A few months ago, my grandson’s 13-year-old friend committed suicide. It’s the first time I’ve struggled to deliver fitting words that would provide my grandchild comfort. Grandparents will likely face a challenge or two with modern grandchildren. However, who knew a challenge might include the complexity of suicide? In that sense, it’s a brave new world for grandparents.
Alarming Youth Suicide Statistics
I assumed suicide among children was atypical. I didn’t realize it was something many young kids consider. I’m stunned to learn the inconceivable statistics: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claims suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24. Each year, about 4400 of America’s youth take their life. That’s incredibly disturbing.
I’ve also learned that suicide has numerous warning signs: reckless behavior, dramatic mood changes, hopelessness, withdrawal from family, friends, and society. I encourage every grandparent (and parent) to visit the CDC and American Association of Suicidology websites for critical information about warning signs and suicide.
A Boy Grows Up
This emotional suicide incident tossed me back to when my grandson started kindergarten. He experienced major anxiety about riding a bus without seat belts. I did, too. I offered up some reassuring grandmotherly wisdom. His mom lovingly popped an angel key chain in his backpack. Problem solved. His worry subsided. If only problems stayed that inconsequential.
Over the years, there’s been many “pocket-sized” burdens he learned to work through … losing a friend to suicide is no small burden, though.
Naturally, my grandson’s a different person since kindergarten. But since the day he learned his friend took her life, my grandson’s changed significantly. He’s not quite 14, but it’s like he grew up overnight.
The ‘Wizard of Oz’ Parallel
In the “Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy’s house spirals uncontrollably in a tornado. Eventually, the house touches down. She steps out into the beautiful, but perplexing Land of Oz. Clutching her beloved dog, she says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” That’s a practical analogy of what it’s like for me today as a grandmother to four. It’s a different world.
Oz is exciting, wonderful, enchanting-much the way I feel about being a grandparent. My role is nearly magical. I play Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. My grandchildren have parents to handle discipline and the formal business of their lives.
The Land of Oz is a bit murky, too. There’s the scary Witch of the East. The great and powerful Oz was nothing more than the great pretender. All those winged monkeys are daunting aspects of an otherwise ideal realm … much like life.
These unfavorable characters represent the tribulations my grandkids have dealt with so far; bullies, disappointing friends, tough choices, countless lessons, and now, suicide.
Knowing When to Pull Back
I know my grandson better than I know myself. I’ve always known instinctively when it’s OK to approach him and when it’s necessary to back off. I knew this suicide was a “back off” moment. With a heavy heart, I had my daughter pass along my condolences.
For days, I thought about: my grandson, the young girl’s death, her family, and things that don’t make sense. My daughter kept me abreast of the chatter surrounding the suicide. She was emotional over the way my grandson handled his first funeral; he did it with that remarkable maturity he’s always displayed.
Respecting a Grandchild’s Space
My grandson and I had not communicated since his friend died. It was the evening of Valentine’s Day. I sent him a simple text message that said, “Happy Valentine’s Day. Love you.” He replied right away saying, “Same to you. Love ya.” The next line said, “R.I.P. Jazmin.” It made me cry. However, I took it as a sign that my grandson was letting me know it was OK to move a little closer again.
I sent another text: “I’m so sorry about the loss of your friend. Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to life. When or IF you want to talk … I’m here”.
I left it up to my grandson to decide when and what, if anything, he wanted to share with me. That day hasn’t arrived yet, and I respect that. If grandparents cannot imagine their grandchild dealing with or considering suicide in middle school, remember … we’re not in Kansas anymore.