I received the call from my son one day while I was at work. He was calling me from school.
“Mom, can you come get me? My friend killed himself.”
My heart dropped into my stomach. My son was only twelve years old at the time. As I drove to the school to pick him up, my hands shook and I fought tears. What was his friend’s family going through? I couldn’t even imagine. And what could be so wrong in a child’s life that he felt that suicide was the only option?
When I asked my son this question, he informed me that his friend had been the victim of bullying. This devastated me because I knew my son had also been tormented at times.
My son was one of the youngest, and therefore one of the smallest, kids in his class. Because of his lack of size compared to the older kids, he was also the victim of bullying. I remembered how the previous year he had come home with bruises on his arm where one child had repeatedly punched him in the arm.
Knowing this, the question was there in my mind. I had to know.
“Have you ever thought about committing suicide?” I asked.
It is a scary question to ask. You know, as a parent, you need to know. You know, as a parent, you want to know. What you don’t know, as a parent, is how you’ll deal with an affirmative answer.
Unfortunately, it’s a thought that is far too common among teenagers.
My son told me that he didn’t really think about killing himself, but sometimes he wished he could just disappear, or go away for awhile.
That gave me the opening for us to discuss how death was permanent, while most problems a teenager faces are temporary. We discussed what different situations might cause a kid to feel like death was a solution, and then we discussed more appropriate solutions to those problems.
I had to remember that although I as an adult knew that school relationships are temporary, to my child they were his world. That school where he and his friends were being bullied was the world that he lives in. And because it is so small, there may be times where he feels that he has no where to turn.
I let my son know that what he was feeling, and what he may feel in the future, was okay. We discussed the stages of grief and I let him know when he was sad, it was okay to be sad and if he got mad at his friend it was okay to be mad.
Most of all, I let him know he wasn’t alone. I let him know if he ever needed or wanted to talk, he could always come to me and say whatever he was feeling. I also let him know that if he didn’t feel comfortable opening up to me, or his father, the school would have Grief Counselors available that were trained in dealing with this kind of situation.
Remember that if your child’s friend was being bullied, the chances are good that your child may also be a victim. Keep the lines of communication open as much as possible. There will be far too many times that a strong relationship with you will be the only thing that feels solid in your child’s life.