. A few nuggets of wisdom:

1) Tell the "age-appropriate" truth. When my kids were younger, I used "mommy made a bad decision." As they got a little older, I added 'mommy was sick; she had a mental illness." They didn't really get that so I left it there. Eventually, one day they asked "So what really happened?" I told them with facts and little emotion. They reflected the same. My wife's was drugs/alcohol. I imagine as they get older, my kids will want more details. I'll give them in the same manner.

2) After telling the truth, don't flood your daughter with extraneous information. You can probably leave the S & M business out until she asks or reaches full sexual maturity (like 16, minimum).

3) Grief counseling may or may not help. We saw a very good therapist, but it became clear as the weeks went on that my kids got worse. It wasn't just a phase of grief. They got better when we stopped going. Weird.

4) What a child with a deceased parent MOST needs is your TIME and undivided ATTENTION. Dating is just selfish and stupid. Don't do it no matter what people tell you. Until when? Probably when she's 18. Sucks.

5) Do you have life insurance money or savings? Take a sabbatical or quit your job. Unfortunately, getting a bigger house was something you wanted, not what your daughter needed. If it means you have to work more to afford the bigger house, then it was a bad decision. See number 4. Certainly this doesn't apply if you need the money.

Good luck

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    Not sure why points 4 & 5 got thrown in. I agree with your first point. Your second point is good too. But these days it is hard to judge when to have a serious sex talk. With the internet kids are exposed to all sorts of sex stuff much much earlier than my day. – MaxW Dec 7 '17 at 23:42
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    im now raising a child by myself and your advice is to give up my only source of income and become a helicopter parent? -1 bad advice. – I wrestled a bear once. Dec 8 '17 at 0:53
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    Upvoted for the first two. It kinda tails off from there though. #4 in particular .... if you can be happy alone, fine. If you're miserable that way, that won't help your kid either. Make sure to take care of you too. There's a reason the airlines tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before your child's... – T.E.D. Dec 8 '17 at 23:17
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    1 & 2 are excellent advice. But 4 and 5 are terribly patronizing, and likely wrong for many people. – sleske Dec 9 '17 at 20:00
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    There was a great deal of trial and error on my part before I came to those conclusions. – Stu W Dec 9 '17 at 20:05
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Wait for the time to be right. She's going to be starting into the teens all too soon, and teens can brood, and be subject to depression too.

Ask your psych friend how likely it is that her mother's depression was organic -- caused genetically. Bi-polar disorder has a strong genetic component. Learn what to watch for.

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    Don't use comments for extended discussion, and definitely don't use them to be rude to other users. – Acire Dec 7 '17 at 3:29
  • her mothers depression likely stemmed from childhood issues. because there was a stimulus it's not likely she had bipolar, and because my daughter hasn't shown signs of it by this point in her life, it's not likely she has it either. – I wrestled a bear once. Dec 7 '17 at 12:36
  • @Iwrestledabearonce. I half agree. It's likely that it wasn't genetic, but it if there is some genetic predisposition then I'm not sure it's safe to say "she hasn't shown any signs by now, so she probably doesn't have it". Sometimes depression doesn't manifest until later in a person's life. I'm not saying it's likely your daughter is depressed or is going to be depressed, I'm just saying it's not a good idea to assume someone can't acquire a form of depression because they haven't manifested symptoms by a particular age. Depression is a complicated thing with multiple contributing factors. – Pharap Dec 7 '17 at 19:45
  • @Pharap - I meant bipolar, not depression. i'm not aware of any genetic ties to depression but i might be wrong. – I wrestled a bear once. Dec 7 '17 at 19:59
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    @Iwrestledabearonce Also to reiterate, I'm warning against the idea that not having had certain symptoms of any given psychologocial condition by a certain age can be used as an indicator that any individual might never develop said condition. The human brain constantly adapts and rebuilds itself by creating and destroying neural links throughout most of an individual's life. If you want a more 'concrete' number, the DBSA states here that median onset age for bipolar disorder is 25. – Pharap Dec 7 '17 at 21:17
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You need to be as honest as your daughter will cope with. Right now, cause of death was a heart attack. Your daughter will probably accept that that is true - but you have to explain that it was brought on by something else. A tragic accident. No-one, it seems, knows exactly whether it was accidental or suicide, so there's no lying here. Daughter probably knows that mum didn't follow an ordinary path in life, so accident will be a good reason for her at 10yo.

As far as the grieving is concerned - we are never taught how to do it - it happens in a myriad of ways. She will have her own, and if it doesn't manifest itself with many tears, or it doesn't happen for a while, that's just her way.

Best to be there, and make sure she knows that, for support if and when it's needed. In so many ways. Right now, she also has to cope with having no mum, being with you full time, and that's just two life-changing facets for a 10yo.

