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Metro Area LOSS Team Monthly Update

At this month’s Metro Area LOSS Team meeting, we welcomed Julianne O’Keefe with Ted E. Bear Hollow to speak with our group about talking to children and adolescents about death by suicide.

We had the opportunity to view Dougy Center’s suicide grief video which featured interviews with real youth who shared their stories of suicide loss. They all shared one common theme; that being honest with your child about a suicide death is critical. Many parents try to protect their child from the truth, but best practice tells us to be honest.

“I have never had a child come to me and say that they are angry for being told the truth about a loved one’s death,” says Donna Schurrman, Executive Director of The Dougy Center. She explains that lying to a child about suicide can cause anger and distrust in adults. The child may even avoid coming to those adults for support or guidance in the future.

It is best to tell the child what happened, using age appropriate language. Stick to the facts and allow your child to ask questions at their own pace.

Below are some of Ted E. Bear Hollow’s helpful tips in supporting grieving children.

T- Tell the truth. Do not lie about the death or what it means to die. If you don’t have an answer, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know.”

E- Explain Concretely. Children aren’t able to process figurative language like adults. Say “died” rather than “passed away,” “lost,” or “went to sleep.”Explain that when someone dies, he or she no longer needs to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom.

D- Don’t deny. It is okay for children to see you cry or to let them know how you are feeling. If you deny or try to hide your emotions in front of them, they will likewise try to hide their emotions.

E.- Expect many emotions. Grieving children will experience a variety of emotions including sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, jealousy, and even happiness. Let them know that it is okay and normal to feel however they are feeling. Expect these emotions to come and go quickly, too. One minute, they may be sad and crying, and the next they may be playing and laughing.

B- Be all ears. It is important for children to tell their story and express their emotions. Check in with them regularly and let them know you are there to listen. Ask questions and let them do the talking.

E- Encourage Play. Play is a normal and healthy outlet for children. It is not uncommon for young children to play funeral or heaven, much like playing school or house. Encourage activities that help children express their emotions.

A- Allow choices. Following a death, a child’s world will feel out of control. Offering choices will help children regain some sense of control and promotes a healthy grief experience.

R- Routine. Because of this “out of control” feeling, it is also important to maintain a routine as much as possible. This provides children a sense of stability and security and reassures them that the adults in their lives will continue to take care of them.

For more information, go to: and

Our 24/7 LOSS phone is to be used only by sheriffs, chaplains, and any other first responders responding to a suicide call. It is not a suicide prevention hotline. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call 1(800)273-TALK (8255) or 911, if it is an emergency. If you or someone you know has recently lost someone to suicide and would like to schedule a meeting with the on-call LOSS team, please contact The Kim Foundation at (402)891-6911.