Picture this: You‘re 18 years old. You’ve spent the last four years studying, holding a part time job, going to school full time, and juggling time with friends and schoolwork with little time for anything else. You’ve worked hard over the last year to ensure that your ACT and SAT scores were good enough to guarantee admittance into any school you desired. With college applications sent off and acceptances coming in, you decide to fulfill your parents’ dreams and go to the school they always envisioned for you. June rolls around and, ready or not, here comes high school graduation. The day has finally arrived, and all your hard work has paid off. Grabbing your diploma and preparing to shift your tassel to the left, you can hear the echoes of your family screaming your name. While they are unquestionably the loudest family in the auditorium, you’re struck with a painful silence ringing in your ears…someone is missing. Reality strikes in this first moment of stillness in a long time; your dad is dead. He died when you were nine. While this is not the first milestone that he has missed since his death, nearly a decade ago, it undeniably seems to be the hardest. A faint smile creeps across your face as you see your mom, clapping unceasingly and screaming your name. She is the rock that has been there to serve as both parents for the last 9 years. You smile as tears stream down her face, tears of joy undoubtedly mixed with sorrow, knowing she feels the same kind of pain that is aching in your chest. You both miss him, but on a day supposed to be filled with celebration and happiness, you feel like you can’t talk about him. Time starts to move again, just as it always does. There you are, crossing the stage with your heavy head held high and a forced, but believable, smile on your face. Your stomach does back flips, and your heart feels like it is shattering inside of your chest. This is a feeling you would never wish on anyone, not even your worst enemy. Your grief is a journey that never ends.
Teenage grief is not just a phase. When children or teenagers experience the loss of a loved one, they relive the death over and over again. At each developmental stage and life event, they will process their grief in new ways. They will continue to gain new layers of understanding the death and its impact on not only their life, but the lives of those around them. Their grief story is ever changing.
Teenagers are at a complex stage in their life and will always process their grief differently than children or adults. They tend to rely on their friends more than their family and feel connected to others their age who have also experienced loss. Many teens feel a complete loss of control, trying to regain it by either picking up extra responsibilities or engaging in risky behaviors.
During such a difficult time, how can we help teens who are grieving? One way is to use Alan Wolfelt’s philosophy on “companioning” where those who are grieving can teach us about their grief as we sit with them and listen without judgement (Wolfelt, 2012). It is important to reassure teens that they still have their basic needs met, are being taken care of and are safe. Always be patient with them, as they are struggling with grieving in addition to all the other stressors that come with being a teenager.
If you are currently helping a teen work through their grief, do not hesitate to reach out for help. There are many resources locally and nationally, including my services at Curis Functional Health. I specialize in working with children, teens, adults, and families who have experienced the death of loved ones. I have experienced several impactful losses at different ages and developmental stages in my life. I feel that what I can provide in session is true empathy and compassion for my clients while also having hope for them and their future. I have volunteered and been a part of several of the organizations on my reference list. I am constantly seeking new information and trainings to better serve my clients. I am a passionate speaker on child grief, particularly in raising awareness of its prevalence.
Local Grief Support Groups:
Journey of Hope- A grief support group for children, teens, and their families who have experienced the loss of a loved one. They have support groups in Plano, Frisco, and will be expanding to Dallas in late 2019.
The Warm Place- A support group for children and their families serving the Fort Worth area. https://www.thewarmplace.org/ways-to-give/
The Dougy Center- A national center for grief and loss for children and their families located in Portland. They provide wonderful resources for those helping bereaved children and teens. https://www.dougy.org
National Alliance of Grieving Children- An organization that raises awareness of childhood grief. They provide wonderful resources and training.
Actively Moving Forward- A peer led grief support system that helps young adults in or out of college who have experienced the loss of a loved one.
To learn more about Alan Wolfelt’s Companioning Philosophy: https://www.centerforloss.com/grief/like-help-someone-grieving/