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Thread: Telling teenage child about close family member suicide

  1. #1
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    Telling teenage child about close family member suicide

    Sorry for the grim post but we had a call this morning from my wife's family and my wife's brother has killed himself. He leaves behind two very young kids. My wife's gone over there to be with the family.

    We have a 13yr daughter who was extremely close to her uncle, and she is like something of an older sister to her two much younger cousins.

    I've just spoken with my wife and the family are proposing to tell ALL the kids (our daughter included) that he had an accident and fell down the stairs. I feel very strongly this is the wrong thing to tell our daughter because she will find out the truth - she is way too smart and will work it out for herself. The family aren't in a position to be thinking rationally right now but there's no way that secret could be kept. I'm not sure I want our daughter knowing how exactly it happened though. How do you tell half a truth?

    I do not want to be adding to this terrible situation though or causing more stress for my wife.

    All our daughter knows for now, as she was waking as my wife left, is that 'mum's gone over (couple of hours away) because grandad was trying to get in touch, and he and nanny have been quite ill this week (true) so she's gone to see if everything's ok.'

    Our daughter spent a lot of time with him over the Christmas period and had a couple of very apologetic texts from him only yesterday about a Christmas present that had never turned up. Also as I'm typing this it's occurred that if his kids are told it was an accident but my daughter told the truth, that in itself would be a terrible burden on her.

    I'm at a loss how to deal with this.
    Last edited by gcleminson; 5th January 2020 at 10:53.

  2. #2
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    Difficult situation, I might be tempted to tell your daughter the truth and explain that his kids are too young for the truth so don't tell them.

  3. #3
    Craftsman RAFF's Avatar
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    That’s awful. I’m very sorry for your loss.

    My opinion is you should tell her the truth. She’s old enough and as you say, she’ll figure it out herself, and the same ‘burden’ will be on her shoulders. But she’ll be angry that she was lied to in top of it.

    Very difficult situation. My half brother killed himself in 2015 and left a young son behind.


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  4. #4
    Grand Master number2's Avatar
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    So sorry to hear this, I've no experience with such a situation but perhaps Seadogs suggestion has some merit.
    "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action."

  5. #5
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    Not easy, but in this day social media will probably be ahead of you for the older children.

  6. #6
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    She will ask how he did it and I do not want her to know that. I'm not sure how to navigate that without her feeling angry and excluded.

  7. #7
    Grand Master Saint-Just's Avatar
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    My daughter is 14. I have never lied to her and I wouldn’t in this situation. You can dismiss the ‘how’ because this is not important. The important now is her Mum, her grandparents and above all her nieces.
    Don't take my silence for agreement. I've just realised you're too stupid to argue with.

  8. #8
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    So sad to hear this. My own thoughts FWIW are that the truth would be better for all of the kids, but not necessarily right now.

  9. #9
    Craftsman RAFF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gcleminson View Post
    She will ask how he did it and I do not want her to know that. I'm not sure how to navigate that without her feeling angry and excluded.
    She’ll feel a lot more angry and excluded if you tell her it was an accident. PM me if you’d like to talk.


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  10. #10
    Grand Master Wallasey Runner's Avatar
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    Sorry to hear about this.

    I also agree with Seadogs suggestion. I think you need to tell your daughter the truth and prepare yourself for whatever falls out of that. She will no doubt need a lot of love, help and support to cope.

  11. #11
    Really sorry to hear this. Nobody truly knows what goes on in another person's mind. However close we may be to them. RIP.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by seadog1408 View Post
    Difficult situation, I might be tempted to tell your daughter the truth and explain that his kids are too young for the truth so don't tell them.
    I agree with Seadog - Honest is best - things like this are not just what happens now but also how they are perceived and felt in the future. Younger children do need to be protected until old enough to understand, but at thirteen, not telling her will probably just make it harder in the long term. I would however, think hard about how to handle her follow up questions.

    You can either say you don't know yet or, again, be honest and tell her you are not going to tell her, for whatever your reason is. You know your child, but my experience is that kids can be more robust than we expect and find not knowing harder than knowing.
    Last edited by M4tt; 5th January 2020 at 11:27.

