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Death, Loss & Grieving Advice for Teens
Teen Loss and Grief
The process of grief is unique. Some adolescents express their grief in a creative or artistic way through art or dance while others prefer physical activities such as sports. A teen will express their grief very similar in other ways they cope with stress. If a teen copes with stress through video gaming than they will probably turn to video games when they are grieving.
Adolescence is a period where teens are experiencing a great deal of change and are becoming more independent from their caregivers or parents. When teens grieve they may turn towards their peers for support instead of the central adults in their lives. However, parents can significantly help teens grieve by modeling their own grief process and not hiding their own grief. In addition it is important for adults to validate teens emotions, provide teens accurate information about the death and reassure the teen about the future.
It is important for teens to not turn towards drugs and alcohol to deal with the grief. When substances are abused, it halts the grieving process. The pain will surge again when the teen is sober. Substance abuse creates a vicious cycle of numbing the grief to experiencing significant emotional pain when sober again. It is much better and healthier to feel the feelings when they happen and let them move through and on.
Teens Dealing with Grief
Grief affects every aspect of a teen's life.
- Self blame
- Jealousy of others who do not have to deal with the loss
- Stomach aches
- Body pains
- Feeling excessively tired
- Difficulty sleeping
- Eating too much or too little
- Drug/alcohol abuse
- Feeling more connected to God
- Feeling angry at God
- Feeling confused about spirituality
- Lack of concentration
- Constant thought of the loss
- Declining grades
- Preoccupation with death
- Avoidance of others
- Retreating to friends for support
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Overly active to avoid the pain
Stages of Teen Grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was the first pioneer to propose there are five stages of grief and loss. This is true for teens and adults. People who are grieving the death of a loved one go through common universal reactions to the pain of loss including: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Not all teens grieve in the same way, nor do they grieve in order of the stages. Some teens may stay stuck on a particular stage, while others will move through all of them quickly. It is also common for teens to bounce around the stages, such as going from anger to depression to back to anger. Sometimes the stages overlap, like a matrix. The teen may be experiencing anger and depression at the same time.
The grief process is dependant on how the loss occurred, the teen's ability to cope and available support. A traumatic sudden death may take longer than a death a teen was able to prepare for like a fatal illness. Also, a death of a parent or sibling may need more attention during the grieving process than an acquaintance at school. If the teen receives individual therapy or peer group support they may be able to adjust and cope with the loss better.
The Stages of Teen Grief
- Denial- A teen in the denial stage will be numb by the grief. Sometimes, the news of the death is so shocking the teen needs time to integrate the totality of what this lose really means. Every loss has subsequent losses. Such as the loss of a sibling, will also mean there is a loss of a friend, and even the loss of someone to play and hang out with.
- Anger- Anger is a strong emotions, especially during grief and loss. The teen may feel angry that this happened, angry at God for allowing the death to happen, angry at others for not stopping the death, and even angry at the person who died and is no longer here. Sometimes teens are angry at themselves as an attempt to give them a sense of control. The angry pointed at him or herself provides an illusion of control. The subconscious mind creates a story to blame oneself in order to not have to deal with a tragedy of death being out of one's control. Not having control can be terrifying.
- Bargaining- At the bargaining stage the teen will go back into their memory before the death occurred and cultivate ways the outcome would be different. They may go around and around in their head saying, "if only I could of...," "if the doctor would of found the cancer earlier...," "if I drove my sister to the airport instead of letting her drive by herself..." In the bargaining stage the teen may also try to use magical thinking, believing if she is nicer or more forgiving than maybe the death would not have occurred. Or the teen may believe when she wakes up tomorrow, this will all be a dream and the person who is dead will come back.
- Depression- The teen is consumed with intense sadness and despair. At this stage the reality of the finality of the death sets in. No matter what, this person is never coming back. The teen may isolate him or herself, cry more, look despondent, and have an overall depressed disposition.
- Acceptance- At the acceptance stage the teen has come to an acceptance and understanding that the death is permanent. Additionally, they accept they will have to go on living without their loved one. They begin to find coping tools on how to go on with life knowing this person will never be in their life again.
Eventually, the teen will develop a new routine and learn to manage without their loved one in their life. They will begin to integrate the hurt, grief and loss, with their day to day activities. As forgiveness and understanding grows the teen finds a new purpose and meaning in their life.
Helping Teenages Cope with Death
It is important to provide opportunities for teens to express their grief. They need the space to feel their feelings and talk about the loss in ways that is meaningful for them. Here are some suggestions in aiding teens with their grief process:
- Maintain routine- This is very important because it provides a sense of safety when everything seems to be out of order. The teen still needs to go to school every day, do their homework and follow the rules. Keeping their routine will provide a structure and a sense of dependability. Of course it is important to take days off for the funeral etc., however, as soon as you can help the teen ease back into their routine that includes the activities they did before such as sports, dance, and even video games.
- Be empathetic- Although routines are very important, it is just as important be empathetic to the grief process. Try not to press the teen into getting back to normal activities, high grades, and so forth without providing them a space to grieve and deal with the emotional pain. There needs to be a balance of providing the structure without the demands to perform at their highest achievement.
- Tell the truth- Even very sad truths will help propel the teen's grief, than leaving them with a lot to figure out. Telling the teen the truth also demonstrates you respect them enough to give them the truth. If the teen is left with a lot of unresolved answers, they will begin to make up a story of how the death happened. Sometimes they will falsely blame themselves or even make up a worse story of the death than the actuality of what happened.
- Provide a space for the grief- Give the teen opportunities to talk about the loss. They need to know it is ok to ask questions, feel their feelings, and come to their own understanding about the loss.
- Let teens be teens- If your teenager often plays video games to cope with stress, then chances are they are going to play video games to cope with loss. The teen is not going to change overnight because of a significant death. Part of the grieving process is integrating the loss in their day to day activities. They need to continue to be a teen, which means go on dates, laugh at dumb stuff, text, and shop. Sometimes it is helpful for a teen to forget about the loss and immerse themselves with their friends.
Techniques For Teens To Cope With Loss
Ways To Cope
What You Can Do
Accept Your Feelings
It is normal to feel a wide range of feelings when someone dies.
Identify your feelings, allow them to move through you.
Express Your Feelings
It is important to give yourself an outlet to express your emotions.
Journal, make art, talk to someone.
You do not have to grieve alone.
Talk to others. Share your pain with other adults and peers.
It is important to enjoy life, your loved one would want you too.
Continue doing the things you enjoy, it is ok to laugh and have fun, it does not mean you are not grieving or being disrespectful.
Partake In Rituals
It helps bring a sense of closure and allows you to actively partake in your grief process.
Go to the funeral, plant a tree in remeberance, do something your loved one would of enjoyed.
Connect with God
Many people after the death of a loved one explore the meaning of life and feel more connected with God.
Pray, go to church, meet with other spiritual people and guides.
It helps to feel connected to your loved one and peserve memories.
Create a memory book, make a video movie, share your memories with others.
Carly Sullens 2013. All Rights Reserved.