I’d love to say that your children will always be your strength. In a way, this is true. You get out of bed in the morning those first few days, weeks, months…years…for them. You keep a stiff upper lip for them. You keep hope alive for them. Even so, sometimes they are what make the days hard.
Parenting is hard. Period. Much more when something this monumental happens. My children were younger when their father took his life. My middle child was 2 and my oldest 4. My oldest has a few concrete memories of his father. My second has a few made up memories. I don’t correct him.
They miss their father. Or rather, my oldest misses his father, my second missed the concept of having a father. Now that I am with someone, “married” so-to-speak, he is content. If nothing else, he is curious about the man that is part of him. He asks questions about who his father was, what he looked like, talked like, what he liked. My oldest, since moving in with his stepdad, is the one who continues to cry about his father. My second has stopped. It’s interesting.
We cope as a family. I talk to my boys about their dad. They enjoy it. They know that their father took his own life. They know about depression. They know about mental illness. They know that suicide is a very real thing. They are now 7 and 9 years old.
7 and 9. Babies, basically. The experts say that children don’t have a real grasp of what death is until about 5 or 6 years old. Before that, it’s an abstract concept. I believe that. I have seen the stages of accepting their father’s death as a permanent thing.
I think the concept of suicide takes longer to internalize. The concept of mental health and mental illnesses even longer, maybe.
An example: My children were told to clean. At first, they are somewhat willing. As the work gets harder, they do what a lot of children do: whine. They complained and drug their feet. My patience grew thin, especially when the baby started crying and needed to nurse. This is my handicap. She is 6 weeks old and nursing around the clock. I cannot supervise like before.
“We’re done [with the bathroom],” reported my oldest. When I checked it I saw that they had dirty rags on the floor and a wad of toilet paper soaked in urine next to the toilet.
“Uh, no. Not even close,” I sighed.
“This is taking forever!” he cried. We had a bit of a fight and he storms off, “I wish I could just kill myself!”
This is a refrain that he likes to repeat. Along with: I want to die. I hate my life.
You get the idea.
Early on I melted every time. It brought me to tears. I know that my children have a higher risk of developing depression, etc. I know they’re at a higher risk of attempting and/or completing suicide. It terrifies me. And I would melt and cry.
However, the years have passed and I have come to realize that 1) I cannot let their father’s death act as a crutch in which they can escape any difficult thing in life and 2) I cannot live my life terrified that any wrong thing I do will up their desire to actually attempt suicide.
And so my oldest and I collided. You will NOT say those words in my house. You will NOT say those words in front of me.
He was angry and upset. His face darkened and he stamped about the bathroom. But he cleaned the bathroom with the help of his brother. Later that day he would hug me and say he loved me. His earlier tantrum was over.
That’s how I have to think of those outbursts. Tantrums. He doesn’t know exactly what he’s saying. Just like five-year-old him didn’t know what he was asking for when he would plead for us all to die and go to heaven to visit his father. My guilt, my conscience, and my grief cannot undermine my ability to parent. It just can’t.
His suicide has impacted so many things in our lives. It’s not just that we miss him. It’s not just that it introduced grief and guilt into my life. It affects my parenting. Little by little, I’m learning that it shouldn’t be allowed to anymore.