The Talk by Blake Friis

posted in: Uncategorized | 11

Yesterday, my four-year-old son and I were looking through a box of old pictures. When he saw one of my mother and I, when I was about the age he is now, he asked a question I’ve been anticipating for years, but was somehow unprepared to answer.

Where is Grandma Sue now?

“Well,” I said, “Grandma Sue is an angel.”

My son only knows death as the process by which one becomes an angel. I am not a religious man, but “Grandma Sue is an angel” was better than “Daddy doesn’t know,” and infinitely better than, “Grandma Sue died by suicide.”

“I know,” he said. “But why did she die?”

I didn’t want to lie, but couldn’t possibly broach the subject of suicide, not yet. After about 20 seconds, I figured out a gentle, but honest answer.

“Well…Grandma Sue was sick, and she didn’t get to the doctor in time to get the help she needed.”

I’ve heard the best way to learn something is to teach it. Explaining the loss of my mother in a way a four-year-old could understand helped me make more sense of it, and brought me a degree of peace I hadn’t experienced in the 20 years since she ended her life. It’s one thing to know suicide is one piece of a complex mental health puzzle, but it’s quite another to fully grasp what that says about the losses we’ve endured.

“Why she didn’t go to the doctor?” my son asked.

“Sometimes people don’t know they are sick, or they think they can get better by themselves. That’s why, if we don’t feel good, we should always let someone know.”

And that’s how I started what I hope will be a lifelong conversation with my son about family, love, and the importance of self-care.


11 Responses

  1. Carol Borrelli

    I can so relate to this. At first, when my brother died, my son was 5 and I gave a very veiled account. Now he is 9 and knows fully what happened. I took to heart the fact that it was recommended during the International Survivors of Suicide loss day that they recommended being forthright, so that they don’t find out the wrong way, from someone else. It was really difficult as I was not sure when he was 6 what exactly was developmentally appropriate. No one in my inner circle, could tell me what that was. I can only hope I did it appropriately. It sounds like you have started the conversation in a great way, and can add to it as he gets older. I am so terribly sorry about the loss of your mother. Your thoughts are very helpful in this article.

  2. Dianna Matzo

    Well said. My kids were teens and older when their aunt suicided, so I don’t have a young person asking questions. But the way you stated that simple truth spoke to my heart too. Thank you for sharing. Dianna

  3. Nate Wagner

    So important. I have started the conversation with my five year old daughter. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Jany DeWulf


  5. Karen Nortman

    Beautifully written, Blake, and a wonderful reaction. I was one of your mother’s 8th grade teachers and she was a delightful person. Such a tragedy.

  6. Debra VanderLinden

    Very well said. Susie was a classmate and loved by all for her nonstop humor! Keep up the good work. Your a good daddy!

    • Denise Zuniga

      I agree Deb! And she was spunky!!

  7. LeAnn Bailey

    Sue was a great friend. She always had me laughing, (which didn’t always sit well with our teachers).

  8. Gleeanna (Lehman) McIntire

    Blake, this is so beautifully done. Your son is fortunate to have you for his dad and for your loving and comforting explanation. Your mom was a wonderful person.

  9. Gertrude Nath

    Blake….I don’t know you or your mother, but your response to your son is awesome. Your mother raised an awesome son and be proud of that.

  10. Anne Weinard

    Blake, your mom was a good friend of mine. It will be trial and error on explaining why she’s no longer with us to your children, even to yourself. I pray that through your children you find peace in knowing she’s been guiding you all these years in ways no one would understand. I miss the chats, the laughs and the good time with ‘tootie’. I’m sure she is proud of what wonderful men her sons have become. Sharing your journey through suicide and grief is enlightening to many. I look forward to more of your ‘talks’. All the best to you and your family, Anne Weinard