Thursday, October 8, 2015

The day I had to explain suicide to my 10 year old

As a parent there are plenty of conversations you expect to have with your children. You plan to talk to them about happy things: family, friends, coloring, riding bikes, books, movies, TV shows, food, sports, games...general silliness.
And then there are things that you wish your children never knew about. There are school shootings and car accidents and cancer and suicide.
I had struggled through the day hoping to give a sense of normalcy to my students, hoping that is what they need. It was a quiet day. I could feel a sense of pain below the surface in my classes but they made it through the day; I made it through the day. I kept my composure, more than once I thought about the post I wrote over the summer. I thought about that tattoo I want for my birthday. I thought about the fact that someone chose a period when everyone in their world wishes it was a semicolon. What I didn't think about was that it would impact my oldest son's world.

After school today I asked a question that parents across the country ask their child on a daily basis: "How was your day?" It is a question that we expect to not get a response to half the time. It is a question we rephrase to dig deeper most of the time. It is also a question that we don't always know what kind of response we will get.
This is how it went today:
How was your day?
We didn't have guidance today because the counselors had to be here (we were in my classroom). Do you know what happened?
Yes, kind of. Do you know what it was about?
B told us that a kid died, do you know how it happened?
Kind of, what have you heard?
(long pause of hesitation) B said that he shot himself. Is that true?
That is also what I heard.
Mom (I will never forget the look in his eyes), I don't understand-why would he do that?

This was not how that question was supposed to go. That is not how I ever expected a conversation with my 10 year old to go. Ever.

I will admit that I fumbled with my answer with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. How do I attempt to explain something to my 10 year old that leaves adults asking why? But I did, I tried. I let him talk about what he heard and then I explained that we really don't know why. No one does. Not even the person who did it. Sometimes people get so sad that the feel like they can't be happy again. Sometimes bad things happen and we really don't know why. I just want you to know that you can talk to me about this-if you have more questions or anything. I also want you to know that it is something to talk to me and Daddy about but not the best thing to talk your friends about because this is something confusing for kids. If people are talking about it, you don't have to stop them or correct them but I would appreciate it if you don't participate and that you talk to me about it because this is a very adult thing for kids to be talking about. Kids should talk to adults about adult things rather than other kids. I hugged him and he seemed satisfied with my incomplete answer.

And then he sat in a desk and did his math homework and English homework and I wished I could climb inside his little brain and know that he was thinking. Did I say the right thing? Does he still have questions? Does he understand? Did I say too much? not enough? I'll never really know but I do know that he talked to me about it. He could have answered my question with his usual "fine" or "good" or "okay" but he didn't and I suppose that is one positive I can take from a pretty dreary parenting experience.

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