  13. #13
    Tell the truth. Really sorry to hear about this.


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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by RAFF View Post
    She’ll feel a lot more angry and excluded if you tell her it was an accident. PM me if you’d like to talk.


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    Thanks RAFF. I'm not going to tell her it was an accident, but I don't want to do anything to cause the family any more hurt than they are already in by going agaibnst their wishes, even if they're wrong.

    I may do as suggested and when she asks (she will of course) tell her we don't need to know or think about the how. As to the why, I can't even begin to fathom.

  15. #15
    Grand Master JasonM's Avatar
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    As someone said, the circumstances won’t be the focus for her, the focus will be that he’s gone. What a terrible thing to have to deal with, I agree with Mike, tell her the truth. My condolences to you and your family.
    Cheers..
    Jase

  16. #16
    First of all ...so sorry for your families loss
    I would go along with whatever the wife insists on personally In this awful situation

  17. #17
    This is a tough one Graham and I’m sorry to read that this has happened. I’d be inclined to simply say there was an accident and not embellish it with details such as falling down the stairs. All the best to you and your family.

  18. #18
    My heartfelt condolences. I was once that child that wasn’t told the truth and forty years later all I can say is that honesty will be best, as others have said though she doesn’t need to know the details at this point.


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  19. #19
    Master raptor's Avatar
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    I would tell her the truth
    She is old enough to understand and figure out that she has nothing to do with that and is part of life. Always has been
    As for his kids i would not get involve in twlling them anything or be the one with ‘ the truth’
    Sad situation and his kids will grow up with such a loss
    Sorry

  20. #20
    Master snowman's Avatar
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    Condolences and I can only say how glad I am I never had to deal with something like this.

    I would echo the suggestions to tell your daughter the truth about his death, but go with the "We don't need to know about the how" for the immediate future.

    If she really wants to know how, and she may not, in later years, you can discuss that with her then.

    I think the question will really be 'why?' and, from experience with a much loved relative, I know that's something that you'll probably never be able to answer.

    M

  21. #21
    Grand Master TheFlyingBanana's Avatar
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    Awful situation. I’ve had to deal with suicides professionally in the past, but never in the family.

    A couple of years ago I had to be with my sister as we told her three kids that their dad, my brother in law and close friend of more than thirty years, had died suddenly. One of the worst things I have ever had to do, but I do think honesty without all the extra distressing detail is the best approach as other have said.

    I wish you and yours the best at this terrible time. Just try and look after each other - there actually is quite a lot of support available.
    Last edited by TheFlyingBanana; 5th January 2020 at 12:03.

  22. #22
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    Really sad to hear this! My condoleances.

    I think that Seadog's (and other) suggestions are what I would suggest: tell her the truth. 13 y/o old is young, but in times like this, children of her age are to be considered small adults. And honesty is perhaps harsh, but in the long run preferable over a lie. Tell her that she's with the grown-ups now and that she's not allowed to tell the young kids what she just learned. 13 y/o can cope with that!

    But here's a thought. I wouldn't tell her the truth without your wife present! It's her brother after all. You, as his brother-in-law and a far distance away from the situation have (had) time to think this over; you even got time to ask here. I am sure your wife is swept off her feet by the circumstances and her opinion needs to be heard in this as well.

    I'm not a psychologist, but somewhere I get the idea that calling it 'an accident' is also something that's -for now- acceptable for the closest relatives, just to get grip on the situation - even though they know reality is different. That's also what you wrote about 'rationally thinking', I presume.

    I would get in contact with your wife and -among things- ask her if you should wait for her to return to tell your daughter the news or that your wife is okay with you telling your daughter now - without naming the cause of death.

    I wish you strength during this difficult time.

