How to Talk to Children About Suicide: The Power of Conversation January 27, 2014 • 8 Comments When I dreamt of becoming a mother, I never imagined that one day I would look into the eyes of my children to begin a discussion about their father’s choice to end his life. But that is exactly what happened. As I searched their faces for clues during those first few days, I realized I was going to have to work through my own discomfort about discussing things head on to create a safe harbor for our family. It seemed the only way to begin building a bridge to a healthy future. If your family has just collided with parental suicide, and you are paralyzed by the thought of speaking to your child, I would like to wholeheartedly encourage you to put your toe in the water and begin the conversation. Be brave and speak from your heart. In my experience, thinking about these conversations is infinitely worse than actually having them. I’ve met a surprising number of adults who experienced parental suicide as a child and were forbidden to speak of the event or their feelings about it. They all voiced the same sentiment: the aftermath would have been so much better had there had been a way to express and explore their feelings. Conversations steeped in the desire for healing contain expansive possibilities to connect with our children. Take advantage of every opportunity help them let their wounds escape into the open. Avoid rules or expectations. The lynchpin of the kind of conversation I am talking about is the willingness to be present for your child’s pain and provide a safe space for their soul to unfurl. Without any judgement. Isn’t this what we all ultimately yearn for? I truly believe that orchestrating an open and ongoing dialogue with my children about their father’s choice was the best thing I did to establish a new foundation for our family. Here are a few things I learned that I hope will help you: Frame the conversation with energy and intention: I was very afraid of making mistakes and re-injuring my children when everything first happened. It took me awhile to approach conversations with willingness and curiosity. Aligning them with an intention made it feel safer, especially in the beginning, when unexplored emotions were highly charged. Yoga instructors will often suggest setting an intention for a class. I find it anchors me to what I am doing on the mat in each moment, provides a context for being there and keeps me focused. When I leave class, the benefits from that concentrated hour of connecting my breath to my body, are tightly woven into my being, and benefit everything I do throughout my day and life. I applied this same principle to speaking with my kids. I began by imagining a protective field of energy around us and then whispered a healing intention to ground the conversation — something simple, like: “May this deepen our healing.” I think it is perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m scared,” out loud when you begin, because you are, after all, human, and revealing your vulnerability creates connection. I started out by saying, “I want you to know you can ask me anything, and I may not have the answers, but I want our conversations to be a place where you can explore how you feel.” In the beginning, there were some rather awkward and uncomfortable moments, but it became incrementally easier. Allow room for all questions, even when you don’t have answers: Trying to provide answers for everything short-circuits the healing power of dialogue. Many questions will never have answers, or the answers will change. Sometimes, just having permission to ask the question is more than enough. Be prepared to be uncomfortable. I will admit, the discomfort was unbearable at times. I often found myself rushing in to try and stop the pain my children were experiencing, but feeling the pain is where the healing begins. Suicide brings up emotions and behavior that many label as unacceptable. I think it is imperative not to label children’s feelings or behavior. Allowing their emotions to be expressed in the safety of your presence, where they can be held emotionally, physically and spiritually is one of the most healing gifts you can offer them. Grant permission for anger: For some reason, I was terrified of my children’s anger in the beginning. Perhaps because it is something I was never taught how to navigate, much less express in a meaningful way. It has only been in the latter part of my life that I have dared to be true to what lay inside. In her book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren eloquently states that anger asks, “What must be protected? What must be restored?” And from the enlightening book When the Body Says No, by Dr. Gabor Maté: “Anger is the energy Mother Nature gives us as little kids to stand forward on our own behalf and say, I matter.” Viewed this way, for the child who has lost a parent to suicide, anger is a natural reaction. Never underestimate the power of touch: Touch crawls into all the gaps we cannot reach with our words and it creates connection, which is the glue of life. Often times a hug can convey more than any verbal expression ever could. My desire to delve into honest conversations stemmed from a deep personal desire to have this tragedy remain out in the open, rather than become an exiled, mysterious entity that my children had to make sense of on their own. I know this experience inhabits their cells and fragments of it will travel with them for the rest of their lives, but in creating the space for curiosity and honest exploration early on, I hope I have graced them with the foundation to look upon it with strength, compassion and love. May your conversations lead to you to a deeper connection, illumination and love. Sending you strength and love, -db Who is Dianna Bonny? Hi, my name is Dianna Bonny. It’s my mission to candidly share my journey with you. For me, it’s all about the healing: to create a radiant healing energy for others who have befallen a similar fate. Together, we can forge beautiful lives of belonging and connection. Thanks for joining me today! I look forward to hearing from you.