As we embark on Children’s Grief Awareness Week 2023, I want to share an experience that made me reflect on just how very different a child’s experience of grief can be after the loss of a parent or primary caregiver, depending on how that person’s life ended.
On Sunday, I accompanied my three-year-old daughter to the Remembrance Parade in the local seaside town where she attends nursery. She was chosen, along with a classmate from her pre-school group, to lay a wreath on behalf of the nursery. Surrounded by local dignitaries, representatives of civic organisations, military veterans and families, she placed the wreath at the base of the war memorial in her Peppa Pig wellies and pink fluffy hat.
On the way there, I’d been explaining to her in the car why we gather on Remembrance Sunday every year. ‘We are going to remember all the soldiers who died to protect our freedom and keep us safe,‘ I told her.
As I pinned her poppy on her red wool coat, she asked me why we wear poppies. ‘It’s to honour and remember all those soldiers who died to protect us,’ I explained.
She replied, ‘Do people wear red poppies to remember your daddy too?’
I’ve explained to her that my dad died when I was nine. He took his own life.
‘No my love, they don’t.’
‘Is there a parade for him?’ she asked.
‘No love, we remember him in our own way by talking about him,’ I said, but the reality was nobody talked about my dad after he died by suicide, as is so often the case after a parent ends their own life.
It’s a loss that can lead to shame, guilt, a deep-seated sense of abandonment and long-term impact on self-worth. There’s a persistent taboo around someone with children ending their own life, and significant stigma still prevails.
My daughter’s questions highlighted just how different the experience can be for children who are bereaved by suicide, compared to other types of death.
In a society where the leading cause of death for men and women under 35 is suicide, we all too often overlook the children left behind and fail to offer meaningful ways to remember the person that brought them into the world.
We do a pretty good job when it comes to remembering those who died due to external battles, but what about the many more who die due to internal struggles? Rituals of remembrance are important for processing grief, for adults and children, but seldom available after suicide.
This week I’ll be co-delivering a Luna Suicide Bereavement Training session for early years practitioners in Greater Manchester with Clare Foster.
We’re delivering five of these fully-subscribed sessions during Children’s Grief Awareness Week to ensure those working with children aged five and under are prepared to to provide support after the loss of a parent to suicide.
Let us not forget the children bereaved by suicide as we focus on childhood bereavement this coming week, and beyond.
About the Author
Anna Wardley is an endurance swimmer, motivational speaker, and Founder and CEO of Luna Foundation, a social enterprise dedicated to transforming the support for children after suicide. Anna’s dad, Ralph, took his own life when she was nine and that loss had a profound impact on both her own life and the lives of those around her. Anna founded Luna in March 2022 to implement key recommendations from her Churchill Fellowship report entitled Time to Count, initially focusing on the provision of evidence-based suicide bereavement training for people working with children and young people. Anna is part of the Sounddelivery Media Spokesperson Network.
Follow Anna at @annawardley