Managing Grief from a Mother’s Suicide Death

In 2009, when I was 12 years old, and my sister was 9, our mom died by suicide. And while that loss was heartbreaking and life-changing — we’ll continue to grieve for a lifetime — our family was fortunate to find Henry Ford Health’s SandCastles Grief Support Program, which helped us move through that grief to find joy and fulfillment again.

My mom, Laura, was intelligent and spiritual, with a real spitfire personality. She also had multiple sclerosis, suffering from depression as she battled the effects of that difficult disease.

Twelve is an awkward, vulnerable age, and dealing with a death by suicide was very difficult — I didn’t know how to cope.

For our family, the big thing was truth-telling. It was so important for my dad to have support from SandCastles and other grieving parents to help him address the truth with us. He was very open about what happened, and that honesty helped me understand.

SandCastles not only gave us the technical skills to name and work through our feelings, it also gave us permission to talk openly together about my mom — to laugh about the good memories, and have the tough conversations we needed to understand our loss.

Those conversations are a big reason I chose to become a social worker myself and why I’m proud to work for SandCastles as a Clinical Coordinator.

This journey recently came full circle when I received a call from a mother who needed help talking to her kids about suicide. It felt so rewarding to know that not only could I relate to my personal experience of working through that unique grief, but now, I have the clinical training and resources of SandCastles to help more families navigate that difficult time.

Leah Bengel with her mother

November 17 is Children’s Grief Awareness Day — an important day to reflect on the importance of this work.

Of all the ways this program has helped me — from developing grief coping mechanisms to a full-fledged, deeply meaningful career path — perhaps the most special is the way SandCastles helped my family keep my mom’s memory alive. I wrote down so much, creating memory boxes, writing letters, and noting all the things I could remember about my mom. It gave me the support I needed to keep her close to me in a way I probably wouldn’t have managed at school or at home.

Leah Bengel
SandCastles Team Member and Former Participant

P.S. If you or someone you know is caring for a child who is grieving the death of a loved one, please contact us or make use of the resources available on our website

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