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Dear Friend,

I am terribly sorry to learn of the tragic events that have occurred in your family – your brother-in-law’s suicide four years ago and the death of your sister this past September – and I can certainly understand your concern for your two surviving nephews. I can only imagine how horrible this must be for you and the rest of your family, and even though there is nothing I can do to take away your pain, I hope that I can offer you some useful information.

Suicide is one of the most difficult and painful ways to lose someone we love, because we are left with so many unanswerable questions and so many mixed feelings: How could our loved one do such a horrible thing to us? Where do we put all the anger, guilt and frustration that we feel? What more could we have done to help? How can we ever get past the shame and embarrassment we feel when others find out what happened, and seem all too quick to judge us for not foreseeing this and for not doing enough to prevent it?

I think it helps to know that anger and guilt are the two most common reactions in grief, and most especially so when the death is by suicide. And anger at God is very, very normal too. Losing someone we love is so very difficult to accept and to understand, and it is a process that takes place over time. This news is just too big to take in all at once and way too big for us to digest. We must let it in a little bit at a time over a very long period as eventually our minds come to accept what our hearts cannot.

As a survivor of suicide in your family and as one who wants to guide your nephews through this tragedy, I think it is very important that you educate yourself about the subject. Read what others have written about it (see, for example, Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide, by C. Lukas and H. Seiden, Bantam Books, 1990; you can go to Amazon.com to order it or ask for it at your local library). Visit some Web sites devoted to this subject. You can start by following the links listed under the SUICIDE LOSS and DEATH OF A SIBLING categories on the Links page of my Grief Healing Web site, at http://www.griefhealing.com/HumanLossLinks.htm . This will assure you that you are not alone in this tragedy. It will offer you some ways to manage your own as well as your family’s grief, and it will help you recognize that if others can survive this most devastating of losses, then you can do it, too.

My own sister-in-law committed suicide over 25 years ago, and it still makes me sick to think about it. Like you, I was the professional care-giver in our family and "should've known how to help," and I went through all the guilt you can imagine. But in the end, I had to come to terms with the reality that even though I did do all I could have done, it still was not enough to save my sister-in-law from herself. Eventually I learned that the person I most needed to forgive for that was me.

The tragedies that have befallen your family are best dealt with when each of you is able to show your emotional pain, talk with others and express your feelings about these deaths, and accept support from family and friends. I understand that your parents are raising your nephews, and I don't know what their relationship is like with their grandparents, but as adolescents (beginning to separate from authority figures and find their own identity), it would be very normal for them to feel somewhat alienated from them -- especially when they know that their grandparents, too, are grieving their own losses. Teens normally turn to their peers for support. At the same time, they don't like to stand out and to feel different from their friends – they want to belong. Grieving teens do best when they're helped to find peers who've also experienced a death. They're often very relieved to discover they're not the only ones who've had someone close to them die. You can encourage your nephews to find someone they trust (a teacher, school counselor, neighbor, friend, relative, clergy person, etc.) and with whom they feel comfortable talking. Call your local hospice and ask if there are any support groups or programs in your community aimed at youngsters who've lost a parent. Encourage your nephews to find a discussion group, a message board or chat room on the Internet (like this one) where they can give words to their grief and connect with others whose experiences may be similar to their own.

I hope this information proves useful to you, my friend. Please accept my deepest sympathy over the loss of your sister and your brother-in-law, and know that I am thinking of you.

Wishing you peace and healing,

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