Katherine talks about her experience following the death of her former husband, Ken, by suicide in 2012, and the support she received from Child Bereavement UK with her children, Morgan and Finlay.

All the practical advice came through Child Bereavement UK. I think you just feel supported, having their expertise makes you feel less isolated.

Ken suffered with a drink problem and depression, though he never came to terms with his drink issues. His relationship with the children was quite difficult because we never talked openly about his problems. He was out of work for a long time before he took his own life and, of course, we divorced, so that made things tricky.  

When I heard the news, it was a big shock, but it wasn’t a surprise, if that makes any sense. People that knew him said the same. Ken was not in a good space and that was apparent to anyone who was close to him. I don’t think anyone really knew what to do or how to help him.  

I remember sitting down and realising I had until 3.30 pm, school pickup time, to figure out how to tell the children. I Googled ‘How to tell your child their father has committed suicide?’ and top of the search results was Child Bereavement UK. I got through to the helpline and the people on the end of the phone were amazing. They were able to give advice based on practical things to do.

The key things that I remembered were: tell the truth, don’t try and fluff it up, don’t lie to them and say he had a heart attack, face the truth that he has taken his own life, don’t give them too much information, let them ask for the information they need. Left to my own devices I might have given them a whole contextual piece about how daddy was feeling and why he might have done what he did. The advice I got was lay out the bones of the situation, see what they ask and be willing to answer whatever questions they ask, when they ask them.  That's pretty much what I did.

They came home from school and I told them the bare bones. I had sad news, daddy had died, he had taken own life. It took time to sink in, they both got very upset. Even in those early moments they handled it differently, and they continued to handle it differently. Finlay became fixated on how, whether it had hurt and those kinds of questions.  Morgan asked more about why, why did he take his life? 

When the children went back to school, liaison with the school became important. Child Bereavement UK suggested three or four strategies that they said other children found useful. Finlay liked to have cards in his pocket. He could hold one up with a sad face and the teacher would know that he needed to leave class and have some quiet time.  

It’s all about coming up with practical solutions. When someone dies very suddenly, it pulls the rug out from under you and children can feel very out of control. What I have learned is that anything you can do to make them feel they have control is very helpful, not pushing them into anything, but trusting their instincts about what they need.

Finlay wanted to talk and was very actively supported by Child Bereavement UK. He attended sessions where it appears you are doing art and craft, which is a way of doing something that starts the conversation in a very natural way; there's no pressure to talk about stuff that you don’t want to talk about.

My daughter had to move schools just after Ken died, which was a big transition. Child Bereavement UK provided information on how to support a bereaved child through transition to senior school. Her school offered amazing pastoral care and she seemed to handle the transition well. It was a support for me knowing the children were equipped to deal with any problems should they arise. Feeling supported by Child Bereavement UK and having their expertise makes you feel less isolated.

If we hadn’t had the support of Child Bereavement UK, I don’t know what life would be like. My instinct is we wouldn’t have dealt with it on our own and it might have been more damaging.  The thing I keep feeling is that I’m sorry Ken isn’t here to see the children. Morgan is an amazing performer and Finlay plays rugby, as Ken did.  Every time he scores a try I think his dad would have loved to see that and he never will.

Read Katherine's blogpost about how she told her children that their father had taken his own life.

Katherine is a Patron of Child Bereavement UK, visit her Patron's page to find out more

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