The death of a parent, mother or father in any situation is one of the most emotional, painful and difficult times someone can experience yet everyone will experience it at some point. That does not make it any easier to go through. The death of a parent is grief-filled and traumatic, and permanently alters children of any age, both biologically and psychologically. That death is especially hard when the means of the death was by suicide. The topic, death of a parent by suicide is one that effects my family closely. My grandmother committed suicide before I was born, my mother being the one to find her, as well as my cousin, and his wife and daughter being the one to find him. In this paper it will be discussed how the children who are left behind feel after losing a parent to suicide using different sources as well as personal experiences.
In the general sense suicide is defined as intentionally taking one’s own life. Before the nineteenth century, suicide was legally said to be a criminal act in the western countries. In the social climate of the early 2000s, however, suicidal ideations are most commonly responded to as a psychiatric emergency. Suicide is a major public health problem all around the world. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2000. About 10.6 out of every 100,000 persons in the United States die by their own hands. There are five suicide victims for every three homicide deaths in North America as of the early 2000s. There are over 30,000 suicides per year in the United Stated or about 86 per day; and each day about 1900 people attempt suicide.(Koplewicz)
In the Catholic Bible it says in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. Then also in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.
Still after it being said that basically suicide is a sin and that God does not approve of suicide saying that God was the one who gave us the gift of life and is the only one who can take it, in many places in the bible others have taken their life for example Abimelech in Judges 9:54 after having his skull crushed under a millstone that was dropped by a woman from the Tower of Shechem, Abimelech called for his armor-bearer to kill him with a sword. He did not want it said that a woman had killed him. There was also Judas in Matthew 27:5, After he betrayed Jesus, Judas Iscariot was overcome with remorse and hung himself.
In 1943, Pope Pius XI explicitly condemned suicide as a grave sin and when Austro‐Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolph at Meyerling committed suicide the Catholic church said that it was due to his mental status being unstable, so that he could be buried in the Imperial Crypt of the Capuchin Church in Vienna. So yeah, the Bible treats life as a gift and something humans are to value and respect. No human has the right to take his own life or the life of another. Yes, suicide is a tragedy, a sin in some cases, but it does not remove God’s act of forgiveness., ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Romans 10:13, NIV)
Beginning with personal experiences, when my mother was nineteen, she found her mother in the bathroom of their home. Beverley Heøg said in her article that a parent suicide bereavement is very different from other types of loss in three significant ways. One of them being the strong connection you have with the feeling of grief and death. Another being the social aspect surrounding those who are left behind. Lastly there is the impact suicide has on family systems. With the self-inflicted nature of suicide, it makes it especially traumatic for a child, with the accompanying feelings of rejection, guilt, and shame, unlike if the parents’ death was caused by an accident or an illness. This shame and the social aspect surrounding suicide complicates the grieving process and often affects the surrounding social environment and the surviving parent’s available support of the grieving child.
Taking that information, I wanted to analyze my family. My mom is a very spiritual person and has even gone as far as speaking to a medium to try and connect with her loved ones, being that both of her parents have passed away and with her mom should could want answers for why she committed suicide. Koplewicz said in his article about how to help children cope with the death of a parent by suicide that children need the most simple and honest answers to their questions most in the aftermath so a suicide. So, with that I would say she has a strong connection to grief and dying.
At the time of my grandmother’s death, my mother tells me about how the whole neighborhood knew about what happened, my mother lived with her stepfather, who she did not like and mother, so wants my grandmother passed, my mother moved in with her grandparents. After that even more people started asking questions about what had happened. Everyone was pitying her and talking about the situation. She never ended up going to college until her late twenties. Lastly, looking at my family now, I have had little to no family contact on my mother’s side besides her brothers and three cousins. Until recently I did not know that many people believed that the cause of my grandmother’s suicide was because of my mother’s step farther. So those who believed that stayed in contact and those who did not, stopped reaching out.
In a study conducted by Relationship Formation, 35,682 men and 33,691 women experienced early parental loss, representing 4.5% of the sample. Approximately 12% experienced loss from suicide, paternal death accounted for more than two thirds (almost 70%) of all parental deaths, and almost half of the sample (approximately 45%) experienced parental loss during their teenage years. Both bereaved men and women had an increased rate of entering into a relationship if parental death was by suicide rather than other causes. Their results found that going through a parental death in childhood and adolescence, focusing on the ones by suicide, has a long-term impact on adult relationships.
When a child thinks about how they should have been with their parent that passed most of the time they think, “I should have been perfect” thoughts tend to come to mind. Often times they feel that they should have done more and, if they did not do everything they think they should have they think down on themselves, usually resulting in a low self-worth, low self-esteem, shame, self-judgment, self-condemnation feeling.
On the other hand, patients sometimes blame their parent that has passed for not treating them the way they think they should have been treated, and never making right with the thoughts. This is very unhealthy. Sometimes the cause of all these negative feelings of anger, rage, are real feelings and something in the past that the parent did like being mistreated of abused, may have caused these feelings. In situations like this, it’s not just the death of the parent but having no reconciliation, of rapprochement and apology from the offending parent.
Also, that children who have avoidant personalities or extreme anxiety, easily fall into unhealthy coping styles. In a study by Høeg on early parental loss found that bereavement after suicide of a parent increases the risk for separation in adulthood, when compared with loss from other causes. Children who have experienced other traumas are also more likely to respond not well, given the experiences they have had. Kids who lack strong support networks whether it be within the family or within the community all together suffer more. As for girls, for reasons not yet confirmed, appear three times more likely to have traumatic reactions to disturbing events. (Koplewicz)
Researchers at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center found that children who are under the age of 18 when their parents died due to suicide, are three times more likely as children with living parents to later commit suicide themselves. This just makes the importance of providing support to children who are grieving even more greater. It is not just treating the trauma of sudden parental death; it is also trying to break the suicide cycle in families. While the physical symptoms that manifest after the death of a parent are relatively consistent, the psychological impacts are all but unpredictable.
In conclusion the death of a parent is very traumatic all on its’ own but when the death of a parent is by suicide it causes many physical and psychological impairments that will follow the children effected for the rest of their life, as it is something that can not be unseen. The grief that the child goes through is different than those deaths of natural causes. It is important to support the children in the correct ways as they are more likely to have negative effects from the death.