They say “honesty” is the best policy. But when it came to the truth of telling Luke how his dad had died, I took a more “don’t ask, don’t tell approach”.
I couldn’t even muster up the heart to tell Luke that Sean had died, Sean’s best friend did it for me. How could I possibly tell him that Sean had chosen to leave this earth of his own accord?
Please understand, I am more than well aware that depression is a serious mental illness and that suicide isn’t necessarily a choice, especially to those suffering suicidial thoughts. I frequently bounce back and fourth between my stance on this depending on how I am feeling emotionally.
Think of it this way- if you get cancer, you can either chose to treat it or you can let it consume and kill you. There is still a choice made. Suicide is no different in my opinion.
Luke has been having a lot of trouble both at school and at home lately, he’s been challening, disrespectful and is very argumentative and frequently starts fights in school. I am a firm believer that a lot of the anger experianced in grief is sadness that doesn’t know where to go and because Luke is dealing with a lot of big emotions in such a little mind, it’s no surprise to me that his grief manifests in negative outbursts.
A few weeks ago, Luke confided in his Grandma that he felt as though no one understands him and listens to how he feels. On the way home that night Luke tried to lecture me on my poor parenting saying “You’re not doing what a good mother should do listen to your child”.
Ouch. That one hurt.
I cried…a lot that night and then my therapist reminded me “He’s eight. What the hell does he know?” (shout out to my therapist for always keeping it real). I struggle to find a balence between being sympathetic to all the loss Luke has suffered in his short life and having to parent him regardless of his life circumstance- either way, I often wind up feeling like an inadequate parent.
The following day I sat down with Luke at the table while he ate dinner and asked him flat out to tell me how he’s feeling about life lately.
He told me that he was sad and mad at his mother and he thinks she left because he was “being bad”.
He told me he’s sad and mad because his dad isn’t here to protect him and teach him all the stuff he wanted to learn.
He’s told me he’s confused because he feels like everyone knows how his dad died but him and no one will talk to him about it so he feels like he can’t discuss it.
Ah, there it is.
I sighed heavily and asked “If I told you how dad died do you think it would make you feel better or worse?”
“It depends” he said “if he was murdered it would make me feel worse but if it was an accident or he was sick I think I’d be ok.”
I responded by asking him a hypothetical question. “If dad died in a really horrible way, would you still want to know?”
“Yeah, because then I wouldn’t feel worried, wondering how and I’d just know” he said.
Side note: Back in September Luke, Gwen, myself and my mother-in-law and brother-in-law did the Out of the Darkness suicide awareness walk in Detroit. I, of course, had to explain to Luke what suicide is and the point of the walk. I wanted to explain such a mature concept in an age appropriate, attainable way so I explained that suicide happens when a person’s brain gets sick just like a heart gets sick or a kidney, except in the brain it makes them feel so sad and hopless they think the only way to feel better is to not be alive anymore and they kill themselves. I was initially concerned he might put two and two together but he didn’t.
I asked Luke if he remembered participating in the walk and what it was for. He reiterated my explanation about suicide back from September saying “It’s when a person’s brain gets sick and it makes them so sad they think they shouldn’t be alive anymore.”
“That’s right” I said. “That’s what happened to dad.”
Just then, Luke did something I never expected.
I asked him why he was smiling and he covered up his smile with his hands and told me he wasn’t sure how to feel. Looking back, his response isn’t so out of the ordinary. It’s the same way someone might laugh after being told some horrific news- your mind just skips a beat and everything seems so unreal you just laugh.
I answered the questions he had about how it happened, why (still only speculation), and provided some facts on depression. Luke is a VERY analytical boy and has an appreciation for cold hard facts.
I reminded him that now that he knows how his dad died, he might feel different, or not- either is ok. I remided him that it is ok to talk about it, or not. That it’s ok to ask questions.
I told him I stuggle with being angry and sad and confused everyday. “I love your dad more than anything, do you know how hard it is to be so angry with someone you love so much? I’m confused as to why he did what he did and I’m angry and sad that he’s not here for me and to see you and Gwen grow up and I’m angry and said that I’m angry and sad!” I cried and sweet Luke came to sit in my lap and put his head on my shoulder.
I asked him “So, you remember when you said I don’t understand what you’re going through?”
“Yeah….but you do” he said.
We both cried and hugged a lot that night.
Some might think it was too early to tell him, that he was too young to know. But I don’t regret telling him. I promised him two days after Sean’s on Christmas Day 2017 that someday we’d have a talk about how dad died when I thought he was ready and promised that I’d never lie to him.
I fulfilled my promise and I’m proud of that. Luke feels so much relief knowing that he is not alone in his feelings, his peace of mind came at the cost of his innocence but given all that he’s been though, honestly was the best policy.