I have never tried to keep how Tony passed a secret. Even if I had, the community here is too tight knit. Although we’re part of a metro city, the suburbs where I live is one of those where you can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know. Add in the fact that both Tony are I are what I like to refer to as people collectors, our network is pretty sprawled out.
Keeping his suicide a secret just wasn’t going to happen.
I kept it from the kids for about 24 hours as I grappled with the truth of it before I sat them down and broke their hearts for a second time. That was the worst and hardest conversation of my life. I didn’t have enough arms and lap space to hold all three of them at the same time. When I think back to those first few days, this is the moment that breaks me again and again.
What I didn’t prepare them for was how to handle the information with their friends and acquaintances. It never crossed my mind to prepare them for this. Even if there was a handbook for having these conversations with your kids, you could never get it and read it in time for these scenarios. Those first days, we are flying the parenting plane blindly.
The kids were out of school for about a week, but we live very close to the elementary school and they will go play on the playground after school. During that week one afternoon, my sweet 7-year-old, went to play and told his friends exactly how his dad died. One of those children then raised their hand in class the next day and asked their teacher about what he had heard.
When I found out I was mortified. I regretted not preparing my son how to handle the situation. I worried about the other 7-year-old’s and how their parents would have been blind sighted with this graphic information. It was another instance where I would give up anything to turn back the clock.
This brings us to present day.
Once again, my now 8-year-old is playing at the playground with friends. A group of peers approached him, and one kid was baited into asking him if his dad really did…’you know’.
An instructor for the group reached out to me and let me know about the situation and handled the peers from her end. My son came home and didn’t mention a word of it. If she hadn’t reached out to me, I don’t think I would have known about the instance.
When I asked my son about it, he told me what they asked and said he didn’t answer because there were a lot of kids there. I told him that must have been hard but I’m proud of him for how he handled it. I hate that my kids have to deal with this and in my heart, I know this was only the first time that someone is going to say something insensitive to them. As they get older, unless they share it with me, I may never even know when it happens.
Later that day I got a call from one of the moms whose son was involved. She apologized, asked how my child was, said she would be having a conversation with hers and even asked if I had any advice on how to handle that conversation.
The next day, they stopped by with an apology note for my son. The boy also apologized to me. As he walked away, I told him apologies are hard and that I was proud of him.
My family’s hurt is large, and we are navigating this path without a map. But our network of friends and their children are also navigating this without a map. This was a conversation that none of our families ever anticipated having to have with our kids. Our specifics are different but we’re all doing our best to raise good humans. Parenting grieving kids while grieving is hard work, and it will never be over. There is no finish line, but I hope we can travel the road with others, and we all learn how to be better as we go.