    Menno

  23. #23
    Craftsman RAFF's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gcleminson View Post
    Thanks RAFF. I'm not going to tell her it was an accident, but I don't want to do anything to cause the family any more hurt than they are already in by going agaibnst their wishes, even if they're wrong.
    Yes don’t do anything without the family’s consent. Wait for the right time to discuss it with your wife. Also, if your daughter was the last, or one of the last to have contact with him, it’s good to keep in mind the ‘could I have done anything / did I not do something I could have’ thoughts she may have. I was the last person to talk to my brother over Whatsapp and had those thoughts.


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  24. #24
    Master MST's Avatar
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    A truly awful situation you find yourself in Graham. I wouldn't even begin to know where to start in advising you but for what it's worth I believe your rationale regarding your 13 year old Daughter is sound - to lie is to potentially make this tragedy so much worse. That said, it's easy for me to make such hypothetical decisions.

    Regardless, you and your family have my deepest condolences.

  25. #25
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    when I was around 9 with my cousin killed himself aged 13, he was like my big brother so very tough for me even 30 odd years on. we where told the truth it was essentially to do with bullying that no one knew about, in the 80s things where different. horrible time but the lesson that was focused on was being able to talk to someone else in the family about anything and that sharing any issues would help, sadly a lesson learnt too late for Ian but for the rest of us a massive help. If it was me with my children now I’d be telling them the truth anywhere from aged 7/8 upwards, I’m sure your daughter is mature enough to understand and deal with it whatever is decided for her cousins isn’t really your concern right now cross that bridge if need be at the time. Thoughts are with your family at this awful time stay strong and encourage the conversations no matter how difficult or upsetting they are because an awful lot of people will be blaming themselves that they didn’t do X or Y which might have prevented it etc.
    There are a couple of really good documentaries about it that whilst upsetting may help family members to understand and hopefully deal with it all a little easier given some time, life after suicide is one that’s very good.

  26. #26
    So sorry to hear the your awful news.

    I lost a family friend to suicide when I was your daughters age (25 years ago) by secondary school she would have had some exposure to depression, from movies , musicians even school lessons.

    I’d be honest with her.

    I have two young children below 5 and I lost my mum in July , it’s been really hard to explain why “gran” has gone to the “stars”.

    They panic even now that we’ll go soon and ask a lot of questions about what the stars are like. A friend at work recommended “Coco” a Pixar animation. We watched this last night and it really puts a nice spin on death.

    When the time is right it may be a good idea to show his children this.

    I really wish you and your family all the best .

  27. #27
    Master Thom4711's Avatar
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    For what it's worth, my advice would be not to tell your daughter.

    The priority for your brother in law's family will be to protect the two younger children in whatever way they see fit (right or wrong*). If your daughter definitively knows the truth and it slips out then the two younger kids will have learned the truth from a less than ideal source, leading to more potential grief. Also- if it doesn't slip out- when they do inevitably find out the truth and it transpires your daughter knew all along and DIDNT say anything then there could be some significant problems in their future relationship. As you mention, the burden of the lie on your daughter's shoulders and the fact she won't be able to grieve collectively with her cousins could exacerbate things for her.

    If you can't persuade the other family member to go with the truth then I'd be going along with the proposed plan and if, or even when, your daughter does figure out the truth then have a word with the family and say "look, my daughter suspects the truth"- at least this way the two younger children can be informed in the most sensitive way possible.

    Just my thoughts on a very difficult situation.

    *Personally, I think avoiding the lie in the first place and going for 100% honesty (plus counselling and a lot of help for the children right away) will be the best bet, so if you can encourage the rest of the family to see it that way then that could be best all round.. if not, then I'd respect their wishes.

  28. #28
    Master Mr Curta's Avatar
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    I'm so sorry to hear your news, it is just awful for all who were close to him.

    You do need to be truthful, and think carefully about what she might hear later via other routes. Starting off with the basic facts that he's died suddenly and that you are all very sad and upset will give you a chance to talk things through a bit more with the close relatives as their extreme emotions begin to settle. When the subject of his suicide does eventually come up then obviously it is very important to emphasise that he was ill and that nobody could do anything to prevent it (something that many concerned will find hard to accept years down the line).

