Helping Students Understand Suicidal Thoughts

By Karen Kosman:

 When talking to teens at a high school, we discussed suicidal thoughts, but also how unique and special each of those teens are.
teens by Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos net

Image Courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An opportunity opened for me to speak to high school students, in special needs classes, about suicide. I spoke at 4 different campuses. As I entered each class room I was introduced as a speaker and author. I set my books on stands so the students could see the titles. I noticed that they looked apprehensive. Some nervously wiggled in their seats. Silently I prayed, Lord, please open their hearts. Help them to know that I am here because I care.  

I began to share about some of the challenges I’d had in school and later in my adult life. I noticed that they were listening intently.

When I said, “Do you realize that each one of you are special?” I noticed several sat up straighter. I walked over to a student and said to her, “Do you know that no one in the world has the same set of finger prints that you do?”  Then I walked over to a young man with tattoos on his arms and said, “Do you know that no one in the world has the same design in your eyes as you do?”

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalms 139:14

At that point you could hear a pin drop it was so quiet. I knew then I could talk about my son whom I’d lost from suicide.

I brought them into the presentation by asking questions: “What would you do if a friend told you they wanted to die?” Several responded to my questions and listened closely to how to get help for depression and suicidal thoughts.  Throughout my entire presentation one student keeping saying, “I need your book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye.”  Before I left that classroom I signed a book and gave him one. The students wrote letters to me. The young man whom I gave a book to wrote:

Today I learned what to do when you are suicidal. I am a Christian and I really feel bad that so many want to die.  At one time, I wanted to commit suicide, but when I gave my life to my Father -God my life got better. I want others to know that their lives can get better, too. I know that I can win those lost souls and teach them that God changes lives. Please, stop and think before committing suicide.

Another student wrote: Today in my 6th period class we had a guest speaker. She’s written a book about suicide. We learned it is okay to ask for help when depressed. Life can improve and the future can be good. You need to live your life. We also learned how important it is to listen to friends that are talking about committing suicide and tell someone that can help them.

I have no way of knowing what has taken place in each student’s life since that day, but their letters continue to touch my heart. Every time I read them I pray for each student. We all have problems to work out, but we also have the hope that those problems have solutions. Each day we live is a gift.

See this video with Kristin Anderson: Suicide Interrupted, about a failed suicide attempt which led to a life change in this young woman.

A Parent’s Suicide

By Karen Kosman:

Photo by Anita Peppers

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

Jeanne Pallos

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.

Erik smiled.

“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.