Isaiah 40:11 ~ "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young."
I often am asked how the girls are doing these days so I thought I'd share an update. They of course are still really missing their daddy. Corey's name comes up usually at least once a day. Yesterday the girls and I were driving somewhere after they had gotten home from school. Abigail told me, "I had to sit alone today on the bus, so I pretended Daddy was sitting with me." It is sad to hear her say things like this but encouraging to hear how she is handling her grief. I think both girls are handling this loss in as healthy a way as they could be.
I had an appointment with a grief counselor through an organization called Pete's Place this past week. My main purpose for going was to gain some insight into the how and when of explaining the cause of Corey's death to the girls - his depression and completed suicide. I want to be prepared to answer them when the questions start to come as they get older. If Corey had died from a heart attack or an accident then I probably would have already shared those details with them. But how do you explain suicide to a child? There just doesn't seem to be any "right" way to tell a child that their daddy caused his own death. I just have to keep going back to the fact that this was an illness. I've heard suicide described as a "permanent solution to a temporary problem." I wish Corey could have seen the temporary nature of his depression. It obviously felt anything but.
Several years back 2 psychologists in Sydney Australia completed the 'Children Bereaved by Suicide Project'. They talked with parents and children who had lost a loved one to suicide. Out of the project a booklet was written called Supporting Children after Suicide. One child they interviewed was not told until much later about his brother's suicide. The advice he offered to adults was, "come straight out and tell them...'cause I didn't really like it being told at different times. I'd rather just accept it the way it was." The booklet goes on to talk about how children can often pick up on something happening in their family that they don't know about and that keeping significant information like suicide from children can affect a child's developing trust. I am trying to be as honest with the girls as I can while not giving them more information than they are ready for or are in need of. We are all wired to want to know and understand a person's death. I think Abi is already seeking to better understand the why behind Corey's death. She asked her teacher, "Did my Daddy die from cancer?" since she's been hearing a lot about cancer lately. When her teacher responded with, "I'm not sure" (Her teacher did not know quite how to answer her.) Abi said, "I think my Daddy died from cancer." I later talked with Abi to make sure she knew Corey didn't die from cancer.
Overall, there seem to be many opinions on the subject of how to talk to children about death and many cautions on what not to say. Most of these cautions I wouldn't have really thought of on my own. They all make sense to me after learning them but we adults don't often think about how a child understands things. Some of these cautions include not telling your young child the deceased went to sleep (trying to explain death as being like sleeping) since your child might then fear going to sleep at night. You should also not tell your child the loved one was sick since they might then fear getting sick themselves with a cold or flu...Or they could end up being afraid that if their mom or dad gets mildly sick they might die too. If you mention the word sick experts say you need to be sure to explain that 'sick' doesn't mean a cold or stomach bug. Some people have recommended using the word illness or disease. So many things to consider in discerning what is best for your kids. I have been praying about all this and am trying to trust that God will be faithful in guiding me as to how much, when and what I share with the girls. This is something I would gladly welcome your prayers on! Thinking about it makes me feel so inadequate to handle all of this as Abi and Ali's mom. One thing I do know is that I don't want to keep Corey's death a deep dark secret from my kids. I don't want it to be something they have to be ashamed of or afraid to talk about. The problem I see is that so many people don't understand suicide, particularly the depression as the cause of the suicide. I'm worried that down the road Abi or Ali, once armed with the knowledge of Corey's death, will in a matter-of-fact way tell someone how he died and will get a not-so-helpful or judgmental response from some ill-informed individual who might not even be intending harm.
For now, the girls continue to enjoy being kids as they try to work out the reality they live with each day that Daddy is gone and isn't coming back. One day last week I overheard them having a discussion that warmed my heart but brought tears to my eyes. I had woken up one morning before they did and was coming out of the bathroom. I could hear they were just waking up and so I peeked into their room and just eavesdropped. Allison had just sat up in bed and said, "I miss Daddy. I wish Daddy could come back." Abigail responded back to her with understanding, "I know, me too. Daddy's in heaven now though." It was so sweet how Abi tried to console Allison. They continued to talk about Corey and I wish I had been awake enough to remember everything they said. Abigail talked with such a big sister tone in her voice as she counseled Ali. Abi started walking to the door and I could tell Allison had just noticed me peeking in. The last comment from Abi I was able to catch before she realized I was at the door was, "Daddy was nice, clever, and brave." It made my heart feel good to know that they are remembering and also continuing to learn what was so special about their Dad. Abigail and her daddy were close. I can't help but feel bad that Allison isn't going to have as many memories to hold on to. It brought me some comfort to know that Abigail, being the good big sis that she is, is already helping Allison remember who Corey was. Corey would be so proud.