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Who else knows the details of the death? Your brother? The coroner? Any neighbors or family members? What is stated on the death certificate?

I'm asking because you need to figure out whether it is possible to maintain this "alternate" history forever. Even after you die.

If you think that your daughter will eventually find out about the unexplained hanging, then you'll need to tell her the truth — now (because it won't get easier later). You can bend the truth if you have to: "the doctors now say that her heart attack may have been triggered by a blood constriction elsewhere in her body. I don't know the details."

The reason I suggest that maintaining the alternate history may be justified is that depression may be hereditary (about 50% genetic), and suicide may be contagious (though the latter is disputed). In a few years, your daughter would be entering a higher-risk period for mental health issues. If she ever ends up in a bad mental state, she might be tempted to follow in her mother's footsteps and contemplate suicide herself.

In the end, only you can decide what the right approach is to your situation, given your knowledge of your daughter's state of mind and her relationship with her mother. I'm sorry that you have to deal with this.

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    I just keep picturing her writing on all of her medical history forms that her mother died of a heart attack at a relatively young age. I guess if she thinks heart problems run in her family she might be careful taking care of hers, though... – Keiki Dec 8 '17 at 22:37
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    I think it may be the other way around; I remember reading a piece by a man who was relieved to learn that depression (including paternal suicide turned into fatal "pneumonia") ran his family, and that it wasn't just him. – Andrew Lazarus Dec 9 '17 at 1:22
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First of all I am very sorry for your loss.

As a father myself who is always also thinking about incidents/experiences in the lives of my young children and how that might affect their personality as an adult and their well-being.

My advice to you is that this is not the right place to ask this question. An experience like this and the reaction to her loss can have a very strong effect on your daughter's psyche when she turns into an adult.

My advice is consult an expert. You said:

My brother is a psychologist and a grief counselor.

Maybe it is better to consult someone other than your brother. He is a family member and knows you and your daughter too well and might have some emotional attachment with you/her as well.

Perhaps the best course of action is to consult an expert who is unattached and can take the information about the entire thing and give you advice without any emotions involved.

As a father I just would say good luck and I hope you and your daughter can deal with this bad time in the best way possible.

UPDATE: You said your wife suffered from some childhood issues and your daughter is not showing much emotion at the loss of her mother. Perhaps you should also try to probe and ascertain the type of relationship between your daughter and her mother, especially when you were not around. Again for all this an expert is the best way to go.

  • thank you, i've updated the question to clarify my brother's role in all of this. he is not my therapist and i'm in touch with several unrelated therapists. i appreciate your insights. – I wrestled a bear once. Dec 7 '17 at 13:44
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Given what has been said I think you should have a talk with your daughter Saturday morning and straighten this out before the service on Sunday.

I assume that your daughter has some internet access. The exposure to sex stuff is just out of hand on the internet.

I'd start off by saying that you needed to have a serious talk.

(1) It doesn't seem that your Mother died of a heart attack.

(2) You are sorry that the details are changing but you didn't want to change the story every day as you learned new details.

(3) The absolute fact is that she was found hung with a belt.

(4) There was no note so it isn't clear why she hung herself. She may have commuted suicide, or she may have been trying a very dangerous sex act. (the point here is to leave it a bit of a mystery...)

(5) If it was suicide it was a very selfish decision. Committing suicide doesn't just kill you, it also deeply hurts all the people who love you.

(6) You don't want to turn this into just a discussion about sex. There is time for more discussions about sex. But all the discussion of sex on the internet scares you. There are some really crazy and dangerous ideas on the internet. So if this was some kind of sex act accident, then your daughter's Mom was doing something very dangerous. (So unless your daughter asks point blank, soft pedal what the sex act is...)

(7) Emphasize to you daughter that she has done absolutely nothing wrong. The divorce wasn't your daughter's fault and her Mom's death isn't her fault. You know her Mom loved her and you are sorry that neither of you will know the answer to this mystery.

Rather than disparaging the Grandmother outright, sooner or later your daughter will ask "Why is Grandma saying that it was a heart attack?" Then tell her that her Grandmother is embarrassed about the circumstances, but that you don't feel embarrassed about it. Rather you now know you need to ask for two very important promises from your daughter --

First -- If she ever thinks about hurting herself you want her to promise that she will talk to you first.

Second -- If she every wants to try something dangerous that she reads about on the internet to please discuss it with you first. There are idiots on the internet that think you can jump off a cliff and fly. They think you just have to flap your arms fast enough.

