Discover how you can help your teen deal with the loss of a loved one…
Loss hits us all differently and there’s no one-size fits all for grief. The sadness, pain and even anger can become overwhelming, making life very difficult indeed. Everyone deals with death in their own way, but there are recognised stages of grief that most people will face:
- Denial. You may initially refuse to believe that someone has died. This is your body’s way of protecting you from feeling overwhelmed as you try to process the shock and emotions that crash over you.
- Sadness. You can feel a deep sadness that you will never see that person again.
- Numb. Many people feel numbness after a death. You may feel unable to cry or struggle to express sadness.
- Anger. You may feel angry at the person for dying and leaving you.
- Relief. You may feel a sense of relief at a person’s passing, especially if they were in poor health for some time, or in pain.
- Guilt. You may experience guilt for being relieved that someone has passed. You might not have had the best of relationships with the deceased or have feelings of regret that you didn’t say or do something while that person was still alive.
- Scared and/or shocked. The news of the death may have come as a great shock to you, or you may feel frightened about what lies ahead in the journey of grief.
While this is certainly not a definitive path of the grief experience for everyone, it is a good indication of the various emotions your teen may be feeling. What is probably true for everyone is that grief takes time. It’s a healing process and it will change pace and direction in the same way as a river does.
Helping Your Teen
Teenagers can be particularly sensitive to grief. They’re young adults, in the process of changing from children to grown-ups, and their emotional maturity changes like the wind. They’re at a vulnerable age as they try to make sense of their world and face the challenges and adventures of the adult landscape. It may be that your teen has never experienced loss before now and this is a new experience for them. Whatever the situation, there are ways you can guide and support your teen through grief.
It’s important to have open and honest conversations with your teen and be available to answer any questions they might have. It’s normal for your teen to be curious about how a person has died or what will happen at the funeral. Let your teen know that no subject is too taboo – some things might be difficult for you to talk about but it’s important to be as open as you possibly can be.
Your teen may have their own views on the subject or have some ideas for the funeral service. While you might not agree with some of them or are unable to accommodate them, don’t dismiss or minimise their thoughts. Listening to your teen and discussing their thoughts will validate their views and feelings.
Reassure your teen that the range of emotions they might be experiencing is completely normal. It’s OK to be scared, sad, angry and confused, all at the same time. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or to struggle to make sense of the situation. You can’t make promises that these feelings will go away, but you can make a promise that you will always be available to talk about it to support them.
Encourage your teen to be kind and patient with themselves. If they’re having a particularly tough day, there’s no shame in having a cry and a chat or taking some time out for a walk or nap. Coping mechanisms are as individual as we are so help your teen find what works for them.
Keep an eye on your teen’s health and hygiene. Encourage your teen to get plenty of rest, to shower and to eat well. If their appetite has been affected by grief, try smaller meals, little and often. It’s also vitally important to focus on your own self-care throughout this too, especially if you are also suffering a loss. Your own health and emotional well-being are equally crucial and can be easily forgotten or brushed aside when your entire energies and thoughts are focused on your family.
Talk to your teen about saying goodbye to their loved one and give them options and choices. This will give them a sense of control in a situation where they feel completely helpless. It’s important to respect the decisions your teen makes. You or your family members might not agree, but this is their decision to make and putting pressure on them to change their mind will only lead to resentment, arguments and added strain.
Funerals, coffins and distressed family members are a frightening scenario for most people, let alone young adults. The best way to address any fears your teen might have is to let them know what to expect from a funeral service. Talk through exactly what will happen, from start to finish, and answer any questions they might have. Now your teen has a clear picture of what to expect, they can make an informed decision about whether or not to attend.
If your teen doesn’t attend the service, you could arrange your own memorial service. Planting a tree in the garden or writing letters to your deceased loved-one is a beautiful way to say goodbye and gives your teen a sense of closure. Grief is one of the hardest things we ever have to face in this life but having the support and love of those around us is what gets us through.