Talking to Kids about Suicide
Archived Q&A and Reviews
My daughter's husband killed himself after years of severe depression. They have 2 kids, 10 and 7. I would like some advice from people who have had experience with this sort of thing. I have so many questions. Should I be concerned with the 10 year old not grieving outwardly and the 7 year old crying all the time? What's too much help for my daughter? How to help her through this horrible period? Their house is getting foreclosed upon (even before this). Should they move NOW or later? Is it healthy to stay in the house or better to move out? I have rescheduled my whole life so I can be available to her + kids 24/7, but I am only on call so far. She honestly has not used me that much. (She has chosen to be closer to her husband's family because she knows I never approved of her husband and the way he treated her and what he put her through, especially the last few years). It's very complicated. Any suggestions/advice etc. would be appreciated. Frankness and bluntness is no problem. I prefer that.
this is horrible--there are so many things to deal with that are incredibly hard. supporting your daughter through this is of course crucial, so that the kids can feel as secure as possible that she will be there for them. my father did the same when i was almost 10 and my brother was 8, so i have some perspective here, and i remember missing him terribly but feeling secure that my mother was going to be there to help us handle it. there are several things about suicide in particular that hit-- sometimes the parents of the suiciding parent will blame the other parent (everyone is full of anger in these situations as it is so horribly painful), if that happens try to keep the kids shielded from it, people will eventually (hopefully) come around. losing a parent suddenly is traumatic--everything is ''normal'' and then irrevocably changed--this can happen to everyone, car accidents or other things, but doesn't happen to most people, but for a child they now know that something terrible can happen at a drop of a hat even in a normal situation. this will linger. it took about 10 years until i could think about it without horrible sadness. if there is a memorial tradition in the family, it should be kept up, in mine (jewish) my mother, brother and i would say the mourner's prayer together every week and look at my father's picture. but i didn't konw it was a suicide then, not for many years. once i found out i was incredibly angry and i still am even though i know that he felt so much pain and desperation that he could think of no other way. the kids should know (if they know it was a suicide) that suicide is an illness symptom, not anger at them, and that they couldn't stop him. they might blame themselves for not figuring it out and stopping him. 10 is old enough to do that.
as they get older they will want to know more about their father at different stages as they will be ready to relate to him differently, even though he is no longer there. if you can remember anything about what he said about them, what he wanted for them, etc., write it down now, so you can tell them then. they will probably want memories of him, if they can forgive him. especially, as fathers are often the source of approval, things that he was proud of them for. your memories of him are an incredible treasure for them now. take care. hang in there
You could say that you would like to be able to be there for her, and connect with her, and the kids. Maybe something about not putting thoughts/energy into how she viewed you/your relationship with the father in the past, but just wanting to focus on the present, and nurturing the relationships that currently exist. offer to go to some sort of therapy with her. or pay for it for her, or for her and the kids. ask if it would be nice to have dinner at your house a couple of times a month. ask if she needs space. if it would be nice for her if you had the kids for dinner a couple times a month, or once a week. i think it is important to be there, and suggest things, and let her know that you want to connect and know how to be a support, but not to suffocate her with your 'need' to help....i hope this is helpful, it sounds so painful. rnw
i write as a fatherless daughter, a mother, and as a person who mourns. first of all, don't let fear of the emotional history/baggage between the two of you become a barrier. more than ever, your daughter needs the unconditional Love and support from those around her, especially her mother. be loving, BE Love. now is the time to let go of your fear, pride/ego and past hurts, and heal your relationship. forgiveness paves the path to healing. in your heart, forgive her for her life-choices that she made without your approval that somehow wronged you and you must forgive her husband for ''what he put her through'', and she in turn will come to forgive you for your judgemental disapproval, past slights, and your lack of unconditional love. whatever you may have thought of him, your daughter and her children LOVE him. is it any surprise that they ''choose'' to be close to his family who can share in that Love, can share in their mutual sorrow, and cherish memories of him? it is not really even a ''choice'' of his family over you, it really is not about you at all. by even thinking of it as a choice, you show that you have closed off your heart and mind to him and by extension her & the children. you made it into a choice, and in doing so, you made that choice for her. feeling hurt or excluded because she is close to his family is about your ego and projecting your needs onto her life, and only pushes her further away. love is infinite. she can be close to his family and close to you, if only you allow it. whatever you may have thought of him, he suffered an unfathomable mental illness one that drove him to end his own life. lingering on your perceptions of the past, on ''how he treated her,'' your bias against him, is not constructive, is not loving, and will only serve to distance you from your daughter and your grandchildren, who are after all, a part of him. if you can forgive him, let go of your need to ''approve'', and pray that his spirit is now mended, that he is free from the suffering & torment that drove him to take his own life, and open yourself to sympathy for him, then you can be present in unconditional Love with your daughter. while you may never understand or feel the depth of her loss & sorrow, you can still feel hurt for her and be empathetic and be a part of her life and her healing journey. you have that choice to make.
second, when people are grieving, many friends make offers of ''call if you need anything''. rarely does the bereaved person call; they don't want to impose or be a burden. they are mired in their grief and don't have the wherewithall to realize they need help, much less ask for it. it's much better to offer some concrete acts of kindness and create space for an opening or opportunity to share. if someone says, ''i'm going to stop by tonight at 5pm with dinner. i can stay if you need to talk, but don't feel pressured.'' or, ''i'm free to come on thursday from 2-4pm to clean your bathroom, do laundry, etc. will that work for you?'' or, ''let me take the kids to a movie on saturday'' then arrange for someone else to be with the person during that time so they're not alone. most people want to be helpful, but just don't know how to go about it. someone who is going through tragedy or even a new mom or a sick friend hates the idea of being a burden. they don't want to make any decisions.
as their house is being foreclosed, she is likely struggling financially which is stressful on top of dealing with her grief and being a parent. if you are not able to help them financially or she is unwilling to accept that help, buy them groceries, that is one practical way to ease her stress. there are no hard & fast should and should nots in the tangled emotional issues surrounding their foreclosure situation. rather than offer advice either way, you could try facilitating her decisionmaking by asking her open-ended questions instead. trust her to make the best decisions for herself and her family.
third, grief has no language & children in particular don\x92t innately have the tools or means to articulate their own grief. as adults, we need to guide them & give them safe spaces to share their feelings. with their father suffering mental illness you want to give them better tools for emotional health. you don\x92t mention gender & that can also impact the way children express/repress sadness. girls in particular may emulate their mother. children should be allowed to witness their parent & elders grieving & crying, so that they can feel free and safe to be present in their own emotions & to share their own sorrow as well. for a boy, encourage him to express his emotions & to cry when he feels sad because social pressure on males to repress emotions played a role in their father\x92s depression. don\x92t underestimate the value of touch. just being held while you are sad is healing.
you could trying giving the children a cathartic ritual to creatively express their grief. they could write a letter to their father. you could then make a copy of the letter (saving one copy for for them to revisit & reflect on) & give them the choice of how they would like to send it to their loved one; the child chooses the element that speaks to their own spirit\x97via the ocean, on the tail of a kite, in a small bonfire, left under a rock or in a tree, at the gravesite, or read out loud in a prayer. if the child is not able to articulate their grief, they could also create something by hand with whatever medium feels comfortable. even for an adult, this little ritual helps to give closure to the raw emotions that the healing may begin. know that grief is a profound emotion that cannot be denied, it leaves a palpable mark on one\x92s souls. they will live with this loss for their whole lifetimes. your daughter & grandchildren will always feel their loss, every day, every moment, at all life\x92s rites of passage & meaningful events, they will taste the bittersweet, even as they may also partake in life\x92s joys. tears of joy & tears of sorrow will be one and the same. there is no contradiction in that. patiently listen to their expressions of grief without judgement or hurry, hold the space for them, hold them, offer them the love and security that they may reflect on their sorrow and move forward in their life.
don't let fear stay your hand or bind your tongue. pause, breathe, open your inner eye, listen to your heart (not your ego) & be love. LN
I highly reccomend a group - Circle of care - for your daughter and her kids & you if you are interested. If your daughter does not want to attend, offer to take the kids for her. Its wonderful, especially for kids who have had a parent die of suicide (can be extremely isolating). Sliding scale/no fee if the family cannot pay. Located in Oaklad. 531-7551. Children's grief looks very different than adult grief. Check out dougy.org (the Dougy Center of Portland Or) for more info. good luck
I would do two things: work hard to learn about suicide and make a bridge of support to your daughter and her children (bearing in mind that this may not have effect right away). Excellent books are When Darkness Falls: Understanding Suicide (technical but brilliant) and My Son, My Son (empathic). At least read one through, because the patterns and tunnel vision of those with clinical depression are unique and worth knowing.
