Suicide, Loss and Grief in a Fostering Family
Author: Carolyn Moody MBE, FosterWiki Ambassador
The hardest and most painful words I have ever spoken to my birth children was that their grandad died by suicide. This is past, some years ago, yet I remember the day, time and what I was doing as if it was yesterday. And time hasn’t changed that, this time of year is still hard on us as a family.
With each summer holiday it is a reminder, then Christmas, birthdays, new grandchildren, and other celebrations the loss is always there, I feel I want to share with him in those special moments but I can’t.
It’s taken time, many years for me to reach an understanding, and it doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle at times, I also have so many unanswered questions still. The hardest is why, how comes no one saw the signs! Life carries on around us and it’s very hard when we have family occasions and there is a seat at the table where he once sat, once laughed, his warmth and love and we just miss him so much. I have learned there is no right or wrong way to grieve my loss.
As foster carers we know foster care for children begins with loss, a family unable to be together, so the thought of telling our foster children this awful news filled us with dread and we weren’t sure how they would take this news. It was very tough, our emotions through the roof, wanting to shut down, shut out the world and the last thing personally I wanted was to have to talk about my pain to anyone, especially fostering.
As a foster carer, there was now ‘a significant change’ and this had to be reported to the fostering service. A significant change is when the fostering situation needs to be re-evaluated due to a change in the home. This can refer to many things, such as a death in the family, a divorce, or any other issue – in our case suicide.
This may surprise many people however in 2009 Suicide was rarely spoken about, unlike today. I am thankful that this is less of a taboo subject, many people are doing great work and now more support is available in awareness and for those left behind. I am saddened each time I hear of someone losing their their life to suicide, it’s so tragic, imagine their pain, unable to discuss their despair, and families suffering because of this for the rest of their lives. Fostering families are no different.
Grief is a natural response to a loss I know this as it’s part of my job to know. However personally the emotional suffering that I felt after someone I loved and adored was taken away from me so suddenly, this I was not prepared for, it was devastating. I knew I had to take care of myself but I wasn’t able to do this alone.
I had three boys in our care on permanency and they were very much part of our family, I was feeling anxious and worried about my own grown-up children now as well as the children in my care. I knew this news would impact them too.
I would like to acknowledge the most caring Independent Reviewing Officer he was my rock. A couple of years before he had gone through this awful experience himself losing his son to suicide.
This painful experience that I could share with him without judgement and without fear. Also, my husband was my rock and having a great personal support network helped me immensely. The support from fostering looking back was there for us as a family however people can never truly understand the loss of a loved one to suicide unless they have experienced it themselves.
This may sound strange and it’s hard to explain but having been a foster carer for some years before this tragic event somehow helped me find new meaning in this life-changing experience, I believe because I still had a purpose, I cared, I had to carry on as those children needed me, I wanted them to feel assured that I would continue to care for them, physically and emotionally and somehow, thankfully I remained focused on my fostering and managed this.
The children in my care were obviously very upset as they had a good relationship, with a grandad they never had experienced before. We spoke about our feelings, there were tears, and lots of hugs. They were young they didn’t need to know how he died just that he was no longer with us and was at peace and they accepted that. We still talk about the good memories, the fun times as a fostering family and somehow processed our loss together.
We hear a lot about loss and grief for children in care but rarely about foster carers’ own experiences, in how they continue caring whilst facing life-changing events themselves.
There is less focus on the issues of foster families’ own grief and loss. They need positive support and
understanding from others and time to heal.
If you feel like you or anyone you know may be affected by suicide, help and support is available
You can also call these helplines for advice if you’re worried about someone else.
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
Call 0800 58 58 58 – 5 pm to midnight every day
Visit the webchat page
Childline – for children and young people under 19
Call 0800 1111 – the number will not show up on your phone bill