Telling children about the suicide death of a parent

Written by Lori Apon
Published on September 11, 2020

The night before my husband chose to take his life, I heard Psalm 68:5: A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” God charted the next season of my family’s lives with this word of hope. And I was able to gently repeat his promise to my children. I was able to share this life-changing news with them:

You have a new daddy—God promises to be a Father to the fatherless!

It was hard to personally receive this information, let alone deliver it to my children. But I knew that God had entrusted me with a huge responsibility in relaying it to my children. 

They would always remember this pivotal moment in their lives. We were experiencing what I considered to be a holy moment. The sovereignty of God and his promises would be (and continue to be) our anchor and foundation.

Only what the suitcase of their heart can hold

I once heard it said that you should insert only what the suitcase of your children’s hearts can hold, when telling them difficult information. 

It is important to tell your children the facts. And it is also important to share only what is age-appropriate. My older children (ages eight, nine, and ten) were told as little as possible. They were given enough details to feel they had sufficient information to satisfy their curiosity. 

Telling my younger children that “daddy died” was all they could handle. They did not need to know how he died, because they simply could not understand.

 Sadly, like sharing the secrets of sex, people will talk. It was critical that I was the one to delicately and lovingly share the details of this news with my children.

A story to be shared

Grief over a suicide is complex. 

It will manifest in many ways for children. Grief may lie dormant for years, until their understanding catches up with their reality. 

I knew my children would eventually want and need to know the story of their dad. Therefore, I took time to write it out. I included appropriate details of his choice, to the best of my understanding and experience, and then let it sit until it was time to share it with them. 

Before they left home after high school, I set aside time to tell them the full story and answer their questions. 

Tears—both theirs and mine—were always shed over the sad choice made by their dad and Satan’s destruction of his life. 

The reality and truth of the story is never easy to discuss. But it is important to communicate so that the enemy doesn’t continue to use his schemes against future generations. Even though Satan had victory in that moment, trusting God as our Father allows for an abundant life to be experienced by those left fatherless.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

How would I tell them differently?

I’m not sure that I would change anything. 

I prayed that God would speak through me in our darkest hour. I believe that he did. I found comfort in the promise that God is my children’s Father. 

I also trusted that he is the Great Counselor. I trusted that he brings healing to the brokenhearted. The impact of the sin of suicide is deep and long-term. Looking to the Word of God for wisdom and hope is crucial. 

Even to this day, my prayer is that God would restore my children’s souls from their walk through the valley of this death.

How are children affected by loss due to suicide?

I would like to share today a Q&A with my children, twenty years after the loss of their dad. I hope it will meet you wherever you are—may it be a valley of your own.

Abi—Age ten when her dad committed suicide/age thirty-two today
Kayla—Age nine when her dad committed suicide/age thiry today
Brandon—Age eight when his dad committed suicide/age twenty-nine today
Christieanna—Age six when her dad committed suicide/age twenty-eight today
Isaac—Age five when his dad committed suicide/age twenty-six today
Evan—Age four when his dad committed suicide/age twenty-five today
Amy—Age two when her dad committed suicide/age twenty-four today
Micah—Age thirteen months old when his dad committed suicide/age twenty-two today

Question: What was your first response when your mom told you about what happened to your dad?

Answers:

Abi: I don’t remember what I said, but I remember being surprised, as I did not really understand. Suicide was, and always has been, something that seemed super intentional, instead of something that could be accidental. I was very sad.

Kayla: I was shocked, devastated, and so confused. I felt completely blindsided by his death and the way it happened.

Brandon: Shock. It was very surreal and hard to explain. Initially, I just ran the words through my mind. I tried to break down what I was hearing. Then I went through the waves of emotions. That first year, I hardly felt anything. I just kept thinking it was a dream and daddy would walk in the door.

Christieanna: I remember my first response was watching everyone else fall apart. My older sisters were wailing, the younger siblings started crying too. But I think that I cried just because everyone else was. I don’t know if my younger siblings actually understood what was happening. I remembered that my mom was strong, and we were about to start down a life altering journey together.