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The truth always comes out in the end. You are going to be accused of being a LIAR, this is going to blow up in your face, it is a ticking time bomb. Every time an argument breaks "You are a Liar, I'm not listening to you" then she will storm off. In trying to protect her, you are creating resentment. What is the truth? There was no suicide note, so it would be called "Death by misadventure" Perhaps say "Mommy was playing a dangerous game, and things went horribly wrong, I have forgiven Mommy (hope you have) do you think you can forgive Mommy?"

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I am going to give you a perspective of the child instead. Long story short, my father hanged himself. Due to some circumstances we were sometimes living all together and sometimes he would be away, occasionally for months. One such time it was already a very long time since I saw him so I started asking questions. Was about the same age, too. At some point she decided to tell me he was dead instead of the usual work/divorce story. She said he was hit by a car at first. She also added she didn't know whether it was an accident, or someone hit him on purpose of he jumped under one. For some reason I said "it was most likely that last one". At which point she decided to just tell me the truth. It didn't shock me as much at that point. I realize this is not completely similar as in your case it is more sudden, I have been away from my father for long period of time already. Has your daughter been "kept away" from her mother before the news broke? Maybe then she'll take it easier that way.

1

There are several interesting answers already, so I'll try to add to them rather than repeat what they say.

I suggest you google "grief counseling effectiveness" and read some of the scholarly articles it finds. That this is still a topic of research suggests it is not useful in very many cases. Your daughter can probably come to terms with her mother's death on her own terms, so you should not worry too much about that.

More importantly, however, you need to pass on your suspicions to your daughter. This topic may get ever more difficult to raise as time passes. What if your daughter develops the same preferences as her mother and the same accident eventually happens to her? It sounds like a dangerous thing to practise alone, since Wikipedia claims that brain ischemia can cause loss of consciousness in ten seconds, so keeping her in ignorance could be deadly.

1

I don't think you should tell her about the real reason her mother died quite yet. Wait until she is much older. It is really good on your part to soften the blow as much as possible, so good job on that! It is already traumatic enough to deal with knowing a heart attack took away a main caregiver, so I think the real truth would be pouring gasoline on the fire. I very strongly do not recommend teaching a child about how suicide works or putting it in her mind when she may be going through extreme pain right now. (Edit: I just saw your updates about telling her. Glad it went well. Her mom may have passed along a hereditary predisposition to depression or other mood disorders - just a side note for consideration.)

Children may not exhibit as many signs of distress (especially girls, they internalize their conflicts more) as adults, due to lack of verbal skills and familiarity with emotion. This is normal. It's probably a good time to show her how it's done, instead of expecting her to somehow know how to express mind-obliterating emotions about death at her age.

What I think could be helpful would be involving her in varied ways to express herself, though art, music, or punching a punching bag. It might be too painful of a topic to directly approach for her, and might not know how to give you a response. She may have shut off that painful part of her mind in order to achieve a sense of normalcy and basic functioning, which is a normal defensive response to trauma.

You could do these expressive activities together as a bonding activity. This would also be a good time to watch for signs of depression or anxiety, if she withdraws or doesn't do things she once found fun. She might also develop separation anxiety if she believes something might happen to you as well.

It would be helpful for you to show her consistent examples of you expressing yourself honestly and genuinely. This is a very powerful modeled behavior that is best shown by main caregivers, which is now you.

Perhaps create a consistent evening meeting where you show her how you talk about things you felt that day, why you think you felt that way, and making an effort to challenge some of those feelings to see if they are based on false beliefs. Doesn't have to be long or drawn out, just a normal 'taking emotional inventory' time.

1

My son was 3 yrs old when his father committed suicide. Much like you, we don't know if it was a direct attempt or a side effect of the stupid choice he made. Regardless, the way I've chosen to approach it is to slowly share the truth. When he was 3, his daddy died and went to heaven. Little by little I've shared a more clear picture. He is about to be 10 now, and he knows that his daddy saw bad things in Iraq that made his mind sad and sick, and he made bad choices that led to his death. Maybe when he is older we will discuss drugs and alcohol etc. But not today.

0

Ten years old is too young. She probably doesn't even know what suicide is.

When she's older, say 18 years, gradually introduce her to the subject and makes sure she understands it. Then tell her. It won't be easy, but this sort of thing never is.

