Suicide, Drinking and Dying: What to Say to Your Children (and Yourself)

Wise advice for parents and teachers about how to talk to, console, and think about the recent suicides and deaths of young people in the Conejo Valley.

The news spread quickly, which is to be expected when it involves a pair of suicides of young people and the death of another, allegedly by alcohol poisoning. 

Those who knew the young men and even those who did not, are shocked, scared and anxious. Many are reviewing their interactions with these youth to see if they missed any signs about what the young people were thinking. Others are wondering how someone could be considering such drastic action and they did not know it. 

Some parents are wondering how to help their children deal with this tragedy. Others are wondering if they are missing signs from their own children. Still others are wondering where God is in all of this. 

Our hearts break for their families; we seek to console them, their loved ones, and our loved ones. What can we say that will be meaningful to our children, to the families of the deceased ... to ourselves?

In conjunction with the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting, we offer these resources written and/or compiled by Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Cantor Doug Cotler and Rabbi Julia Weisz:

5 Initial Thoughts when Dealing with Teens after a Suicide 

  1. Be with them, let them talk, or cry, or just be. Suicide is confusing and it may take time for your child to open up and begin to talk about it.
  2. While most suicidal individuals give off warning signs, many of these signs are missed by even those closest to them. Scrutinizing past interactions for such signs is normal, brought about by feelings of guilt, sadness or remorse. Listen to your child, don't dismiss his/her sadness, but remind him/her that even those closest to the person who killed himself did not recognize the signs.
  3. Most adolescents have thoughts at one time or another about suicide. It is NORMAL to have such thoughts. Let your child know that he or she can talk to you about anything. Be prepared not to "freak out" if your child shares such thoughts. 
  4. If necessary, and if your child needs it, consult with a therapist who works with youth. I would be glad to refer you to such individuals. 
  5. Please do not hesitate to contact Congregation Or Ami 818-880-4880 (or your own clergyperson) to talk. When you call, please let them know it is about the suicides and that this is very important.

Read Facing a Suicide: Talking to Your Kids..., for:

  • Some Statistics and Facts Concerning YOUTH Suicide
  • 6 Warning Signs
  • 7 Things to Do: When You Suspect Suicidal Feelings: How You Can Help

Read A Letter to our Teens and College Students: About Safe Places and Safe People... Like Your Rabbi and Cantor 

An Excerpt: ...Your rabbis and cantor reach out to our teens after the Tyler Clementi suicide: Whether you are gay, straight, bi or transgendered or just plain confused, Judaism teaches that each individual is created B'tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.  It does not matter what other people think about you as you struggle to figure out what you think about yourself... If you are feeling sad, angry, scared or any of a myriad of confusing emotions, and you need someone to talk to, please be in touch with one of us. And always remember that you have rabbis and a cantor and a community that care about you deeply and accept you for who you are.  No matter what.

Read Death and Dying: Talking to Your Kids... for:

  • Resources for Helping Your Child Cope
  • Deciphering what is on a Child's Mind
  • Guidance for Talking to Childen of Different Ages
  • How to Comfort the Mourner
  • What to Say and Not to Say When a Child Dies


Read Talking to Your Child about Death and Dying 


Read Some Jewish Responses

Finally, pass this onto friends, teachers, and others for whom this information might be helpful.  

In the days and weeks ahead, may you find the courage and fortitude to face the realities of life: that some live and some die;
that sometimes things just don't make sense;that we can choose to hold those we love closer and to count our blessings. 

Your rabbis and cantor [in fact, all clergy] are always here to talk to, to consult with, to listen. Because we care for you.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Larry Brown November 04, 2011 at 03:11 AM
I am guessing that substance abuse might have been involved to some degree in these deaths, most teenage suicides as well as unintentional teenage deaths. Another thing you might want to share with your teenager is that help is available for free 7 days a week in Agoura. When I got sober years ago, I thought I was never going to have fun again and instead it was just the opposite. I am still prone to occasional depression and I find life difficult sometimes, that is the nature of life, but as the late Frank Zappa put it, "this just might be a one shot deal". Death is more certain than sunrise and taxes so why rush the season, why not tough it out. It can always get better and nothing is more sure to eclipse that fact than booze and drugs. You can always call me too and there are meetings daily in which we learn how not to kill "the wrong person" and how to extract the joy from life even when it is difficult!


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