This blog was written by a PAPYRUS staff member who has personal experience of losing a child to suicide.
Losing a child is one of life’s anomalies- It’s not in the natural order of things. Therefore, the way in which they may need to be supported may not be generic either.
Maybe one of the first important interactions would be to ask their child’s name. For bereaved parents, it can be important to hear their child’s name for their child to be acknowledged. By asking the name of their child who has died, you show respect for their grief and an interest in understanding their loss.
By mentioning the death of their child and asking for their name, you honour their child’s memory and validate their existence. This will not make them feel worse; they feel as bad as it gets. What you are doing is stepping into their grief circle and holding their child’s memory with them.
Many parents face suicidal thoughts following the death of their child. The black hole of child loss can be dark and deep, and there may feel like no way out. Therefore, many things can be said from a place of genuine kindness that can offend. Parents who are living without their child may not want to hear that ‘God only takes the best’ or ‘they’re in a better place’. The reason a grieving parent may be experiencing thoughts of suicide is probably because if their child is anywhere in this universe, they should be safe with them. Therefore, the idea of dying doesn’t scare them because if they believe in some form of afterlife, they may think they will reunite with their child when they die; therefore, suicide may feel like a real option. What can help and support them in this moment?
The truth is, nothing that we can say will make their thoughts of suicide diminish in that moment. What a bereaved parent needs is time, sometimes silence, often nurture, mostly space to grieve their beautiful child. We may not understand their feelings of suicide, but nor can we know the pain they are in. What we can do is sit beside them, holding them, hearing them while they find the strength within to want to stay alive, to live a very different life without their precious child. A life in which they can find happiness again, but in their time, step by step at their own pace.
Bereaved parents who feel suicidal are not mentally ill. They face waking up every day without their child. Imagine that for a second… It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?