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My brother took his own life in 2000 at age 23. My kids - 10-year-old girl, 8-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl - know that I had a brother and that he died, but I have not told them anything more than that he was very ill. It is now time, their mother and I feel, to tell them what happened. We don't want them to find out from someone else. My concerns / questions:

  • He shot himself, don't really want to go into the details with them. How to avoid the details, or should I?
  • Is the 4-year-old too young? It wouldn't be fair on the others to tell them but ask them not to tell her.
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I'm not sure its a good idea to consider the childrens' ages individually, since they may be end up talking with each-other and learn they got a different story. I don't believe you should burden your eldest children with keeping such a secret; I would keep the story consistent for all of them, and not tell any of them anything you wouldn't want youngest to try and grapple with too early.

Mental illness that extreme can faithfully be considered an illness, so you aren't lying to them. I don't see any reason they have to be told all the details, all the important things you want to convey to them should be enough for them to think about, i.e.

  • Their uncle was very sad

  • This type of sadness is more like a sickness than a reaction to the world

  • They can always come to you if they feel sad

You can still tell them that an illness killed their uncle, without opening the Pandora's box that is suicide to them. As they grow older they may even realize themselves from these details what happened, which assures you that if they understand suicide enough to deduce it, they are ready to deal with the specific truths of this situation. Just be ready to answer their questions down the road.

I think the most important thing you can do is let them know how depression may affect them, how to identify it, and that they have support to deal with it. You can do this without laying any existential burdens on them by way of telling them too much.

If you still personally have a strong urge to tell them everything, it may be because you have a very natural urge to get this off your chest, but your kids should not be responsible for this. If you really need to talk to someone about it, open up to another adult in your life who you trust or seek professional therapy, then reconsider what you believe is important to tell your kids.

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I can't claim I have the answer but here's my personal opinion.

I think it really depends on multiple factors:

1) Is there any other source of information your children may get the truth from? If you keep the secret, can you guarantee it won't come out until your children and older and mature?

2) What is the mental state of your children and your relationship to them? Are your children (hard to tell with the 4 year old, but more the older ones) very sensitive, take bad news hard, introverted, etc. You should be able to assess how your children would react to such bad news, and whether the conversation between you and them can delve freely into such topics (possibly because you had similar conversations in the past).

Personally I don't think there is much value in telling them anything about it until they are older, more mature, and can reason and understand.

We all grow up knowing suicide as a concept and that it exists and that certain people kill themselves. You can't totally isolate your kids from that. When it happens in your backyard though, that gives it a different perspective. That it's no longer something that happens to other people but it's a viable choice even for people close to you. I don't know how that may affect their psyche.

I grew up knowing that my aunt died of cancer and I don't remember anything about her. Whether she died of cancer or not at this point in my life is no longer of importance.

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