How do I help my pre-teen nephew understand his teen friend's suicide?
June 24, 2011 8:53 AM   Subscribe

My 10 year old nephew just found out that his 15 year old friend committed suicide. What online resources can I send my sister to help him work through his feelings?

They live in an isolated community that has limited Internet access (no huge downloads or videos, please). The friend lives in another isolated community and my nephew is not likely to go for the funeral. There's also a postal strike so I can't send up any books on helping kids deal with suicide, death and grief. Also, any tips on what I can do for/say to him would be greatly appreciated.
posted by KathyK to Human Relations (13 answers total)
Well, it would be good to know what he is feeling and perhaps what is the nature of this mysterious isolated community. Without knowing that, I suggest simply listening on the phone and perhaps sending him what you feel to be his favorite kinds of books on the Newberry list, because they are quite enjoyable to read, age-appropriate, and I remember from that age that many of them were quite insightful regarding the transient nature of this life and the importance of valuing the past while not being devastated by its changing.
posted by michaelh at 9:07 AM on June 24, 2011

michaelh: Did you read the entire question? There is a postal strike in Canada. There is no mail service. Also, it's not difficult to guess that both the poster's nephew and his friend's family live in rural communities without broadband Internet.

OP: I don't have children, but I suspect that being surrounded by caring, attentive, understanding family members is going to be much more effective for a 10-year-old's mental health that a text-only website. If your sister is taking the time to listen, explain, and comfort, I suspect your nephew will be OK. The worst that could happen is that your nephew's family makes this sad incident sound like something taboo and off-limits for family talk. Children should learn to and be able to come forward with their difficulties and issues and seek help and support from their families.
posted by Nomyte at 9:24 AM on June 24, 2011

The strike will end eventually, so don't discount book recommendations.

When I was around that age we lost a classmate to murder-two boys were in an abandoned house down from the school taking shelter from a rainstorm when a drunken neighbor shot at them, killing one of them.

Judging from that, what most of us needed was sympathetic people who would listen to us, allow us to grieve, and not shut us down when we needed to talk.

Do know that grief at that age is a bit different than grief in an adult. Kids generally can pop in and out of it. So don't let that be a surprise.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:35 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am sincerely sorry. I did read about the strike in the post, but I forgot by the time I typed my reply.

However, I still suggest sending the books, but later. Based on my experience they will be helpful even if read years after, and the strike will not last nearly that long.
posted by michaelh at 9:35 AM on June 24, 2011

I'm so sorry for your nephew's loss. Suicide is a particularly difficult way to lose somone you care about. There are a couple of online resources I can think of offhand:

The Dougy Center provides really wonderful resources for grieving children, with some of their materials focusing specifically on suicide.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also provides some nice guidelines here for talking to children about suicide.

I'll just echo what others have said above. Grieving is a process that takes time. He may go through periods of thinking a lot about it, sadness, anger, etc., and there may be times he doesn't really seem to be thinking about it at all. Follow his lead, be supportive and really be ready to listen when he's ready to talk.

Best thoughts for your nephew, his friend, and his friend's family.
posted by goggie at 9:44 AM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

My niece's cousin recently committed suicide. My niece was 15 and the cousin was 19. Like some other answers noted, she goes in and out of grief. The best thing helps her cope is being around her cousin's child and helping take care of him. That probably doesn't apply in this case, with a 15 year old victim, but perhaps you can think of something the friend would have wanted your nephew to do. I'm way out of touch with what 10 year olds are into today, but perhaps finish the tree fort they were building or something like that. The important part is that there's some connection to the deceased, and that there's something tangible that the survivor can DO.

But of course, don't force it. Just gently, gently suggest, and completely back off at any resistance. If you're not really close to him, if you're not used to talking to him at least 2-3 times per week, I wouldn't be the one to bring this up. Just have a casual conversation with him, let him lead.

Be patient. Like other answers said, the grief will come and go. My cousin killed himself 4 years ago (he was 28, I was 32) and I will go months without thinking about it and then BAM, I'm in tears for no apparent reason.

Suicide is a uniquely difficult thing to understand, I imagine much more so before you've gone through puberty and your hormones do all kinds of weird things to your emotions. As an adult, even if you've never been suicidal, you have some concept of feeling really really sad and maybe desperate. I don't think most 10 year olds can feel that.

Best wishes to him, his family and the victim's family.
posted by desjardins at 10:48 AM on June 24, 2011

If he has a pet, then spending time with the pet might be helpful. This is kind of a random idea, but he might enjoy focused training time with the pet -- even cats can be trained, and it does make the relationship closer and is fun and rewarding for the pet and the person. Dogs and cats can be very comforting.
posted by amtho at 10:59 AM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your relationship is such that he will be emotionally honest with you or your sister, the best thing you can do is listen. Adults have this temptation to explain and teach in situations like this, which is really about the adult's needs to feel like they're doing something to help. But focusing on the kid's needs can be more helpful: they need a space to think, question, grieve and work through it, all the while knowing that they are loved. Pressuring the child to talk can be equally counterproductive, but letting them know that you are there to listen and you love them can go a long way.
posted by squasher at 6:25 PM on June 24, 2011

Suggest to your sister that at some point he might find it useful to write a letter to his friend and then "send it" by burning the letter. Putting things in words will help him to figure out what he is feeling and possibly let him feel like he got to say "goodbye". Another idea is to light a candle on the day of the funeral - or even have a candle burning for 24 hours (light a new one off the old flame if you need to) so that he can feel like he is participating in the funeral in his own way.
posted by metahawk at 11:30 PM on June 24, 2011

There is some material on grief written for kids on the website for the Kids Help Phoneline. (See the section on grief) plus a Canadian toll-free phone number if your nephew or your sister feel like they need to talks to someone outside of the family.
posted by metahawk at 11:49 PM on June 24, 2011

Here is
with answers to questions that students often ask when a classmate has commited suicide. This would be something your sister could read to prepare her for questions from your nephew.
posted by metahawk at 12:08 AM on June 25, 2011

Is he up north?

Youth suicide is so horribly common in the territories that even the smallest community will often have some kind of support group network your nephew and his family can use. Sometimes this will be offered through the school or a clinic or wellness centre, and sometimes it will be through a church. One I've read about is the Embrace Life Council (Isaksimagit Inuusirmi Katujjiqa) in Iqaluit. I don't know if your nephew is the sort of fellow who is interested in activism, but I know the Council used to subsidize the cost of community events held to promote awareness and prevention of suicide.

Even giving or inviting someone to give a talk at school or church or youth group might help your nephew feel like he is able to turn his grief into an opportunity to celebrate his friend's life and maybe help someone else survive a crisis.

More information here.
See also the Honouring Life Network, and their news site.
Sorry if I'm off on the wrong foot about location.
posted by Sallyfur at 7:36 AM on June 26, 2011

Thanks everyone for your suggestions (bang on, Sallyfur, though in northern QC). I've sent this thread to my sister and I'll be talking to my nephew tomorrow.
posted by KathyK at 6:01 AM on June 27, 2011

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