By Karen Kosman:
The loss of a loved one by suicide causes deep pain and struggles for families left behind–especially a parent’s suicide for children who only understand that Daddy or Mommy is no longer there to tuck them in bed, to hold them, to play ball, or to help with homework. Activities, no longer possible, that once seemed normal create a deep yearning in a child’s heart. Often they are too young to ask questions. People who are in a position to work with children can be a light that shines through their darkness. One such story is about a Sunday school teacher, named Jeanne Pallos, who started a special class for hurting children.
The following story was taken from Too Soon to Say Goodbye: Healing and Hope for Suicide Victims and Survivors and used with permission by New Hope Publishers.
Erik’s Papa’s Suicide
I knew about hurting hearts and how God could use safe, loving, caring people to bring healing. He had done it in my life. In return, I longed to reach into the hearts of emotionally wounded children and minister with God’s love and grace. So I started a class at church for children with hurting hearts. The staff knew I wasn’t a trained counselor, nor did I pretend to be, but they agreed to allow God to direct me.
Erik’s mother pleaded with me to let him into the class. “He’s seen so much pain in his short life,” she said. “At five years old, Erik lost his dad to suicide. He needs to be in your class.”
Even though Erik was only eight, and the other children were 4th through 6th graders, how could I say no? I thought, Love and support is what all these children need. “I’ll be happy to take Erik into my class.”
The first week, a shy little boy, with his head down, walked into the classroom. We sat in one large circle, and Erik took the seat next to mine. Although I knew the personal tragedies in each child’s life, I never mentioned them. I vowed never to pry into a child’s heart.
Erik rarely spoke, but at the beginning of each class, he scurried to sit next to me. One week I asked the children to make collages depicting people and things they loved. We searched through magazines and collected pictures. Then the children disappeared into their own private worlds as they cut and pasted pictures and words onto large sheets of paper.
Since Erik was the youngest, I often helped him with projects. As we sat pasting a picture of a father and son tossing a ball, he said, “Papa liked to play ball with me.”
Erik had never mentioned his dad before.
“That must have been fun and made you very happy.” I silently prayed, Thank you, God, for working in Erik’s heart.
The next week, during the class activity, Erik whispered to me, “Papa used to read to me.”
“That sounds so special,” I replied. “I’m sure your papa loved reading to you.”
A few weeks later, just before Christmas, our church held its annual memorial service. Families brought pictures of loved ones to display on a table and wrote the deceased person’s name on a list to be read. During the service, each family walked forward to light a candle.
I walked forward and placed my mother’s picture on the table. Suddenly, I noticed Erik walking towards me. He looked up at me with expressive eyes.
“Do you want to see Papa?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” I answered, taking his small hand. “I’d love to see your papa.”
Together, we found Papa’s picture—a snapshot of a man and a child secured in a cracked frame.
“Is that you?” I asked.
“I can tell your papa loved you very much. Do you want to see a picture of my mother?” I asked.
When the evening ended, Erik’s mother took me aside and told me the details of the suicide. “Erik’s dad and I were separated. He lived alone. One evening he phoned and threatened, ‘I’m climbing onto a chair and making a noose. I’m going to kill myself.’
“I pleaded with him, ‘Please get some counseling. Your kids will always need you.’ Then I heard a thud, and the conversation ended in an overpowering silence.”
I wanted to say something comforting, but couldn’t find the words. As I looked into her eyes, I saw sadness, but I also saw determination. Widowed, and left with three heartbroken children, she’d not given up.
Had my class touched Erik’s young heart? Could the love he received in a few short weeks bring healing for a lifetime? I knew it couldn’t, but it was a beginning.
Erik loved his papa, no matter how he had died. That’s all that mattered. Erik now needed me and others to listen, care, and affirm this love. This little boy had a lifetime to deal with his papa’s suicide. For now he needed help in treasuring his dad’s memory before it faded away.
See this touching video, Grief Through The Eyes of a Child, from The Child and Teen Program of Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado. It includes stories from kids about Camp Good Grief to help children cope with loss.