The suicide grief process for children has some similarities to what adults undergo. With that said, the grief process for a child is also an outgrowth of age and maturity level, coupled with a young person’s understanding of death.
Teens particularly experience suicide grief in a manner akin to the process of adults. When it comes to pre-teens and younger children, researchers have identified four grief stages for children that are applicable in the aftermath of a suicide death. These are:
- Shock and numbness: a child is likely having problems concentrating generally and focusing on the loss more specifically.
- Yearning and searching: a child may seem restless, angry, and bewildered as he or she attempts to understand what has happened.
- Disorientation and disorganization: a child may experience sadness, depression, anger, and guilt at this stage because this is the juncture when the reality of the situation sets in (based on a child’s maturity and understanding of death.
- Reorganization and resolution: a child begins to accept the loss and assimilate it into his or her life.
What is “Normal” for a Child in the Aftermath of a Loved One’s Suicide?
Although the word “normal” is bandied about when it comes to the suicide grief process for children and teens, the reality is that there exists no “normal” when a child loses a loved one to suicide.
With that clearly noted, there exists a set of emotions that children and teens are likely to experience in varying degrees and combinations as the grief the suicide of a family member. These are:
Relief can be a particularly difficult emotion to address in a child following the suicide of a loved one. If a family member’s suicide was preceded by a mental health or substance abuse issue, life in the household may have been chaotic and unpleasant. Letting a child know that feeling relief that this is no longer the state of affairs in the household is an acceptable, fair, and understandable response is acceptable.
What Additional Relationship-Specific Issues May Arise?
There are three types of relationships in which specific issues arise in the aftermath of a suicide. The first of these involves the suicide of a parent. When a parent commits suicide, a child will experience the emotions set forth previously, and in a profound way. In addition, a younger child is likely to face concerns over who will take care of him or her. A child is also likely to worry about what will happen to them if a surviving parent dies. A child may also be concerned about whether or not he or she will die by way of suicide.
Another situation in which relationship-specific issues arise involves the suicide of a person with whom the child had a conflict-ridden relationship. In that situation, a child can face complicated emotions, including feeling heartbroken that the less than ideal relationship will now never be repaired.
Finally, relationship-specific issues can arise when a sibling takes his or her life. The range of emotions when a sibling commits suicide include:
Emotions surrounding embarrassment may become particularly intense when a child returns to school. This particularly is the case when a surviving child attends the same school, and is close in age, to the sibling that committed suicide.