In 2016, a life-altering call shattered my world when I was studying abroad in Copenhagen. My sister was delivering the unimaginable news of my father’s suicide. Staring at the sad fog outside my window, her words were heavy in the air. The subsequent journey through the aftermath of his suicide was a tumultuous sea of confusion, heartache, and guilt. This personal experience compelled me to delve into the complexities of grief, leading to the creation of ‘Elegy for an Elephant,’ a picture book aimed at readers (seven years and upwards) to serve as a beacon of hope for children navigating grief and for the families and communities supporting them in their mourning.  

The profound weight of grief that follows a parent’s suicide carries its own unique burden. It’s not just mourning a loss, but untangling a web of emotions rooted in the circumstances of the death itself. Studies reveal that survivors of suicide loss are at a heightened risk of grappling with mental health challenges like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the intricacies of ‘complicated grief.’ Amidst these struggles, a veil of stigma often isolates survivors, inhibiting access to vital support and resources.

Understanding the profound implications of addressing such a delicate topic, I felt it was important to collaborate with esteemed organisations like Roses in the Ocean and Jesuit Support after Suicide services, which offer crucial support to those grappling with suicide loss. Similarly, opening up a dialogue with mental health experts, child psychologists, suicide bereavement researchers, and grief counsellors gave me invaluable insights and feedback that ensured the book treads as lightly as possible, avoiding triggers and maintaining a non-activating approach to this delicate subject matter. In turn, ‘Elegy for an Elephant’  is designed to facilitate safe discussions surrounding loss. 

Children thrust into the realm of suicide loss undergo what’s known as ‘traumatic complex grieving’ and conflicting emotional processes. Transparent conversations about suicide empower children to process their emotions without shouldering blame. Amidst my own journey of healing, I also realised that embracing the memories of our lost loved ones was essential for genuine healing and allowing them to feel accessible, even in the face of their physical absence.

Children possess a remarkable capacity for understanding and empathy – extending into complex topics like suicide. However, the silence surrounding such incidents can lead them to create their own interpretations. There is a poignant moment where a character asks, “Did I do anything wrong?”—a question echoing throughout many survivors’ minds. The book’s narrative prompts such important conversations between children, siblings, and caregivers, acting as a catalyst for healing discussions.

My personal healing journey unveiled the profound strength within me. Confronting grief head-on revealed my resilience and ability to navigate the darkest of emotions, ultimately leading to the rediscovery of joy. Through the resounding message that our loved ones live on within us, I hope this book can stand as a testament to enduring love and a comforting companion in times of sorrow. By embracing the book’s themes, readers can transform their pain into empowering a sense of healing and renewal.

Key Takeaways for Parents:

  • Build Trusting Spaces: Encourage open conversations where your child can express their feelings freely and without judgment. 
  • Embrace Emotional Diversity: Assure your child that grieving involves a spectrum of emotions, all of which are valid.
  • Encourage Creativity: Support your child’s creative outlets as they navigate their emotions, just like the creative journey depicted in “Elegy for an Elephant.”

Ryan Abramowitz, an artist and writer is based in Melbourne.
His book, “Elegy for an Elephant is available for purchase online here.

Disclaimer: “Elegy for an Elephant” is a fictional work by Ryan Abramowitz and is not intended as a substitute for professional mental health advice. Parents seeking additional support for their children should consult qualified professionals.