DEAR ABBY: After a 12-year struggle with depression, my father committed suicide in 2011. My three sons (ages 11, 7 and 6) occasionally ask how their grandfather died. I usually tell them a generic, "Poppa just got sick." I am not ashamed of my father or what he did, and I want to tell my sons the whole truth sooner rather than later. What is the appropriate age to tell my children their grandfather took his own life? Any recommendations on how to phrase it? -- NO SECRETS IN MINNESOTA
DEAR NO SECRETS: When to tell them will depend upon the level of maturity of each of your sons. Depression is an illness (as you know) that can run in families, so they definitely have to be told, but because of the difference in their ages, it shouldn't be a blanket announcement.
A way to start the conversation would be to say something like: "I have told you your grandfather died because he got sick. But what I didn't tell you, because you were so young, is that the illness he suffered from was clinical depression, which he had tried to fight for 12 years. When it finally became too much for him, he took his own life.
"If you go online and research clinical depression -- as I know you probably will -- you will see what the symptoms are and that there are treatments for it. Many times those treatments are successful. But sadly, in the case of Poppa, they weren't."
At that point let them ask you any questions they have, and assure them that you will discuss any concerns they may have -- and anything else -- any time they wish.Read more in: Mental Health | Family & Parenting | Death