Dr. Eileen Callahan, Ph.D.: Parent Suicide Loss

Parent Suicide Loss

When children, whether young, adolescent, or adult, lose a parent, it completely changes their world. The loss of a parent is the loss of a guardian and someone who forges the path to the future for the children. They are at least partially orphaned since one parent has died. And in suicide, they feel as if they have been abandoned because the person killed him or herself (there is no one and nothing to blame other than the parents themselves). Children are left without role models as they go forward into the future. They are left with one parent who must take on the roles of both mother and father even though they are not equipped to do so. Or they are left without their tie to who they are in the world.

The majority of parental suicides leave the children bewildered, no matter what age they are. They might fear that they too will die by suicide.  If children are young, they will wonder if they caused the suicide to happen. Did they wish it on their mother or father because they were mad at them? Depending on their age, they might not understand what the parent was coping with (mental illness, alcohol abuse, work issues, and so forth). They might have thought the parent was the most important person in the world. And that person is gone.

When it comes time to marry and form their own families, sometimes children who have lost a parent to suicide choose not to have children (or decide not to name a child after the deceased parent) because they are afraid they are destining their children for suicide or at the very least putting them at risk for mental illness (Cain, 2006). This fear might seem unfounded to people looking in from the outside, especially if they see someone relating beautifully to other people’s children. As a person bereaved by suicide, I can testify that the scars are deep where many outsiders cannot see them.

This is particularly true if the family did not discuss the suicide and the now adult child still has issues that resonate from unresolved grief relating to the loss. Although it is best to somehow resolve these with one’s family, the passage of time sometimes makes such resolution impossible. The now-adult survivor should find some way to work through this issue.

Note that the elderly have a high suicide rate. A person who is sick and who has already lost his or her spouse may choose suicide because he or she believes it is time to move on, that his or her life on earth is finished, and there is no more reason to suffer. Members of families surviving that kind of suicide may not travel a typical suicide grief route because they understand why their parent chose suicide and they respect that decision.

This site cannot be used to initiate emergency contact. We cannot respond on-line to crisis situations. If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

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Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255