    There's a useful support guide here:

    https://supportaftersuicide.org.uk/s...lp-is-at-hand/

  29. #29
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    Tell them the truth, it’s a real enough topic nowadays .. what qualifies me to say this you say

    Well when I was 13 my father committed suicide and my family elected not to tell me for a week and then lie about it saying he was in hospital not the morgue

    Lying is the WORST possible thing and IMO you’re family are mental for considering it

    Trust me it hurts more absorbing the shock after you’ve already had one horrible shock that’s turned out to me lies

    Drop me a pm if you want to talk I’m very sorry for your loss and the situation but I’d just be truthful and keep talking .. best thing one can do to keep the mind happy


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  30. #30

  31. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by seadog1408 View Post
    Difficult situation, I might be tempted to tell your daughter the truth and explain that his kids are too young for the truth so don't tell them.
    100% agree.

    Pete

  32. #32
    Master Chinnock's Avatar
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    Very sad indeed.

    My daughter is 13 and as far as I’m concerned she is a young woman. As such, you have to tell her the truth, however confusing and painful that may be.

  33. #33
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    My condolences to your wife and her family. All things considered I hope they are coping as best as they can.

    I always believe the truth is always better than a white lie, it may be difficult to digest at first but it’s better in the long run.

  34. #34
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    Firstly, I am really sorry for your loss. Don’t forget that you too have suffered a significant loss and whilst you are trying to do the best for everyone it will be impacting on you too and at some point it will cause a reaction. Try to make sure that you have a chance to stop and discuss how you are with family and friends.

    Suicide is something that sadly I have had to deal with on a number of occasions, personally and professionally. It impacted on my life personally in a terrible way but then led me to do some of the work that I now do. It’s difficult to make sense of for most people and for children and young people it can elicit some strange reactions, not all of them as traumatic as we adults think they may be.

    My advice would be to be considered, age appropriate but honest. Children and young people are far more intuitive and resilient than we sometimes realise. Remain focussed on the needs of the children with this particular issue, which is what you are doing. Getting others to realise that can be difficult. Suicide impacts on families in so many ways and one of the negative ways is that wider extended family members often disagree about how to explain to people what has happened. Without going into the reasons for this it often causes issues with regard to communication. Don’t let it for all of your sakes, but specifically for your daughter and her cousins.

    Chris

  35. #35
    My brother in law did the same thing. We told our two teenagers that he had taken his own life but not how. 6 months later one of my kids asked me how and I told him. Kids already know most of this stuff happens. You can’t however dictate to other parents how to communicate with their kids. When the kids are related that’s an issue for sure. Be open about how you are going to communicate with your kids to the other adults. If they insist on not being direct with their kids, ask your own kids to keep it quiet. Kids are good at keeping serious stuff under wraps when asked in my experience. Apart from Santa Claus!


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  36. #36
    Quote Originally Posted by gcleminson View Post

    I've just spoken with my wife and the family are proposing to tell ALL the kids (our daughter included) that he had an accident and fell down the stairs.

    I do not want to be adding to this terrible situation though or causing more stress for my wife.
    For the short term, there is no reason to go against this idea, its the family choice, it can always come out that you thought it was an accident but turns out it was something more

    Hes left to daughters, parents and your wife behind, assuming a few others the last thing you want in all this is your daughter to pipe up something that she really shouldn't and cause offence or upset for the daughters.

    This is something when the best solution is to just put what you think is best aside and do what your wife thinks.

  37. #37
    Master AlphaOmega's Avatar
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    Sorry for your loss.

    My view is that there should not be two versions of the truth in circulation among the children.

    It's up to you to agree one approach with the other family members. One group will have to give in. To an extent, it doesn't matter which.*

    Apologies for being direct at a difficult time. I hope you seek the appropriate advice in parallel to reading the opinions here.

    *Purely from a pragmatic perspective. Ethically, as you can see from this thread, there will be a difference of opinion on which moral position should be adopted.

  38. #38
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    I'd tell her. It will come out one day, and as well as the inevitable anger/confusion about being lied to, I'm not sure trying to hide mental health related issues is a good message/example to a young person.

    Best of luck whatever your decision.