She has a right to know

  • thank you, i agree she has a right to know but the concern i have is carrying out a lie for the next 8 years and risking her finding out sooner. – I wrestled a bear once. Dec 7 '17 at 13:45
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    Hmm, I very much knew what suicide is at that age. I don't remember if I could imagine reasons big enough to take my own life, but I understood that some people do it. In my case, luckily, I've never been helicoptered or pink-bubble-enclosed by my parents. And today, I think it's worth it to think about the finity of life, better too early than too late. While I do not have a final opinion on telling my kid about those things, I tend to believe that it's an opportunity to learn a lesson about life; gradually, of course, very gradually. – phresnel Dec 7 '17 at 15:31
  • Feel it won't be kept secret for eight years, and when told - at 18 or sooner, she'll think little of the dad for lying. – Tim Dec 7 '17 at 15:44
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    "She probably doesn't even know what suicide is" - that's ridiculous! When you say "gradually introduce her to the subject", which subject? suicide? I think this is appalling advice (and I'm glad to see the OP hasn't taken it). – Martin Bonner supports Monica Dec 7 '17 at 19:36
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question is, would it benefit my daughter in any way to... 
know that her mother killed herself and that it wasn't a heart attack?

The thing is... If she will learn that or not is not fully in your control.

Now, how people react to these things are probably very individual. But one thing that potentially could be a serious issue later on is if she would figure it out herself or accidentally hear the speculations from others and feels lied to or even betrayed.

0

Unfortunately this is one that I kinda have to deal with a lot, though from a different perspective. The kids I care for may have parents that died, or parents that have had other issues.

Here is my advice. Your asked (or spoke on two different things), so I will try to do the same.

First, the obvious one, do you tell your daughter, and if so what exactly do you tell? Well 10 years old isn't really old enough to really understand the concept of death. The beginnings are there, but it's really around the time that they start to get the basic concepts. They get that death means that someone won't be around any more, but that's about it. It's not till much later (late teens even) that the full weight of death really sinks in. Again, at 10 she can probably understand that Mom isn't going to be around any more, but not that Mom is no longer anywhere on earth.

Suicide is also very tricky. Without understanding death, one can't really understand suicide. What it looks like to a kid is essentially Mom made a choice to not be here with me anymore. Again, 10 is old enough to get some basic concepts, but not mature enough to get the entire idea.

Your correct to want to tell her the truth. And the sooner the better, but you need to tell an age approate version of the truth. Mom was sick, and died. Is true, but not the entire story. As she gets older and can understand you can share more. Mom was sick, and her kind of sickness made her very sad. So sad, that died. And eventually, Mom was depressed, and she wasn't getting the proper treatment, so she took her own life.

It's easy to forget that kids don't have the same emotional complexity as us, so keeping it really simple and focusing on the effect (Mom isn't here any more) is usually better they focusing on the cause. When explaining, make sure you re-assure you daughter that her mom loved her, and would be here if she could. Also try to give an "out" so she doesn't blame her mom. Even "the doctors didn't have her medicine right" is better then it's all your mom's fault.

You need to tell your daughter before the end of puberty!

Now take all that I said above and add one more fact to the mix. Mental issues are usually hereditary. Not always, but frequently enough that you will need to be on the look out as your daughter ages, that she doesn't show the signs. One thing you should totally do is tell her the truth, before your daughter hits those weird post-puberty years where a great many teens attempt suicide., or before she starts to fill out her own medical forms. Often times you need to inform a doctor of your family's mental health situation for them to prescribe the correct drugs for non-mental health issues. Even something as simple as birth control contains a mental history check, as your about to go messing with the hormones.

Do you keep trying to engage your daughter on this topic?

You mentioned it in your question so I thought I would add in my advice here. Unless she is getting treatment for something, or is exhibiting behaviors that are dangerous, then stop.

Every one processes grief in a very different way. Some people act out, some people site quietly and remember, some people get angry and destructive. But at the core of it is the important step of moving on, and the guilt that comes with that.

If your trying to help her deal with the loss, then do small things. Like at Christmas, have a talk about past Christmases, and how much fun Mom had making cookies, or hanging lights or whatever.

Your goal with these interactions should be helping your daughter remember the good times, without sitting there and going "Your mom is dead, your mom is dead. Remember, your mom is dead!" She will get enough of that as school. Focus on fun things they did, or that one time her mom got stuck in the snow when trying to get home. etc. Don't focus on the fact that she isn't there now.

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First off - sorry for the loss and the pain.I hope you and your daughter find comfort on each other's love.

I lost my mother at the age of 9. I remember the day that she died in a tragic way (hit and run), how we didn't know where she was... And how it was announced by one of my aunts(who found out first) to everyone else, gathered in my home. It was one of the most painful days in my life and up to this date, I still miss her.

I grew up to have two kids, now adults, and raised them with trust and truth.

I would recommend, like others, to tell her the truth now. She might have a full understanding of suicide, or she might not. She will have to deal with the truth, and it's easier to deal with some problems when we are young (I'm not a specialist in kids, just my observation of my own life).

And you will know that you are being honest. How can you teach honesty if you lie in something that personal?

I also know someone who absolutely hates his mother, because at his 20's he found out that she lied about his father's death. Up to this date, he does not talk to her (he is on his 50's).

Be well.

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