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I've asked another question here:
How to handle disclosing a parent's suicide to friends and their parents

I've noticed that this question here:
What are some strategies for helping children cope with divorce?

It seems many children can be badly affected by the perceived or real abandonment of a parent/s.

When my children were 1, 3 and 9, their father committed suicide. It was sudden, one day he left home for work, then he never returned.

My youngest was pre-verbal and my second child was also unable to have discussions like I could with my oldest child.

As children can have a tendency to feel blame for being abandoned, as can been seen in divorce, there is the added issue of my children feeling inadequate, at fault of somehow intrinsically unlovable as a result of their father taking his own life.

Aside from professional help does anybody have some sound advice or strategies to deal with children with such abandonment issues?

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I have no idea what any kind of "best" action could possibly be. What I would want to make sure of is that no matter what interaction I have with my kids about the death of their other parent I want to be clear what is happening inside me (and deal with that) from what is happening inside them (and help them deal with that). They are two different aspects of what's happening and they're easy to mix up...

I would want to make sure I get lots and lots and lots of support from friends that I trust know how to listen - and I mean REALLY listen the way I like to be listened to. That means people who can sit in silence while I open my heart and who don't give me lots of advice as to how I can 'fix' myself (like they think I'm broken???) nor do they try to shut me down (you know, stuff like - "there, there, I'm sure it will be OK" - when of course I can't possibly see that). I want support from people who know how to listen and can help me validate what's going on in my world because that will help ground me (life for example the friend who can hear how upset I am and say to me - "Shit... you must be really, really bent outta shape about this... you must be lost and confused..."). After I get to talk to these kinds of people every day as long as I need it, then I'll have some kind of space to sit with my kids and offer them the same...

When I sit with my kids I'd really want to offer them something they're not likely to get from the rest of their world - a space to just be themselves - whether that's really upset, really sad, really confused, or numb... And I'd want to listen and validate what's going on for them. I'd want to be super honest with them about what's going on for me ("wow... when I hear you say how confused you are I get all torn up inside. I know how tough it is for me and imagining that it's going on for you it must be even tougher..."). I'd sometimes get ideas about advice or things they can do to make things "better" - and I'd want to hold off sharing any of those things until I'm completely sure they've shared all they want to share with me. And then I'd ask if they'd like to hear of an idea I have that might help them. And if they said "No", I'd respect that and bring it up again later if it was still important to me or drop it if it wasn't relevant then. And if they said "Yes", I'd share my idea and ask them what they thought about it - and I'd listen again for what's going on inside of them.

My son is now 18 and he went through about 6 years that were pretty black and dark and tough for him. I found out he was really depressed and had a lot of suicidal thinking. He was living for a lot of that time in another country with his mother and when we talked on the phone and I asked how things were he didn't share with me the dark stuff. Last year he moved in with me and we began talking a lot about how things were for him. Now, after about a year with me listening to him in this way, he's a lot more open and shares a lot more of what's going on inside of him. He's faced a lot of what terrified him around other people and especially meeting new people and especially meeting young women he was attracted to. He shares these things now very openly and he seems genuinely much happier...

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I am not an expert, but would like to supply some resources that you might find helpful at the website of the American Association of Suicidology.
It has:

  • a Suicide Loss Survivors page with a lot of great resources on it.
  • links to support groups in each State (not sure if you are in the States)
  • a monthly newsletter (which may help you feel not so alone in this)
  • a handbook (which covers how to talk to your children, how to process your feelings about it, how it feels to others in your position, and how to move past some of those hard feelings)
  • a bibliography of books that may help
  • other resources

You may also find this article helpful (Mitchell, Ann, etal. Effective Communication with Bereaved Child Survivors of Suicide). It reviews studies of children whose parents have committed suicide, discussing characteristics of these children, how bereavement works for these children, and how to talk about the issue with children. The authors have also written about the efficacy of support groups for child survivors of suicide (A Support Group Intervention for Children Bereaved by Parental Suicide).

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First of all, I am sorry for your loss. Even tho it was a while ago, that doesn't change the value of the loss.

I am an analytical parent. I ask questions and try to figure out why my kid did whatever they did. Sure they tell me they were hollering at their sibling because they did X, but the underlying reason is sometimes much stronger but goes unidentified with no effort made to understood it at all.

None of what I'm going to say is not rocket science but it is the football in the football game and needs to be said aloud just so we're on the same page.

A personas mental foundation holds everything up. Everything. If the foundation has 'a problem' then the outward expressions, actions or verbiage, will have 'a problem'.

My advice for coping is to make sure absolutely sure that you are a part of their core, their foundation. Not "you know I'm here, you can always talk to me"... that's surface. If you are part of the foundation, then that does not need to be said because it is understood.

As the adult, as the mother, you are the rock; you are an island of stability in whatever sea they sail. Again, that's no ancient tribal secret, but I still needs to be said aloud.

It's been ten years, so I can't imagine you're going to hear anything here that you've not already heard or tried. However, confirmation can be comforting. I wish you luck.

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I'm so sorry for your loss Skippy. It looks like you already have some wonderful advice, and it looks as though some time has passed as well. I do not have experience with this kind of loss, but I have known a large number of adolescents that were adopted and had feelings of abandonment and the sense of inadiquacy that goes with it for some, so I thought I'd just add this thought to the mix.