  39. #39
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    Honesty is the best policy.
    Not telling the truth now can have a knock on effect later.
    Children and more resilient than we give them credit for, but more importantly they are more aware of what's going on than we give them credit for.

    The wife's cousin died when my wife was a young teen and the truth wasn't made known for years which has had a massive impact on the relationship between my wife and her paternal family.
    My wife's sister died in suspicious circumstances and we adopted her son, after fostering him from the age of one, we have always been open and honest and willing to discuss details at any point, including one morning at 4am! His half brother who was already being fostered elsewhere in the family was shielded from the truth for years and struggled to come to terms with the truth when it was presented to him.

    Also there's a risk of the truth surfacing on social media or in the play ground. Better to deal with the truth from the start than have to break the news down the road.

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  40. #40
    I suspect that the shock of the truth now will be the lesser evil compared to a “coming to light” later.
    I don’t envy you- good luck and sorry for the loss

  41. #41
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    Heartfelt thanks to everyone who's commented here with support and advice, and the offers of further conversations via PM and actual PMs too. I skim-read earlier, and re-read through all the posts again just now.

    I though twice about posting here this morning as I knew there'd be some of you who have personal and painful experience of this. I'm especially appreciative of the messages from those of you that have.

    I should have said initially my wife was in agreement not to hide the truth (or rather the act not the method), but was relaying what they had told her; and she was dealing with a difficult situation there with distraught family so having a conversation together to gather our own thoughts was impossible. Our daughter would have known something serious was going on as we had special plans today, so we were in agreement I'd have to speak with her, I was just unsure the best way of going about that and whether to mention suicide or not. The advice here helped greatly.

    I take on board the thoughts about children letting something slip, but in our case our daughter is probably the least likely of us to make that slip-up. She has more integrity that pretty much anyone I know.

    I spoke with her earlier today. One of the hardest things I've had to do as a parent. I told her all but the method. She accepted that but asked if I knew. I told her her Auntie did not want to say, which leaves scope to go into that further in the future if appropriate as it's not an outright lie.

    As the day's gone on this has just got more and more surreal. He'd taken my daughter with his own kids out for the day on Friday, and they were excitedly talking together about him bringing the kids down to see us and our newly rennovated house. Between Christmas and NY we all had a meal together and he was telling us about the house they've just made an offer on. They had friends round last night, and late into the evening were apparently planning the next boy's weekend away somewhere. None of it makes sense to anyone in the family and is so so sad.

  42. #42
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    Really sorry to hear about such a tragic loss to your family. I think you did the right thing in the way you handled it with your daugher.

    It does sound very surreal to read. Were there any signs at all? I would have thought there usually may be although not gone through something like this with someone so close, so I do not speak from experience. Just thinking is there any way it wasn't suicide given what you say about talking about so many future plans so recently.

  43. #43
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    Unfortunately for an awful lot of people the persona they present can be the complete opposite of what’s going on inside and the struggles they’re going through. I’ve sadly dealt with suicide far too often with family and friends falling victim some of whom without sharing a bed I couldn’t imagine being any closer to and I honestly had not one tiny suspicion of the things they must have been going through.
    It’s very very tough to rationalise or understand for those of us left behind I can only offer my deepest sympathies to you and your family, as I said earlier there are some documentaries that help at least partially help understand “life after suicide “ being one that sticks in my mind as it was first aired on the bbc shortly after the funeral of a friend who succumbed, I cried like a baby at some of it so it’s a tough watch (or maybe that’s just me) with much questioning of yourself and relationship with the victim. Any time you need to talk, rant and shout or anything in between please feel free if needed.

  44. #44
    Master Mr Curta's Avatar
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    Professor Green: Suicide and Me is worth watching.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episod...suicide-and-me

  45. #45
    Master thieuster's Avatar
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    This is one of the things you can't prepare or rehearse as a parent. Indeed, the most difficult thing to do. You have only one chance of doing it right. And reading your posting, I think you did it right. With great 'distance support' from your wife. it's good to know that you're on the same page.

    A more practical thing, being a long-time school teacher I would like to advise you to contact the school counselor of your daughter's school. Today was a surreal day for all of you, tomorrow things are different for her: tomorrow, nobody around your daughter is aware of the situation. Perhaps a few good friends know already? Girls 'talk' a lot on social media like WhatsApp and DMs on Insta. It's always good when the professionals at her school know something about what has happened. I wouldn't mention the cause of death until your daughter knows it as well. Then you contact the school again with that information. That way you avoid that someone starts talking about that with her, before she has heard it from you, her parents.

    Menno

  46. #46
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    Thanks again guys for offers of help and advice.

    Quote Originally Posted by thieuster View Post
    This is one of the things you can't prepare or rehearse as a parent. Indeed, the most difficult thing to do. You have only one chance of doing it right. And reading your posting, I think you did it right. With great 'distance support' from your wife. it's good to know that you're on the same page.

    A more practical thing, being a long-time school teacher I would like to advise you to contact the school counselor of your daughter's school. Today was a surreal day for all of you, tomorrow things are different for her: tomorrow, nobody around your daughter is aware of the situation. Perhaps a few good friends know already? Girls 'talk' a lot on social media like WhatsApp and DMs on Insta. It's always good when the professionals at her school know something about what has happened. I wouldn't mention the cause of death until your daughter knows it as well. Then you contact the school again with that information. That way you avoid that someone starts talking about that with her, before she has heard it from you, her parents.

    Menno
    Thanks Menno,

    Actually just talked that through with her 5 mins ago. My wife had suggested to her that we let her form teacher know when they spoke earlier, but she’d prefer us not to for now. She asked for some advice on what to say when her friends notice she’s upset, and we talked together about that. I’m probably going to keep her off school in the morning and play it by ear for the afternoon.

    The sister-in-law told their kids earlier which must have been 100 times harder than my conversation. The youngest apparently replied “I’m going to miss him. Can we play dinosaurs?” He worked irregular shifts, so they’re used to him not being around much for a few days at a time. It’s going to be really hard.

  47. #47
    Master Skier's Avatar
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    I'm sorry to hear of this in your family but I feel I can offer genuine advice here. Tell your daughter the truth from the outset and persuade your wife's family to do the same, however painful it may feel initially. My mother committed suicide when I was 7 years old, my middle sister was 5 and youngest sister approaching 1. My father lied about it (saying she had a heart attack) and it was only a year or so ago when he felt able to raise the subject; I'm now 55 years old! I found out the truth when I was around 15 and it brought back all the questions/issues again but I was not able to bring it up with my father. I told my youngest sister when she was in her early 20s and it was devastating news for her.

    If you put off telling the truth now you'll have to go through the pain and questioning twice and it will raise issues of trust/honesty between you and your children. It's not easy but honesty with a huge amount of support is, in my humble opinion, the way to deal with this. Good luck.

  48. #48
    Master MST's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gcleminson View Post
    The sister-in-law told their kids earlier which must have been 100 times harder than my conversation. The youngest apparently replied “I’m going to miss him. Can we play dinosaurs?” He worked irregular shifts, so they’re used to him not being around much for a few days at a time. It’s going to be really hard.
    Heartbreaking.

  49. #49
    Craftsman boris9's Avatar
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    Very sorry to hear of your loss and the circumstances surrounding it.

    Well done for now you’ve managed the situation with your daughter. I’m sure it was incredibly difficult, but it sounds as though you’ve kept your head in the most difficult of times.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  50. #50
    I’m sorry to hear of your family’s loss.

    I agree with a lot of the comments above, and making up a story is the last thing I would be doing.

    You could explain that there has been a “tragic incident”. Later when the children are older to understand the difference between an incident or accident, it could be explained in more detail about their father. Your daughter is probably old enough. We shield our children from too many regular events these days and I’m not sure it helps.

    My father in-law has very recently passed, and although my children were very close to him they didn’t ask specific questions about how or why he had died. They were just upset because they had lost their grandfather.
    Last edited by Omegamanic; 5th January 2020 at 23:36.
    It's just a matter of time...

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