Forsuicidesurvivors.com has a resource and booklist for spouses, parents and children. The Association of Suicidology is national and has groups in North Oakland, Walnut Creek and San Rafael. http://www.suicidology.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1=60 Karylofpavo [at] cs.com is an email for parents surviving suicide & has online support groups. After losing my best friend in graduate school, I found the parents surviving suicide support group to be most helpful, as they took me in, were extremely kind, & do a lot in the community to help with response and legislation. It was empowering to look at how to make it easier for other families.
For now, soak in knowledge but know on some level it won't make sense. You may continue to feel helpless, because it brings that out in people. It's a terrible time for her. Be humble and open. Put any judgment or competitive feelings (with the inlaws) aside if they exist. Apologize for the past. Emphasize your love for her and her children. (Btw, the oldest child may be in shock or have complicated grief and may not be able to cry). I wouldn't ask 'what's too much help', because this is one of the worst things a person can go through. But she has to let you in, so get support and advice there on how to approach and hopefully improve your relationship with her. Not knowing details about the house, how much time she has, how recent this is, how close you live to each other, you may need to help line up a place to go and be there during a move to protect her things. I had to move just after the death on my own and was robbed. Just make sure she has a good team around her. I'm very sorry for this loss. Please understand that if this is very recent, things may change as you may all still be in some degree of shock, which can last for months. I'm happy to provide other resources. You can contact the moderator for my email. Finally, don't put your entire life on hold; continue to take care of yourself. anon
My husband and I both have a family history of depression and suicide. My older brother (age 19), my husband's mother (age 42), and my grandfather--long before I was born--(50-ish?) all took their own lives. Our daughters, ages 6 and 10, don't know about this yet. They have asked questions from time to time about my brother's death (they have seen his pictures) and my husband's mother (they love his father's current wife, their Grandma). So far, we have only explained that they died from illness, and didn't go any further than that. How and when do we explain suicide to our daughters? I should mention that our daughters are both adopted, so our family's mental illness is not part of their health history. Our 10-year-old daughter in particularly is extremely sensitive, and doesn't like to hear sad and painful stories. But we don't want to keep ''secrets'' (my own family did that when my brother died, telling lies--and asking us to tell lies--about his death to all our close relatives and friends, including many of my siblings who did not find out for years). My grandfather's suicide was always a secret, and would have remained a secret -- until one of my siblings found a death certificate with suspicious language. What do you think -- when is the right time, and how to talk about it? --Still grieving after 35 years
Your answer so far has been very good and honest. Maybe the next time the topic comes up, you could expand the term ''illness'' to ''mental illness''. Even if your children are adopted, it is still good for them to learn about symptoms of mental illness and to know that it is really a physical brain disorder that can be treated. Advocate for brain disorders
The archive on this topic was interesting to read. When my son asked how my mother died, I always said she had been ill. But when he was about 10 or 11 and asked me, I felt he was mature enough to know the truth and I told him. He was shocked but we discussed it and I told him he could and should ask me anything he wanted to know. Since the relatives you mention died awhile ago, I think it is alright to not tell them the truth until you think they are mature enough to handle it. Your sensitive 10 year old may not be ready for it yet. I don't consider that lying but rather, using your good judgment as a parent. When it feels appropriate, probably by age 12 or 13, then tell your oldest. My son asked me why I had lied to him before and I explained However, if someone in your children's daily lives just committed suicide, then it might be different. You must ask yourself: why do they need to know NOW when they might not be ready for it as opposed to a few years later? What is gained by telling them before they are ready? Only you can answer that and my sense from your posting is that it's just not crucial at this moment. been there.....
My father committed suicide when I was 2. His father had also apparently committed suicide (though the family said it was accidental). My mom probably could have done a little better about explaining it to us, but just let her bitterness come out instead. Now I am the mother of a 4 year old son. He asks me about who my father is, and wants to know where he is. We have told him that my father died from being sick...which is true, depression killed my father. I think that is a fine explanation of a suicide death until the child is MUCH older to truly understand the complexity involved. been there
I am so sorry for the losses you have suffered. I have not been through something similar but when my children have asked about family history I didn't think they were ready to hear ( for example my son asked me at age 11 if I had ever had an abortion, which I have but was not ready to tell him about) I've said something like '' some things are very personal and I don't feel it's the right time to talk about this. I'm not keeping a secret from you I'm just using my best judgement about when it makes sense to share certain things with you.'' I also let him know he could ask me about anything and I wouldn't lie but I might choose not to answer. I wonder if you could use a similar approach. Let them know for example, ''they died due to mental illness, it was very sad and when we feel you are ready we can talk about it more'', that way there is no lying involved but you are protecting your sensitive children from something they are not ready to handle. I feel certain you will know when the right time to talk about it more is. so sorry for your loss
I don't have personal experience with suicide, but I found myself reflecting on your question a lot, especially since I've noticed my own discomfort in explaining it to my own 7 year old son when it comes up in movies, etc.
