Dear Dr. Bill,
My father-in-law committed suicide about four years ago. Back then my wife and I told our young kids that he was sick and elderly, and that he died — without giving any further details. But now our two oldest children are 12 and 9-years-old, and they want to know more. What advice do you have about how and when to talk to our kids about this?
I would encourage you to be honest with your kids about your father-in-law’s death. Let them know that sometimes people feel so sad about what is happening in their lives that they believe that things will never get better. They lose all hope in the future, and they come to believe that killing themselves is the only way to stop the pain that they are in.
If your father-in-law suffered from chronic depression, you can explain that some people have a problem with the chemicals in their brain, which leads them to feel sad all of the time.
You should also tell your kids how sad the suicide made you feel, and that you couldn’t bear if something like that ever happened to them. Assure them that they can talk to you about anything in their lives, anytime, no matter how sad, scary, or embarrassing it may seem.
Tell them that you will always love them and be there for them, no matter what they go through in life. Also, let them know that Bible tells us that if we trust in Jesus and commit our lives to Him, He promises us that he will never leave us or forsake us.
By the way, a book that you and your wife might find helpful is “Grieving a Suicide,” by Albert Hsu.
Thanks for writing Scott. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, just click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.