Me and My DadAs my family welcomes our new daughter and the holiday season starts, I’ve reflected on the death of my Dad in 2013. Knowing that he isn’t present to hold his grandchild or share in our excitement is painful. Even though I grieved for my Dad when he passed away, the loss still hits me from time to time.  Thinking of my own loss, I am reminded of many of the teens I’ve worked with in clinical practice who are also facing the loss of a friend or loved one. Death is a natural part of life and eventually everyone will lose someone they care about, but this doesn’t make the loss any easier to handle.

For anyone facing the loss of a loved one, grief will come in many different forms. The initial emotions may be of shock, disbelief, guilt, or relief that a person isn’t suffering any longer. Teens (and adults) may manifest grief as anger, denial, isolation, depression, or fear. Regardless of how it shows up, an important thing to remember about grief is that it shouldn’t be ignored. Teens should be encouraged to ask for the support they need, whether that is in the form of hugs, therapy, or time alone to reflect.

Seattle Children’s Journey Program offers services for families who have lost a child. While the loss of an older family member, such as a grandparent, may be expected; the loss of a child often goes against our natural instincts. For teens, the loss of a friend or classmate will likely be unexpected. It may impact them directly (a friend or family member) or indirectly (a classmate or school member). Here are some emotions that can be normal after a death:

  1.  Guilt – there may be blame or feelings that ‘if only’ I’d done something different the loved one would still be here. This is normal, and most of the time gets better.
  2. Fear- there may be fear that something bad will happen and someone else close (or even the individual) will also die. This feeling can lead to anxiety or a feeling of ‘going crazy.’
  3. Anger- A teen may have anger towards them-self, a friend, or family member; there may be blame. Anger shouldn’t be kept inside. It can be expressed in ways that doesn’t hurt anyone such as through exercise, art, music, journaling, or screaming out loud
  4. Depression – this can manifest in many different ways including feeling tired, lack of interest in previous hobbies, social isolation, changes in appetite. Recovery from depression can take a long time.

If you are concerned about your teen who is facing the loss of a loved one, seek help. Look towards professional resources like grief therapists, clergy members, or teen support groups. Don’t ignore the symptoms. Teens may be reluctant to reach out for help. If you’re worried, but your teen refused help, consider suggesting you reach out to resources together.

We’ve covered this topic before. For more information on grief and mourning see our previous posts:

Helping Teens Respond to Sudden Loss

Mourning the Loss of a Loved One