As people living busy lives, we don’t typically think that we might suffer the loss of a loved one and how that loss can affect not only us as parents, but our children. I’ve been away from the blog for a couple of weeks because my own Dad passed away. I was definitely a Daddy’s girl: I called my Dad daily, almost to the point of being a nuisance! The pain is very raw and I still can’t believe I’ll never be able to call him up and tell him I love him again. I am going through the grieving process, which has made me more aware that many of my patients have experienced or are currently experiencing the loss of a loved one as well.
Though we can never truly prepare for loss, we can recognize its impact on our family. No one mourns a loss in exactly the same way. We understand the permanence. Teens know this as well, but it may be more or less challenging for them to get back into their routines. Next, I’ll summarize some common aspects of grief, outline what signs a teen may show that indicate a need for help, and some tips that have provided me with comfort as I process the death of my Dad.
5 Stages of Grief: Dr. Kubler-Ross described 5 stages of grief some years ago. She describes that we may go through these stages in minutes or weeks, that we can flip back and forth between them. These reactions to a loss are all expression of underlying emotion and feeling emotion, as well as being able to talk about the emotion, is what leads to healing after a loss.
- Denial – During this stage, a teen may feel shock or may have a sense of feeling numb.
- Anger- feelings of angry and frustration may be taken out of family, friends who weren’t around before the loss, medical providers, one’s self, God, or even the loved one who died. It’s important not to stifle anger, because behind the anger is pain. Encourage your teen to talk about what they are feeling and remind them that it’s normal to feel anger, especially when you lose someone you loved a lot.
- Bargaining-In this stage, teens may bargain: ‘I’ll do anything to just take the pain away or to have the person back.’
- Depression-after bargaining comes depression. Losing a loved one is sad and feeling down and depressed is a normal response.
- Acceptance-accepting a loss does not mean a teen is ‘ok’ with it. They will always remember the person and most people are never ‘alright’ with the loss. However, acceptance does mean being able to have ups and downs, to go on with living and readjust to life without the person.
Warning Signs: Signs a teen may be struggling and should seek the help of a mental health provider:
- Social isolation
- Talk or thoughts of suicide
- Drug/alcohol use
- Drops in grades
Actions that can help:
- Being present as a source of support – this can be through a hug or kind words. It can also mean just going for a walk or taking a trip to the store with your teen.
- Spiritual faith-often having a belief in a higher power can be a source of strength and also comfort. A spiritual community, such as a synagogue or church, can also provide food, distraction, help with chores, and a listening ear during a very challenging time.
- Creating a tribute or memorial-allow your teen to be involved in creating a tribute (such as a slide show or collage) for a memorial service if they want to. Your family may decide to create a new tradition of stating a fond memory about the loved one during a holiday.
- Talking about what you and your teen are experiencing- While talking about grief and mourning can be painful, expressing our feelings is part of the healing process. If your teen wants to talk about the lost loved one, don’t stifle that communication (even though it may be very sad for you too). If you aren’t comfortable talking with your teen, encourage them to communicate with other family, friends, trusted adult, or even a therapist or counselor.
Losing a loved one is hard. It is normal to have a variety of emotions for days, weeks, even years after that person is no longer a living part of our lives. Do any of you have other tips that have helped your family through the grieving process?