Isaac: Sadness at the loss, but not much more than that because I was too young to understand what any of it meant.

Question: How have you handled this reality as time went on?

Answers:

Brandon: It is a wound that never quite heals. It’s always tender. To this day, I can’t hear, see, or talk about suicide without cringing. I think a lot of that is okay. There is a part of me that doesn’t want to become calloused to it. As I’ve gotten older, the gravity of his decision weighs on me. It’s much more distant as a child, but as I’ve grown, it becomes more tangible. I can actually feel the reality of the decisions he made, especially now that I am a husband and father.

Christieanna: I have handled the reality of my dad committing suicide differently over the years. When I was younger, I questioned God a lot and asked him how it could be love to allow this to happen to someone I wanted to be there. I also questioned why we missed the signs, and if we could have done anything differently. I remember daydreaming about what I would have done if I was there with him, and how I would have attempted to talk him out of it. My ideas weren’t that bright as a six-year-old, but I knew I would tell him he was worth it. I would tell him that he was enough for us. I thought of different ways I would have stopped him if given the chance. I think that was my way of trying to cope by believing I could have stopped it. 

As time went by, the suicide part became less and less of a big deal, it was more just the fact that he was gone. I think the reality of him killing himself is a push for me to make sure I let people know they are loved. People are hurting. One smile could change what they decide to do later on in their day.

Because I have faith, I feel that I actually do understand. I understand that my dad was in bondage and genuinely thought that it would be easier for us if he wasn’t there. Do I agree? Absolutely not. But I do understand his thinking, and hope that the next person I know who starts down this path will understand my desire to let them know their life is worth living and they are loved.

Isaac: Probably easier than some. God is faithful over all. Yes, it’s a horrifying experience to lose a parent, but I don’t think it’s healthy to continually live in our past. We must learn from it, accept what’s happened, and allow God to continue to write our story for his glory.

Amy: I handle it differently depending on the season. Though, I’ve never been mad at God. I know he is sovereign. I know he allowed my dad to die for a reason—a reason I may never understand. However, it has always hurt me that he thought he was not worthy enough to live. Nobody should have to feel like that. Every life matters!

Question: What have you learned regarding your dad’s choice after twenty-one years? What have you learned regarding God and this choice?

Answers:

Abi: I have struggled with the intentional abandonment of my father leaving his family. This has affected me in ways I’m still learning to work through. It is hard to feel compassion for his choice. Although, I can empathize with him. I trust the Lord fully and know that he could have saved him, and in his sovereignty, chose not to. I trust that God made the best choice for daddy and our family. I am at peace with what happened, and continue to trust the Lord and have the comfort of knowing that God holds all of our futures in his hand.

Kayla: I know now that my dad’s choice was multifaceted—the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Satan’s hand in my dad’s choice cannot be overstated. He lays traps of temptation and comes like a lion to devour. I also know that my dad was completely responsible for his own choice. He was in bondage to sin that he was not able to escape. Or maybe, he didn’t hate his sin enough to do the hard work of repentance, surrender, and learning to really walk by the Spirit rather than carry out the desires of the flesh. I don’t know. Now, as an adult and parent, I see a level of selfishness in his decision that I never considered as a child. I also know that at the end of the day, the sovereignty of the Lord rules over ALL. Even in this, God was there—he did not turn a blind eye, nor did he cause evil, but he was there and I know he cried first.

Brandon: From my dad’s choice, I’ve realized the implications of sin. Sin will never let go apart from the saving grace of Jesus. And if you let it, you can be turned over to the power of sin. I think, with my dad, God allowed him to be turned over to his sin because time and time again he made the decision to turn back to it. I believe he allowed himself to get into a pit of darkness and lies. I’ve learned that God is sovereign and if you can’t trace his hand, trust his heart. He really does do all things for our good and his glory . . . that’s a big thing to say twenty-one years later. It was preached to me in the moment, but I’ve now lived long enough to validate the truth for myself.

