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Jun 7 2011

Talking About Suicide on the Go

By at 9:51 am

Ronia and I took our second long bike ride today, and it was a little less joyous than the first.

I was grieving the suicide of a friend, actually my estranged friend’s sister. I had come back from the funeral to pick up Ronia from school and I needed a bike ride.

When I grieved the end of my marriage, I was a stay at home parent, but Ronia couldn’t really talk. She was definitely an impressionable presence, and I tried to balance “keeping it together” with sharing my emotions with her so she would know I had them. It didn’t totally work, I once heard her telling her mother, “Papa isn’t sad! He’s NOT!”

But now that she’s 3 and 1/2, I felt the need to be more explicit. Without consulting a single text on how to talk to a kid about suicide, I dove in when I picked up Ronia on my bike.

“Do you remember my friend from D.C.?” I asked her.

“Are we going there?”

“No, we’re going to West Philly. D.C. is too far to bike to.”

“That’s where Auntie Hannah lives?”

“Yes, but now she’s in France.”

“So no one will be there?”

“Well we’ll see someone we know. But my friend from D.C., her sister died.”

“What died her?”

“She got so sick she didn’t want to live any more. It happens to people sometimes.”

“Oh.”

“We are going to see the people who are really sad about her dying in the next few days.”

“Yes, I want to see the people who are sad.”

She said the last in a curious tone, like she wanted to check out these sad people. And then it was off on our bike. We went even further this time, 15 miles away, to attend something called the Dollar Stroll. I lifted my parental dessert caps–Ronia got both cupcake and ice cream. We ate the fried finger food of several cultures and she got her face painted as a blue kitty (not pink, I happily noted.) She peed on some impoverished plants. I tried to remember she was just a kid and not an allegory for much of world history, and that her pee was better than the litter.

As we rode home, Ronia kept up a steady stream of whining. I have written about the joys of zoning out to your child while riding, the flip side is that it turns out you can ignore them too.

We rode through clouds of Griefbugs, many of which I inhaled, along with Griefdust which made me cough violently. All the while listening to Griefgulls, mourning the loss of my birdlike friend with chirps and tweets.

My eyes teared, but not from crying. I was sore, but not from sobbing. Ronia’s kvetching and my grief swirled away like the wind, only occasionally slowing us down.

Talking to your kids about death isn’t easy. Here’s an article that can help.


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