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

Suicide, Drinking, and Dying
What To Say to Your Children (and yourself)
Rabbi Paul Kipnes headshotThe 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) to talk to Rabbi Julia Weisz or with me. 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
  • Six Warning Signs
  • Seven 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.

  • 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 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 chose: 

to hold those we love closer
and to count our blessings. 
Your rabbis and cantor are always here to talk to, to consult with, to listen. Because we care for you.  

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