I totally understand that Dad cannot be replaced. However, I am a firm believer that every child needs close male and female role models and having this helps mitigate the pains and blows of losses (particularly during adolescence). Now, I'm not saying hurry and get remarried or anything (that would be obnoxious, insensitive and completely unrealistic as well as not at all what I mean).

What I am saying is, Is there an uncle that lives near, or a close friend you trust that can be sure to spend a lot of time with each of them? Go camping, take them to "the game" laugh with them, cry with them? etc. in that uniquely masculine way? The kids I've known that did suffer a loss - by accident, nature, or suicide (only one though) that had a male role-model from a source outside the home seemed significantly helped by that relationship.

I also knew a few adolescents that were adopted by a wonderful lesbian couple. These twins were having confidence issues (and one had associated behavior problems). When, during a meeting, I suggested fostering a relationship with an adult male mentor and seeing if that could help (I knew these moms quite well) they were excited at the idea and had a couple of friends they felt would fit the job well. The transformation in attitude by the one twin in particular (but confidence in both) over the next year and a half/two years (I had them for three years in my advisory/homeroom class) was amazing and wonderful to witness.

Knowing they are loved and accepted by you and can talk to you about anything, is, obviously THE MOST important thing. This is just an idea that would hopefully add another element of support for your kids.

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Given the limited information we (and maybe also you) have, it is statistically most likely that mental-health issues are the predominant reason for your husband’s suicide¹, and I will therefore at first assume this. I may also make some further incorrect assumptions, which may seem somewhat imposing, but is just to avoid case distinctions, abstractions, etc.

I advise to consider such a suicide as the lethal symptom of a psychiatric disease, which is also in line with the modern medical point of view. Such diseases can be notoriously hard to identify, in particular as many victims do not seek professional help or confide in others (which in turn may be another symptom of the disease or due to social stigma). Moreover such diseases may be interacting with physiological ones; though I do not think that this should affect our attitude towards them.

From this point of view, your husband committed suicide because he was overwhelmed by this disease and not thinking straight. The father your children knew would (probably) not have done this. Taking this stance, the consideration that your he explicitly abandoned his family does not really arise – at least not much more as if he had died from, say, a sudden stroke. The enemy was the disease, not your husband himself.

This is also the way I would communicate this to your children. For example, a rough progression of accounts could be:

  1. Your father suddenly got very sick, and he died because of it.

  2. Your father had an illness of the brain that caused him to have absurd thoughts from time to time. One of these thoughts was that it was a good idea to kill himself. Sadly when he had that thought, nobody was around to stop him.

  3. An elaboration of psychiatric diseases, how they make the victims suffer from depressions, psychoses, and similar, how these can lead to suicidal thoughts, how difficult they are to detect and treat, how difficult the victim’s state of mind is to grasp by other people, how your husband was likely affected by one of these diseases (and you probably do not know details), etc.

Mind that I would not consider or treat the first two points as lies. They are not even a careful omission of facts. They are just a reduction to what children at a certain age can understand – for the same reason they cannot understand a full physiological explanation of cancer. And psychiatric diseases are extremely difficult to grasp, just going by how slowly humanity made progress at it so far.

Something similar applies to other reasons of suicide (though, given what you told us, it is hard to conceive one that has not at least a major psychiatric component): Whatever caused the suicide is the enemy, not your husband. For example, if your husband committed suicide because he was diagnosed with a terminal physiological disease, that disease is what you should be focusing on as a cause of death.


¹ For example, according to Surveillance for Violent Deaths — National Violent Death Reporting System, 16 States, 2008 (Table 7), at least 45% of suicide victims had a mental-health problem and 31% had problems with substance abuse (these do not seem to be fully included in the 45%, but may overlap with these), which I would also consider a mental-health problem for the purpose of this answer. I consider other prominent causes (relationship problems, life crisis, physical health, legal and financial problems) more unlikely than in the general population, given that you describe the suicide as sudden.

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    Can you please back up your claims? – Anne Daunted Apr 21 at 15:10
  • @AnneDaunted: Are there any specific claims that you think need backing up? I am asking because much of my answer is a conclusion of other parts which I can frankly not claim up beyond this. – Wrzlprmft Apr 21 at 15:32
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    People commit suicide for all kinds of reasons. They don't all boil down to a particular set of mental illnesses, though many of them do. What they do seem to boil down to is that dying is a better option than living the life they perceive they or their family/loved one(s) will if they do not kill themselves. That's not psychosis; in some cases, it's true (or at least a matter of opinion.) As the OP has not told us the reason for the suicide, we do not know why it happened either. A source for further reading would be appreciated for others in this situation. – anongoodnurse Apr 21 at 15:32
  • @anongoodnurse: I added some reference on the statistics. As for the psychoses, I phrased some part wrongly and amended it. However, I do not see that I claimed that suicides are always a consequence of psychosis (at least that’s how I understand your comment). – Wrzlprmft Apr 21 at 16:09
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    Reading carefully helps to avoid misunderstandings. They don't all boil down to a particular set of mental illnesses... (including psychosis.) But I can see how you understood that. By helpful references, I meant references about how to discuss suicide with kids, but a reference on suicide is better than none. – anongoodnurse Apr 21 at 17:32

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