Helping Child with Father's Suicide

Dr. Laura,
I lost my husband of 13 years to suicide 13 weeks ago. My son is 2 and a half and I have told him that Daddy is in heaven with Jesus. My son always asks if Daddy will be back and I tell him that he can't come back. My 2 year old is very smart for his age and I'm not sure how to help him through this process. I am a nurse and it just seems like I have no clue how to handle this. I am seeing a counselor because I can't get over the image of seeing my husband dead in our closet after he shot himself. I have a lot of guilt and anger but I am really concerned about my son and how to help him. I appreciate any advice you can give.

I am so very sorry for your loss. No one should have to go through what you are coping with right now.

Your son will be fine, as long as you are fine. You are doing exactly the right thing to see a counselor and get support to process your own feelings about this. Finding your husband was a major trauma. That is not something you can cope with alone.

I think the major challenge for your son will be your own feelings, so working them through has to be your biggest priority. In addition to that, I encourage you to read books with your son about death and loss. It will introduce him to the idea and give you opportunities to talk about his dad. It will also help you to read these books. There is a whole page on my website with book recommendations for books to help explain death to children. There is also another letter and answer about explaining death to toddlers.

When some time has gone by and you have regained your equilibrium, it would be good to make a little book for your son, with photos of him with his dad. Use words like "Daddy loved ___ very much." "Daddy had an illness that made him very sad, so sad he did not want to live." Then show a photo of your son at his dad's grave: "When Daddy died, we buried him." Go on to show a photo of the two of you hugging: "We miss Daddy, and we will always love him." Then a final photo of his Dad smiling, with the caption "We remember him for the things we loved about him: his sense of humor, his love of music, how much he loved us." (or whatever).

Read that book whenever your son wants, and also on his father's birthday, when you might light a candle. Whatever your own feelings about the way your husband ended his life, find ways to talk positively to your son about his father.

I wish you healing and forgiveness, for yourself and your husband.
Bless you.
Dr. Laura

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