Warning: Suicide themes
At midnight last night, I found myself Googling ‘how to talk to children about suicide’. Never, in my overzealous worries about my children, did I ever think I’d be doing that Google search. Apparently my search isn’t uncommon, because results were plentiful. Be honest and open. Use words like ‘death’ and ‘dead’. Be available. Listen. Answer questions with facts. Offer comfort. Stick to routines. Reduce change and FUUUUUUUCK! STOP!!! My son is nine. NINE. 9! Not even double digits and, as I watch him sleep, I realise that after I speak to him when he wakes, his life will never ever be the same again. Explaining to your child that someone they care about has committed suicide, rips them immediately out of the innocence of childhood and drops them smack bang, in the middle of reality, where people from all walks of life, are living in such a hideous, insufferable pain, that in 2015, over 750,000 people (worldwide) ended their own lives.
Death is a part of life and although incredibly distressing and painful, there is something unreachable, unfathomable, about someone taking their own life because their world was just too painful to bear any longer. The questions, the guilt, the disbelief, the helplessness — flow through the community around them at every level. Friends, colleagues, school mates, teachers — and the family — the family whose world just completely imploded on them, in a wave of epic sadness and devastation. Suicide brings with it questions to which there will never be answers, guilt that can erode a human soul and a grief that destroy lives. People immediately want to know why but it matters not, because at the end of the day, if drugs were involved, if that person had long term mental health issues, if they were isolated from their peers — nothing changes the fact that they are no long here and their pain was so completely unbearable that they chose not to go on.
So this morning, my boy ran into my room and jumped into bed with me. His face filled with smiles, his arms wrapping around me, happy to be home from a week away at his father’s. I lay next to him for a while as he showed me some new games on his iPad and talked to me about the cat. We pondered how long is sister would sleep for and he explained how tired she had been during the week. We decided to cancel the dental appointment we had for the morning and he thought that a day at home would be fun. As the lump formed in my throat, I realised that this moment had been given to me, a moment where it was only he and I, with no interruption. A moment we rarely get. I put my arm around him and said softly, ‘hey, I need to tell you something. I found out something really sad last night, about your friend’… He stared into the doona as I did my best to deliver the information in the appropriate manner (whatever the fuck that is). I watched his eyes glaze over as his brain went into a spin and I wanted to scream my hatred at the world. ‘Why, how?’, were the only questions he asked. Then just as if I’d told him we had to go to the shops, he said ‘oh, okay then’ and returned to our previous conversation. I guess I was shocked at the lack of response but my brief Google search had warned me of the different ways children react to these things. ‘Be guided by your child’, I said over and over in my brain. I hugged him tight and told him I loved him more than anything and that I hoped he would always come to me if he was hurting, no matter what. ‘I will Mum’, he replied.
Last night before I got into bed, I found a couple of photos of Billy and his friend. He was Billy’s ‘buddy’ when he started primary school. So he was 5 or so years older. 15 years old, an age that doesn’t seem so far off for my own son any longer. The photos showed the boys on the last day of school, as Billy walked his friend down the middle of the gym, during their graduation ceremony. I looked at them together, both ridiculously tall, and both wearing super cool sneakers. My mind was drawn to the sneakers. The memories of buying Billy’s sneakers and the joy he got from wearing them for the first time. The excitement of trying them on, choosing the ones he liked, revelling in the fact that his foot was far bigger than a kid his age and the looks on the faces of the shop assistants when they realised he was 3 or so years younger than his height would suggest. Then I looked at the other boy’s sneakers. I imagined the excitement he’d shared with his mum or dad, the joy he’d had when choosing them and wearing them to school for the first time. The looks on the faces of the shop assistants when they realised he was only in grade 6 and not year 8 or 9, as his height suggested. My mind raced from feeling my son growing in my belly, to holding him in my arms as a baby. Helping him balance as he learned to walk, watching him swimming in his first school uniform, which was at least a size too big. Saving his teeth for the tooth fairy as they slowly but surely fell out, letting him pick his own funky hair cuts and clothes and trying not to be overly worried as he took off down the street on his bike with his little friends.
And now I’m sitting here, thinking about how this boy will never buy another pair of fucking sneakers with his mum. In one harrowing moment, he is gone. In one harrowing moment, the lives of so many have been forever altered. I cannot even begin to imagine the incomprehensible pain his parents are in right now. My mind won’t even allow me to try.
If you, or someone you know needs help, reach out for help. Within Australia: