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How to support my children thru aftermath of a possible suicide in the family?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Hi everyone 


Please excuse me for just hopping right in here.  I don't participate in discussion groups much anymore, but I was here when my kids were babies. . . I belonged to a lot of boards back then & don't recall my old username, though.



To get to my question:  my sons' stepmother died suddenly a few days ago.  She was only in her early 30s.  Everyone is shocked, no one expected this.  Poor ex DH is devastated.  greensad.gif   Just talked to him & he said they are considering it a possible suicide.  


The boys are 10 & 9, and we share custody, week-on week-off more or less.  They don't know the details of how she died (I don't either; ex-DH didn't volunteer any information other than the above).  They are with me this week, I am so glad they weren't at their dad's when she passed.  But they took a couple days off school to spend with him. I was there as well, for part of that time (the funeral etc.) I have seen them all (ex & the kids) crying together, but mostly they are keeping it up beat.  This Friday is switch over day when they go to their dad's.  


As I said, ex DH is clearly very sad, and there were a few times the boys were crying with him, but at home with me, they almost seemed as if it hadn't happened.  I remember from Psychology class that children are not like adults when grieving the death of someone close. . . I forget how they are different though.  dizzy.gif  I kept expecting them to suddenly break down and start freaking out suddenly, or something.  Goodness knows, they have done so over much less important things, like not getting a video game, for example.  eyesroll.gif  


I'm not planning to say anything to them about suicide and neither is ex, first of all, they are little kids, secondly we don't know that to be the case  It has occurred to me (this is just me, knowing nothing, though) that we might never know if it was or not.  But anyway, I don't think they would need to know that.  


I wonder if anyone has any ideas how I can expect them to react as they process her death, and the best ways to support them (and ex DH) while they are going through this.  So far the kids have not shared it with anyone at school.  I did call their teachers when I first found out, & let them know that the boys' step mom had died, because I kind of expected the kids to maybe be acting differently at school, or might need to be consoled.  But when they came home today (1st day back) they told me they hadn't mentioned it to anybody, teachers or friends.  That surprised me.


Thank you, nice to meet you  flower.gif  

post #2 of 7

I am so sorry for your son's and your families loss.

I think .... there will be rumors around town if your town is anything like mine and it would be better coming from you and your ex... I also would not lie- I would say we do not know what happened yet and when we do we will tell you. Then when you do know for sure I would tell them gently.

If it does come out that she committed suicide I would tell them she was very very sick and that it had nothing to do with them.

I would contact a child counselor or other expert and see what they say.  You may want to get them into counseling now or down the road.

Last year I had a neighbor who killed himself and he had a 12 yo son.  IT was devastating.  The whole town talked about it tho and the kids was questioned by other kids at school. I don't know how he handled it but I can only imagine how hard it was.

We also had a kindergarten teacher in a neighboring town commit suicide in the classroom this year... the kids knew about it... the little ones know she was sick and died but my 8 yo knew the truth and the kids his age did to- so we had to talk about it.


Thats just my two cents.... I am not an expert but this is how I think I would handle it... I could not imagine if my kids step mom passed away- they are very close to her.... they would be very very devastated and they see her less than your kids did her.... oh mama I am so so so sorry.

post #3 of 7

I agree with mom31 that you should tell your sons the whole truth as soon as possible, before they hear it elsewhere or hear it later and feel upset that they weren't told immediately. I would personally want to get more details from you ex first, though. At least find out whether there's an investigation going on which may reveal the whole truth or if it will always be a "maybe" suicide. If there is an investigation, I could see waiting until it's completed to tell the boys what happened, if you don't think they'll hear rumors before then.


9-10 really isn't that young. It's about the age when I would start discussing mental health issues anyway, since depression can affect pre-teens as well as teens.


Kids that age have the same basic feelings of grief that adults do, but they pass in and out of their grief much more quickly. They really may be fine at school, but then be experiencing the strong feelings again later that day. They don't tend to focus as long on a given feeling as an adult does. Also remember that the grief process can be re-occurring with children, as they re-process the feelings over and over again as they mature.


It's pretty hard to predict how anyone, child or adult, will react to a death, though, especially when I know almost nothing about them or their situation. I thought my godson would be a lot more devastated by the death of his father than he was.

post #4 of 7

at this point - the truth is - no one knows.


i would definitely talk to ex and be on the same page as him as to what to say. both of you have to agree what you want to say about the death. 


children do very well with death. its adults who suffer and dont know what to do.


children cry, they talk about it, etc. 


i think its wonderful that they can sit with their dad and just cry together. what a wonderful bonding. 


i would not bring up anything. your kids are old enough that you answer they questions as truthfully as you can. i would not volunteer any info but answer their questions honestly even if the answer was 'i dont know'.


i am not surprised they didnt say their stepmom died in school. while they may not be reacting outside its still a difficult time and they are figuring out what to say. esp. in school perhaps without bursting into tears. 


many kids also dont immediately react. its the absence that sinks in and brings it back.


one thing for sure is do not EVER kill her yourself. if she comes up in conversation talk about her and what she did or liked. never act like she never existed. 


remember this is a new emotion for them, something this deep they have never experienced before. they will have triggers when it will make them cry. that is snuggle time. 


they will be ok mama. definitely will make them 'better' adults - in a sad, painful way - yet not depressing. 

post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the advice... the kids have been holding up really well so far.  Ex says they talk about it sometimes, he often gets the sense they are consoling him (he is taking it hard but holding it together).  


So far it's only come up a few times when they are with me.  We talk about her for a few minutes, recall some nice memories, they have cried a little bit.  I feel like if I were in their shoes, I'd be devastated ~ more than what I'm seeing here, but then, I haven't been in their shoes.  My own stepmother is alive and 70+ years old.



post #6 of 7

I again am so sorry for this loss. Was it confirmed a suicide and do the children know... how were they told?  Everyone experiences grief differently- they may surely be in shock and just not get it yet the magnitude of what happened.  I hope they can feel the emotions and work thru them. Hugs mama... this is tough.

post #7 of 7

I agree with the notion that it's best to follow the kids' lead and offer simple, honest answers to their questions.  They'll appreciate the honesty, and it will help them to trust.  If rumors start to spread and they're likely to hear about them, I'd address that more proactively, and tell them what you've heard so that they hear it from you first.  Then, tell them what you know/don't know.  "We don't know and may never know what happened" is a perfectly good answer, if it reflects the truth.



 I also agreed with the poster who said it was beautiful that they can cry with their father.  Sounds like you and he are coparenting through this beautifully.

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