This is fitting for me; hope it helps you: Offering a reason with accompanied solution along with the explantion, thereby leaving hope. For example, ''Your grandpa took his own life, because back then they didn't know that they could ask for help/talk to someone/etc when they were sad'' or ''...because they didn't grow up in a home like ours where feelings are talked about and respected''.... Love, Sister Sue
My children's (12 1/2, 16) dad recently committed suicide as a result of bipolar illness (manic-depression.) Do I tell them he committed suicide? Do I tell them how he did it? Right now they just know he died and the medical examiner is determining cause of death. Now they're at greater risk of suicide -- what do I do about that? Thanks for your advice.
Call the Alameda County Suicide Prevention Hotline at 510.849.2212 and have them refer you to a Suicide Survivors Support Group Counselor asap. These people are wonderful and know their stuff. They have a 10 week group that is the most incredible resource.
My father killed himself when I was 29, 3 years ago. I did the above support group within 3 months of his death. Our group has been meeting once a month on our own now for 3 years and it's become much less informal, but we're a great souce of support for one another. We've seen us all go from being completely heartbroken to putting our lives back together and laughing and smiling.
I also would insist that you (and your children depending on what the above counselors advise) do EMDR therapy asap. This is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy and it succeeds in taking the charge off of traumatic memories and images such that your life isn't permanently disabled by them. The best such therapist in this area is Harriet Sage, LCSW at 510.527.6100. She's a certified trainer of this method and an excellent therapist. You can also get other referrals to therapists from www.emdr.org and calling the number listed, but Harriet's great and will be able to refer you so call her asap.
Your kids do not have to be at risk for suicide. They will need to understand it and get access to the tools to be sure they can live their lives in a much healthier manner than their father was able to. My mother and 2 of my 3 sisters and I have all done a combination of support group and EMDR therapy and we're all in a much better place now. Our lives are forever changed, but not in a hopeless way. We are all stronger than we've ever been and deeper people than we've ever been.
You will get through this. Surround yourself with the safe resources above as quickly as you can. Be VERY gentle with yourself and your family. And please write back to say how things are going.
To the parent asking about whether to explain their father's recent suicide to children. Probably the best idea would be to get some professional advice on this, and exactly how they will handle it depends on the children and what their relationship with their dad was like. There is a book called After Suicide by Hewett, which has a chapter on talking to children about suicide. The book says that you will have to talk to them about suicide, one way or another, and I think that's probably right.
My experience with this is having lost a brother to suicide about 11 years ago. He had a daughter who was under a year at the time, and I believe my sister-in-law told her when she was 8 or 9 years old. (Prior to that she simply said that he had died and was vague about specifics.) I plan to do the same with my own children who are still very young. I can't imagine that you can avoid telling your children about this (including the how, if they ask), given their ages (12 1/2 and 16).
My sympathies to you and your children in this painful time. My niece is doing quite well, by the way -- she has plenty of friends and is doing well in school.
I'm so sorry - that is so sad for your children. At 12 and 16, they are old enough to be told what happened, and they should be told. They may suspect it anyway if their father was often unhappy in the past, and it may hurt them to find out later that you weren't fully honest with them. They may be curious about how it happened and I think if they ask you should tell them in as gently a way as possible. They may need some help coming to terms with their father's death. My father died when I was a teenager and even though I knew I wasn't directly responsible, for a long time I felt terrible that I hadn't done enough for him, hadn't loved him enough, if only I had been a better daughter... It's hard for children not to feel that they are somehow to blame when a parent dies.
When my son was 6, my ex attempted--and nearly succeeded at--suicide due to depression. I had shielded my son from her mental illness struggles prior to that time, but I decided at that point to give as much information as I could. Essentially, I used the opportunity to really talk about mental illness. I think this is crucial for a bunch of reasons. First, it's very important to dispell any impression a kid might have that he or she was responsible for the adult's actions. Section, as you so rightly pointed out, it is critical to inform the child of his or her own vulnerability in this area and equip them as much as possible with information about how to take care of themselves and how to get help. Take the shame out of if as much as you can--if your kid's dad had died of heart disease, wouldn't you want to teach them preventative care? Good luck.
