When a loved one dies by suicide, children need to hear the truth from the people they love, according to a bereavement counselor.
This afternoon, Lunchtime Live read out a letter from a listener asking for advice on how to tell her young daughter that her father took his own life.
The listener said she had already explained to her six-year-old child that her father had an illness that made him unable to think straight or seek help but said she had never been able to "explain the deliberate nature of the act, in clear detail."
“I know the first question she will have for me will be, 'why wasn’t his love for me enough to make him stay,'” she wrote.
"Children need to be told the truth"
Maura Keating from the Irish Childhood Bereavement Network joined the show to offer up her advice on how to talk to children about family tragedies.
She said it is extremely important to tell them the truth as early as possible.
“Our natural instinct is to actually not want to upset our children or maybe give them all the information because we feel that is too hard for them and that it is easier if we soften the words but in reality, children need to be told the truth,” she said.
“They need to be told the truth in the case of all deaths and particularly in the case of suicide deaths.
“It is probably the hardest conversation you will ever have to have with your child but it is so important that they hear the truth from the person they live with and the person that is caring for them and that they love.”
She said the reality of modern life is that, with social media and the internet children will learn about suicide either way and it is “far better they hear it within the family.”
She younger children learn about the finality of death in a phased way and warned that “no matter how many times you explain it, it takes some time for it to fully sink in.”
“One of the things it is important to say is, talking to children about any type of a death is never a once-off conversation,” she said.
“You are going to have to repeat it and explain it multiple times throughout their childhood, until they fully understand and have processed the reality of what has happened in their life.”
She said that when it comes to suicide, it is important to explain what has happened “as simply as you can, as early as you can so the child is hearing it from you.”
“Sometimes, that is about saying things like, ‘people die for lots of different reasons,’” she said.
“Sometimes, they get really sick or they have a really bad accident. They might die because they are old - but when they die their body stops working and sometimes, when people get really ill or really sad, they choose to make their own body stop working.”
“Sometimes that might be enough initially and then another conversation will expand on that and another conversation will expand on that.
“It is a series of steps rather than getting it all out in one go.”
Ms Keating noted that is really important to remember that, “when somebody dies by suicide, we focus an awful lot on how they died, it is really important to talk about how they lived.”
“He is still her daddy, they are still their mammy, they are still their big brother or sister,” she said. “Talk about them how they lived and help them keep their memories of how they lived, not just how they died.”
She said there are a range of support services available around the country to help people deal with bereavement.
You can contact the Pieta House support line at any time of day or night on 1800 247 247.
You can also contact the Irish Hospice Foundation Bereavement Support Line on 1800 807 077
The Barnardos Children Bereavement Helpline is available on 01 473 2110