For ten years, probably longer, probably since we learned we were pregnant with our first child, I have imagined the conversation when I would share with my daughter that her grandfather, who she’s named after, died by suicide. His grandfather moniker was “Bugsy” for the older cousins. She never met him.
It was never about shame or anything like that, it was just about figuring out what would be the right time and age to process it in a healthy way. I even wrote a blog about it when she was just 2 years old.
Over the years, I have worked to set up this conversation by talking about mental illness, by talking about how Bugsy died from a “disease of his mind”. Talking about his life.
Yesterday, as I picked her up from school, she was excitedly describing how she had been Googling members of the family and among other things, had come across an article from years back recognizing and celebrating my Mom. We talked briefly about what an extraordinary person my Mom is and what meaningful life she has led. And, then I asked my daughter if she had read the whole article. She said she had skimmed it.
“The article talks about how Bugsy died. Did you read that?”
“Well, it’s important that you hear it from me and not from finding it in an article anyway. I’ve just been waiting until you were old enough to have the conversation. Your Bugsy died by suicide.”
Holy shit. It was out. A 10+ year mental narrative now written, looking and sounding nothing like I’d imagined and being unceremoniously delivered on a drive home from school.
I again talked to her about mental illness and explained that Bugsy’s mind was the thing that might have saved him but that it was actually the thing telling him he was an awful person and a burden to the rest of us. That he felt terrible about himself despite how much we loved him and how much he had accomplished. That’s the thing about mental illness. That he had gotten help and taken medication and done all he could do for decades until he couldn’t anymore. It was Depression that killed him.
I reinforced that it was never about keeping his suicide a secret from her. It was just about her being old enough to process it and to ask the questions she needs to ask. We don’t do secrets and no question is off limits.
I explained to her that if she chose to tell others - friends, teachers, etc. - that they may not understand. That they may try to judge Bugsy, say he did something wrong, say he was weak. This is not our truth and it is not his story. So, if she gets that kind of response, she has to know the truth.
Of course, I told her she could talk to any of the family if she had questions, when she has questions. That we talk openly and honestly about our lives and his life and his death.
She didn’t have any questions at that point, in the car, on the way home from school. Just another day. She now living with suicide too.
The car got quiet. I turned up the Christmas music just a touch.
“So, how was your English quiz?”