Resources

Suicide Survivors’ Club: Navigating Parenthood After Suicide (Part Two)

Sep 22, 2022 by Rebecca Anderson
Rebecca Anderson

A few years ago, we had the honor to work with the Suicide Survivors’ Club to create a PrairieCare Education Series video where they shared their story of suicide loss through art. Their five-part book series, “Suicide Survivors’ Club: A Family’s Journey Through the Death of Their Loved One” and activity book, “Healing After a Suicide Loss: All Ages Workbook + Activity Guide” has been part of their own healing journey and now guides others through this difficult life transition. 

Rebecca Anderson who is the Co-Founder and President of the Suicide Survivors’ Club was asked to write a “Part Two” reflection for Suicide Awareness Month. In “Part One” Aidan, her son, shared his experience as a child when his father died by suicide and his journey to understanding the social impact this loss can have. This confusion felt by suicide survivors does not discriminate by age as Rebecca explains in her story as a parent of three young kids. The responsibility of parenthood persists while also helping each child toward their journey to healing. Outside of being a parent, she experienced the social change that needs to occur surrounding the support suicide survivors need from those around them.  

Over time, I have been asked how I got through my husbands suicide and what to offer others grappling with options in hope of supporting loss survivors and broaden their knowledge on difficult subject matter.  Having the curiosity and desire to wade into unknown territory, being present, listening, offering to help rather than waiting for the family to reach out lifts some of the burden off the shoulders of those left behind.  

When my husband died in 2002, my daughter, Pattie was 19, my sons Aidan and Will, 7 and 5. We had been in therapy prior to my husband’s suicide, had a close relationship with our pediatrician and were deeply involved with the school district all of my kids attended. Having a base to work from was paramount for us. Our interactions with the teachers, school social worker and staff were caring, generous with their time and supportive. I have spoken with countless loss survivors over the years and know this is not the case for many.

I have found human nature and responses to trauma are complicated and have many examples of the outpouring of support and other experiences that were deeply difficult for me to assimilate.  

The topic of suicide was never off limits to us as a family. From the onset, it was discussed in  manageable increments and worked with through play therapy, to help Aidan and Will explore and convey their feelings in ways they were able to communicate. Pattie was given the option to continue therapy with her established therapist and declined. She had just started her freshman year in college when her father took his life. I was deeply concerned and we remained in close contact as she slowly found her way. I was in constant contact with the kids therapist; Sharon, teachers, professionals and friends.  

It was clear this traumatic loss was not limited to the confines of our home. It became a community issue. Families facing an unfathomable loss and grappling with how or if to discuss it with their young children was a very real component to all our lives. Don had been the Cub Scout leader at the time of his death, and several of the boys spent a significant amount of time at our home. In the ways we could, we supported each other and found common ground while navigating our lives through the early days and for years to come. I will be forever grateful to the many people who helped, brought humor when I found none and grew with us over time.

We were a close knit community and long standing parents in the school district all three kids attended.  Shortly after our loss, my daughter’s newly retired biology teacher heard the news and stepped forward to help and mentor Aidan. Pattie had been in his 9th grade biology class. He and Don had worked on a few projects together. Jeff became a mainstay in Aidan’s life. A steady, reliable person in Aidan’s young life who took on a variety of roles including mentor, father figure, and friend. Jeff remains an integral part of Aidan’s life to this day.

There were problematic, painful experiences with people as well. Who stayed, who left, what surprises came with certain relationships has helped shape our perspective on how to prepare as much as possible for the predictable and unpredictable way people respond to tragedy.

Don, the kids and I were friends with a family in our school district who remained involved in the early days and aftermath of Don’s suicide. Several months after Don’s death, I was visiting a friend and in passing said, I wondered if I would ever have another relationship. She responded with something I was confused by and I asked for clarification. She stated, no one would be involved with or marry me given Don’s suicide. Thoughtless and hurtful, it also reminded me the stigma of loss by suicide was alive and well.  

We were good friends with a woman and her family. Pam was a light hearted, dedicated parent, educator and delightful part of our lives. A few days after Don died, Pam spontaneously stopped by to see us. She had a string of chili pepper lights in multi colors. She strung them on our banister, plugged them in, turned around with tears and a smile and said  she did not know what else to do. The kids and I smile and laugh when we think of Pam’s heartfelt bullseye with a thoughtful gesture in the midst of something foreign and wrenching. With a tear, I let go of our beloved beacon of chili pepper “hope” lights 15 years after being gifted with them.

My main goal throughout this experience has been to help my now young adult children find a vocabulary and inner resources to communicate and express themselves through a variety of mediums. It has also been my hope, by sharing our story we provide a safe backdrop for those struggling with loss and deepen discussions on difficult subject matter.

Read Part One with Aidan Anderson, Reflecting on Loss During Childhood.

To learn more about the Suicide Survivors’ Club or purchase their books, visit their website SuicideSurvivorsClub.org

Watch the PrairieCare Education Series featuring the Suicide Survivors’ Club.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of suicide, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

Visit our blog for content on all things mental health related.

Suicide Survivors’ Club: Navigating Parenthood After Suicide (Part Two)
Suicide Survivors’ Club: Reflecting on Loss During Childhood (Part One)
Live Your Healthy Lyfe Reflection: Building Community