11 answers

How Do I Explain a Suicide in the Family to My Children?

My husband's cousin took her own life the other day. We have not been close with this person - my young childern don't really know her. My husband thinks I should just stay home with our kids and not go to the funeral. He doesn't see the need to explain anything to them. Is it wrong for me not to attend the service? Let me add that my sister-in-law and her husband and kids will be staying at our house and I'm not sure what they told their kids. Their kids are the same age as ours. What would you do? My kids are 7 and 5

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there is no need to explain the circumstances of the death at this point. You can say it was "sudden" if you want to discuss it at all. I don't see how old your kids are. If you choose to explain it just try to keep it age appropriate. If they are older, you could discuss death in general and they may understand. My 3 1/2 yr old went to a visitation for my grandfather & viewed the body. He didn't understand and he didn't ask. My 8 yr old & I had a nice discussion about it. I only took them to the visitation though, not the funeral. I didn't think seeing the tears would be helpful whereas visitations in my family are a little more upbeat.

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a) ask what your sil and her hus have said.. this avoids a surprise.

b) follow your heart.. do what you feel you must do.

c) you may want to say she died without going into details.. they may not want/need more.

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Unfortunatley in todays society this happens often. Explain to your children and yes go to the funeral. Suicide is harder to explain than a natural death in the family but still is part of life and the children need to know. Perhaps a book might give advise as how to explain it. Sorry for you familes loss.

Find out what (if anything) your SIL has told her kids first. I personally don't see the point in introducing this topic to them when they don't even know the person--I wouldn't do it. And no, it's not wrong of you not to attend the service, as long as your husband goes, everyone will understand that you have little ones at home.

hi M.,

You've gotten some great advice here. I just wanted to add that at ages 5 and 7 the concept of suicide I think is too heavy for them. However, they will likely overhear the word as the next few days unfold and you have conversations between adults.

Since they weren't close to this person and the services for a suicide can be very emotional - there could be people crying, adults crying is frightening to children at this age so I would not take them.

I would offer the explanation that your husband's cousin went to be with God (or whatever your beliefs dictate) because they have died and then answer any questions from there. They will likely ask "what happened to them, how / why did they die?" I would explain that your cousin died from suicide, and that suicide is what happens when someone gets very sick and it causes their life to end (kind of like an illness in itself, which is as honest as I think you can be). I would not attempt to explain the taking of one's own life.

I hope that this is helpful, and my deepest sympathies.


Children your ages probably won't dwell on these things as much as we might think, although mentioning it is probably a good idea because your relatives are there. If the issue is persisted I think they should know that suicide is not a solution to work out life's problems. It is an extremely poor choice on the part of a very desperate person. That can't be reversed. Though your children are young, they probably understand the concept of death so perhaps that is all that is needed. She died. If they want to know more, there are probably books that would work with this issue. At these ages perhaps an explanation of mental illness is not possible, but it is truly a suicidal's person's sickness and that can be explained somewhat and that it is not catching and people do not die from this all the time. Since you did not mention the ages of the other children coming or their relationship to the cousin it is hard to respond. If they are older they will know more about this issue, if they go to the funeral and yours are at home they may feel left out. If you stay home and all the other children do then it may not matter as they may enjoy a visit from your cousin. Since it is your husband's cousin if he doesn't mind you not going, then maybe staying home is for the best. It is not wrong to stay home it might simply be in the best interests of your children. You can write a note to the family or visit the family some other time if need be.They will be in mourning and unless you feel that your presence will be sorely noticed, stay home and hug those little people you love so much.


see if the funeral home has a website or information on helping children grieve death. When my mother passed away (my children were VERY close with her) we got something from them. You would really be amazed, because kids can understand so much at their age, but death... is something they just don't get right now. I was a little put off by the fact that my youngest (at the time - she was 7) didn't seem to even shed a tear... the information I got helped me understand the way she was processing the death of her "Mimi". my oldest - at 9, was devastated, and I was able to help her wit hher pain, by understand how she was processing the details.

If I were you, I would not explain it to the kids... if they ask about her when they are older, you can explain that she is no longer with us, and then the discussion of suicide can be touchy too... considering religion, not sure if that even comes into play here. I would stay home from the services, with your children. People may or may not judge you based on your absence, but your husband can explain 'she's home with the kids' and most level headed people would agree that is not the wrong place to be.

They just dont have the emotional range to understand this.

This is a great resource i just found... easy to understand table outline of each age, and how they are able to react. http://www.childgrief.org/documents/HowtoHelp.pdf

good luck, and I am very sorry for your family's loss. Suicide is especially hard, because we cannot make sense of it ourselves, and a certain amount of guilt that we didn't help is always a nagging emotion. I hope that you and your family can make it past this tough time. I had a friend commit suicide at 18... I still feel guilty that I didn't see the signs and reach out to her.

God Bless

There are a lot of great childrens book out there that help explain death, I have one in my classroom, if you want the title, it is a picture book, that seems to really help my kids when things like that occur in their lives.
Let me know if you would like the title you can also good the topic and come up with a ton of great books. Kids relate to books often!

I'm very sorry for your family's loss. A suicide or any sudden death is always very difficult to process...for adults and children. I agree with the others who said you can simply tell them that she died and not give any further details. If they weren't close with her, then it isn't necessary and may scare them.

do what you think is best, you are the only one who really knows what your children will and won't understand. since you asked what would you do heres what i would do. explain to them about death and that there was a death in the family. answer any questions about death and how we traditionally have a wake and funeral and then can pay respects at the cemetary. i would not go into suicide or why or how this person took their life....especially since they didn't even know her. i don't think that ou not attending would be considered bad taste. some people are very uncomfortable with these things and handle death in their own way....and most people will understand and they know you have small kids. good luck

I believe that this is a part of life and when you treat it as such your children know how to better deal and understand it as they get older. My brother (he was only 25 and it was a car crash) died when my kids were 10, 7 and almost 3. I told them their uncle died and they came to the wake and stood in front of an open coffin. We talked a lot about it and we have a very strong christian faith so we talked a lot about God. Actually three days after he died my fourth was born and was too wiped to go through the whole emotional drama of a furneral/wake, but my 10 year old came to me and he asked that we go because he wanted to say bye to uncle michael one last time. I was ready in 15 minutes and it was good that we did. We only went to the wake right before the actually funeral and then I went home because it would have too much for me to handle to go through the whole funeral and luncheon. My family understood that I didn't go to the funeral, but at least I did say my own last good bye. I understand about the suicide thing being very scary. I would only generically example it because anything else may go over their head, but they may hear stuff so you want to just mention it briefly. Then wait for their questions and answer them as best as you can. Please accept my condolences at this difficult time for your family. I am sorry for your loss.

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