There is a number for suicide prevention - crisis support services - (510) 849-2212 - emergency line or business line - (510) 848-1515. They have group and individual sessions and can answer and give support for families.
This is a very difficult situation. Whether or not to tell your kids the cause of death would probably depend on a number of things, emotional development, personal history (have there been other traumatic experiences?), etc. One problem with not telling them is that they may hear it from some unwitting family member or friend down the line. Telling them now in these formative years could influence them to think they are like their father in this regard and pre-dispose them to similar problems. It's also common for kids to think *they* are the cause of a parent's death. I wouldn't leave this decision to my feelings or intuitions. I'd definitely find a competent therapist who specializes in working with teens and discuss it with that person. (An aside: My experience is that finding a good therapist that can help you -- with whatever issue -- is not an easy task. It takes time and research and also your meeting with a few of them to get a sense of how you would work together. This costs money, but is well worth the investment. Therapists have strengths and weaknesses and should not be thought of as necessarily equal in their ability to help people.) I wish you well.
I am so sorry for your loss. How hard that must be for you to bear. My strong thought for your situation would be that you really need expert support here--get your family into therapy very soon. Just consider it grief counseling. I couldn't begin to suggest what to tell your kids about such an important, personal subject without knowing more about the details and your kids. All the best to you.
To the mother of the children whose father committed suicide, first of all, my condolences. My children's (about the same ages as yours) father made an unsuccessful attempt a few years ago. He, too, suffers from bi-polar disorder. He subsequently told the kids about the attempt. I've often wondered how I would have talked with them if his attempt had been successful.
This past summer, my younger son's soccer coach (father of 3 children) committed suicide. A group called PediatriCare provided a (free) grief-counseling group for the boys on the team (many of whom were also classmates); and I understand they also provide other services. The kids who attended the session (it was kids only) felt it was very helpful. Their phone number is (510) 531-7551. The address is 2540 Charleston Street, Oakland, CA 94602.
Dear X: I think it's important for your children to know the truth about their father's suicide. Even though it can be really painful to talk about, they deserve to understand what happened and why. It's not easy to explain suicide to young people, but I think it's important to try your best to be honest with them. I think it's sufficient to tell them that he committed suicide without going into the details of how he did it. That level of information is only appropriate if they indicate that they are ready/want to hear it.
Ten years ago, my brother committed suicide at age 35. At the time, I told my son, who was 4 years old, that his uncle had died in a car accident (in fact, he drove off a cliff). The topic of my brother's death continued to come up over the years. When my son was about 10, I gave him more specific information telling him that his uncle committed suicide as a way of seeking relief from desperate emotional pain for which he had been unable to find any other solution. More recently, a woman friend of mine who was terminally ill committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Her ex-husband decided not to tell their children (ages 12 and 17) because he thought they would feel that their mother had abandoned them. The children knew she was dying, but her death was oddly sudden all the same. What remains in that family, two years later, is the sense of a secret in the closet. It's my belief that the denial of what happened (ostensibly to protect the children) will return to haunt those kids over and over.
There have been others close to my son who have died: of cancer, asthma, old age, and by murder. On each occasion, I tell him in an age-appropriate manner what happened and then we find ways to honor the memories and spirits of the dead. Suicide is, sadly, a common response to chronic mental illness. As a society, we are primitives in dealing with this issue. Shame and stigma are still attached to anyone who suffers from emotional or mental imbalances. I think it would be really important to remind your children that their father's death is not about them, but a result of his own internal anguish. Allowing them to know what really happened and then giving them time and space to grieve (in all its stages) will probably be the best antidote to any risk category this might place them in. I wish you courage and strength however you handle this situation.
re suicide of husband. First, my sincere condolences at this tragic loss. I am a nurse who worked in Psychiatry for many years at Langley-Porter, UCSF My first recommendation is to find a therapist who can work with you and the children individually and as a family. The decision to reveal the circumstances of his death is one that should be made by you with the help and guidance of the therapist. The timing is an issue and exactly how much you want to share. Sometimes this happens in stages as the children want and need more information. You will all need support through this process...the greiving and other feelings such as guilt and anger that will naturally come up. Bipolar disorder is a difficult and high risk illness and you are not alone in dealing with the wake of this heartbreaking disease. Know that it is a disease and what happened was not your fault nor is there anything you could have done to change things. I wish you well in your recovery and in moving ahead with your life.
Tell your kids the truth. They will find out eventually and you will lose their trust if you haven't told them the truth. Every time I hear of suicide on TV on in the newspapers I tell my kids that they are not allowed to kill themselves. I tell them to get help from an adult they trust or that I will pay a therapist.
As someone whose mother committed suicide when I was 11, I think it is important to tell children the cause of death upfront. My father waited years to tell me and my sister, and that increased the stigma for us. As for the how, I would tell them if they ask, but wait until they do. Probably just hearing that their father killed himself will be plenty to take in at once.
As for your children being more at risk to kill themselves, it is my firm belief that the risk is intensified by the level of secrecy and shame. So the more you can talk about the situation honestly, the less they will have to wonder about themselves. Also get them some therapy now.....that will help alot. I haven't seen the research but I bet that once children of suicides have children themselves, the risk of their committing suicide goes way down...they know how awful it is for the survivors. There are some good books about children and traumatic deaths....the main point, and this is reinforced by my experience, is that the shame and guilt of the surviving adults makes the death far more traumatic. One last thing: Because my mother killed herself, people were uptight about talking about her. So her death defined her life. None of the adults in my life ever helped me to understand her life, and what would lead her to take it. So try, in your pain, to remember their father by more than his last act.
My heart goes out to you and your children. I wish I had more to contribute to help you. The main thing I want to say is that illnesses like Bipolar Disorder are frequently fatal, just the same way that other physical illnesses like cancer are. People sometimes think that mental illnesses are less valid, or think that since they are just in the mind that they shouldn't be taken seriously. But those illnesses kill people just as surely as cancer does.
As far as your children being at increased risk, there is still alot unknown about how heredity works with Bipolar Disorder. Most family members never develop any form of the illness. Your children's best bet is to educate themselves about the illness, and for other family members to be vigilant about noticing any early symptoms. There is much new research being done in this area, and it is really possible that in the next few years there could be new treatments that are more effective. The best way to keep up with these issues might be through NAMI, a grassroots organization devoted to mental health, they have a website at http://www.nami.org/. My best wishes are with you.
My son's father committed suicide (as the result of manic depression) when my son was 20 months old. I got professional advice and ended up writing about that incorporated our experience. The main advice is tell the truth! Tell them in age-appropriate terms, in ways you can add to later. If you don't tell them now, someone will tell them later, and they'll feel you betrayed them by not being forthright. Your kids are old enough to understand death and mental disease, and I would be frank. My son was so young that I've had to really start slowly, at his level, but from the beginning he knew that daddy's body doesn't work anymore, that daddy won't come back, that some people die from accidents, some from illness, that illness can be of the body or of the mind, that daddy had an illness that made his mind unable to function normally. His illness made him feel that suicide was a way to deal with his problems, but that it is NOT a normal, proper way. Not talking about death - esp. suicide - is a sure way to induce guilt and shame. And sooner or later someone else will tell your kids, and they'll be vulnerable and surprised, may even deny the statement about their dad, which will possibly lead to taunting and teasing. My goal has been to make daddy's suicide another fact of our life. If someone brings it up to my kid, he can say, I know, without generating any teasing. In fact, my son at 8, sometimes brings it up himself, matter-of-factly. Of course, he didn't know his dad well, doesn't remember him, doesn't remember the trauma at the time. Your kids have more attachment. I definitely recommend all of you getting some therapy, and the suicide survivors group thru Berkeley hot line is really good. I was also told to let my grief show, to admit that this was traumatic, because my kid would feel that something was wrong anyway, and to deny it would only confuse him. But I had to save my falling apart for times away from him. He needed (still does) to know that I am basically ok, that we will survive, that I can handle life from here on out. His very existence depends on that! I would be more than happy to talk to you in person/on phone. This is very difficult, I know. Talking helps. Call anytime. Linda
My sister committed suicide just before my first child was born, so I have thought about this question a lot. My daughter is only three, so now is not the right time, but there will come a time that is right and I made a commitment to be honest about it because there is a good deal of denial in my family about depression. Presently, she knows she had an aunt that is in many family pictures who died at age 28 because she was sick. Curiously enough, my daughter is very interested in death at her age.
There is much good literature available on surviving suicide, and the county offers grief support groups for people who have had a loved one commit suicide. You can call the suicide prevention hotline for the number - its in the book. I recommend the grief groups because suicide is such a unique and devastating loss. Churches also offer grief counselling groups. There might be something you could attend as a family. Ultimately your kids will want to know how their father died, and the truth is the best policy.