Isaac: I’ve learned that if you don’t take care of what is eating away on the inside, it has the potential to ruin your life. I know dad was a good man who simply let the enemy feed him a lie, a lie that he eventually believed. Regarding God, he is sovereign. Everything that happens is within his plan. I’ve not been one to question why, as much as I have asked: “What now?” So now that I know what happened, I will ask myself, “How am I going to use this information to live my life tomorrow? How will I use what God allowed in my life to minister and lead others to him?”

Evan: Over time, I have learned the severity of my father’s sin. I have learned how it has affected not just him, but many people linked to him. It is a big deal, and I know it was a spiritual battle for him. We all deal with sin, and we will all be accountable for the way we fought against it. My dad’s story has stood as a lesson for me and how I will personally fight sin. But through my dad’s story, I have been able to use the ugly parts to reflect on the beautiful parts of God’s forgiveness and grace. It has given me opportunities to warn others against the dangers of meddling in sin. God receives the glory for the good and bad in our lives, and that’s where I have landed after twenty-one years. We do not have permission to write our own stories, but we absolutely do have the ability to control how we respond to our adversity. We have control over what we do with it.

Amy: I have learned that it is dangerous to mess around with big sins, like my dad did. I’ve learned that it never gets easier to tell someone that my dad killed himself. I now know that I am always going to grieve his death. And I have learned that God allows certain things to happen in order to glorify himself and draw me closer to him.

Question: What would you want to say to a child who is just starting on this journey?

Answers:

Abi: That it is not your fault, there is no way you could’ve prevented it. Even if he could go back in time and do this or that differently, there is no way you could’ve stopped it. There is nothing you could’ve said to change his mind, there is no behavior you could’ve done differently to make the circumstances different. It will be OK, the Lord is able to heal.

Kayla: I would encourage you to press into God the Father, through his Word. Open your eyes and heart to see his mercy, goodness, and love. Meditate on his life-giving Word and let it heal you. He will make everything beautiful in his time, as you trust him, love him, and walk in his purposes.

Brandon: I’m so sorry. You have been given a very heavy weight to carry. But don’t use it as an excuse or a weakness. Let it make you stronger, embrace your pain. The storms make us stronger. Don’t blame God, he has the best heart and loves you. There will come a day when you will be grateful that you went through this. Or, you can make the choice to be a victim and end up a statistic yourself.

Evan: Don’t ever accept that your story is anything other than God’s story for you. We are intricately designed and given a story that we are responsible for using for the glory of God. Find mentors and Godly people to help mold and grow you. Dig into God’s word to find out how he wants you to use your story for his glory and your good!

Amy: I would tell them that I am sorry, that no one should have to go through something like this, for any reason. I would tell them that no matter what, the Lord is going to be by their side, every step of the way. He will hold them when they can’t take steps for themselves. I would tell them that, believe it or not, God is sovereign. That they are not in this alone. I would tell them not to stay angry at God, living in bitterness will not bring your loved one back to life. I would tell them to go through the motions, but don’t resent God. He is there for you, by you, and with you, at every single moment.

Micah: Press into Jesus, it’s okay to have hard times. When you press into him, talk to your mentors and peers and don’t hold it in!

If you are thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Suicide Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States, please call 1-800-273-8255.

To hear more from Perspective Ministries, please visit their website.

 

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Lori Apon

Lori Apon is the founder and Executive Director of Perspective Ministries.
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” became the anchor promise for our family in 1999 upon the tragic death of Bobby Apon, my husband and the father of our 8 children. Hundreds of people walked alongside our family, modeling how to care for the widow and fatherless. Because of their involvement in our lives and with the perspective of God as Defender and Father, 20 years later we continue to testify that choosing God’s perspective makes a difference.
With an empty nest in sight, God called me to give the next season of my life to comfort as we had been comforted. In 2015 Perspective Ministries was started to meet the practical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the widow and her fatherless children. To this day we strive to connect the widow to resources and help, reminding her she has not been left alone, and to equip churches and volunteers to care for widows and their children in meaningful ways.

Read more about Lori

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