Unexpected events: Suicide and suicidal thoughts

Saturday afternoon, I found myself sitting in a church in downtown San Antonio. My husband and I were attending a memorial service for Mike – a fellow attorney my husband had known for the past fifteen years. As I sat on the pew, I was surprised that the family had the minister address the circumstances around his death.

Last Tuesday, Mike committed suicide. My husband who talked to Mike usually weekly was shocked. He knew Mike has been diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer last year but had no idea that he had recently gone off his medication. What no one knew was Mike – who was a 75-year-old grandfather – was also fighting depression. On the days before he committed suicide, he was planning a vacation with his wife. That day, she spoke to him on the phone, and he said he was leaving right then to come home. But he never did.

Instead of shying away from the facts, his family let everyone know how he died. And as I said, it was addressed at the memorial service. The minister addressed depression. Mike always seemed so happy and upbeat that many were shocked that he was depressed. He kept it well hidden from church friends, his clients and even his family.

Our neighbor’s father committed suicide two years ago. Again, it was unexpected. His wife spoke to him just moments before he took his life. Again, he had medical issues, but no one knew if his action was related to medication, or if he too was hiding his depression.

You just never know what is going on in someone else’s life – even when they always seem happy. Take my 11-year-old daughter Lexie, for example. She is most of the time very happy and outgoing. As with every pre-teen girl, there is always some issue with friends, but it all seemed typical to me. It was definitely a surprise when I received a call from the school counselor. Lexie had written a note to a friend that indicated she might harm herself. I needed to come pick her up.

In the note, twice Lexie mentioned she wanted to die. Now she may have been being over dramatic, but the school must take these things seriously. They recommended we get Lexie counseling and had Lexie sign an agreement not to harm herself. They gave me a list of counselors and sent us on her way.

At home Lexie denied that she wanted to harm herself. But because she has some self-esteem issues and some anxiety, we still felt it would be worth it for her to see a counselor. The problem with the school list of counselors is that they covered every range of problem from child abuse and rape to a host of other specialties that didn’t apply to Lexie. And many of the counselors were not located near us. So instead of using their list, I called Lexie’s pediatrician and got recommendations from them.

I’ll write more about Lexie and counseling in the upcoming weeks. But my point is that you never know what someone is thinking or how someone truly feels. People often say they are “fine” when they are not.

Teaching my kids life skills

My kids are 8 and 11 and while they do some chores around the house, I know there are many things they don’t know how to do that are just part of living. When in college, there were many students who had never had to cook or do laundry before. And don’t even get me started on the amount of people who have little knowledge of how to handle money.

So to better prepare my kids for life (or just to have them help out around the house more), I decided this summer we would work on some “life lessons.”

There are tons of websites out there that list what type of activities kids should be able to do at every age. I started there and have been adding items to my list as I think of them.

Money

As I said, my concern is that they will not know how to handle money. We currently give them a small allowance which has let them learn about saving up for bigger purchases and only buying what they can afford. But they see us all the time using debt or credit cards. I just didn’t think they had a good enough understanding of how that pays for the items we need.

budget discussion

Budget worksheet for the kids…we used monthly incomes of $1200, $1800, $3000 and $4000.

So far, we have talked about bank accounts and debit cards versus credit cards. We have talked about the difference between a want and a need. And we even worked with budgeting our money using Monopoly money (see photo for our worksheet). The top of the page had them first putting money aside for savings. This is a point I plan to stress to them a lot – you don’t spend everything you make. You need emergency money. And of course that you buy the things you NEED before the fun stuff.

Household Chores

My kids have washed dishes, swept, vacuumed and cleaned windows before but there was still a whole bunch of additional cleaning chores that we went over. We did the sorting, washing, drying and folding of the laundry. They changed the sheets on their bed, learned how to start the dishwasher, set the table and the basics of sewing – threading a needle, putting on a button, fixing a small tear.

Cooking

One of my favorite sections (and the kids’ favorite) has been cooking. I have shown them how to use the can opener and microwave. We have followed a recipe as well as bought groceries (which included price comparisons) and learned about expiration dates and reading labels.

We have made brownies and cookies from scratch as well as ice cream, and each child has made dinner by themselves.

General

And last but not least there have been discussion on things that didn’t seem to fit into any of the above categories. We have practiced making 911 calls, discussed making calls to businesses and taking messages for incoming house calls as well as giving a firm handshake when you meet someone. I have drilled in our phone numbers (house and mobiles) as well as our address (including city and state). Lexie still has trouble with this but Jase has known his since he was 5.

Just last week we also talked about general first aid information even though both kids have been doctoring their own cuts with bandaids for a few years.

It has been a productive six weeks, and I will continue looking for more things to introduce them to during the rest of the summer. Of course, I don’t expect to stop when school starts. I think I will always be on the lookout for more things to share with them. It just is amazing how often we do stuff for our kids rather than spending the time to explain it to them or better yet having them help us. And then we wonder why they don’t do anything for themselves!