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Suicide, A Family Narrative on the Edge of Consciousness

The Letter, Issue 16, Summer 1999, Pages 57 - 77


Ros McCarthy


For many children who experience parental suicide there is a silence, a seemingly inexplicable discontinuity in the family discourse. Following dramatic events there are also technical difficulties when working with parents and children. How can a context be created where children's stories unfold, allowing for differences in understanding, cognition, readiness to question, to know the truth, their truth? Should the family be held together in family sessions avoiding further secrets and dysfunctional coalitions? It could promote connectedness, meaning making and offer a sense of containment. The family is the context within which the death occurred, the meaning of which will be mediated by family members. But the response to death, to what it means, is an individual experience. So while disagreeing with the notion of universal family patterns and responses, death's meaning is mediated through self in relation to others and somewhere in the therapeutic frame, self and system need to be addressed.

According to Pocock the link between self and system, between psychoanalysis and family systems, has to do with meaning and understanding expressed consciously and unconsciously through the narrative of play or speech or both media.[1] It is precisely these connections which underpin work with children and parents.

There are, I would suggest, four core themes pertinent to the internal and relational world of children and parents who experience a suicide, themes which often echo the world of the parent who has killed him/herself. Engulfinent, abandonment, disconnectedness, reconnections, coalesce and synthesise in the intrasubjective, interpersonal and cultural processes. Case material interwoven with these constructs is an invitation to arrive at one's own conclusion about this case, but also to consider the possibility, the validity of thinking and organising the work in this multidimensional manner.

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