Ask Mary Jo: Coping with guilt after suicide & helping family with an alcoholic issue

Hi Mary Jo,

How does a parent deal with the guilt of not being able to save their child from suicide or suicidal thoughts? 



Death by suicide is tragic and guilt is one of many emotions parents may experience. If the child is having suicidal thoughts, it’s important you take them today for an evaluation and stay close with them. Mental health care workers are on standby at numerous organizations. Begin with your family doctor and talk to the National Suicide prevention line at 800-273-TALK (8255). Therapy for both of you can help alleviate depression, anxiety, guilt and develop better communication skills.

If the child has died from suicide, these suggestions can help you cope with the guilt. Life won’t be the same, but that doesn’t mean you cannot find happiness, purpose and meaning again.

  1. Accept your emotions. You may feel guilt, shame, despair, shock, and anger to name a few. These feelings are normal and will vary throughout your healing. It’s healthier to accept and process them than ignore, criticize, or deny them.
  2. There is no right way to feel. Focus on what you need and acknowledge that the healing process of others may be different than yours. Your spouse and family may not go through what you’re going through in the same way.
  3. Take care of yourself. You may have days when getting out of bed is a major accomplishment. Love yourself through small steps of recovery. Focus on taking naps and eating balanced meals as much as you can.
  4. Lean on others who love you and accept help. Loved ones want to help but may not know how. As much as you can, communicate what you need and appreciate their help. 
  5. Talk to a professional. Mental health care workers can validate where you’re at. They will teach you new coping skills that will restore your understanding and clarity on issues that seem confusing and overwhelming.
  6. Join a support group, such as parents of suicidal children or grief share. Support groups help you identify with others in your situation. Learning from others and gaining support of parents who are going through or have been through what you are going through helps alleviate loneliness.

These organizations are free of charge.

Hi Mary Jo,

How do you deal with a family member who has an alcoholic issue?



The worst thing about an addiction is the denial that keeps in place. Alcohol addictions disrupt the life of the addict, family members, coworkers, and even strangers. Family members are instrumental in encouraging their loved one to get help. Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the leading treatment options for alcoholics, saving families from further destruction.

An alcoholic is not the loved one you once knew. Alcohol changes brain chemistry, and it’s important to educate yourself prior to making changes. You also must know up front that every instinct inside you is going to make you want to keep it a secret. Don’t. Keeping it a secret will make it grow and take over anything you or your partner ever loved. These suggestions can help you make necessary changes:

  1. Be supportive but don’t be an enabler. Don’t let your family member put you or others at risk because of their drinking. Do not bail them out of a DWI and don’t make excuses for your loved one. They need to make tough choices, and you’ll prevent these opportunities if you cover or lie for them.
  2. Be honest with family and friends about the recovery. Join AL anon so you can keep firm boundaries. One alcoholic in the family affects the whole family.
  3. Explain to the children that your loved one is an addict. Knowledge is power; the more your children understand, the less likely they are to feel responsible. Children know there is a problem and become anxious when parents aren’t honest and direct about it.
  4. Protect your family with firm boundaries. You have a right and an obligation to keep your children safe. Do not allow drinking in your home, and if your loved one begins drinking, confront them and tell them they are not welcome if they bring alcohol.
  5. When the family member begins treatment, tell them you are proud of the steps they’re taking.  Having the strength to begin rehab, going to AA meetings, and overcoming addiction is a big deal and should be acknowledged.